This is a good climbing spot but sort of out of the way to get to. As a result, you see more local in state visitors vs out of staters looking to hit Yosemite. If the campground is full you can access the coast in a little over an hour for potentially better options scenery wise.
We were suggested by the ranger to take a 9.5 mile hike to see the best of the park. included high peaks trail climbing steps carved into the rock in the 30's. And going through one of their caves (balconies cave) as the other was closed for bat breeding season. 1,500 elevation gain in the first few miles but totally worth it. With a few bathrooms along the way makes it very convenient if you need to stop. Overall an amazing hike and views of California condors when you get to the top.
Pinnacles is the newest National Park and well worth a visit. The trails are great and the scenery is incredible, plus there's a chance to see a condor. We camped with a group, and the facilities were well-kept.
This campground is great because there are almost always available sites. Sites 1-56 are better than sites 57 and up. Sites 57 and up are in a back loop and are backed into thickets and less open. The biggest drawback of this campground is the raccoons. They are aggressive! They climbed on our table while eating and even got in our car and took a bag of candy. Overall though, we have enjoyed camping here. It's warm enough here that we can go year round. The hike to Bear Gulch caves is great for all ages - our kids range in age from 4-16.
My BF and I stayed here mid-May 2016 and found the weather to be perfect! Any later and the heat would be oppressive and any earlier and it may have been a bit chilly for me. The campground had ample bathrooms, water and even showers at the front (bring quarters). Sites were filled and the vibe of everyone seemed pleasant friendly and mostly family oriented. there were ranger programs at night and rangers/camp hosts aplenty. The campground had both Rv and tent only sites. We were at a tent only site (#20) and my one complaint is that there was a metal grate by the creek crossing next to our site that was very loud when people drove by. Because the loop we were on was a long one way drive lots of cars passed all morning/day long. Our site was also on a significant slope though our small 2 person tent fit fine on the flat part. The site would not be ideal for families. The campground was a bit cramped and noisy, so if you are looking for a secluded night in the woods this may not be your best bet. however, if you are going to hike and spend most of your day exploring pinnacles this campground is perfect. There were also lots of birds - we saw many quail, a bunch of woodpeckers living in the trees near our site and tons of various songbirds. We hiked the high peaks trail through upper bear gulch cave and had a great 6 hr hike. The lower cave was closed due to a roost of maternity bats so be aware if traveling in mid May-mid June. There seemed to be great climbing options and tons of easy hiiking optoins for kids. This campground and park are a true gem with a fraction of the crowds most national parks in CA get and would definitely recommend both!
With so many great parks near the Bay area from Yosemite to Big Sur or Point Reyes, Pinnacles is and under rated gem of a park.
Getting there: An easy drive down the 25. The park East entrance is actually very easy to miss so pay attention on the windy road or you'll miss it like I did… twice.
Campsites: Car/RV camping. Full plumbing restrooms and showers. Metal fire pits at each campsite. Wood for sale. Campsites are very close to eachother and you will catch a lot of neighbor noise so try and select a campsite on the end. The Visitor center has maps, information, and a small shop.
The Park: Very much had a high desert feel. Very hot during the day with little shade to be offered, but got fairly chilly at night. It seemed small for a National Park… but i'm also comparing its size to the likes of Yosemite or Big Sur. You can explore just about the entire park in 2 days/1 night.
What to do: …Hike.
- I would suggest one day going to explore the Balconies Cave. From the Old Pinnacles Trailhead Parking its 2.1 miles each way to the cave and the cave is about .4 miles. All said and done it will be about a 5 mile round trip hike. The walk out is exposed and gets hot, have plenty of water. The cave itself stays very cool, around 50*f. Headlamp for both caves will be required.
- Now that you're warmed up go for a real hike the next day up to the top of the Pinnacles. I'd suggest parking at Bear Gulch Day use area > up the Condor Gulch Trail (1.7mi) > turn left at High Peaks Trail (.6mi) > stay left on the High Peaks Trail all the way back down (2.2mi) [there is a restroom on the trail near Scout Peak] [Photo Ops here, look for the Condors!!] > turn right onto the Rim Trail (.4mi) > cool off going down through the Bear Gulch Cave (.7mi) [need your headlamp again] > and finish the hike back down to the Day Use Area (.5mi). It's a good hike… not to be done with young kids. You better have some food with you and at least 2-3 Liters of water per person, the trail is very exposed and the sun will beat down on you like an ant under a magnifying glass. Start in the morning to try and avoid some heat and finish in the cave to cool off at the end, it will feel refreshing and amazing.