Susan and Mike are the outdoorsy travelers behind RV Blogger, a site dedicated to making the most of your RV camping experience. They’re on The Dyrt sharing their expertise on one of California’s most scenic national parks—Pinnacles National Park.
Pinnacles National Park is one of the lesser-known national parks in the United States. This undiscovered gem was formed over 23 million years ago and is a great place to view the results of volcanic activity. Visitors can explore a variety of habitats in the park, including chaparral, woodlands, and canyons.
Pinnacles National Park is also one of the best places in the world to view the California Condor in its native habitat. The park has many incredible hikes with amazing views. Most trails offer amazing views of the many high peaks and pinnacles. And you can explore the talus, which are piles of rocks and caves. Our
camping guide will tell you everything you need to know about camping in Pinnacles National Park!
RVers’ Top Questions about RV Camping in Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles National Park has one developed campground that can accommodate RVs and travel trailers. Pinnacles Campground is on the eastern side of the park. There are no connecting roads through the park, so be sure to enter the park from the east to access the campground.
A unique feature of Pinnacles National Park is that it can accommodate larger size rigs. Most campsites can hold an RV or travel trailer up to 30 feet, and some campsites can accommodate RVs and travel trailers up to 42 feet. If you have a larger rig, this is a great national park to visit.
Are Reservations Needed?
Compared to other National Parks in California, Pinnacles is still a bit undiscovered. Campsites are usually easily obtained outside of weekends, holidays, and the busy spring season. It is a good idea to reserve a site in advance if you know you will be visiting the park.
Reservations for RV sites can be made up to six months in advance on recreation.gov. If you need a group site, those sites can be booked up to twelve months in advance.
How Much Does it Cost to RV Camp at Pinnacles National Park?
RV sites with electrical hookups are currently $30 per night at Pinnacles National Park.
Are There Hookups at the Campground?
There are electrical hookups at Pinnacles Campground, which is unusual for a national park campground. Flush toilets and drinking water are also available on site, and showers are available for a fee. There is also a dump station.
What Amenities are Available at Pinnacles Campground?
Pinnacles Campground is on the east side of the park in a shaded grove of oak trees. It is also near the visitor center, making it a great place to begin your exploration of the park.
Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring. There are community picnic tables and barbecue pits throughout the campground.
In addition to electric hookups and showers, the Pinnacles Campground has a general store and a seasonal swimming pool! A swimming pool is a rare find at a national park, so be sure to take advantage. The pool is open from April through September.
What is the Weather like in Pinnacles National Park?
Pinnacles National Park has a wide range of temperatures throughout the year. Hot, dry summers, and mild winters are typical. In the summer, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees. In the winter, temperatures can dip below freezing at night. Be prepared for these conditions by bringing lots of layers, no matter which season you will be in the park.
When are the Best Times to Visit?
The best times to visit and hike in Pinnacles National Park are during the spring, fall and even winter. Springtime brings the most crowds, though not as many as you may expect when visiting a national park.
While still not nearly as crowded as other national parks in the region, you will want to make reservations at Pinnacles if you plan to visit during the spring.
Things to Do in Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles Visitor Center
A great visit to any national park begins with a stop at the visitor center. At Pinnacles, the main visitor center is on the east side of the park near the Pinnacles Campground.
At the visitor center, you will find national park gear unique to Pinnacles along with trail maps, birding guides, and more. Rangers on duty can help you find the best activities and trails to meet your interests while you are at the park.
Lower Bear Gulch Cave
The most popular attraction at Pinnacles is the Lower Bear Gulch Cave. This talus cave is home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats, a sensitive species protected by the state of California.
The cave is typically open from mid-July to mid-May of each year and closes during the early summer when the bats are raising their young. When the central part of the cave is closed in the spring, much of it is still accessible. For up to date information on cave closures, check out the park website or ask a ranger.
To access the cave, take the 2.2 mile Rim Trail Loop from the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. This area is just down the road from the Pinnacles Campground. Along the way, you will pass by rock formations, a small talus cave, and a reservoir before coming to Bear Gulch Cave. If you go, be sure to wear sturdy close-toed shoes and bring a flashlight. This trail is moderate and suitable for children.
Pinnacles National Park has a great variety of ranger-led programs taking place daily. From learning more about the California Condor to taking in the stars during an evening Star Party, the ranger programming offers something for everyone. Be sure to check the calendar for scheduled programs during your visit.
Bear Gulch Nature Center
Wildlife is abundant in the Pinnacles area and includes coyotes, bobcats, California quail, golden eagles, cougars, and the California Condor. A great place to learn about these animals is the Bear Gulch Nature Center. The center is in the Bear Gulch Day Use Area near the trail to the talus cave. Picnic tables and
restrooms are nearby.
One of the best hikes at Pinnacles National Park is on the west side of the park at the Balconies Cave Trail. When you are inside the caves at Pinnacles, you are actually in a tremendous pile of rocks, not inside of a mountain or hillside. The caves were created by the canyons filling in with boulders due to earthquakes and landslides. The caves at Pinnacles are fun to explore. This unique experience is a must during your visit!
Many trails will take you to Balconies Cave. The cave can is accessible from both sides of the park. The shortest path is a 2.4-mile loop that starts in West Pinnacles. Begin at Chaparral, and you will cross over the top of the cave then take Old Pinnacles Trails through the cave.
For a longer hike, you can start at the Pinnacles Visitor Center near the campground and hike over to the cave. The trail is 9.4 miles round trip, so be prepared to spend several hours completing the hike. Flashlights are required in the cave, and you must wear sturdy shoes. During the winter, you may have to wade through shallow water in the cave.
Bird watchers flock to Pinnacles National Park for a chance to catch a glimpse of the California Condor in its natural habitat. The best place to view condors is from the High Peaks area of the park. The High Peaks area is accessible from both sides of the park. Keep in mind that the trail to High Peaks is strenuous with a 1,300 feet elevation gain over just a few miles. The hike is a total of 5.3 miles round trip.
Another great place to view the condors is from the campground! Condors are spotted frequently along the ridge to the southeast of the campground. The National Park Service has located two spotting scopes in the campground to provide a better view.
The best time of day to view the birds in either location is early morning or early evening. The birds are often active in the mornings, soaring along the thermals. They are also easier to spot in the evenings when they come home to their favorite trees for the night.
Pinnacles National Park is well known for its unique rock formations, which make for excellent rock climbing. Climbers should check with the visitor center for closings, as some areas are home to raptors and not open to climbing. Even if you do not climb, watching rock climbers explore the peaks and talus piles at Pinnacles is fun for all ages.
Popular Day Trips Nearby
You can spend several days at Pinnacles taking in the landscape and wildlife. There are also outstanding attractions less than 2 hours from the park making for excellent day trips.
Monterey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium
Just an hour and a half drive from the Pinnacles Campground is the seaside town of Monterey. Monterey has many great restaurants and excellent shopping. It is best known for the world-famous Monterey Bay Aquarium. Sharks, sea turtles, penguins, sea otters, and more live at the aquarium. The aquarium’s educational programs are top-notch and fun for all ages.
After a visit to the aquarium, take a stroll down Monterey’s famous Cannery Row. Here you will find delicious seafood, desserts, and more all with a great view of the bay. Wind down your day with a scenic drive through the famous Pebble Beach Resort. This drive features multi-million dollar homes with views to match and is considered one of the best drives in the United States.
Santa Cruz and the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Santa Cruz is a classic California beach town. Home to both surfers and surfers at heart, Santa Cruz is a great place to spend the day. It is also just an hour and a half from Pinnacles, making it an excellent day trip during your stay.
Popular activities in Santa Cruz include exploring the waterfront and wharf and dining on delicious tacos. While you are there, check out the Sanctuary Exploration Center, a science center dedicated to protecting and educating visitors about the unique marine environment in the area. Best of all, a visit to the center is free!
No trip to Santa Cruz would be complete without visiting the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. This “old school” boardwalk is home to an amusement park, arcade, and classic boardwalk games. Grab some cotton candy or ice cream and try your luck at the Shoot Out Star. If you are feeling brave, take a ride on the Giant Dipper, a classic wooden roller coaster that has been thrilling visitors since 1924.
Frugal travelers will find Pinnacles a great place to camp for a day trip to San Francisco. Just a two-hour drive from the park, San Francisco is a city that you will want to explore on your visit to California. Campgrounds closer to the city are hard to find and much more expensive than camping at Pinnacles.
There is much to see and do in San Francisco. A visit to Fisherman’s Wharf is a great way to spend the day and will give you a view of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Exploring Alcatraz, Chinatown, the Presidio, and more make for a great day in the city. Be sure to take a ride on one of the famous cable cars while you
RV Camping Tips for Pinnacles National Park
- There is no cell service in the majority of the park. Come prepared to disconnect for a few days.
- Temperatures at Pinnacles are often hot. It can also vary widely throughout the day. Come prepared by bringing layers of clothing. You will also need to bring plenty of water along on your hikes.
- Grocery stores, restaurants, shopping, and more are 32 miles north of the park in Hollister, California.
- During periods of fire danger, fires are not allowed in the campground. Check with the ranger on duty for any fire restrictions during your stay.
- Pets are allowed in the campgrounds but not on the trails within the park. Pets are welcome in developed areas.
- During the summer months, a shuttle runs from the Visitor Center and Pinnacles Campground to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.
Find more great RV experiences from Susan and Mike on RVblogger.com!