The most underrated National Park in California…
…solely decided by me, of course. There are NINE National Parks in California! Did you know that? Cause I didn’t…
- Lassen Volcanic National Park
- Pinnacles National Park
- Death Valley National Park
- Sequoia & Kings National Park
- Redwood National & State Park
- Point Reyes National Seashore
- Joshua Tree National Park
- Channel Islands National Park
- Yosemite National Park
Okay, I better back up a sec and first, HI! It’s been a loooong time since I’ve come around this way, BUT people are peeking at my posts from what my monthly emails tell me! HAHA
Like in 2020, I set a goal for 2021 — visit FIVE National Parks this year. I was actually able to check Joshua Tree National Park off in March 2021, which was AMAZING. And usually, I wouldn’t post this, until I post that — but I’m ditching my absolutist ways and just going with what feels right. And writing what just happened seems more natural and good, instead of forcing myself to think back to my experience from a little over a month ago.
All that being said, I was able to spend this past weekend exploring Pinnacles National Park. A park I knew absolutely nothing about and honestly didn’t know it existed until I decided to set this 2021 goal. And then to be even more transparent, I didn’t know how many National Parks California truly had until I started writing this post. NINE? I could only name four and that’s being generous. I never gave much thought to the difference between a State Park and a National Park, to be fair. A National Monument wasn’t even in my wheelhouse until very recently, too!
When we were in Joshua Tree, Katie and I had already started throwing around our next National Park trip. We basically set the tentative date and location, which ended up manifesting into this trip! We also wanted to see if any of our other friends would be interested, so we sent a few invites to fellow hiking friends. And my forever Roomie (from my Red Bull days), who I’ve been hiking with recently, jumped at the opportunity to join us.
Kate, Lacey, and I. In essesntially 2.5 days, we covered 22 miles and hiked three different trails.
Friday Night, Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail Loop
When I reflect on this hike, I’m pretty pleased with us. All three of us worked a half-day, sat in a car for more than three hours, then did a hard (AllTrails rated) hike at sunset. This means we spent at least 1.5 miles in the dark. But don’t fret, we were prepared, but Katie was the MOST prepared with the brightest headlamp EVER (thanks, Amazon)! We climbed over 1,500 feet in elevation gain, saw California Condors so close we could hear them in flight and had one of the most popular Pinnacles trails essentially to ourselves.
Saturday, Bench Trail to Southern Wilderness Trail
We got to the park a little later in the AM, which meant we were at the mercy of what parking spots were available. And that was NONE! Since this is on the smaller side when it comes to a National Park, there are only a couple of trailhead parking lots, with much fewer parking spots than some of the larger parks. When we arrived, we immediately noticed that we couldn’t access the road due to the colorful flashing lights and were made to park at the Pinnacles Campground parking lot. From here we had to hike to whatever trail we were going to hike, which was at least two miles for any trail. We decided to choose the Southern Wilderness Trail to avoid the more popular Bear Gulch Trail.
We walked, walked more, scaled a barbed-wire fence, and then reversed back to re-scale the barbed wire fence. We were essentially on the edge of the park, which is why the fence was erected, to keep feral pigs out of the park (I had to look up why that dang fence was there)! We were lost. And that’s okay, becuase we are nature girls 😉 We saw a snake and a raccoon, and sadly the remains of a bobcat (?). We were sun-drunk by the end of this hike.
Sunday Morning, Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Trail
Easy like Sunday mornin’…until it wasn’t! HAHA! Many people referenced that Old Pinnacles Trail was flat and enjoyable, which is pretty on par. The uphill climb when we went on to explore the Balconies Trail. Sadly, due to COVID, the famous caves were closed due to the sizing and close proximity visitors would be forced to endure. Just means I have to come back and explore more. Since we were heading back home after this hike, we set our timer to hike 1.5 hours and then turn back, which was perfect. We saw more beautiful rock formations, which really seem to be the essence of Pinnacles.
Personal Thoughts: I saw some personal things in myself on this hiking trip and thought I’d share, cause I’m proud. During therapy I learned, I was very much an ‘absolutist’ and many things I held myself to were under this guise, which is the opposite of a ‘go with the flow’ person I thought I was. I’m really leaning out of the absolute personality and I realized I’ve made small changes in this effort. I was last every single hike and at times I couldn’t see Lacey or Katie. Usually, I would have been really hard on myself. But I wasn’t this time, I was enjoying the hikes at my pace, which was slower than theirs. I’m no less than, just becuase I couldn’t keep up. An older version of me would have stressed about it and had tons of negative self-talk. But NOPE, I enjoyed the hike, took pics, looked up (when safe, cause no one likes falling), and had no real expectations other than to enjoy myself. I enjoy the physical rigors of hiking, probably more than nature, but I have been reminding myself that this should be enjoyable too. Also, I didn’t plan any details of this trip, which is becoming less and less hard to do. I don’t always need an exact schedule or to plan every minute of the trip. If people want me to, I can. But it’s nice to sit back and let others. It helps that we were all on the same page for the most part. And y’all…I basically glamped. It was a ‘cottage’ but it didn’t have a sink (kitchen). It did have a bed and shower, so glamping could be debatable.
Other Random Musings From This Hiking Trip:
- Pinnacles was a National Monument until 2013 when it was redesignated as a National Park by Congressional legislation (2012), then signed into law by President Obama.
- Pro Tip – get to the park before 7 AM, this ensures you essentially have parking, trails, and photos all to yourself. THIS IS FOR EVERY PARK, I assume!
- Sunset hikes offer similar experiences like the above but don’t forget to pack your headlamp if you are out past sunset.
- Pinnacles is a release site for captive-bred California condors, and I was lucky enough to see some during our Friday night hike.
- Pinnacles is another hot spot for mountain climbers, they have specific climbing access trail markers.
- Pinnacles has yurts at their campground site.
- I absolutely LOVE the pop of color wildflowers add to hikes in the Spring.
- Poppy’s are the cutest, I loved seeing them open up toward the sun as it got warmer.
- Pinnacles should be on everyone’s National Park list!
23 million years in the making, thus one amazing hidden gem in California!