The Best Pinnacles National Park One Day Itinerary (2024)

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Want to know the best Pinnacles National Park one day itinerary? We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know!

This Pinnacles National Park one day itinerary shares all the highlights of the park and how to see them all in a short amount of time.

Pinnacles is located near the central valley of California, just outside of Monterey and Carmel.

It’s a national park known for its rockhounding and for the caves that you can hike through, making it very different from the other national parks in California.

Pinnacles National Park on a map
Image Courtesy of Google Maps

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Pinnacles National Park One Day Itinerary

You’ll start your day at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area and find a good parking spot.

If you’re visiting on the weekend, you’ll want to try to arrive before 9-10 am because parking will fill up.

It’s also a good idea to go earlier in the day to avoid hiking during the hottest part of the day.

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✔ Moses Spring To Rim Trail Loop

You’ll start your hike on the Moses Spring Trail, which will lead you straight to the Monolith, Bear Gulch Cave, Bear Gulch Reservoir, and back.

There are several trails that go through this area, so you can always loop your way back through a different route instead of taking the same path out and back.

This is about a 2.2 mile round trip hike.

It will take about an hour to an hour and a half depending on how much time you want to spend in the caves or at the reservoir.

If you go in the caves when they’re open, flashlights are required.

If you don’t have one you can purchase one from the visitors center when you arrive.

One of the main attractions of Pinnacles National Park is the Bear Gulch Cave, so you don’t want to have to skip it on this hike.

✔️ Condor Gulch Overlook

Once back at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area, the next hike will be to Condor Gulch Overlook.

This trailhead is by the same parking lot, so you won’t need to move your car.

This trail is about 1 mile each way to the overlook and back and should take about an hour.

The trail continues on past the overlook, but it’s more strenuous and not really necessary since the overlook is the “main attraction” of this hiking trail.

✔️ Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop

The next hike is over on the other side of Pinnacles National Park.

The West Entrance and the East Entrance don’t connect all the way through when driving, so to visit both sides, you’ll have to drive around the park.

It’s about an hour and 20 minutes with no traffic to drive from the East Entrance to the West Entrance.

This is a great time to have lunch either on the road or if you bring a picnic lunch to eat just before leaving or as you arrive to the West Entrance.

When you arrive at the West Entrance to Pinnacles National Park, park at the Chaparrel Trailhead Parking Area to take the Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop Trail.

The Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop trail is 2.4 miles round trip and takes about an hour to an hour and a half.

This trail crosses over Balconies Cave, but then as you go back down to Old Pinnacles Trail, you’ll go through the cave.

Flashlights are required to enter the cave on this trail as well.

After this trail, the rest of your day is up to you.

There are nearby wineries if you’re into wine tasting, or you can keep hiking more trails around Pinnacles National Park.

Where To Stay When Visiting Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is somewhat far away from any neighboring towns, so your accommodation options are somewhat limited.

But you should still be able to find something that fits your needs within about a 30 minute drive or less.

✅ Ridgemark Golf Club & Resort

Ridgemark Golf Club & Resort is about 20 miles north of the East Entrance of Pinnacles National Park in Hollister, California.

It has the most amenities of any accommodations near Pinnacles, so if you need the comforts of home, then this is the place for you to stay.

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✅ Camping At Pinnacles Campground

We love camping inside the National Parks, though sometimes they are hard to get into.

They usually book out well in advance, but through the East Entrance to Pinnacles National Park is Pinnacles Campground.

This campground has tent camping and RV camping sites, as well as group sites.

There are coin operated showers, water available for drinking, fire pits, picnic tables, and a pool that is open seasonally.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Pinnacles National Park

Planning a visit to a National Park can be hard.

From the seasonality of the parks, to the weather closures, and uncertainty about what you need to bring, we’ve got you covered.

☑️ Can You Do Pinnacles In A Day?

With over 30 miles of trails, you can’t do everything in Pinnacles in one day, but you can see most of the highlights in one day.

☑️ How Much Time Should I Spend In Pinnacles National Park?

If you have time for 2-3 days, then you can take your time seeing everything you want to see and go on some of the longer trails.

If you know you’re not doing any long trails and are sticking to 3 mile trails or less, then 2 days is enough time.

You can really see a lot of the highlights of the park in one day though if you arrive early in the day and stay until the sun sets.

☑️ Which Side Of Pinnacles Is Better?

I can’t really say one side is better than another, but if you are only able to visit one side, then the East side is where you want to go.

The East side is where Bear Gulch Cave and Bear Gulch Reservoir are.

There are also many hiking trails all in one area and picnic areas.

The West side is impressive too, so it’s still worth visiting for the Balconies Cave.

☑️ Is Pinnacles National Park Worth It?

Absolutely!

Pinnacles National Park is unlike any of the other National Parks in California.

It’s not woodsy like Sequoia or Yosemite and it’s not quite a desert like Joshua Tree.

The caves are a unique experience that the other parks just don’t have.

The peaks in Pinnacles are also unlike any other park.

☑️ When Is The Best Time To Visit Pinnacles National Park?

The best time to visit Pinnacles National Park is from October through April.

Bear Gulch Cave is divided into an upper and a lower section.

Different times throughout the year, some parts may be open while others aren’t, so you want to plan your visit around when at least some portion of the cave is open.

The upper section of the cave is usually open the last week of March, sometimes the entire month of March.

The upper section of the cave is also usually open the last week of October, sometimes the entire month of October.

Now the lower section follows the same dates as above, but additionally is generally open April 1st – mid May, mid July – September 30th, and November 1st – the end of February.

From about mid May through mid July you can expect the entire cave to be closed to protect the bat colony.

More Great National Parks To Visit In California

California is home to 9 of America’s National Parks.

Pair them for an epic California road trip or if you’re a local, take a weekend to visit each one.

Yosemite National Park One Day Itinerary

Yosemite National Park is easily the most well known and popular of the National Parks in California.

There’s so much to do in this park, but the average visitor can see many of the highlights in a one day trip.

Lower Yosemite Falls at Yosemite National Park

Death Valley National Park One Day Itinerary

Death Valley is in the middle of the desert and is home to the lowest elevation in the US.

It’s an easy visit from Vegas or from Southern California.

I recommend visiting in the shoulder season so it’s not 115+ degrees outside when you visit.

Some of the original Star Wars scenes were filmed here too!

Devil's Golf Course at Death Valley National Park

Channel Islands National Park Santa Cruz Island Day Trip

Santa Cruz Island is one of the most visited islands in the Channel Islands.

It’s an easy boat trip from Ventura Harbor Village.

You schedule your trip in advance for arrival and departure times on the island and you can even choose to stay and camp overnight on the island if you like.

Santa Cruz Island at Channel Islands National Park

Channel Islands National Park Santa Rosa Island Day Trip

Santa Rosa Island is a bit further out, but can still be visited on a day trip from Ventura.

It takes a little longer to get there and back, but that’s more opportunities for whale watching along the way.

Santa Rosa Island at Channel Islands National Park

Joshua Tree National Park Day Trip Itinerary

Joshua Tree is just outside of Palm Springs and is best paired with a trip to the whole area.

It’s one of the Dark Sky Parks where you can see virtually everything in the sky at night due to its distance from any neighboring cities.

But if you’re visiting just for the day, we have an easy itinerary that takes you through the whole park, ending with the perfect sunset where you can see all the way to Mexico.

Skull Rock at Joshua Tree National Park

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park One Day Itinerary

Sequoia and Kings Canyon are technically 2 separate National Parks, but they’re connected to each other, so most visitors will see both when they visit.

You’ll see some of the oldest and tallest trees in the US and venture down into the valley into a completely different environment.

Lunch at the lodge is also a great experience.

Sequoia National Park overlook

Lassen Volcanic National Park One Day Itinerary

Lassen Volcanic National Park is a relatively unknown and severely underrated national park in Northern California.

We paired our trip here with visits to Lake Tahoe and Reno.

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Redwood National Park One Day Itinerary

The Redwoods are along the Northern California coast and are home to some of the largest and tallest trees in the world.

This park is also made up of a bunch of state parks, so there is so much to explore.

Redwoods National Park

Conclusion: Pinnacles National Park One Day Itinerary

Pinnacles National Park is a newer National Park in the Central Valley of California.

There’s plenty to see and do on a one day visit, and you’ll see most of the highlights in just one day.

A Pinnacles National Park one day itinerary is perfect for the weekend traveler or road tripper crossing off America’s National Parks on their bucket list.

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