The High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Park is a stunningly beautiful and challenging hiking trail that offers visitors a chance to explore one of the unique landscapes in California. With its towering rock formations, winding paths, and breathtaking views, the High Peaks Trail is a must-hike trail for any outdoor enthusiast visiting Pinnacles National Park.
Pinnacles National Park is located in central California, known for its towering spires, rugged cliffs, and sprawling oak woodlands. The park covers over 26,000 acres of land and is home to various plant and animal species, including the California condor, one of the world’s most endangered birds.
It is also one of the newest National Parks in America and California’s 7th and most recent one.
Tackling the challenging Juniper Trail to High Peaks Trail in Pinnacles NP
Planning your trip to Pinnacles National Park
Is Pinnacles National Park worth Visiting?
I think it is. While it’s not dramatic like Yosemite or Sequoia, it’s unique in its own right. I enjoyed myself, minus the heat, which was a self-inflicted problem. Watching the condors fly around is cool, and seeing the landscape transition from the rocks to the gentle hills is splendid.
How many days do you need to see Pinnacles?
One to two days are all you need to see Pinnacles National Park. After that, no matter what side you visit from, do the High Peaks Trail, and then if the caves are open, explore there. (They’re sometimes closed for bat/health reasons.)
Where to stay when hiking the High Peaks Trail on the west side of Pinnacles
You can stay in Soledad for a short drive to and from the park. However, I also believe many people stay in Monterey and do the 2+ hours of driving, considering there’s a lot more to do on the coast than in Soledad.
Either way, book your hotels here and get it out!
How to get to the west side of Pinnacles National Park?
The west side of Pinnacles is just outside of the town of Soledad on the 101. You quickly drive through town and get onto the 146, which will take you to the park. On the way, you’ll pass through wine fields that may make you second guess visiting… or give you ideas of what to do on your way back.
From Soledad, it’s about a 35-minute drive to the High Peaks Trail parking lot.
Drive time to PNP from…
- San Francisco – 2.5 hours
- Los Angeles – 4.75 hours
- Sacramento – 3.5 hours
- Monterey – 75 minutes
When is the best time to visit Pinnacles National Park?
If you plan to hike early in the day, you can visit here year-round. However, I recommend coming in spring or fall as your weather will be perfect and sunny afternoons won’t be too hot. I was floored by how hot it was in the summer, considering down in the valley and wine country where you turn off the highway was still in the 60s.
What to bring for a hike on the High Peaks Trail?
- Sunshirt or long sleeve hiking shirt to protect your skin
- Wide-brimmed hat
- Lots of water
- Hiking Poles
- Hiking day pack
On the Trail: Juniper Canyon Trail to Tunnel Trail to High Peaks Trail Loop
High Peaks Trail Details
- Distance: 4.5 miles
- Elevation Gain on this route: 1,300 feet
- Estimated Time on High Peaks Trail: 3 hours
Why is this trail so challenging?
It was challenging for me because I did this mid-day in mid-July after spending some days exploring Big Sur. On the coast, the weather was 65, but inland, when I arrived at the Pinnacles National Park gates, temperatures had risen above 95.
It was hot!
So as I began this hike, I was drenched, as you’ll see in some photos. Growing up in Arizona, I’m used to the heat, but this is one of the hottest and most uncomfortable hikes ever. I almost quit, but thankfully made it to the Tunnel Trail turnoff one mile in and cooled off.
However, in average weather, it’s a good trail with a nice elevation gain where you’ll sweat, but you won’t be straining yourself.
Starting – Juniper Canyon Trail
The High Peaks Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Pinnacles National Park, and for a good reason. The trail is a moderately challenging 4.5-mile loop that takes hikers through some of the park’s most stunning and unique rock formations. Along the way, hikers will encounter steep ascents, narrow ridges, and panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
The trail begins at the Chaparral Use Area and climbs steadily upwards towards the towering spires of the High Peaks. The first part of the trail is relatively easy, with wide, well-maintained paths that wind through shady oak woodlands. As hikers approach the base of the peaks, however, the trail becomes much steeper and more challenging.
Take a left – Tunnel Trail
Once you come to an intersection, go left, and you’ll enter the Tunnel Trail portion of the loop. For those hiking in the sun, you’ll appreciate the cool air flowing through this portion. But, again, I’d recommend catching your breath and taking in some water. You still have about 15 minutes to reach the High Peaks Trail connection.
This section isn’t that bad, and you start to get some good views of the rocks and hills around the park.
Onto the High Peaks Trail
One of the highlights of the High Peaks Trail is the narrow, winding trail that leads hikers through the heart of the rock formations. This part of the trail can be pretty challenging, with steep drop-offs on either side of the trail and narrow paths that require careful footing.
However, the reward for this challenge is a breathtaking view of the surrounding countryside, including the nearby Salinas Valley and the distant Santa Lucia Mountains.
Another highlight of the High Peaks Trail is seeing the California Condor. The condor is one of the most endangered bird species in the world, and Pinnacles National Park is one of the few places where visitors can see these magnificent birds in the wild. So if you’re into photography or enjoy seeing the largest bird in the US, you’ll love this hike.
I loved this portion of the trail and even scampered a bit higher to get a better vantage point of the Condors above. Plus, as I have detailed, the stairs leading up through the rocks are a pretty gnarly adventure if you do this route clockwise.
Around the two-mile mark, you’ll come to another intersection. Take a right and begin heading back down towards the trailhead.
High Peaks Trail, Pinnacles National Park – Wrapping Up
Overall, the High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Park is a great hiking experience that offers visitors a chance to explore one of California’s most unique and beautiful landscapes. Whether you’re an experienced hiker looking for a challenge or a casual visitor looking to explore the park’s natural beauty, the High Peaks Trail is a must-visit destination that should not be missed.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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