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Condor Gulch Overlook in Pinnacles National Park

One of many bridges over Bear Gulch

Pinnacles National Park is a gem hidden in plain sight. It’s one of the youngest National Parks in the system–having been promoted to NP status in 2013–yet many of the trails date back over a hundred years. Back then Schuyler Hain — the “Father of Pinnacles” led tours up Bear Valley to the caves. He spoke out in support of preserving Pinnacles, and in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established Pinnacles as a National Monument.

Trail Details
Distance: 4.63 miles
Time: 2 hours
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation gain: 1588 ft
Dogs: No
When to go: Year-round
Download the GPX
Joan and I took a side trip to Pinnacles NP on our way home from San Francisco, as it’s only about 130 miles south of the city and we had been itching to hiker here. This was our first visit to the park, with only time for a short day hike before hitting the road and driving the rest of the way to LA. Spoiler alert: We will definitely be back to explore more.

We began our out-and-back hike at the Peaks View trailhead, hiking a short distance on the Bench Trail before heading up the woodsy Bear Gulch Trail and eventually ascending to the Condor Gulch Overlook.

Getting to Pinnacles National Park

To say that Pinnacles National Park is off the beaten path would be an understatement. It over an hour away from any major freeway, and I was happy that it’s not surrounded by development (yet). Heading from San Francisco it’s a pleasant drive down Highway 101, then south on Highway 25. We stopped to pickup some lunch in Hollister, and made our way to the park.

Getting to Pinnacles from Los Angeles is another matter. It’s about 80 miles to Interstate 5 with very little civilization inbetween, so be sure you’ve fueled up before heading to the park. Driving home to LA was about  260 miles and  4-1/2 hours driving time. The Road Less Traveled? We found it. Beautiful back roads that most folks never see as they speed up the Central Valley.

Note that there is a eastern entrance and a western entrance to Pinnacles NP — and never the twain shall meet. For this hike, you should enter the park from the east. 

Look up turn-by-turn driving directions to the eastern entrance here on Google Maps.

Did You Know?
Rhyolitic breccia is the rock that the High Peaks and other rock formations at Pinnacles are made of. Rhyolite breccia is composed of lava sand, ash, and angular chunks of rock that were explosively ejected from the Pinnacles Volcano.

Hiking to the Condor Gulch Overlook

Many people drive back to Bear Gulch where there is a seasonal visitor center and some trailhead parking. On the day after Thanksgiving, the lot was full, and we had to park closer to the entrance. My initial disappointment at having to adjust our plan quickly turned into delight. The relatively level Bench Trail provides stunning views of the peaks as in wanders beside the dry (in November) Chalone Creek.

Near the Peak View area

We followed this to the first of many bridges we would cross as we wound our way up the Bear Gulch Trail.

One of many bridges on the Bear Gulch Trail

Bear Gulch was incredibly scenic. A narrow canyon with steep walls and a small creek, it felt very much like fall with crunchy leaves and cool air. There were a few small waterfalls in late November, but other sections of the creek had dried up completely. In springtime it would be amazing.

Still water covered in green

At 1.4 miles we reached the the parking area at Bear Gulch, where you’ll find a number of park buildings including a seasonal visitor center and a parking lot. There are restroom facilities immediately across from the parking, and the Condor Gulch Trail begins just north of there. Follow the signs up… up… and up. You’ll be climbing steadily from here to the overlook, gaining about 760 feet in just under a mile.

Pinnacles from Condor Gulch

At the 2.7 mile mark (or about 1 mile from the Bear Gulch parking area), we reached the Condor Gulch Overlook. The overlook provides a great view back down through Condor Gulch. You can see where the water has carved out depressions in the volcanic rock, and after a storm this would be alive with waterfalls.

The Overlook would be our turnaround point for this short out-and-back hike. We soaked in the views and appreciated the fact that our mostly uphill climb was going to be an easy downhill jaunt back to the trailhead.

Lichen at the Condor Gulch Overlook

I took a few moments to capture some macros of the lichen with my iPhone and my Olloclip.

Final Thoughts

Joan and I loved Pinnacles National Park, and next time will camp here so we have more time to hike and explore. We will return to hike the High Peaks Trail, and visit the caves (not always open due to the mating season for the bats).

Pinnacles NP is fairly small compared to the “big” National Parks and even though it was busy on the holiday weekend, it didn’t feel crowded. It’s off the beaten path, and that no doubt contributes to the smaller “feel” of the park. I liked that.

Condor Gulch Overlook Trail Map

Download file: condor-gulch-overlook-in-pinnacles-np.gpx

Photo Gallery

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Pinnacles National Park Tips

  • Get there before 10am on busy days (any holiday weekend). This is a no-brainer at most National Parks, but I had never been to Pinnacles before and wasn’t sure what to expect. As it turns out, the parking nearest the caves in Bear Gulch is pretty limited and fills up quickly.
  • This place gets hot and dry in the summer. Bring more water than you think you’ll need.
  • Pinnacles is an outstanding deal as far as National Parks go. It’s only $5 to get in, and the pass is good for seven days.

Pinnacles National Park Resources

Pinnacles National Park Weather Forecast

[forecast width=”100%” location=”90068″]

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