Spring Camping & Hiking in Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park is perfect in the spring, when wildflowers are in full bloom, the reservoir is full, temperatures are warm but not hot yet, and the cave trails are typically open. We were also fortunate to see 6+ condors while hiking the High Peaks Trail.

Trip Overview:

Day 1: (75º high with 6-12mph wind)

When we arrived on Sunday to the East park entrance around 12:30, the park had reached capacity and there was a line of cars waiting. Since there's very little parking inside the park, it's best to arrive early or have a campsite. Since we had a campsite reserved (via Recreation.gov), we skipped the line just before 1pm when check-in opened for campsites.

  • Check into campsite and set up camp
  • Shuttle from campground to Bear Gulch parking lot
  • Hike 5.8 mile loop (Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail to Rim Trail to the Reservoir, and then back to Bear Gulch parking lot via Bear Gulch Cave Trail & Moses Spring Trail) NOTE: a headlamp or phone w/ flashlight is needed for part of the lower Cave Trail
  • Hike 2.3+ miles back to campsite via Sycamore Trail & Bench Trail (the last shuttle back was at 5pm)

We saw 6+ condors when we were on the High Peaks Trail and at one point had one buzz right over our heads! Look for the white underneath their wings to know it's a condor and not a turkey vulture. Condors also have a 9.5 ft wingspan compared to the vulture's 5.5 ft!

We were at campsite #4 the first night, and there are several raccoons that live in the trees. We had them visit our camp just after dinner (looking for food) and we could hear them in the trees throughout the night. Make sure you have food locked away or close enough to your person that they can't sneak something.

Day 2: (51-66º with 6-12mph wind)

We booked camping last minute, which meant we didn't have the same site for both nights. Luckily they were right across from each other so it was quick to move camp (just picked up the tents with sleeping bags and pads still inside).

Since it was a weekday (fewer visitors) and we'd already done a big hike on Day 1, we drove to the parking lot at Bear Gulch and then walked the reverse of what we'd done the day before so we could hang out at the reservoir and explore the surrounding area. We went through the lower caves (upper caves were closed for bay pupping) on both our way there and the way back -- some of us enjoyed the caves more going up and others down, so highly recommend trying both! Reminder to bring a headlamp or a phone with flashlight mode. The lower caves are typically closed from mid-May to mid-July so keep that in mind.

    Day 3: (53-63º with 0-7mph wind)

    We had light rain around 2am and luckily had our tent rainflies on anyway (for sun protection, privacy and security while we are away from camp). Since checkout is 11am, we took our time packing up and played a couple rounds of Mölkky (a Finnish throwing game) after breakfast. We grabbed some souvenirs at the gift shop, mailed off a couple postcards (remember to bring your own stamps), and then headed home.

    Already looking forward to our next trip back! We've done day hikes from the West park entrance before, and having a campsite to stay for a couple days was even better.


    To make things easier, we pre-made potato salad and pre-assembled chicken kebabs the night before we left. We also brought drinking water, coffee, tea, beer, and bubbly water for whenever.

    • Day 1 Lunch - PB&J sandwiches, potato chips, apple slices
    • Day 1 Dinner - BBQ hot dogs & fixings, homemade potato salad (some of us put it ON the hot dogs), sauerkraut, cantaloupe, BBQ potato chips
    • Day 1 Dessert - s'mores
    • Day 2 Breakfast - scrambled eggs, chicken sausage, hash browns
    • Day 2 Lunch - PB&J sandwiches, potato chips, apple slices
    • Day 2 Dinner - chicken & vegetable skewers, salad, baked beans
    • Day 2 Dessert - s'mores
    • Day 3 Breakfast - scrambled eggs, bacon, tortillas / toast, avocado, hot sauce
    • Day 3 Lunch - PB&J sandwiches, potato chips, apple slices

    Gear List:

    • 2-person tent, sleeping bags, pads, pillows, tent lights
    • ENO 2-person hammock
    • 75 gallon cooler + two bags of ice (we still had almost 1 bag of ice when we got home)
    • Camp chairs
    • Headlamps (pre-charged)
    • External USB charger (pre-charged)(for phone, headlamp, etc)
    • Radius hanging dish drying bag
    • Plastic tub for dishes, sponge, dish soap
    • Radius hanging trash tube (small)
    • Paracord (for hanging trash tube and dish bag at second campsite)
    • Radius Gear Box 5500
    • Large knives, utensils, bowels, plates, cutting board, cups
    • 2-burner camp stove + fuel
    • Frying pans, tongs, spatula, stir spoon
    • Jet Boil camp stove + fuel
    • Lighters + matches
    • Paper towels + hand towels
    • Picnic table cover
    • Firewood, kindling, hatchet
    • Hot dog / marshmallow skewers
    • Games - cards, cribbage, dice, UNO, backgammon, Mölkky
    • Clothes for hiking, hat, sunscreen
    • Warm clothes for night
    • Toiletries (deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, etc)
    • Day-hiking backpack + water bladder (or water bottle)
    • Trekking poles (optional)
    • First-aid kit + hand sanitizer
    • Toilet paper + trowel (optional for day hike) -- NOTE: the campground bathrooms were really nice and well stocked with TP and soap
    • Small fold-up table (optional since the campsite has a picnic table)
    • Camera + tripod (optional)
    • Reading Book (optional)
    • Towels & swim gear (didn't use, but the campground does have a pool)

    We were able to fit the small items in the Gear Box 5500. Even when dishes were dry we left them in the Hanging Dish Drying Bag to pull from when we needed. And the Small Hanging Trash Tube was put in the car at night just in case the raccoons got curious.

    If you're thinking of doing a day-trip or overnighter to Pinnacles, let us know if you have any questions below. And if you've been before, leave a comment with your experience and any important gear you brought that we didn't.


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