Pinnacles National Park, CA

Moss and rocks

Moss and rocks

Wednesday, December 24

After a slow morning spent puttering around inside the RV and a leisurely walk around the campground to admire more of the redwoods at Big Basin, it’s time to pack up and move out.

Last night at the visitor’s center we’d gone up to the ranger desk to try to find an easier way to leave the park. There was one person in front of us in line, and he was asking the same question.

“There’s this road here, how is it?” He asks, pointing to the squiggle of Bear Creek Road. I wince in remembrance.

“No, don’t take that one.” The ranger responds. “I took that road home from work once when I felt like a challenge, never again. Take this one instead.” She points to where Route 9 curves south out of Boulder City Creek.

Light filters down into Bear Gulch Cave

Light filters down into Bear Gulch Cave

I can’t help but pipe up from behind him. “Oh, thank goodness, we had the same question. We came in on Bear Creek Road-“

“Ooooh.” The ranger winces.

“-pulling a 17 foot trailer-“

“Oooooh”, The ranger winces again.

“-And we were really hoping there was a better way.”

She gives us both a little printout map with the right road highlighted to make it easier. From across the parking lot another member of the man’s party gives a shout. “Don’t worry, we found the way out!”

“No.” the man says, now informed. “You only think you did.” All of us smile.

Route 9 ends in Santa Cruz at Route 1, a road I have heard is very scenic and worth a drive. Julie and I only get 16 miles of it today before we cut across further east, but I’ll be back someday to do the whole thing.

We cross Hwy 101 and hit the much smaller and more rustic route 25. Hardly anyone is traveling on this two lane road that follows a green valley between rolling hills. We needed to be on this road to ensure we enter Pinnacles National Park from the east entrance, the two entrances to the park do not meet up with each other, and the campground is on the east side.

Mist over Bear Gulch Cave, the roof of the cave is the rocks you see below.

Mist over Bear Gulch Cave, the roof of the cave is the rocks you see at the bottom.

Pinnacles is the newest national park, having been a national monument up until a few years ago. As the name might imply, the big draw are the rugged spires of rock jutting up from the ridge that runs through the middle of the park. It’s a smaller operation than many national parks and is not heavily staffed this time of year. We go into the visitor’s center to check in, we paid online in advance.

Our site for Christmas has 30 amp electric and costs $35 a night on top of the entrance fee (waived for us because I bought the $80 annual park pass last summer – it’s a good investment for RVers who are going to be visiting a lot of national sites in a year!).

The view from my bed on Christmas morning

The view from my bed on Christmas morning

The campground isn’t anything special. The area is dryer being farther inland and not as green as other parts of California we’ve been driving through. The loop that has electric has no grass, very few trees, and the sites are pretty close together. There’s a quite a bit of construction going on in the area and the campground looks unfinished. Maybe when it’s done it’ll look better. Not that it’s a horrible campground or anything, I’m just use to national park campgrounds being more scenic than this. Still though, it’s worth it to have electric for the holiday. Julie and I will be able to watch TV shows on the computer, warm up hot cocoa in the microwave, and run the heaters overnight.

We take a drive up the only road on the east side of the park into the hills to the trail heads.

Farther up the hillside the beauty of Pinnacles becomes more apparent. Giant mossy stones litter narrow gullies, trees are more abundant, and the view of the valley below and the ridge on the other side draws an appreciating grin.

The Balconies formation is on the left, view from High Peaks trail.

The Balconies formation is on the left, view from High Peaks trail.

We hike the short but neat Bear Gulch Cave trail, which is about a mile and a half in length. Pinnacles National Park has two pretty special caves called talus caves. A talus cave isn’t formed by water or wind carving out rock, but from rock falling into a narrow canyon, creating a roof over it.

Parts of the High Peaks trail involve steep and narrow crossings like this.

Parts of the High Peaks trail involve steep and narrow crossings like this.

Both of Pinnacles caves have running water in them which deepen the canyon. The trail enters along the stream under huge fallen boulders. During periods of heavy rain and flooding the caves are closed, because the caves are under water, flashlights are required for hiking in the caves at all times.

The trail twists and curves, following the sound of water which is often not visible deep below. The imperfect way the boulders overhead have fallen against each other do allow some light to sneak in between cracks, offering tantalizing glimpses into this secret world. In places where the roof is too low or the climb too steep, the trail has been carved into the boulders to allow people to pass, but even for smaller hikers there is some stooping involved. If you aren’t good at bending over or get nervous squeezing through tight places, this probably isn’t the hike for you.

Outside of the cave, the mist from this morning seems to has finally caught up with us. As we climb back down the hills the fog and light rain play across the landscape offering us fleeting views and adding an air of surreality to the surroundings. The few day visitors have all left with the end of day, dropping temperatures, and precipitation. All is still. I take back what I say about Pinnacles being nothing special, it’s just more well hidden than at places like Big Basin.

Thursday, December 25

Today is a hiking day.

More pinnacles

More pinnacles

Julie and I picked out the 5.3 mile Condor Gulch/High Peaks loop for today’s hike, which goes higher than the two cave trails and allows for better views of the pinnacles themselves. It’s rated as strenuous with over a 1,000 foot climb in elevation, but after Angel’s Landing at Zion and the waterfall trails at Yosemite, this shouldn’t be too hard from us.

I have my Christmas present to myself along today, a Camelbak backpack with a water reservoir. It’s something I’d wished for the entire summer at Zion, but which I didn’t feel comfortable with buying until I had a little extra money again. I’m sure I’ll get my money’s worth from it.


I took this photo mostly to prove to my mom that I had a proper Christmas dinner

The pinnacles are neat. Erosion has ate away at the softer rock on this ridge and left behind the harder rock in some pretty fantastical shapes. The weather is clear if still a bit cold, and traffic on the trails is light. I say Merry Christmas to the people we pass, and smile. As far as holidays go, this is a pretty awesome way to spend one, much better than Christmas last year when I was stuck at Amazon still because of an ice storm.

After the hike, which takes a good chunk of the day since we’re dawdling for pictures and not in any hurry, Julie creatively cooks a Christmas dinner using all three of my appliances. The chicken is cooked on my tiny George Foreman, the stuffing is done on the stove, and the frozen peas are in a special pouch that can be microwaved. We catch up on TV shows we’re behind on while eating and enjoy a drink. I have a very merry Christmas, I hope you all did too.

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  1. James Corey on December 31, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I think the town on Highway 9 is Boulder Creek. Have a very happy New Year. BTW, California is unseasonably cold right now. Don’t get discouraged.

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:42 pm

      You are correct James, good catch!

      Happy New Year to you as well, if I don’t get good weather this trip, maybe next time. I’ve got a lot of travel ahead of me, there’s no rush. 🙂

  2. Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on December 31, 2014 at 11:25 am

    Haven’t been to Pinnacles since I was a young boy. The park is not too far from where I grew up on the East side of the San Francisco Bay.

    I’m not sure where you are headed, but you REALLY should be taking Highway 1 from Carmel down to San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach. Your truck and Cas would NOT have a problem. If you have not been on that drive before, you are REALLY going to miss absolute beauty.

    It’s not too late to backtrack up 101 to Highway 68 out of Salinas.

    • Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets on December 31, 2014 at 11:27 am

      P.S. Thank you for the joy you have brought us in 2014 following your blog as we prepare for our own Great Escape. Happy New Year to you, Julie and fellow blogorinos!
      Ed @ Chasing Sunrises and Sunsets recently posted..The End is Near!My Profile

      • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:39 pm

        Thank you so much for following along Ed, I hope your transition to full-timing is smooth and painless. 🙂

        We aren’t going to get more of Hwy 1 this trip, places to go and people to see! But I will be back someday to get more of it.

  3. Roger on December 31, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Hi Becky,

    Sounds like you and Julie are having fun, I am still in the L.A. area and hope to go to Quartzite some time after the first.
    Spoke to Kenney and we talked about meeting up when we get there. Do you have any plans to go in the AZ. direction?

    BTW, Happy new Year! to you and Julie.


    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:38 pm

      Heya Roger, glad you’re enjoying yourself. We’ll be passing through AZ on our way to TX, but I’m not sure yet how much time we’ll have in the area or where we’ll cross. We’ve got a volunteer gig starting Jan 16th.

      Happy New Year to you as well!

  4. carlene on December 31, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Great posting love that area of Ca. I live south of hwy 50 so glad you had a good trip over the summit. Not my favorite hwy. Have a happy new year keep up the wonderful postings. I too hope to be on the road soon.

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      Glad you enjoyed it Carlene. I think we have gotten pretty lucky with road conditions so far, Cali has been enjoyable.

      Hope to hear from you on the road someday soon. 🙂

  5. Wayne from PA on December 31, 2014 at 7:21 am

    Enjoy your trip, Becky…and Happy New Year. Will be reading about your travels throughout next year, too…and hopefully be on the road myself, at least part-time before the end of 2015. Then, shortly thereafter, full-time.

    See ya,


    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:34 pm

      Happy New Year Wayne! Best of luck to you for getting on the road, it’ll come sooner than you think if you just work at it a little every day. 🙂

  6. Jodee Gravel on December 31, 2014 at 6:54 am

    Another beautiful place in an area I’m familiar with but have never seen – seems to be a lot of those in California. That trail cut in the rock is very impressive. I’d be very nervous but might give it a try with those sturdy handrails 🙂

    Loved the exchange at the beginning over the “way out” – always validating to know we’re not the only ones who fell into a place!

    You and Julie have a very Happy New Year, with lots of adventures, exciting places, and an abundant cash flow!
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..A Huge Piece of the Puzzle Moves In PlaceMy Profile

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:33 pm

      The handrails were sturdy Jodee! You should definitely try to get out there sometime.

      And thank you, I hope you have a great 2015 as well!

  7. Vincent Goetz on December 31, 2014 at 5:44 am

    I think Highway 25 is one of the prettiest parts of California….

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:31 pm

      It was a nice drive Vincent, and the lack of traffic was a welcome change from the roads near SF.

  8. Terri on December 31, 2014 at 4:11 am

    Yep, another hike I could not do – squeezing through tight places is not something I can do well, as I start to feel claustrophobic. Beautiful pictures as always, Becky, and I”m so glad you guys had a good Christmas. Very good you didn’t have to be alone (although, you and I both know that’s not the worst thing in the world, you just have to be comfortable with your own company.)

    Hope you have something fun planned for NYE!

    Terri recently posted..Easy Like Sunday MorningMy Profile

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:27 pm

      Glad you enjoyed the pictures Terri and yes, I did have a good Christmas and hope you’ve enjoyed the holidays as well.

      Take care!

  9. Ron on December 30, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    And a HAPPY, Fun & Safe New Year to both of you, May your adventures continue to be GREAT!!! Ron

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:21 pm

      Thanks Ron, wishing you a good 2015 as well. 🙂

      • Beekeeper on January 4, 2015 at 8:14 pm

        We love Pinnacles. Our 1st time there we set up camp and put our chairs outside and when we sat down and looked up we were blown away to see 3 California Condors flying overhead. We had not realized it was a release point for the Condors.
        We also thought the campground was fine. You can see the other trailers and RVs but are not smack up next to them and the oak trees are spectacular. We loved being woken up by the wild turkeys and the hiking is fine.
        All in all a great place to visit.

        • Becky on January 4, 2015 at 9:13 pm

          Sadly we didn’t see any during our stay, but there were signs around about them. That must have been really neat!

  10. Rene on December 30, 2014 at 7:43 pm

    Sounds like a great Christmas Day for the two of you! We spent it with our son, played a board game and had beef rolls for dinner. To us, Christmas is about sharing it with those we love, not gifts and tinsel.
    I definitley want to return to Pinnacles. I was last year as a teenager and it sure is different than I remember.
    Enjoy your California travels!
    Rene recently posted..R ‘n R For UsMy Profile

    • Rene on December 30, 2014 at 7:45 pm

      I was last *there* as a teenager…

      • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:19 pm

        Hehe, I figured Rene! Glad you had a good Christmas with your son.

  11. Todd on December 30, 2014 at 7:15 pm

    Thanks for sharing. The best to you & Julie in 2015. Safe travels. Hoping to join you after a failed launch in 2014.

    • Rob on December 30, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      Hwy 1 between Santa Cruz & down by San Luis Obispo has great scenery, some don’t like the road going south (the ocean side).

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:17 pm

      There is no failure as long as you keep trying Todd, don’t get discouraged! Have a great 2015 as well, hope to hear from you on the road.

  12. Maura on December 30, 2014 at 6:11 pm

    You two are traveling in my neck of the woods! But somehow it is more beautiful when reading your experience! Good luck on your future travels Becky…You are the Bomb! Wishing you the most abundant 2015!
    Maura recently posted..SerendipidyMy Profile

    • Becky on December 31, 2014 at 11:16 pm

      Thank you Maura, and a good new year to you too!

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