Pinnacles National Monument Overview

Rising out of the chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, east of central California's Salinas Valley, are the spectacular remains of an ancient volcano. The Pinnacles are its last remnants, carved by the powerful forces of wind and rain, heat, and frost. Massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons, and talus passages stand as evidence of millions of years of erosion, faulting, and tectonic-plate movement. These distinctive geological features are the reason why this area was set aside as a national monument in 1908.

More than 30 miles of trails access the Pinnacles' geological formations, spectacular vistas, and wildland communities. People come here to hike, climb the sheer rock walls, explore caves, and picnic. Within the monument's boundaries lie 24,000 acres of diverse wildlands; the monument is renowned for its beauty and variety of spring wildflowers.

A favorite time of year for many is spring, when a multitude of colorful wildflowers blankets the lush green hills. The hot, dry summer turns the hills golden brown. Fall brings quiet and the lowering light of late afternoon. The cool rains of the winter begin the cycle again. Pinnacles is a day-use park, but occasionally offers full-moon hikes and dark-sky astronomical observations led by ranger-interpreters.

Pinnacles after Dark
Discover the monument in a "new light." Three-hour, two-mile, ranger-led night hikes provide opportunities to learn more about nocturnal wildlife, hear stories about historical characters who once visited these areas, enjoy the night skies, or just listen to the natural quiet. The monument is fortunate to enjoy relatively pristine night skies, free from urban light pollution, and typically offers great views of both stars and planets.

Wildflowers in Bloom
Padre's shooting stars begin to bloom in February and are a sign that spring is just around the corner. The best months to see wildflowers at Pinnacles National Monument are March, April, and May. These are also the busiest months, but experiencing such an explosion of color can be worth braving the crowds. Spy blue fiesta flowers, California buttercups, Indian paintbrush, sticky monkeyflowers, purple nightshade, and more.

Climb On!
Pinnacles National Monument is a challenging area for rock climbing, offering a wide diversity of routes and grades. Much of the rock is loose volcanic breccia, so if you are used to granite, climb with caution. On the Bear Gulch Side of the monument, Tourist Trap and the popular Discovery Wall lie just 10-15 minutes up the trail. Take on Tourist Trap's moderate routes, such as Rat Race—a 5.7 with an intimidating roof. Discovery Wall offers good sport routes and easy-to-hard traditional climbs.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

  • Pinnacles National Monument Travel Q&A

  • What's your favorite hike? Where's the best campsite? Join the conversation! Ask Your Question

Articles & Advice on Pinnacles National Monument

park finder
step one
Where are you going?

step one
What do you want to do?

+ More Activities

Receive Gear Reviews, Articles & Advice

Preview this newsletter »


Parks Near Pinnacles National Monument
GEARZILLA: The Gorp Gear Blog


Ask Questions