Sunday, January 4, 2015

Best trails for seeing Pinnacle NP’s wonders

Spires at Pinnacles National Park. Photo courtesy of Pinnacles NPS.
Among the best ways to see Pinnacles National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just a few short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the California park’s highlights – breathtaking spires, endangered condors, talus caves, rare chaparral, and wildflowers galore.

Ancient spires
The spire rock formations are the eroded remnants of volcanic action that occurred 23 million years ago along the San Andreas Fault, which runs through Pinnacles. To see and walk through the spires, take the 5.3-mile High Peaks Trail on the park’s east side; the terrain is rugged with significant elevation changes.

Endangered condors
More than 25 of North America’s largest bird – the endangered California condor – reside in the national park. The best place to spot one is by extending the High Peaks Trail with a walk on the Condor Gulch Trail for a 6-mile hike with a 1,325-foot elevation change from peak to valley floor. The condors are most active either early morning or at dusk.

Talus caves
The largest maternity colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats between San Francisco and Mexico resides in Bear Gulch Cave, the lower half of which can be explored from about mid-July to about mid-May. The 1.5-mile Bear Gulch Trail heads through the talus cave, formed when boulders formed passageways on the mountain slope.

Rare chaparral
Several varieties of chaparral – one of California’s dominant plants – cover the slopes northwest of the Bear Gulch Visitor Center. You can head through them by taking the Condor Gulch Trail about 2-miles round trip from the visitor center to the overlook.

Each spring, wildflowers – including California poppies, bush lupine, and mariposa lilies – blossom across the park. To see a variety of them at different elevations and from a number of vistas, take the High Peaks Trail to Bear Gulch Trail for a 6.7-mile round trip with a 1,425-foot elevation change.

Learn about other great America national park sights in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Park guidebook.