San Francisco was one of the first areas to go into lockdown as the novel coronavirus pandemic hit American shores. Weeks indoors have left locals hungry for a breath of fresh air. Now, more than ever, it’s important to spend time outdoors for both our physical and mental health. Fortunately for San Franciscans, Pinnacles National Park is only 2 hours away by car. Day use visitor entry will be open to foot and bicycle traffic. Vehicles will only be allowed to as far as the campsites. All further trails must be accessed without motor vehicles. Visitor centers, high peaks, and caves will remain closed until it is socially responsible to reopen. Shuttles will remain nonoperational at this time. It is advisable to check the heat index before venturing into the park. All visitors must bring their own water and plenty of it.
A New Park with an Ancient History
Some San Franciscans may not realize that Pinnacles exists since it only became a National Park in 2013. While it may be new to modern residents, the Chalon and Mutsun tribes inhabited the area for hundreds of years before non-native settlers arrived in the 18th century. The area wasn’t really mined or denuded of natural resources by the early settlers. But, as the population grew, the surrounding towns and settlements began flocking to the area for leisure. Families would come up to the highland caves to explore or set out a picnic. The landscape is formed by eroded volcanic rock and is a picturesque spot to relax with loved ones in the shade. Today, the park is divided into 2 sections, eastern and western, and the only way to get from one section to another inside the park is on foot or by bicycle.
Rock Climbing in Pinnacles
Rock climbing is popular in Pinnacles National Park but it comes with its own challenges. The rocks on the western side of the park are considered “less than granite quality” and tend to break off. Skilled climbers can be heard before they’re seen in the area because they’re constantly tapping and knocking on the rockface to glean the strength of their potential hand or footholds. Some of the best beginner climbs are Tourist Trap or Discovery Wall. Both are located just a short walk from Bear Gulch, a popular hiking trail. These walls are more suited to beginners who have tried indoor rock walls and want to advance their skillset. Before planning a climbing visit, visitors should check for raptor advisories. During certain times of year, raptors nest in the crags and under rocky outcroppings. To protect the local wildlife, the park closes these areas. Climbing sites on the eastern side of the park have harder rock faces, but it gets very hot in these areas. Early morning climbs are the best way to attack these spots.
A Safe Haven for California Condors
Raptors aren’t the only creatures that call Pinnacles National Park home. California condors that have been raised in captivity are brought to the park to be released. The California condor population declined significantly during the 20th century until there were only 27 left in the whole state. Lead poisoning played a big part in the declining population. Adult condors would pick up spent munitions, glass, and other human objects to feed to their young. As fewer condors reached maturity, their populations dwindled. California condors are now protected by state legislation and their numbers have risen over the last few decades. Since hunting isn’t allowed in the park, the newly matured birds are reintroduced to the wild safely. Visitors traversing the desert landscape often see these massive birds circling high in the sky.
One of the most beautiful explosions of color in central California can be seen up close and personal in Pinnacles National Park. San Franciscans make the drive every spring to see thousands of wildflowers as they bloom across the hills and valleys. The expansive grasslands and nutrient-rich volcanic soil create perfect conditions for wildflowers. Their rich purple and yellow hues make bush poppies, shooting stars, and lupines some of the most popular blooms. Hiking trails throughout the park offer gorgeous panoramic views of the painted hillsides. March through May is the best time of year to view the wildflowers. In cooler years, the blooms can last into mid-June. Hotter years bring earlier explosions of color, as early as late-January or February.