Pinnacles National Park is one of the newest national parks in the US as of 2013. Previously it was a national monument since 1908. The park sits along the San Andreas Fault south of the San Francisco Bay Area and has a Mediterranean climate and can be quite comfortable during the winter months.
The park is all about California Condors and hiking. If you don’t like either one then this park isn’t for you. OK, that’s what we read. We discovered they were basically right but there is a bit more including lots of birding,wild turkeys, bat cave exploration, and rock climbing.
The park is divided into two sides, the western side and the eastern side. Both are accessed via Hwy 146 but the road does not connect the two sides. If you want to go from one side to the other you either need to make the 2-hour drive or you can hike from one side to the other. The west side is off Highway 101 which makes for each access from the bay area but the road is not recommended in a trailer/camper/big rig and the east side is off Hwy 25 which also makes for easy access to the bay area. This means the park can be quite crowded on holiday weekends or during the peak season which is mid February to early June. We highly recommend not visiting this part during either of those times.
The east side of the park is where the Visitor’s Center and campground are located. We arrived at the park in the middle of the President’s Day Holiday weekend. Yikes, there were lots, and I mean lots, of rigs and people here (large groups of teenagers at the group sites) and the campground was chock-a-block full. Thankfully we were aware of this and had a reservation. Upon arrival we were not thrilled with the massive amounts of people and vehicles but we adapted and knew it was for a short time. Within 36 hours we were almost by ourselves and then the park came into being. We then fell in love. What a difference a day makes!!
The campground has 4 loops plus several group camping areas. The signage, or lack thereof, shows an arrow for RV sites and an arrow for non-electric sites (no site numbers).
RV Sites (84-120) are in Loop D and non-electric sites are in Loops A, B, and C. Loop D has electric only (50 AMP), has room for big rigs, and also has several water spigots throughout the loop. There is no potable water at the dump station, only flush water.
Loop D has dirt/gravel/grass sites rather close together and some with great picnic areas and others with picnic areas to the rear right next to your neighbour. Loop D almost feels like an RV park but there are a few nice sites. Site layouts and sizes are inconsistent so choose your site carefully if and when making reservations.
Our favourite sites on Loop D, the ones which have the most width and the most private picnic areas are sites 100, 118, and 120. We prefer sites on the outside of the loop, which they both are, instead of the inside loop unless we are in grizzly territory!
We picked Loop D due to wanting easy access to the Condor viewing area which was directly across from our site and it was basically the only thing available when making reservations almost 6 weeks prior. We weren’t parked in our site but an hour or so when 3 Condors came flying overhead. YAY, YAY, YAY! You quickly learn to spot the difference between a vulture and a condor.
Campground: Pinnacles Campground – Loop D
Location: Pinnacles National Park – Paicines, California
Site: 114 (back-in)
Cost: $18 (half price of the $36 nightly rate due to interagency pass)
Services: E (50 AMP)
Comments: We love birding and we love hiking which makes this park perfect for us. Our site made for perfect viewing of the birds, including Condors, both from inside our rig and also just outside the rig. Our only comment would be to stay away during weekends, holidays, and peak season in the Spring or you will find yourself bumper to bumper with lots of other people and rigs. Any campground within close proximity to a large city is probably very similar. And site 115 would make a good companion site as their picnic areas are very close to one another.
Loops A, B, and C are all dry camping and are quite lovely with much more space between sites, more wooded, and many sites have quite a bit of privacy with their picnic areas and tent areas tucked back in the woods. A few sites should be able to fit big rigs. Next time we would try to stay in Loop C. We did notice after the holiday weekend Loop C was closed. All three loops have much more of a campground feel than Loop D and all provide food lockers to store your food away from all the pesky critters around (basically racoons) should you be tenting.
The park also has a Visitor’s Center, Store, and Swimming Pool (open seasonally) next to Loop D along with an amphitheatre.
On our last day the Airstreams came pouring in as a rally was being held here, the No-Cal So-Cal Rally. It was maybe 20 or 30 Airstreams.
Overall we really enjoyed our time at this National Park, we had beautiful weather, just absolutely perfect and we had a wonderful time.