Camping in Pinnacles National Park is the best way to take in the rocky spires, seas of wildflowers, and wild talus caves that this California national park is best known for.
Despite its proximity to San Francisco (just three hours away by car), Pinnacles receives only a fraction of the visitors (roughly 220,000) than equidistant Yosemite National Park (over 4 million) does per year. This makes it the perfect destination for campers and hikers that prefer a more remote and secluded national park experience.
So, what makes Pinnacles so special? The titular pinnacles, the distinctive craggy rock formations leftover from an ancient volcano, draw the most visitors. See them from the road or view them up close and personal from the more than 30 miles of hiking trails. The unique talus caves are another big draw. Or, visit in the spring for the wildflower bloom (but don’t forget to occasionally look upward though for a chance to spot peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and California condors).
Unfortunately, camping opportunities are limited with just one campground. Although this campground is small, it’s an excellent way to enjoy an overnight stay in the park. But there are also plenty of nearby campgrounds, many of which accommodate large RVS, in the local area.
Here is our ultimate guide to help you plan the best Pinnacles National Park camping trip!
Best Camping in Pinnacles National Park
Camping is easily one of the best ways to enjoy the majesty of Pinnacles National Park.
But, unfortunately, camping opportunities are few and far between. There is currently only one campground in the national park. It’s suitable for tent and RV camping. Campsites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance. Backcountry camping isn’t allowed anywhere in the park.
Here’s the lowdown on the Pinnacles Campground in Pinnacles National Park:
Dates Open: Year-Round
# of Sites: 134
Pinnacles Campground is currently the only campground in Pinnacles National Park.
It’s accessed from the east road from the east entrance to the park. Although there is also a west entrance and a west road, the two roads don’t connect. So, it’s important to arrive from the east if you plan to stay at this campground.
134 total campsites are available. These include a mix of shaded tent sites, RV sites with electrical hookups, and large group sites. Many of the campsites are shaded by large oak trees.
In addition to the campground, a small campground store run by Pinnacles Recreation Company is open during the day. It has the basic supplies you’ll need for an enjoyable stay. An on-site swimming pool is another nice feature. It’s typically open daily from mid-April through the end of September, although this depends on the weather.
Flush toilets and running water are available. Coin-operated showers are located on-site. An RV dump station is also available. Most campsites can be reserved up to 6 months in advance.
Learn more about Pinnacles Campground.
Other Campgrounds Near Pinnacles National Park
In addition to the Pinnacles Campground, there are several other places to go camping near Pinnacles National Park.
However, unlike many national parks, the majority of these nearby campgrounds are at least a half hour to an hour away (if not slightly more). Although all of these campgrounds and camping areas are worth a stay in their own right, it’s likely best to make a reservation at the Pinnacles Campground for at least one night of your visit.
Here is the best camping near Pinnacles National Park:
- Arroyo Seco Campground – About an hour from Pinnacles, Arroyo Seco Campground is a quiet campground set alongside the Arroyo Seco River. It’s within walking distance of two small lakes. RVs are welcome, although no RV hookups are available.
- Condon Peak – Also roughly an hour from the national park, Condon Beak is BLM land located in the Clear Creek Management Area. It’s an ideal place for dispersed camping and is also popular hiking, hunting (in season), and horseback riding.
- Griswold Hills – Another nearby campground located on BLM land, Griswold Hills is close to Pinnacles as the crow flies but the layout of the roads requires around a 2-hour drive to reach. The rustic camping area still makes a good stop for those traveling to or from the national park from the east.
- Hollister Hills SVRA – One of the closest campgrounds to Pinnacles National Park (just a half hour drive), Hollister Hills SVRA is an off-road vehicle recreation area that also allows RV and tent camping. Several different campgrounds are available to choose from.
- Inn at the Pinnacles – Sure, it’s not a campground, but Inn at the Pinnacles is home to the best lodging near Pinnacles National park. Just over 2 miles away from the west entrance, this small but luxurious bed and breakfast is tucked away among beautiful vineyards, making for a relaxing and convenient stay.
- Laguna Mountain Campground – Tucked away on BLM land just a half hour from the national park, Laguna Mountain Campground is home to remote dispersed camping for those that prefer the utmost in privacy.
- Salinas/Monterey KOA – The closest KOA campground to Pinnacles, the Salinas/Monterey KOA is perfect for RV campers as well as campers with young children. It has a mix of RV and tent sites as well as camping cabins. A large swimming pool is located on-site. It’s just minutes to the beach and an hour to the national park.
- San Benito RV & Camping Resort – RV campers rejoice – San Benito RV & Camping Resort is one of the best places for RV camping near Pinnacles. This beautiful campground is chock full of amenities and caters to RV campers, although tent camping is also welcome.
- San Lorenzo County Park – Just a half hour away from Pinnacles, San Lorenzo County Park is open to RV campers. The park also boasts playgrounds, volleyball courts, horseshoe pits, and more. Hiking trails are available just outside the park.
- Yanks RV Resort – Another RV campground located near Pinnacles, Yanks RV Resort is conveniently located between the national park and Monterey. It boasts full hook-up RV sites, tons of amenities (including a large swimming pool), and can accommodate RVs up to 100’ in its pull-thru sites.
Top Activities & Destinations In & Near Pinnacles National Park
Camping is a great way to experience Pinnacles National Park – but don’t stop there!
There are a ton of other excellent ways to enjoy a visit to this national park. From hiking trails to talus caves to ranger programs and more, Pinnacles has a little something to keep everyone in your family happy.
Here are the top activities and destinations to do and see while camping in Pinnacles National Park:
- Bird Watching – Bird watchers flock to Pinnacles to see a variety of species, including California Condor, Greater Roadrunner, Prairie Falcon, and many more.
- Hiking – Pinnacles is a hiker’s national park. Many of the park’s most popular attractions (including the talus caves) can only be visited by hiking into them.
- Ranger Programs – Ranger programs, including talks and walks, are offered on a weekly basis. There are also regular Junior Ranger programs offered for children.
- Rock Climbing – Pinnacles National Park remains a popular destination for rock climbing, despite inherent challenges like hot weather and poor-quality rock. Most of the routes along this unique rock are bolt-protected.
- Spelunking – This national park’s many talus caves make it a popular place for spelunking. Most of the caves are easily accessible year-round, although they do close during the bat pupping season. Bear Gulch Cave and Balconies Cave are two of the most well-visited.
- Wildflowers – Seeing the colorful wildflowers in bloom is truly one of the best Pinnacles experiences you can have. Typically in bloom from March through May, lucky visitors might see up to 80% of park wildflower species in bloom at the same time. Talk about colorful!
Best Hiking in Pinnacles National Park
In addition to camping, hiking is the most popular activity in Pinnacles National Park.
We recommend everyone take at least a short hike during their stay. From flat hikes less than one mile in length to intense day hikes totaling 10 miles or more, there are plenty of great Pinnacles hikes for hikers of all skill and experience levels. Just remember summers get extremely hot (often over 100°F) so head out early or, better yet, visit in spring or fall.
Here are the best hiking trails in Pinnacles National Park:
Length: 2 Miles Out-and-Back
Balconies Cave is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Pinnacles. This short hike is perfect for families. It meanders among rock spires and boulders before ending at one of the most well-known talus caves in the park. Although there are several different hikes to the cave (including the 9-mile High Peaks – Balconies Cave Loop), the shorter 2-mile out-and-back hike from Chaparral Trailhead is most popular.
Learn more about Balconies Cave.
Bear Gulch Cave Trail
Length: 1.5 Miles Out-and-Back
The Bear Gulch Cave Trail is a short but sweet hike that’s accessed from the east side of the national park. It follows a beautiful gorge filled with boulders until it reaches the titular talus caves and the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Although the caves are definitely worth exploring, they’re periodically closed down to accommodate the bats that sometimes reside there.
Learn more about Bear Gulch Cave Trail.
Chalone Peak Trail
Length: 9 Miles Roundtrip
If you’re camping at Pinnacles in hopes to see wildflowers, there are few better trails to do so than Chalone Peak Trail (in season. At 9 miles roundtrip, this hike is definitely strenuous, but all that effort is well worth it. The payout is reaching Chalone Peak, the highest point in the national park. Fantastic views of the surrounding valleys greet you. Still not finished hiking? You can continue on an unmaintained trail to nearby South Chalone Peak for even more magical views.
Learn more about Chalone Peak Trail.
Condor Gulch Trail
Length: 6 Miles Roundtrip
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
The High Peaks – Condor Gulch Loop follows the Condor Gulch Trail through one of the most scenic areas in the park. At approximately 6 miles roundtrip, this is a relatively strenuous hike that requires decent physical fitness to accomplish. It takes you through towering spires, near Bear Gulch Reservoir, and nearly to the top of Scout Peak. Beautiful views abound but remember to factor the nearly 1,325 feet of elevation gain into your plans.
Learn more about Condor Gulch Trail.
High Peaks Trail
Length: 6.3 Miles Roundtrip
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
A slight variation from the above hike (Condor Gulch Trail), the High Peaks Trail is roughly equal in terms of distance and effort required. At around 6.3 miles roundtrip, this moderately strenuous trail climbs over 1,750 feet during the course of the hike. The narrow trail is an excellent place to see wildflowers in season. It’s also a popular trail for birdwatching.
Learn more about High Peaks Trail.
Length: 0.9 Miles Roundtrip
For a short, family-friendly hike in Pinnacles National Park, look no further than the Jawbone Trail. At 0.9-miles roundtrip, this easy loop hike only takes about a half hour to complete. Along the way, you’ll reach a popular overlook that’s a great spot to view the famous pinnacles and balconies formations up close and personal.
Learn more about Jawbone Trail.
Juniper Canyon Loop
Length: 4.3 Miles Roundtrip
Difficulty: Medium to Hard
Few hikes in Pinnacles National Park are as beautiful as the Juniper Canyon Loop. The narrow and often steep trail climbs a series of switchbacks. It provides breathtaking views of the High Peaks and many of the pinnacle formations. It’s an excellent way to get a taste of everything the park has to offer in just two to three hours of hiking.
Learn more about Juniper Canyon Loop.
Moses Spring Trail
Length: 2 Miles Out-and-Back
The Moses Spring Trial is a slight variation on the above-mentioned Bear Gulch Cave Trail. It follows much the same route for the beginning of the hike before branching off to forge a separate trail to Bear Gulch Reservoir. Both this lake and the nearby talus caves are well worth the 2-mile hike to reach. Despite some steep portions, this hike is family friendly and is an ideal hike for those camping in Pinnacles National park with children.
Learn more about Moses Spring Trail.
North Wilderness Trail Loop
Length: 9.3 Miles Roundtrip
If it’s a great workout that you want, it’s a great workout that you’ll get by hiking the 9.3-mile roundtrip North Wilderness Trail Loop. Gaining over 1,000 feet in elevation, this Pinnacles hike isn’t for the faint of heart. Yet the beautiful views are well worth it. The trail follows a gorgeous ridge before plummeting into the Chalone Creek bed. Know that the trail is unmaintained so it can be very rough, especially after recent rains.
Learn more about North Wilderness Trail Loop.
Prewett Point Trail
Length: 0.7 Miles Out-and-Back
Another short and sweet Pinnacles National Park hike, Prewett Point Trail is ideal for families with children of all ages. At just 0.7 miles total, this easy hike boasts some of the best views of the Hain Wilderness. Although the trail continues on for a little longer, the first 0.4 of the trail (until the first main overlook) is nearly 5 feet wide, making this one of the most accessible hiking trails in Pinnacles.
Learn more about Prewett Point Trail.
Additional Tips for Camping in Pinnacles National Park
Use these resources to better plan your Pinnacles National Park camping trip:
When to Visit
While many national parks are best to visit in the summer months, the cooler months are actually the best time to visit Pinnacles.
Spring, fall, and even winter are all great times to visit. Spring is a particularly popular time to visit as the park is not only at its greenest, but wildflowers are blooming. Fall and winter are also good times to visit thanks to the cooler temperatures.
Although many people do visit Pinnacles in the summer, know that summer weather is extremely hot. Expect daytime temperatures of up to and exceeding 100°F. Summer also brings very dry conditions with it which means campfires and charcoal grills are prohibited.
How to Get There
There are two main entrances to Pinnacles National Park: the east entrance and the west entrance.
Remember that there is no through road that connects these two entrances.
Most visitors journey to the park from San Francisco to the west. Pinnacles is roughly 3 hours (about 125 miles) by car from San Francisco depending on the weather.
Camping Gear to Bring
The most important thing to bring with you on your Pinnacles National Park camping trip is water!
Summertime visitors in particular need a lot (and we mean a lot!) of water, especially if you plan on hiking. The Pinnacles Campground and the campground store have potable water available but make sure you’re capable of carrying at least 1 liter for every hour you spend hiking.
A camping stove or a backpacking stove is also essential. Not only will these help you cook delicious camping meals, but campfires and charcoal grills are prohibited for much of the year due to extremely hot and dry weather conditions.
Because of the heat, a top-quality cooler is all but essential if you plan to go camping in Pinnacles during the summer. I’ve had the best luck with a rotomolded cooler but you might prefer a more affordable traditional-style cooler, like the Coleman Xtreme, instead.
Other than that, you’ll want to make sure you pack all of the basic camping gear, including a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and camping tent. Our camping checklist will help you ensure you pack everything you need.
RV camping in Pinnacles is a great way to enjoy this California national park.
The sole campground, Pinnacles Campground, has 134 total campsites, many of which accommodate RVs and trailers. The majority of these RV campsites provide 30-amp electrical hookups as well as convenient access to water (although individual water hookups are not available). An RV dump station is located on-site.
Don’t have an RV of your own? Renting an RV, trailer, or pop-up camper is an excellent way to experience Pinnacles National Park. Our guide to renting an RV will tell you everything you need to know.
And our handy dandy RV rental tool will help you find the perfect RV rental for your Pinnacles camping trip.
Camping with Pets
Pets are allowed in Pinnacles National Park.
But, like most national parks, the actual areas where you can bring your pets is limited. In addition to the Pinnacles Campground, you can have your pets on all paved areas, including paved roads and paved picnic areas. Pets are not allowed on any hiking trails.
Although it can be hard to leave your four-legged friend at home, know that summertime temperatures often exceed 100°F in the park. In addition, your pet must be attended to at all times. This means no leaving them alone in car while you hike or otherwise explore!
Learn More About National Park Camping!
Pinnacles National Park is just one of 58 national parks in the United States.
In fact, it’s just one of nine national parks in California alone. As the state with the most national parks, many Pinnacles visitors attempt to hit all nine national parks in a single California national park epic road trip.
Whether you want to see them all or just those closest to Pinnacles (Sequoia, Kings Canyon, and Yosemite), our national park camping guides can help you plan your next trip.
And, like always, we’re here to answer any additional camping questions that you might have!