Pinnacles National Monumkent
California Central Coast
Rock Ramparts over the Salad Bowl


A massive battlement of rock spires rises up from the east rim of Salinas Valley. Jutting up out of the smooth Gabilan mountains, the Pinnacles don’t look like they belong there. In fact, they came from somewhere else.

Now presiding over the long, lush patch quilt vegetable garden, “America’s Salad Bowl,” these rock formations are really in transit. This huge batch of craggy, jagged rocks started out far south of here.

Geologically, the story of Pinnacles National Monument is complex. There was an 8,000 ft. volcano, that had its beginnings nearly 200 miles south in the high desert. About 23 million years ago it began moving north with the San Andreas rift.

At a rate of 1.5 inches a year, it will become San Francisco before long, say another 5 or 6 million years. Or, these rocks may become an off shore island, as the pushing of tectonic plates causes the Salinas Valley to widen and a new coast line shall develop.

Inside the Pinnacles National Monument, it gets more interesting. Canyons, caves and creeks create a cacophony of trails and hideouts. Eagles, hawks, kestrels and falcons hang here. Tiburcio Vasquez,the infamous social bandit is said to have hidden a stash from a robbery here shortly before he was captured in L.A. and hung in San Jose.

The rocks at Pinnacles are so spectacular in appearance because they have been exposed to so much eroding activity. This grand old volcano is but a pittance of its long ago grandeur. It is now like a playground volcano, left over for us to climb around in and learn about these geologic behemoths that blast out of the earth’s furnace. Part of the original Pinnacles can be seen down by Lancaster along Hwy 138.


Hiking and climbing are chief objectives for visitors to the Pinnacles. Fascinating trails abound.

Photo by Margie Whitnah
There are four self guided nature trails. Get up close to strange, deep-red rocks. One is eleven miles, a roundtrip to the Chalone Peak that gives great looks at the rock formations, and an amazing view at the top. The Geology Hike and Balconies Trail are good learning experiences.

Wherever you go, take a flashlight and water. People sometimes get lost. Earthquakes, as the volcano rides the San Andreas Fault, certainly happen. Some trails are only for experienced hikers.

All six photos at right are by Michael Harris

El Niño did some damage in 1998. Some areas were flooded. Not all trails have been restored. Some remain unopened.

Wildflowers -poppies, Indian paintbrush, lupines and mustard- put on great shows in the Spring.

Sunlight on the rocks makes a constantly changing color show. There are two campgrounds near the park entrance.

A small site on the West side, and two (one is private) on the East side. Call 831.389.4485

The private campground has 100 spaces, some with electricity,pool, store, flush toilets and showers.

Call 831.389.4462 after 4 pm weekdays, or during the day weekends.

Photo by Margie Whitnah

There are two entrances to the park.

From the west, take Hwy 146 east from Soledad.

To get to Soledad, take Hwy 101 south. It winds up past the world famous Chalone Winery (Julia Child is on their Board), to an entrance of the park with a small campground. You can hike infrom here to anywhere in the park

The entrance from the east (Hwy 25 to 146) is more popular. It hasa small Visitor Center, with exhibits and trail maps

Take State Hwy 25 south from Hollister through a unique stretch of back country California in Bear Valley.


5 miles south of Hollister is historic Tres Pinos, not much changed since Joaquin Murrieta frequented these parts.

20 miles farther is the branch road that leads to Pinnacles National Monument.

The park is 5 miles west of Highway 25 on Highway 146. 

For a treat of olden Back Country California, go to Bear Valley.

After leaving the Pinnacles, go back out to Hwy 25 and turn south (to the right).

This picturesque valley is awash in pastoral vignettes. Antique vehicles, old one room school houses, hidden vineyards and storybook farms.

After 12 miles there is Bitterwater, a seasonallake on the left, and a county road, G13 to the right. G13 winds through the lava ledges of the Gabilan mountains, past parsley fields and into the southern farming hub of Salinas Valley, King City. 


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