High Peaks Trail At Pinnacles National Park

The High Peaks Trail is easily one of the best hikes in Pinnacles National Park. This loop trail takes hikers through some of the park’s most interesting features including sunny rolling hills, deep canyons, and to the top of volcanic pinnacle rocks that overlook the entire park!

If you only have time to do one hike in Pinnacles National Park, this should be it!!!

Perfect for adventurous travelers, this unmissable hike will lead you to the rugged, central area of Pinnacles National Park which can only be reached on foot. You’ll climb over 1,300 feet on a well-maintained network of trails and navigate rock staircases which have been carved into the pinnacle rocks.

You’ll even have the option to add on a side trip to Bear Gulch Cave or Balconies Cave which are the park’s star attractions. These caves are known as Talus Caves, a rare type of cave formed by boulders and large rocks that fall into canyons and narrow chasms to create underground spaces. 

To say this hike is a lot of fun would be an understatement. This hike is unique, challenging, surprising, and also breathtaking. It is best hiked in the seasons outside of summer when temperatures are cooler.

Here are some trail details and photography for the High Peaks Trail that will hopefully persuade you to complete this hike on your trip to Pinnacles National Park.

High Peaks Trail Guide & Details

High Peaks Hiking Trail In Pinnacles National Park
  • Distance: 7.9 miles
  • Elevation: 1,425 feet
  • Time: 5 – 6 hours
  • Trailhead: Bear Gulch/Moses Spring/Balconies Cave/Old Pinnacles
  • Read all about Pinnacles National Park here.

Where Should You Start Your Hike On High Peaks Trail?

There are two entrances at Pinnacles National Park, an east entrance and a west entrance. The good news is that all of the hiking trails at this park can be accessed from either side of the park because they are all interconnected.

The easiest and best way to approach this hike is from the east entrance in Bear Gulch. Park at the nature center and begin the hike along the Condor Gulch Trail which will meet up with the High Peaks Trail to complete a loop finishing back up in Bear Gulch. Another option is to start your hike at the Moses Spring Trailhead and visit Bear Gulch Cave first, then take the Rim Trail to High Peaks.

However, if you are visiting Pinnacles National Park from the west entrance, you need to take Juniper Canyon Trail to High Peaks Trail to complete the loop.

Since we had already hiked to Bear Gulch Cave and Bear Gulch Reservoir the day before, we chose to approach the High Peaks from the Old Pinnacles Parking Area following the Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cliffs before reaching the High Peaks section.

Old Pinnacles Trail starts out as a nice mellow incline up a hillside dotted with oak trees. The hike gets very interesting not too far from the trailhead when parts of the trail start to travel over volcanic breccia rock. There are handrails to help with your balance as you walk across.

The trail then opens up and all trees begin to disappear. Eventually there is an overlook of the canyon that the hiking trail runs through. The views at this point are fantastic and it’s a good spot to stop and have a rest.

There are also some awesome close views of the iconic pinnacle boulders along this stretch. We stopped to take some photos before moving on.

Best Things To Do In Pinnacles National Park

The trail then gets steep as it heads towards the behemoth-sized boulders. Once you’ve gained elevation and reached the top of the pinnacles, the trail flattens out and continues right beside the monolithic rocks.

We went off-trail along this part of the hike to climb a few of the rocks to get a different perspective on the landscape. Along this stretch are incredible views of the northern section of the park, and you can even see the parking lot at the west entrance.

Views From The High Peaks Trail In Pinnacles National Park

From here you will soon reach the High Peaks section where you will need to climb up some boulders along a narrow ridgeline. There are railings to help with your balance. This part of the hike is a lot of fun and really gets your adrenaline going.

It involves climbing up steps that are only wide enough to fit a human foot. All of the rock steps carved into the rocks up here were carved during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Steep and Narrow Section of the High Peaks Trail

Here are some photos of what you have to look forward to on the ‘steep and narrow’ section of the High Peaks Trail. The photos below show the staircase and steps that have been carved into the rocks by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

This is the highest point on the High Peaks Trail and there are some fantastic views of Pinnacles National Park and of the monolithic boulders.

While you are up here, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for California Condors because this is one of the best places to view them. You may see one circling above you, but the tricky thing is that from below, the condors look very similar to turkey vultures which are also common here.

As you navigate the steep and narrow section, you’ll need to climb another set of stairs that have been built into the boulders up here (seen in the photo below). Be careful that you don’t hit your head on the rocks as you make your way up and under the boulders. This will be the last of the stairs and climbing you will need to do before descending back down the trail.

Once you have hiked the last part of the steep and narrow section, the trail begins to descend and the incredible views will disappear. Now you’ll be on the home stretch!

Blue Oak Trail

To get back to the Old Pinnacles Trailhead, you’ll need to take the Blue Oak Trail back. There will be a trail junction where the Blue Oak Trail begins, and also another trail that heads back to Bear Gulch.

We continued our hike along the Blue Oak Trail which was very scenic. Because the trail is so open, there are some great views of the entire park.

I’m not going to lie, we were actually quite exhausted by the time we got back to our car. But we had also just driven down from Washington state a day earlier (not all in one hit however we packed so much into our driving itinerary on the road trip down).

How Long Does It Take To Hike High Peaks Trail?

It takes most hikers between four and five hours to complete the High Peaks Trail. It will obviously be quicker if you begin the hike from the Bear Gulch area and longer if you start from the Old Pinnacles Trailhead and from the west entrance of the park.

It took us about five hours, maybe a little longer, but we stopped a lot to take photos and to look at the views on our hike.

When Is The Best Time To Hike High Peaks Trail?

The best time to hike High Peaks Trail is during the spring, fall, and winter when temperatures are cooler in Central California. This trail does not offer any shade at all and during the summer, temperatures regularly hit the triple digits.

You can still hike this trail in summer but just be prepared meaning wear sunscreen and a hat, and make sure you take plenty of water with you on your hike!

View From The Rim Hiking Trail In Pinnacles National Park

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