Destination: Pinnacles National Park
If you want to include a national park in your Airstream road trip, Pinnacles National Park is an easy check off your national park list. It’s not as well known as the larger and more majestic national parks in California like Yosemite or Sequoia National Park, but it was recently designated as a national park for good reason and shouldn’t be missed. It is in fact the second newest national park, designated as such by President Obama in 2013. Pinnacles National Park is named after the narrow peaks, which were formed from volcanic activity millions of years ago, that make up its unique landscape.
Pinnacles National Park is actually the closest national park to our San Jose garage, and is located about 2 hours south of us. The majority of the drive is on major highways and thus is fairly easy. However about 3 miles before the park entrance, you will need to turn off onto a narrow road. We advise driving slow and cautiously down that winding road, especially if you are renting an Airstream 25′ or larger, so as not to damage the sides of the trailer. There is only one campground in Pinnacles and it is located at the east entrance.
Glamping at Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles campground is open year around and allows reservations up to 6 months in advance. We highly recommend making reservations if you’re planning to go during the summer months or on the weekend. The campground itself is well maintained though rather flat and open. There are 37 sites with electrical hook-ups and 82 sites with no hook-ups. Since generators are not allowed at the campground, we recommend reserving a site with electrical hook-ups if possible (especially in the hot summer months). There are water stations where you can fill up your water tanks and a dump station to empty your tank if you need to do so. Pets are allowed at the campsite. There is no firewood sold here (at least in the off-season) so if you want to build a fire in your BBQ pit or fire ring, you will need to bring your own. There is also a small market at the Pinnacles visitor center, located at the entrance of the campground, where you can purchase ice, beverages, camping gear, and any other items you have forgotten to pack. And last but not least, there is no cell service in the park. If you need reception, you will need to drive about 5 miles out towards the main road to get service.
What to do there
Rock climbing is a popular activity at Pinnacles, with a lot of designated climbing spots on the face of the volcanic rocks. For those who rather keep their feet on the ground, there are a 30 miles of hiking trails within the park. And what makes hiking at Pinnacles especially fun are the two trails that wind through caves formed when large boulders fell between narrow canyons.
The Bear Gulch Cave Trail is the closer of the two cave trails and is located just south of Pinnacles campground (in fact if you wanted to add 0.3 miles to your hike, you could just walk to the trailhead). The Bear Gulch Trail is a little over 2 miles roundtrip and is one big loop that goes through Bear Gulch Cave and passes by Bear Gulch Reservoir.
We highly recommend this moderate hike for some fun cave “spelunking” and beautiful views of the unique rock formations. We advise going through the caves first and then going around to the Rim Trail to get back instead of going in the other direction. Rangers advise carrying a flashlight when going through the cave, though our phone lights worked fine. Also pack a light lunch with you so that you can enjoy it at the reservoir, but just watch out for some fairly assertive squirrels that are very used to humans. Also while you’re there, see if you can spot the face that guards the reservoir.
The other cave, called the Balconies Cave, is located by the west entrance of the park. Since there are no roads that connect the east and west entrances, you will need to hike there to see it. It’s about a 9.5 mile hike from the Pinnacles Visitor Center.
If you’re a fan of flora and fauna, wildflowers bloom from mid-February to early June making that a popular time at the park. Bird watching is also another popular past time with a plethora of birds calling the park home. Pinnacles is also the home of the endangered California Condor, and it’s a special thrill to see one of the largest birds in North America.
Where to go next
Pinnacles National Park is a great first stop on your Airstream road trip because it is located in central California. From here, there are a variety of options of where to go next. If you are done with camping, head to Vines RV Resort in Paso Robles, about 1.5 hours away, for full hook-ups and some great food and wine. Or if you want to camp amongst redwoods (and still have full hook-ups) we recommend Santa Cruz Redwoods RV Resort, also about 1.5 hours away from Pinnacles. If instead you want to camp by some California coastline we recommend Morro Strand State Beach Park. And last but not least, if you want to keep the California National Parks tour going, head to King’s Canyon National Park (3.5 hours away) to see some sequoia trees or Yosemite National Park (south entrance is 3.5 hours away) to see some granite cliffs.