After our stay at Anthony Chabot Regional Park in the Oakland area, we made the 3-hour drive to Pinnacles National Park in Central California. Pinnacles is definitely one of the lesser known parks in the national park system, with many Californians not even aware of its existence. Though one of the fairly newer parks receiving national park status (in 2013), Pinnacles obtained national monument status in 1908 from President Theodore Roosevelt under the Antiquities Act. Pinnacles is 16th on the list of least visited national parks (if you’re curious, find that list here) and is also one of the smallest national parks at just 26,685 acres. For reference, the 10 largest national parks all measure in at over 1.5 million acres.
Because of all this, we felt staying one night at Pinnacles Campground would be sufficient. And it would have been, if we had had a little more energy to hit the purported best trail in the park, but we didn’t — more on that later.
Pinnacles has two entrances, East and West, and they are not connected by a road (you must drive outside of the park to get from one side to the other — about 2 hours). The east side of the park finds the Pinnacles Visitor Center, Pinnacles Campground (with a decent camp store), and Bear Gulch, which has picnicking, trailheads, park headquarters, and Bear Gulch Nature Center. The west side has the West Visitor Contact Station with park information, exhibits, a film, and a small bookstore. There’s also the Chaparral Parking Area, with a trailhead, visitor contact station, restrooms, and water. I thought the road into the east side was curvy and narrow, but park information warns that most of CA 146 (the highway into the west entrance) is winding, steep, and one and half lanes wide (in some places only one lane wide) — and NOT recommended for RVs, large vehicles, or trailers.
The campground offers some sites with electric hookups, which is what I reserved. In mid-November, the average temps in Pinnacles are 70 for a high and 36 for a low, but the records are 94 and 15, so I wanted to make sure we had electricity in case we needed to run the air conditioning OR the space heater. The hookups section of the campground feels very much so like a parking lot, a description that is used regularly by RVers to describe some sites, though very much valid in this situation. Apparently, the non-hookup section of the campground, which we didn’t visit, is nicer. Two odd things about this particular national park campground: 1) There’s a swimming pool (not open during our visit); and 2) They charge more for weekend nights, which is the only time we’ve encountered a price surge at a national park campground based on the night of the week.
Name: Pinnacles Campground
Address: Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, CA 95053
Dates Stayed: November 18, 2021 – November 19, 2021
Rate: $37 Nonelectric/$49 Electric (Add $6 if Fri or Sat); Half off with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass
- Electric Hookups
- Dump Station
- Water Fill
- Coin-Operated Showers
- Picnic Table
- Fire Pit
- Firewood for Sale ($12/bundle)
- Camp Store
- Gift Shop
- Swimming Pool
- WIFI for Purchase
I feel as though our site, D113, was the best site in the RV area. It was incredibly large, easy to back into, had trees behind us, and no one on the door side of our site.
As you can see below, the RV section of the campground is pretty low frills and definitely has a parking lot feel to it.
Pinnacles was national park number 20 for us!
The WIFI that was offered is actually pretty decent, so worth the purchase if you aren’t able to be completely disconnected.
As I stated earlier, we were lacking the energy to commit to the 5.5-mile Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Caves and Cliffs or the longer loop trail that would continue on to Juniper Canyon and Tunnel Trails, so we opted instead for Condor Gulch Trail and Moses Spring Trail to Bear Gulch Cave Trail. Condor Gulch Trail is a 3.4-mile out and back trail with a viewpoint at the 1-mile mark, which is where we turned around, covering a total distance of 2.15 miles with 543′ of elevation gain.
We then hiked the Moses Spring Trail to the Bear Gulch Cave Trail. We covered 1.2 miles round trip with 307′ of gain, but I think this can be made into a longer loop trail. This was actually a pretty cool cave trail (bring headlamps!) that also traversed some canyons where there’s a lot of climbing and bouldering opportunities available.
We wish we would’ve given Pinnacles a full day to experience, or at least checked in right at 1pm to give ourselves more time, but we didn’t. The park is a nesting area for the California condor and is one of few release sites in the United States and Mexico. An aggressive captive breeding program taking place at the San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park, as well as other locations, has allowed members of the endangered species to be released back into the wild. Pinnacles is home to 33 condors, and it would have been neat to see them in their natural habitat (we’ve seen them at the Safari Park), but we had no such luck. After a few hours of exploring, a camp fire with pricy firewood purchased at the camp store, and one night in one of the more expensive national park sites we’ve stayed in, we were off to our next destination the next morning.
The roads to enter and exit the park are narrow, curvy, and a bit bumpy, so that’s how our longer-than-usual drive started when we got underway at 7:30 that morning. Eventually, the narrowness subsided, but the bumpiness was fairly constant, even along some of California’s most traveled interstates. Though I rarely wear a bra, this was NOT the day to not wear one! Anytime we stopped to use the bathroom or grab a snack, we walked in the Airstream to what can only be described as a household explosion: couch cushions and pillows on the floor; bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom cabinets slid open, allowing for clothing to tumble onto the bed below; loose screws appearing from unknown hiding places that I hope were accidentally dropped during our recent modifications and not dislodged from somewhere of importance. Add in grades, traffic, and California’s speed limit of 55mph for any truck towing a trailer, and the six-hour-and-thirty-minute drive that Google Maps promised turned into nine mind (and butt) numbing hours. We both admitted to each other the next day that after lying down in bed that night, the room was spinning. The extended drive and less-than-ideal road conditions caused us both to experience something not unlike when you spend a day on a boat but still feel the rocking motion once you get back on solid ground. The infrequency of safe places to pull over for a brief rest and the absence of signage alerting to grades adds to the annoyance that is driving in the lower two-thirds of the Golden State.
I had called ahead to Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula to reserve a site for a night during one of our few stops. The $81 they charged for that Friday night (that’s with a 10% discount, no less) was much more than we care to spend, but we just needed a place to stay and were happy it would be somewhere we were familiar with. We have stayed at Pechanga a handful of times now due to its proximity to North County San Diego and you can read about those stays here. While Pechanga’s guests fall victim to the weekend surge pricing that many RV resorts employ, the cost is sometimes worth it when you know what to expect. And when it’s been a very long day. And when you know you’ll arrive at your less expensive (or so we thought) final destination the following day. And when you’re just kind of – done.
We almost broke one of our rules, which is to not arrive at our site after dark. After the 9-hour drive that day, we backed into our site as the sun was setting. We quickly got things set up, forgoing connecting the sewer hose as we would take care of emptying the tanks at our next location, and drove to In-N-Out to grab some dinner. Once we returned to the Airstream, we slipped into our swimsuits and ambled over to the hot tub for a much-needed soak. Thankfully, we had the entire pool area to ourselves and were able to relax a bit after what turned out to be a pretty strenuous day.
RV Park Stats
Name: Pechanga RV Resort
Address: 45000 Pechanga Pkwy, Temecula, CA 92592
Dates Stayed: November 19, 2021 – November 20, 2021
Rate: $81.00 (10% off with Good Sam; Part of Passport America – Weeknights Only)
- Full Hookups
- Pull-Thru Sites
- Buddy Sites
- Cable TV
- Restrooms with Showers
- Pool with Two Spas
- BBQ/Grill Areas
- Community Firepits
- Gas Station with Mini Mart, Diesel, Car Wash and Propane Fill
- Horseshoe Pits
- Fenced Dog Run
- On-Property Shuttle Service
- Security Patrol 24/7
- Walking Distance to Casino and Restaurants
Even the least expensive sites are long and easy to back into — this is one RV park that is definitely built to accommodate even the largest of rigs!
For more information about Pechanga’s (very nice) casino and RV resort, as well as the Temecula area, make sure to check out the posts about our previous stays.