From Pinnacles to Pechanga – Two Days and Hundreds of Miles

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.

Campground Stats

Name: Pinnacles Campground

Address: Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, CA 95053

Website: www.recreation.gov

Dates Stayed: November 18, 2021 – November 19, 2021

Site: D113

Rate: $37 Nonelectric/$49 Electric (Add $6 if Fri or Sat); Half off with Access Pass or Golden Age Pass

Amenities:

  • Electric Hookups
  • Cabins
  • Dump Station
  • Water Fill
  • Restrooms
  • 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

Website: www.pechanga.com

Dates Stayed: November 19, 2021 – November 20, 2021

Site: D18

Rate: $81.00 (10% off with Good Sam; Part of Passport America – Weeknights Only)

Amenities:

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Buddy Sites
  • Cable TV
  • Wifi
  • Restrooms with Showers
  • Laundry
  • 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.

A Couple Days in Temecula

After leaving San Diego on March 1, we drove all of 55 miles to spend a couple of nights in Temecula. The main purpose of this pitstop was so that we could drop the Airstream off at Airstream Inland Empire and have the brakes checked. You may recall, back in September we had an issue where one of our brakes needed to be replaced fairly emergently. Before heading back on the road, we wanted to make sure everything was copacetic. And it was. While in San Diego, we also had the brakes checked on the truck and the rear brakes replaced, so now we can continue our travels with one less thing to worry about.

We spent one night at the RV park at Pechanga Resort and Casino, one night in the hotel of the resort while the Airstream was getting looked at, and then another night at the RV park in order to get the fridge back up to temp after being shut off and to stock up on groceries as we’d next be heading to areas without real grocery stores.

For more about this RV park, read about our previous stays here and here. Of note, the Pechanga RV park is a part of Passport America and offers half off of the deluxe site rate Sunday through Wednesday night, making the stay very affordable at $30/night.

The Deluxe sites at Pechanga are the lowest level site, but they’re super nice and huge — and the only sites you can use Passport America on.

A Return to Temecula – Pechanga RV Resort

This was our second stay at Pechanga RV Resort, located at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, CA. The main reason for this particular post is that I can only add a location to our map of where we’ve been if I have a blog post to go along with it — so, this is that post. Please click this link if you’d like to read about our last stay at Pechanga. Nothing new to report about the resort — it’s still well maintained with large sites and a great discount with Passport America and the casino is still really, really nice!

 

Pechanga RV Resort – Temecula, CA

While we were in Lone Pine, or possibly when we were in Bridgeport, we decided to change our upcoming plans a bit. After Lone Pine, we were originally supposed to drive around the south end of Sequoia National Forest, up the west side, and spend a few days right outside Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. We were then going to spend a night in Bakersfield and then drive to Escondido, where we had booked four weeks. But we were tired and it was going to be a lot of driving in a short amount of time, which wasn’t very appealing at the time. We scrapped the trip to Kings Canyon and Sequoia (there really should be an east entrance into the parks from Lone Pine) and booked a week at Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula. We already had plans to stay at Pechanga for three weeks later in the fall, it looked really nice, and we were familiar with the area, so it made sense to us to stay there.

Pechanga RV Resort

45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula, CA 92592

www.pechanga.com/rvresort

  • Full Hookups
  • Pull-Thru Sites
  • Cable TV
  • Wifi
  • 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

Pechanga is a resort and casino run by the Pechanga Band of Luseño Indians. The resort itself just underwent a 300 million dollar renovation, doubling its size and becoming the largest resort/casino on the West Coast. It really is beautiful and with nine restaurants, a buffet, live entertainment, clubs, lounges, retail shops, a concert venue, a golf course, and a spa — it’s more than just a casino. And if you sign up for a player’s club card, you get a 5% discount at the shops and restaurants.

During both of our stays, we stayed in one of their deluxe sites. While the deluxe site is the lowest level of their sites, it’s one of the nicest sites we’ve ever stayed in. It is a back-in site with an 18’x55′ concrete pad and nice, green grass separating you from your direct neighbor and a tall hedge separating you from the sites behind you. The other more premium sites have amenities such as pull-thrus; sites with picnic tables; sites with a gazebo, grill, and fire pit; and buddy sites, which are sites that face each other so that if you are traveling with friends, you share a large patio area. The pull-thru sites are a little longer at 67′, but otherwise all the sites are the same size as the deluxe sites. Pechanga is probably the cleanest, most well-maintained place we’ve stayed. The pool, laundry room, and restrooms were attended to every day and spotless. Actually, the entire resort/casino property was super clean.

For the most part, things are fairly quiet at Pechanga. However, the weekends can get a little rowdy, especially if it’s a long holiday weekend like we experienced (Thanksgiving). During our four weeks there, there was one incident with one of the guests of the RV park where security had to be called who then called the Pechanga Tribal Rangers, who responded very quickly and handled the situation quite efficiently. Because of the 24/7 security and prompt response from law enforcement, we felt very safe there. I’d also like to note that the Pechanga Fire Department is directly across the street from the RV resort, which is especially reassuring during fire season in Southern California.

Pechanga is part of the Passport America network, which is a discount camping club that gives you 50% off at participating parks. Each property applies it’s 50% off savings differently, and at Pechanga, it’s Sunday through Wednesday on deluxe sites only. Sunday through Thursday has a rate of $50, while Friday and Saturday are $60, unless there’s a holiday which increases the price. The whole reason we got the Passport America membership was because we knew we’d be staying at Pechanga. During our four weeks total that we stayed there, we saved $350 (14 nights at $25 instead of $50), which really made the annual membership fee of $44 worth it.

The one drawback is that guests staying at the RV resort aren’t allowed to use the main resort’s fitness center and pool, which are both sooooo nice.

While you can’t tell from the photo, the deluxe back-in sites are super long and we had no problem fitting our truck.
The pool is very nice with a spa located on either end.
This is Buddy the security robot. He zips around in the lobby of the hotel.

While Temecula is located inland in Riverside County, it’s just north of San Diego County and east of Orange County, at about a 45-minute drive from the coast. It’s location and lower home prices have led to an increase in residents in the past few years. Because of the increasing population, there’s been a building boom when it comes to both commercial and residential properties. It seems as though most parts of Temecula are brand new and everything is beautifully maintained. While every store and/or service you could need is available, the one thing Temecula lacks is the small town, local charm you find in the beach cities of San Diego and Orange Counties — that is until you drive to Temecula’s wine country. Temecula Valley is home to about 50 wineries scattered throughout the rolling hills. You’ll also find a number of horse ranches and the opportunity for hot air balloon rides. The Temecula Valley Balloon & Wine Festival is held each June, pairing the two things the area is best known for. Whether you prefer reds or whites, you’ll find something for everybody at the various wineries — some with just tasting rooms; others with restaurants, gift shops, hotels, and spas.

As we had lived in North County San Diego for a bit, we have visited Temecula a handful of times over the years — it’s always a nice place to take people that are visiting from out of town. During our stay at Pechanga, my sister and brother-in-law were celebrating her birthday in San Diego and drove out to Temecula with some friends to spend the night. Travis was out of town on business, but I was able to join them for an afternoon of lunch and wining. We started our day with a few tastings and lunch at Wilson Creek Winery, known for their Almond Sparkling Wine, and then moved on to Akash Winery & Vineyards, then Oak Mountain Winery’s tasting room, which is known as The Cave. If you’re concerned about drinking and driving, you’re able to hire a car or book a wine tasting tour that will drive you from one place to the next.

Wilson Creek Winery
It was nice to spend some time with my sister who I usually only see once or twice a year!
Akash Winery
All of the wineries are gorgeous and so peaceful!

Another part of Temecula to explore is Old Town. Old Town is the historic center of Temecula. It has an Old West vibe and offers restaurants, shops, museums, and a community theater. The area is becoming more modernized with some great, modern restaurants (1909 has great food, cocktails and beer) and new condos being built.

I didn’t take many photos of our time in Temecula because to us, it’s not a new place. That’s why it’s also a little difficult for us to give an objective review of our time at Pechanga. It’s a great RV resort and we would stay there again, but definitely for a shorter amount of time.