Pinnacles National Park Camping
It doesn’t take much effort to find the best Pinnacles National Park camping spot. There is only one campground in the park. It has 134 sites, including a group standard site with 14 sites, 37 RV sites, 82 standard nonelectric sites, and one tent only nonelectric site. The campground also has a swimming pool, showers and flush toilets, and a surprisingly well-stocked camp store that sells a lot of ice cream. While the camp store has a lot of basic camping related items like firewood, water, condiments, toilet paper and S’mores ingredients, but do your shopping before you arrive if you want more than hot dogs and dessert during your stay. The nearest supermarket is in Hollister, 32 miles away, and is a bit of a trek if you forget hamburger and other grocery items.
The campground offers tent and group camping, along with RV sites. Each site has a picnic table and fire ring. The road and parking are both gravel. Most RV sites have electrical hookups and share community tables and barbecue pits. Water is located throughout the campground. Oak trees provide shade for many of the campsites, but not all. Get there early or make reservations for the best selection. Coin-operated showers and dump station are available. Depending on the weather, the swimming pool is typically open from middle of April through the end of September. Campfires may are only permitted during certain fire danger conditions; check Current Conditions for updates on fire regulations in Pinnacles. Firewood collecting is prohibited. Be sure to pick a site that has shade, even in cooler months, or bring along an extra awning, tent or outdoor shelter to go over your picnic table or lounging area.
Pets are allowed in the campground, and on paved roads and parking lots but not on trails. Your pet must be physically controlled on a six-foot leash and should not be left unattended at any time. This includes being tied to structure or tree, or left in your vehicle.
Clean Destination –
There’s very little light pollution in the campground, meaning the Pinnacles’ night sky is sufficiently dark for stargazing. Much of the park’s wildlife also comes out at night. Campers have a good chance of seeing or hearing, deer, coyotes, raccoons, foxes, and a wide variety of birds, from the chatty acorn woodpecker to the enormous California condor. The campground’s busy season is spring and fall.
Rules and Regulations for Pinnacles National Park Camping
Don’t Feed the Wildlife
Those aggressive, and hungry little squirrels, chipmunks, and raccoons are so cute! Don’t take our word for it, search it out on Youtube. Wild animals such as squirrels, pigs, raccoons, and birds are commonly seen at the Pinnacles Campground. Who wouldn’t want to feed and film them eating out of your hand.
However, they can pass diseases to humans, and can even be aggressive if they become accustomed to getting handouts from campers. To ensure the safety of you and your family, please keep a safe distance. If that’s not reason enough to not feed the wildlife, maybe this is: If you feed wildlife, intentionally or unintentionally, you could be cited under 36 CFR 2.10(d) or 2.2(a)(2). Don’t leave food on the picnic tables, or toss it into the woods etc..
● Never feed wildlife.
● Store all of your food and scented items in your vehicle when not in use.
● Act immediately to scare animals away if they approach your food.
● Dispose of food properly.
Of course you’re not going to build a bonfire to rival Burning Man. We get that. Fire is good, but but during periods of increased fire danger, fires are not allowed. Fires must always be attended and put out with water completely when not attended. Firewood collection is not permitted at Pinnacles National Park, so buy it or bring it from home, or collect it before you arrive. It doesn’t hurt to have a bag of charcoal on hand, or a propane cook stove in case fire hazards are really extreme – and you want to cook.
Leave it Where You Found It
Everything in a national or state park is protected by law. That includes rocks, animals, and pine cones. The only thing you can take – are photos. Please leave everything else where you find it for the next park visitors to see. Wood gathering for fires is prohibited.
About Pinnacles National Park Camping
Located in Central California, Pinnacles National Park protects a mountainous area located east of the Salinas Valley, about 5 miles east of Soledad and 80 miles southeast of San Jose. It’s proximity to both cities makes it a popular weekend camping, hiking, and climbing destination.
Pinnacles, California, like most western state parks, was born millions of years ago when multiple volcanoes erupted, flowed, and formed. What grew from the ashes of the volcanoes is a unique landscape, covered with chaparral, oak woodlands, canyons and of course the spires that make the park a natural wonderland for visitors. The park gets its name from the rocky spires (pinnacles) that remain from an ancient volcanic field. Millions of years worth of volcanic activity, tectonic plate movement, and erosive forces created the rugged landscape visitors see today. Hikers in the area may explore rare talus caves, or round a bend in a trail to find towering rock spires teeming with prairie and peregrine falcons, golden eagles, and if they’re lucky, a rare California condor.
Outside Pinnacles National Park Camping
If you’ve got a sweet van conversion – like a Transit Van, or other passenger or commercial van you’re probably used to camping wherever you can park. That works in millions of places, but unfortunately not around Pinnacles National Park. At Pinnacles National Park, camping or sleeping in vehicles is only permitted in designated campsites. Camping is not allowed outside the boundaries of the Pinnacles Campground. So while you think you’re being “stealth,” you’re really not. The rangers and law enforcement are serious about this. Find some free BLM land sites, or any of the state park or low cost sites in the area.
Upper Sweetwater Recreation (Free) (BLM)
MORE INFO HERE
King City, California
GPS: 36.359753, -120.850045
The Upper Sweetwater Recreation Area is open all year. There are 6-15 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited. You may stay 14 days at Upper Sweetwater Recreation Area.
● BBQ Grill
● Fire Ring
● Picnic Tables
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area (FREE) (BLM)
MORE INFO HERE
King City, California
GPS: 36.368169, -120.83103
Laguna Mountain Recreation Area is open all year. The road is paved. There are 1-5 campsites at this location and the maximum RV length is unlimited. You may stay 14 days at Laguna Mountain Recreation Area. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) located 13.5 miles from Highway 25 on Coalinga Road. Any size rig,vault toilets, no water. The privacy at these sites is incredible. You’ll feel like you’re the only one there. It’s approximately 25 miles from Pinnacle National Park and two miles from Laguna Campground (commercial site).
● BBQ Grill
● Fire Ring
● Picnic Tables
Mt. Laguna Campground ($10 per site) (Commercial)
MORE INFO HERE
Hwy 8 exit 47
Mount Laguna, California 91949
(619) 473-2082 (Main)
This large commercial campground has 104 campsites located along five loops with sites fairly close to one another. Only one campsite meets accessibility standards. This is a pet friendly facility. The facility is equipped with campfire rings, flush toilet restrooms and coin-operated showers. Part of the campground is fenced off to protect the habitat of the endangered Laguna Skipper butterfly. Visitors are asked to respect the fence boundary and comply with the maximum site occupancy. Fishing, hiking, and bird watching are very popular at this campground.
Hollister Hills SVRA (Public – Commercial)
MORE INFO HERE
$10-$12 per night
7969-7999 Cienega Road
GPS: 36.76835, -121.411826
Mostly dirt bikers and large RVs with what many campers describe as “serious bike noise from sunset to sunrise.” Not a peaceful camping experience, but if you’re looking for a place to have fun, or just a place to pull over and get some rest before heading on this may be a good stop. The maximum RV length at Hollister Hills SVRA is 26 feet.
Oak Flat (Free) (Public – Forest Service managed)
MORE INFO HERE
Clear Creek Road
GPS: 36.361532, -120.760709
Public – Forest Service
Oak Flat is open all year. Recreational opportunities include hunting, camping, hobby gem/mineral collecting, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking/backpacking, and sightseeing. Hobby gem and mineral collectors are drawn to the Clear Creek area, one of the most highly mineralized areas in California, by the presence of over 150 semi-precious minerals and gemstones. Among these are serpentine, jadeite, cinnabar, tremolite, topazite, neptunite, and the extremely rare California state gem, benitoite.
Burnt Rancheria Campground ($25 per site) (Public – Commercial)
MORE INFO HERE
MM #23 Sunrise Highway
Mount Laguna, California 91949
(619) 473-0120 (Main)
Burnt Rancheria is a large campground with 107 campsites located along several loops. Each site has a table and campfire ring. There are no hookups and no dump station for RVs. Day hiking and picnicking are most popular at Burnt Rancheria. The facility provides easy access to a segment of the Pacific Crest Trail, a 2,650-mile national scenic trail that runs from Mexico to Canada. Hiking and horseback riding are allowed on the trail. Biking is not allowed on any portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. Firewood is available for purchase from the campground host.
● Coin-operated showers
Sweetwater Campground ($25-$27 per night) (California Land Managed)
Sierra National Forest Headquarters
1600 Tollhouse Road
Clovis, CA 93611
Sweetwater Campground is located in the Sierra National Forest. A small site, it only has 9 non-electric sites laid out in a single loop along Chiquito Creek, shaded by pine, oak and cedar trees. Most sites overlook the creek or a brook that also runs by the campground. The campground attracts visitors primarily because of its fishing and swimming holes. Recreational activities at Mammoth Pool, include boating, trout fishing, hiking and swimming. Maximum RV length is 20 feet.
Drinking water is not provided at this campground. This is bear country; please store food properly in provided food storage lockers. There are services (store, gasoline, phone) available at Wagner’s Resort near Mammoth Pool Reservoir. Boat parking is not available in the individual campsites. However, boats may be kept at the launch area or at Wagner’s campground (private campground nearby).
● Campfire Rings
● Creek Access
● Firewood Vendor
● Pets Allowed
● Trash Collection
● Vault Toilets
Rock Climbing at Pinnacles National Park Camping Sites
Rock climbers love, or hate Pinnacles National Park Camping Destination. It’s been described as the Bay Area Climber’s nightmare or savior, depending on one’s interest. Because of the park’s close proximity to the South Bay and moderate weather during the Winter months, it’s very popular with the Bay Area climbing community. The moderate weather, great camping, and proximity don’t really make up for what expert climbers call “less than granite quality” rock. Climb at your own risk, but check out climbing forum comments about the park before heading there.
Roads and Entrances to Pinnacles National Park
One of the most aggravating and annoying things about Pinnacles National Park Camping is learning that there are only two entrances and that Highway 146 does not connect the east and west sides of Pinnacles within the park. Campers may become frustrated when they enter from the west side of the park only to learn Pinnacles National Park Camping sites can only be accessed from the east entrance. Both entrances to the monument are located on Highway 146, which is obstructed within the park boundary by the Pinnacles rock formations. Both sides of Highway 146 are narrow, and winding but the road on the west side of the park is not suitable for larger RVs.
The East side of the park is located off highway 25, about 30 miles from Hollister (to the north) and King City (to the south). If you don’t realize this, it’s possible to get inside the park and run out of gas, or time, when you find out you need to turn around and go back out the entrance you came in. If you do nothing else, keep your gas tank full to make sure your car has enough gas to travel to and from the park. There are no gas stations within the Park. The Westside entrance of Pinnacles National Park Camping sites are located 12 miles east of the town of Soledad, off of highway 101. Soledad also provides services such as gas, restaurants and groceries.
East Side or West Side of the Park?
Both sides of the park have their own unique features and advantages. You can see many geologic features, as well as take advantage of several hiking and rock climbing opportunities from either side of the park. However, the Pinnacles Visitor Center, Bear Gulch Nature Center, Park Headquarters, the Pinnacles National Park Camping Sites, and Bear Gulch Cave and Reservoir are located on the East side.
The West Visitor Contact Station is, obviously, located on the Westside. Be aware that Highway 146 on either side of the monument is a narrow and winding road. If you are short on time or have difficulty walking on uneven terrain for even short distances, you may opt to visit the West side of Pinnacles where you can get an easy view of the Pinnacles’ High Peaks from the Chaparral trailhead parking area.
Things to Do In Pinnacles National Park Camping Sites
The park has two sets of caves open to visitors. Balconies Caves, on the park’s west side, and Bear Gulch Caves, on the park’s east side. Both caves are sometimes closed to are protect the Townsend’s big-eared bats that live and rear their young (usually mid-May to mid-July, when the caves typically close). These caves can also be closed suddenly due to storms and high water.
No matter which of these two caves you want to explore, no spelunking skills are needed, but bring your sense of adventure. As you enter, turn on your headlamp (or cell phone light), then squeeze through narrow clefts, duck under ledges, and twist through narrow passageways.
Although technically they’re not caves at all, the park and visitors continue to call them that. Pinnacles’ caves are nothing like the limestone caverns found in many places in the U.S., either in their appearance or in how they formed. Unlike limestone caves that form in porous limestone, where the rock dissolves from acidic groundwater or underground rivers resulting in cavities under ground, Talus caves form more violently.
The running water slowly eroded deep and narrow chasms amid the Pinnacles’ giant rocks, huge chunks of these rocks fragmented, broke off, and fell into the chasms. Sometimes these rocks were too large to fit inside, so they were caught, forming a “roof” and creating these rocky tunnels, we now call talus caves.
Pinnacles National Park Camping has two main areas of caves; the Bear Gulch Caves are found near headquarters in the East District, and the Balconies Caves are near Chaparral Picnic Area in the West District. These are the main talus formations, although there are a few poorly documented areas of small talus caves are scattered around both sides of the park. These formations are old, but they’re still in the process of forming (rockfall) and weathering. The boulders range from a few ounces to thousands of tons, much of which is supported by gravel and sand that has become lodged between the boulders, or has formed at the contact points of the stones over the centuries. These smaller particles are particularly susceptible to erosion during the flash floods that occasionally rush through the caves.
In the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps built trails, stairways and bridges through the caves. The trails got visitors to the caves, and the stairways and bridges were needed to navigate the caves without the use of ropes and ladders. Today, the Bear Gulch and Balconies caves are principal attractions for visitors at the Park.
Bear Gulch Cave – Pinnacles National Park Camping
The cave is located on the East side of Pinnacles heading up the Moses Spring Trail. Home to a sensitive colony of Townsend’s Big-Eared Bats, the cave is a particular favorite with children who are fascinated by bats. The bats use the cave as a maternal sanctuary in the summer and as a place to hibernate in the winter. As long as the hibernating colony of bats shows no signs of disturbance, park staff keeps over half of the Bear Gulch Cave open for almost ten months each year, from mid-July through mid-May. During especially warm springs, however, it’s possible that the entire cave will be closed before mid-May if the maternity colony is present.
Who doesn’t love baby animals, even bat babies? Unfortunately, visitors won’t get to see the babies – called “pups” as the entire cave is closed through late spring and early summer for pupping season, from mid-May through Mid-July. It is open twice a year for at least one week and up to four weeks each March and October, depending on the presence of the colony of bats. If you’re still craving pup views – check out the visitors center.
Balconies Cave – Pinnacles National Park Camping
Balconies Cave stays open year-round, except after very heavy winter rains (call ahead to check status). Located on the Old Pinn Trail, the Balconies Cave is accessible from both the East side and West side of the park. There is more parking available from the Chaparral trail head on the West side of the park. Unlike many eastern or commercial limestone caves, there is no lighting in either the Bear Gulch or Balconies cave. Please remember your flashlights for whichever cave you plan to explore.