Rides & Destinations: Pinnacles National Park, California

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Pinnacles National Park, California.
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Pinnacles National Park, California.

What: Pinnacles National Park, San Benito County, California.
How to Get There: To get to the east entrance from the north, take California SR 25 south from US 101, and then turn right on SR 146. To get to the east entrance from the south, take SR 198 from either US 101 or I-5, and then take SR 25 north to SR 146. To get to Pinnacles’ west entrance from either the north or the south, take US 101 to SR 146 east.
Best Kept Secret: Johnny’s Bar and Grill in Hollister, California. It’s not a secret, actually, but it’s sure worth a stop. The Wild One, Marlon Brando, and the bad boy biker shtick all started at Johnny’s (and the burgers are great).
Avoid: Hiking Pinnacles in hot weather or without the right gear. Summers are brutally hot. Bring plenty of water and know your limitations.
More Info:nps.gov/pinn/index.htm

Located just south of Hollister, California, Pinnacles National Park is our newest National Park. Designated a National Monument by Theodore Roosevelt in 1908, it was finally granted National Park status in 2013. In case you were wondering, National Monuments usually have historic, cultural or scientific significance, while National Parks offer scenic, inspirational, educational and recreational value. The National Park designation is perhaps a bit more prestigious, but I’ve been to many in both categories and all have been worthy destinations.

Pinnacles is dazzlingly beautiful, consisting of stark rocky formations, cliffs, talus caves (more about that in a moment), 32 miles of hiking trails and a dizzying assortment of wildlife. The geology of the place is fascinating, stretching back 23 million years ago when volcanoes erupted to begin the formation of this unique area. The lava fields were split by the San Andreas Fault, and water, ice and wind eroded the land. Huge rock formations dropped into crevices to form what are called talus caves, and the pinnacles that define the park moved to their current location. The pinnacles formed after the volcanic eruptions. The activities described above formed the rock structures, and geologists tell us the formations moved more than 200 miles from their original to their current location as the Earth’s crust moved along the San Andreas Fault.

Wildlife in Pinnacles is abundant. You might encounter deer, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, tarantulas, several snake species, 14 bat species, 69 butterfly species, 400 bee species and 149 bird species (including wild turkeys, owls, peregrine falcons, golden eagles, bald eagles and vultures). If you are exceptionally lucky you might spot a California condor. Pinnacles National Park is one of just four places in the United States where captive-bred condors are released, and roughly 60 of these amazing creatures call Pinnacles National Park home. If you venture into the talus caves, you might encounter Townsend’s big-eared bats or California red-legged frogs. With the aforementioned 400 bee species (the greatest concentration of diverse bee species in the world), Pinnacles has an amazing variety of plant life. You get the idea; the place is teeming. 

Pinnacles is an amazing destination, but the real treat is getting there (and in particular to Pinnacles’ east entrance). There’s no road that runs through Pinnacles National Park; you enter the Park from either the east or the west. Going deeper into Pinnacles (once you’ve arrived) is a hiking proposition only. The park is only a few miles across, but to get into the interior, hoofing it is your only option. The trails range from easy to fairly strenuous.

I’ve not ridden to Pinnacles’ west entrance, but I’m told it’s relatively straightforward getting there (see left). The ride to the east entrance is amazing and it makes this destination special: It’s heavenly and it involves two of the best motorcycle roads in California. Pinnacles National Park is great all by itself, but California SR 25 and SR 198 are what make this destination special for motorcyclists — they are two of the twistiest, scenic and traffic-free roads I’ve ever ridden. You’ll love them both. — Joe Berk 

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