Juniper Canyon Loop,
Pinnacles National Park
Distance: 4.3 miles Time: 2.5 hours Type: Round trip
The Pinnacles are a 2.5-hour drive south of San Francisco and, being relatively compact, could be visited in a (long) day trip, as a stopover while traveling on the 101 or as a weekend destination in their own right. The undemanding hike to the top of the High Peaks, at the centre of the Park, offers fantastic views of the surrounding hills and the opportunity to get up and close with some interesting rock formations (with the strong likelihood you will see a condor too).
There are two entrances to the Park: on the east side (where the main visitor centre is located) and on the west side (not far from Soledad, a small town with one motel). There is no road that crosses the Park so you need to pick which side you want to access the Park and stick with it. If you are here to walk, however, it does not make much difference which side you use because you can easily walk across the Park and back within a day. So the choice comes down more to accommodation and convenience.
The below, relatively short, hike begins from the west side of the park. It is described as 'strenuous' by the Park service but for anyone who hikes regularly it is fairly unchallenging. If you have a full day and want to really see the park (and visit one of the caves systems), you could combine this walk with other trails or, as I did the following day, complete a full loop of the Park - see here. If you are more limited on time, however, this hike hits some of the main highlights.
Starting from Chaparral Trailhead Parking on the west side of the Park, follow the Juniper Canyon trail which ascents toward the High Peaks. At the junction, continue on the Juniper Canyon trail heading south-east until you gain the top of the ridge. From here you have great views both west and east. Take the High Peaks trail (marked 'narrow') and weave your way through the rocky ridge line north. Again, you enjoy some great views all away along the peaks - and look out for any climbers as well as condors which may be perched atop a monolith. At the junction, take the Tunnel trail to turn west and begin the return journey, meeting up with the Juniper Canyon trail again soon enough which leads back to the parking lot.
For more information, and a map of the park: