High Peaks Trail at Pinnacles National Monument threads its way through the wreckage of a volcano destroyed by the San Andreas Fault millions of years ago.
The Monument, about 100 miles south of San Jose, California, celebrates the strange assortment of rock formations created as the volcano gave way to greater forces of plate tectonics.
This loop from the eastern entrance of the Pinnacles provides the most direct route to the High Peaks, where a series of ladders and multiple tight squeezes take hikers through a geological maze that has made the Pinnacles a favorite among hikers from throughout California.
While the rocks and expansive vistas are the main attractions, you might get lucky and spot some of the rare California condors that nest in the park and soar high above.
Trails on this hike:
Condor Gulch Trail > High Peaks Trail > Bear Gulch Trail.
Starting from the Bear Gulch parking area, you can go either way. Condor Gulch Trail is a bit steeper, so you may want to start out there to get your climbing done on fresh legs and spare your knees on the way down.
Best time to go: Springtime adds wildflowers to the awesome scenery, making it a near perfect hike. Summer will be too hot and autumn may be too dry, but winter should be gorgeous if you give the trails a couple days to dry out after passing storm systems.
Bring plenty of water and snacks to keep your energy level up -- there's over 1,000 feet of ascent in the first two miles.
Don't forget the sunscreen: there isn't much shade on this route.
Contact: (831) 389-4486
Hours: The eastern side of the park is open 24 hours a day.
Fees: $5 per car (free if you own a national parks pass).
Driving directions from the Bay Area: Take U.S. 101 south through Gilroy to Highway 25 south. Take Highway 25 through Hollister and go 30 miles to Highway 146. Turn right on 146 and take it into the park.
Driving directions from the south: Take U.S. 101 North to King City; exit at First Street and turn right. Take First Street till it turns into Bitterwater Road and follow it Highway 25. Turn left (north), go 15 miles and turn left onto Highway 146 to enter the monument.