Pinnacles National Monument
Pinnacles National Monument makes a nice cold weather destination, located near Soledad, inland from Big Sur. With desert-like weather patterns it is one of a very few places where you can escape from the cold without traveling great distances. And if you happen to be partial to Chalone wines, so much the better; they have a winery nearby. The winery was named after one of the original native American tribes that inhabited this area. The topography was crafted from the work of the inactive Neenach Volcano to the south, adjusted over time by the San Andreas Fault. It was established as a National Monument in 1908. It is part of the California Condor Recovery Program, an effort to aid in the maintenance and growth of the population of the California state bird, which is endangered. Birds raised in captivity are released into the wild here and something like 30 birds live and nest here.
The park is a modest 26,000 acre site dotted with crags, which makes for some interesting hikes. The best time to visit is probably in the early Spring, when the wildflowers are in bloom. Raptors favor the area, and there are 30 miles of hiking trails, two talus caves to explore, and some crags to climb, although nothing to challenge the hard-core climber.
This is a hikers park; there aren't many roads with pull-offs and other amenities found in some other parks. And if you have issues with heights or walking along narrow trails with drop-offs, sometimes using chains for support, pay attention to the trail maps and stay where you will be comfortable. Note that there are two entrances: east and west. They do not connect and it takes 1.5 hours to get from one to the other so you need to plan ahead. If you are camping at the Pinnacles Campground (the only option) you need to enter the park via the east entrance. See the Things To Do page for directions.
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