Our trip begins today in San Jose, California. Meet your guides and fellow hikers at 12:30pm at our host hotel. After quick introductions, we load into our private van and set out on the two-hour drive to the cliffs, caves and condors of Pinnacles National Park. Upon arrival at the park, we set up our comfortable campsite before heading out on the first exploratory hike of our adventure. Our "warm-up" walk through the nearby woods leads us past giant oak trees and offers glimpses of the park?s namesake rocky peaks as we approach the base of the mountains we?ll explore in the coming days. Those visiting in springtime are also treated to a profusion of brightly-colored wildflowers carpeting the park?s fields and meadows. After stretching our legs and breathing in the pine-scented air, we head back to camp for a delicious dinner under the stars. Dinner included.
Hiking: 2.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 200'; Transfer: 2 hours.
After a hot breakfast in camp, we transfer to the Bear Gulch Area of the park and set out on a trail that climbs up to the highest peak in Pinnacles. Along the way, we enjoy ever-changing views and ascend through the Bear Gulch Caves, keeping our eyes and ears peeled for some of the 14 species of bats that call this place home. Our objective today is to reach the summit of North Chalone Peak (3,304') where our efforts are rewarded with spectacular 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains and the Salinas Valley. As we catch our breath and take in the panoramas, we may be fortunate enough to see some of the resident California Condors glide past us as they soar on thermals rising off the warm ground. After a well-earned picnic lunch, we head back down the trail, taking a slightly different route that allows us to gain a better vantage point of more of the park?s photogenic pinnacles. At day?s end, after our exhilarating 10-mile hike, we enjoy some relaxation time with newfound friends and another tasty, guide-prepared dinner. All meals included.
Hiking: 9.5 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 2,100'.
We awaken in our campground under a canopy of giant oaks, the smell of freshly-brewed coffee in the air. After breakfast, we transfer to the Old Pinnacles Trailhead and set out to explore a new section of this fabulous park. The first half of today?s hike is an easier stroll through oak forest and chaparral as we make our way to the Balconies Cave. Another one of Pinnacles well-known caves, Balconies offers us a chance to explore the home of a colony of Western Mastiff Bats. This protected species of bat is the largest in North America and, while we?re careful not to approach too closely, we may hear their low frequency echolocation chirps, low enough to be audible to the human ear. After climbing through the short cave, we continue on to the heart of the High Peaks section of the park via a switchbacking hike up Juniper Canyon. As we ascend, we watch for California Condors and Turkey Vultures that frequent this area. Once at our high point, we pass by a multitude of pinnacles sculpted over the millennia by wind, rain and frost before beginning our descent to the trailhead on the other side of the park. Back at camp, we have time to enjoy nearby hot showers before dinner and a final night of storytelling and stargazing with our hiking companions. All meals included.
Hiking: 8.4 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 1,600'.
This morning, we wake up early to experience the park at a special time, sunrise. We eat a quick breakfast in the darkness before departing camp for the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. Hitting the trail just as the first light of dawn is strong enough to illuminate the way, we head back up into the High Peaks area; the cluster of pinnacles jutting out prominently like a crown on top of this lovely national park. Hiking early allows us a better chance of observing wildlife and offers the best light of the day on the iconic rocky spires. After our initial climb from the trailhead, we follow the "Steep and Narrow" trail of railings and carved steps as we pass under Condor Crags. This is a prime spot to watch the large birds of the park as they take flight with the first thermal winds of the day. After our hike, we enjoy one last al fresco lunch before breaking camp and beginning our drive back to San Jose, making a stop at the park?s visitor center en route. At trips end we will drop guests off at our host hotel in San Jose, California. Please do not schedule any flights from the San Jose Airport until after 6:30pm. Breakfast and lunch included.
Hiking: 5.3 miles, Elevation gain/loss: 1,300'.