First declared Pinnacles National Monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt, Pinnacles National Park was redesignated as the 59th national park in the U.S. in 2013 by President Barack Obama. Each year, more hikers, campers, wildflower enthusiasts and stargazers flock to the park, located 27 miles south of Hollister.
The one thing all these visitors have in common is difficulty finding a parking space, said Richard Moore, chief of visitor services. He said because of the increasing visitations each year parking spaces have become prime real estate, simply because no new parking spaces have been built over the years.
“We have noticed an uptick in visitations, which was most notable during the later half of the COVID lockdown,” he said. “Twenty twenty-one was one of the highest visitation years Pinnacles National Park had ever seen. That translated into the parking lots being pretty full, regularly.”
No matter the year or the number of visitors, there are only so many parking spaces in the park. Moore said there are three parking lots in the western side of the park, totaling 142 spaces. On the eastern side of the park, he said there are six parking lots for a total of 267 spaces. Despite an uptick in visitors, the park has no plans to increase its parking capacity.
He said cool spring weather over the last two years helped attract hikers, and weeks of rain in early 2023 brought out the wildflower lovers.
“April of this year was one of our busiest months of all time,” he said. “It was this perfect storm, a trifecta of the wildflowers kicking off, the pent-up demand of people who wanted to go hiking in the local area after refraining from doing so, and finally we got a series of a weekends where the weather was just beautiful during the spring break season, when people tend to be on vacation or they have more weekdays to go somewhere.”
The National Park Service has been collecting data on its parks since 1923. Pinnacles has seen a steady climb in visitors over the years, with a significant jump in 2013 when it was redesignated as a national park. Over the years visitation to national parks has changed as world events have affected human activity.
Moore said there are two strategies to finding a parking space: If people want to hike it’s best to come before 9 a.m. when it’s cooler and they can spend up to six hours on the most rugged hikes. For those who want to stay for the sunsets or gaze at the stars, they should come after 2 p.m. when the hikers are most likely wrapping up their days.
He said August is traditionally a slower month because of the heat.
“We recommend people go on much shorter hikes and maybe you come out and you just go up to the reservoir, which is only about a mile up the trail,” he said. “People are spending a lot less time actually on trails, which turns into a higher turnover rate for the parking spaces.”
Pinnacles has been experiencing extremely high visitation rates during weekends, holidays and during the spring. Moore said to expect long delays when entering the park between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The east entrance is open 24 hours a day for access to the trails. There is no overnight parking outside of the campground area. The park also offers a shuttle service on the east side from the park store up to Bear Gulch. The west entrance is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. There is no camping on the western side.
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