Trail Spotlight: Juniper Canyon Loop
Juniper Canyon Trail, Pinnacles National Park
Western Entrance, via Soledad, CA
The beauty of our national parks is that they are so incredibly different. I live less than an hour from one and Pinnacles couldn’t be more opposite.
Driving into Pinnacles National Park is very deceiving. There’s not much to be seen but some rolling hills and farmland. In fact, I admit to rolling my eyes and thinking, “Yeah. Okay. Sure. This is gonna be soooooo fun……..” and I cannot express to you how wrong I was in my sarcasm.
Located near the San Andreas Fault and created by the tectonic plate movement of an erupted volcano some 23million years ago, Native Americans occupied Pinnacles intermittently for what anthropologists believe to be upwards of 10k years. Only a fraction of the area has been surveyed, but arrowheads and other evidence have been found in what little has been.
In 1891 Schuyler Hain settles in to Pinnacles and fell in love with the area, leading tours for twenty years as the unofficial caretaker of the land.
In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established it as a national monument, protecting 2,500 acres of land. This has since grown in pieces to be closer to 26,000 acres of land, with President Obama signing it into National Park status in 2013. #thanksobama
Read more at www.nps.gov/pinn
What to check out:
Rock climbing and bouldering
Wildlife viewing, specifically the California Condor and the 400 bee species. Yes. 400. That’s a lot of different types of bees. Highest be diversity in the world, apparently.
Incredible rock formations to climb all over, no gear needed
Well protected native plants, since it’s been so long in protection.
The stars if you have the chance to camp overnight!
Meeting my new friend, David, at the Chaparral trail head (the western parking lot via Soledad), I was reminded how much I miss easily accessible trailheads! It was smooth drive into the park on clean and well-paved roads, followed by a parking lot with a view, a friendly ranger station, and clean washrooms. When I say view, I mean it. You could call it a day after soaking in the surroundings from the picnic tables. Thank you, National Park Service!
Juniper Canyon Loop
-4.3 miles roundtrip (add an extra mile for exploring at the top)
-1,200 ft in elevation
-HOT during summer months, but in December it was cool 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Plenty of water is a smart idea, regardless.
From the parking lot, the views were already spectacular. We stopped frequently just to take in the incredible glory that is this park. The way up is mostly switchbacks, but the views of what Mother Nature has created through tectonic plate shifting are distracting enough to make you not fully realise the effort of the hike.
Reaching the top, the views spanned the whole park and then some. Giant, ruggedly grippy boulders made climbing around for different views a breeze, and a washroom at the top encourages you to hang out as long as you wish. We played for a bit, and then found an epic view from a rock to lean on and chat before heading back down via Tunnel Trail. You most certainly can go back the way you came, but Tunnel Trail is a fun, windy trail with a few startling sections and extra views of the valleys. Snug-fitted safety barriers makes you question your size and foot holds as you go single file down a couple precarious sections before it opens back up to the standard trail width and meets back to Juniper’s switchbacks.
Even if you don’t want to spend hours at the park, I highly encourage you to make it a point of interest if you’re in the area.
If nothing else, enjoying a picnic and washroom break at the parking lot will allow you some beautiful scenery and California history.
Not ready to call it a day? If you are there Friday-Sunday, stop at Chalone Vineyard. It’s just before a park entrance, is the oldest vineyard in Monterey County, and is a beautiful spot to socialize among grapes from 11:30am-5:00pm. Might as well drink back some of those calories you burned, right? That seems like solid logic.