If you ask me, one of the very best things about living in the United…
There seems to be a dating app or website for every type of person. So why not make one for National Parks? Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite are like the rock stars and supermodels of the dating world—sexy, sure, but too much drama and competition! Where are all the kind librarians, sensible accountants or strong, silent outdoorsmen and women of the National Parks world?
Until someone creates Tinder for travelers, I’ll be showcasing some of the lesser known parks here. Read their profile to see if these under-the-radar spots might be your National Park soulmate.
Here’s why you should swipe right on California’s Pinnacles National Park.
Age: I’m America’s newest national park—declared so by Barack Obama in 2013 (I’m not above a little name dropping!). However, the giant boulders within my borders were formed as a result of volcanic activity that occurred over 23 million years ago.
Location: Just a 90-minute drive south from San Jose and about 2.5 hours from San Francisco. If you’re planning a trip to Carmel-by-the-Sea, come check me out—I’m about an hour away.
Size: 26,685.73 beautiful acres of volcanic stone, beautiful caves, wildflowers and more!
Annual visitors: 255,000—I’m one of the least visited parks, but I’s like to think that’s cause I’m a newbie. Come now and in years, you’ll say you knew me when.
Height: 3,304 feet at the peak of North Chalone Peak.
Claim to fame: I’m home to the endangered California condor and one of the few locations in the world where these extremely rare birds can be seen in the wild.
What I’m looking for: I hope this doesn’t scare you off, but I’m seeking committed partnership—something inspired by the condors I see every day. Did you know adult condors hold monogamous relationships, share nesting duties nearly equally, stay together throughout the year, and usually endure until one dies? Well, now you do!
Favorite animal: Anything with wings! In addition to the endangered California Condor, you’ll also find 181 other bird species here, including falcons, canyon wrens, towhees, swallows, oak titmouse (hehe) and golden eagles. My talus caves also house 13 species of bats.
Amateur birders should invest in a pair of binoculars in the 7 – 10 power range. And be sure to visit the park’s website before hitting the trail—especially in the summer, when temps reach over 100°F.
How I like to spend the weekend: Climbing! I get my name from my massive black and gold monoliths of andesite and rhyolite. These are the eroded leftovers of a portion of an extinct volcano, and act like a siren’s song to climbers. Monolith is the place to get your belay on—or just watch climbers gracefully (or not so gracefully) navigate the rock face.
Best hike for birders: Balconies Trail, best accessed from the West side entrance. This trail, originating from the Chaparral trailhead and parking lot, provides spectacular views of Machete Ridge, Balconies Cliffs and many, many birds.
Nightlife: Forget the bar scene—I’m not much of a party girl. Instead, I prefer a night hike. These ranger-led tours take visitors through the vibrant, nocturnal world of bats, caves, owls, and howls. Night Hikes are offered every Wednesday in the Spring season February through April. Reservations are required (www.pinnaclespartnership.org/events).
Something you might be surprised to find in my backpack: A flashlight! Even during the day, I always have one. Bear Gulch, one of my most beloved trails, requires one if you want to venture through the famous cave of the same name. Bring yours! You won’t regret it!
Favorite Season: Pretty much any time but summer, when extreme temperatures can make hiking uncomfortable and even dangerous. During the spring, the green grasses and wildflowers make for beautiful hikes.
Favorite quote: “Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’s crater for an ink stand…. To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme. No great and enduring volume can ever be written on a flea, though many there be that have tried it.” ―Herman Melville
Best place for a Selfie: Under the boulder suspended between two rock walls along the Bear Gulch trail. Very Indiana Jones-y!
Not to be presumptuous, but if you were to spend the night…: Pitch your tent or park your RV in the Pinnacles Campground, where you’ll find water, big shady oaks and a seasonally-open swimming pool. Alternatively, you can spend a night or two at a nearby working ranch.
Since you’re in the neighborhood… Go to Big Sur or Carmel-by-the-Sea! They’re a relatively short drive and offer knockout views.
Photos from NPS and Brocken Inaglory