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Pinnacles National Park: A Heat Exhaustion How-to


Before the Park

On the third day of our California trip we went to Six Flags Magic Mountain in effort to continue our roller coaster fix. It was a hot day, but fun was had. It is in such a beautiful area too. The sights from the top of coasters is...magical I suppose you can say. Peaks and valleys and hills and mountains all over. 

After we left SFMM, we drove up to Wasco to lodge for the night. We pulled in around 9PM and got gas first. There were 4 cats at the gas station just chilling. One rummaging through a garbage can. I wonder if they were strays?? In the morning after Six Flags we hightailed it several more hours over to Pinnacles National Park the second National Park stop in our trip. 

The drive from Valencia was wild. There are so many hills and canyons to drive through, it was a beautiful beginning. Until we started driving through the Central Valley. Then it was just flat and hot for awhile until we neared Pinnacles. 

Once we entered the Central valley, the amount of oil derricks in number, not literally.  I guess it's a good area for oil. During the drive (I was the passenger), I kept reading about the area. I happened upon reading about Bakersfield, as we were driving by it, and discovered there is something known colloquially as Bakersfield Dust Disease, also known as Valley Fever caused by a fungus in the dirt. Needless to say, we turned on the air circulate button in the car for the rest of the time in the valley 😝.

A Hot Day at Pinnacles

Pinnacles National Park
Beginning our journey on the Old Pinnacles Trail

With any outdoor activity, it's important to check the weather beforehand so you know what you're getting yourself into, and so you can be prepared. We did that, or so we thought. The problem we discovered, is that major weather websites like or sometimes just use the closest city forecast for a national park. Additionally, parks are huge and weather can vary wildly within the borders of the park. When we first checked the weather it said to expect low to mid 90s and sun. 

Pinnacles Rocks
Plenty of Rock Formations to suit your needs


As we pulled into the park there was a large digital sign saying "HEAT ADVISORY IN EFFECT. LIMIT TIME OUTDOORS. ONLY SHORT HIKES". Boy I wish we heeding that warning. It ended up being 105 degrees. Not 90. Not 95. 105. We definitely were not prepared for that but since it wasn't that hot when we started, we didn't realize it was only going to get worse from there. 


Pinnacles National Park
Cool rock formations against the greenery!

Moral of the story here...the NPS websites for specific national parks are great resources for accurate weather in the parks. Alternatively, or concurrently, you can use (NOAA) to pinpoint exactly where you want a forecast, because was giving us a forecast for a city like 35 miles away. 

Pinnacles -- Balconies Cave Entrance
getting close to the caves entrance!


That being said...Pinnacles National Park was a really cool, almost otherworldly experience. Pinnacles is a pretty small National Park. It was, afterall, a National Monument for sometime before being changed over. As such, it was sort of a perfect candidate for spending just a single day exploring around. Our main attraction to the park was the Balconies Cave trail. Doing a fun hike, in a crazy looking area, while also climbing through some caves? Sure, sounds fun! So we did that. 

Water Balconies Caves
There was a small amount of water on the trail leading into the caves! Unfortunately, there wasn't much water in the caves at this point in the season. A bit in the beginning, and then nothing. I was looking forward to the knee or shin deep water I read about! Oh well!

Balconies Cave
Hobbling through some rocks, getting closer to the cave entrance!

You can enter the park from the east or the west, and there is no road connecting the east or west sides of the park, but you can hike to each side, which is essentially what we did. AllTrails will tell you it's 2.8 miles out and back, but that's only if you start from the west side of the park. To get to the Balconies trail from the east side of the park, you need to set foot on the Old Pinnacles Trail at the Old Pinnacles Trailhead Parking Area. 

Cave Gates Pinnacles
About to cross through the cave gates, no turning back now!



Inside the Balconies Cave - Headlamp
Some water on the floor of the balconies cave -- Illuminated by my headlamp. Flashlights are a must! We bought cheap LED headlamps for the trip. They were super fun to use in the caves, and worked surprisingly well.

Creepy Balconies Cave

Balconies Cave
Climbing out of the cave!

Balconies Cave
Don't make me go out there!! It was like 20 degrees cooler in the caves!

Cool rocks Pinnacles NP
Some really neat rock formations on this side of the cave though!

Crouch down and don't hit your backpack on the way through!

Stuck rocks!
Those rocks are all jammed up!

A possible stream goes here
It looks like during wetter seasons a stream might go through here. Not today. Dry as bone. Hotter than hell.

Squirrel Climbing A Rock
Here's a squirrel doing its best Mountain Goat impression trying to climb up a rock

Vulture or Condor
A Pinnacles Condor?? Or a mere Vulture?

From there we finished Balconies and walked just a bit more to the Chaparral Parking area which had a pavilion with picnic tables so we could snack in shade and reapply sunscreen (!). There was also a bathroom AND a water bottle filler, so we refilled our water bottles and water bladders. We would've been screwed if that wasn't there!

water bottle filler pinnacles national park

Pinnacles near Chapparel
Heading towards the western end of the park

Big rocks at Pinnacles
Big looming rocks along the trail

Stream in the heat
A stream of water?! In This Heat?!

Such a hot day at Pinnacles
No shade. Full sun exposure. Hot sand. Send help.

Wildflower Colors at Pinnacles
Those flower colors are POPPIN

Really neat Rock Formations on the west side of the park! This is right near the Chaparral Parking Area

Frog in a sink
I was washing my hands in the bathroom at the parking area when all of a sudden... "HELLO SIR, WE'VE BEEN TRYING TO REACH YOU ABOUT YOUR CAR'S EXTENDED WARRANTY". This frog pops out of the overflow hole out of nowhere! I gave him a little water and used the other sink. Poor little dude

Big Rocks

On your return, you can go through the caves again, or you can take an offshoot and do the Balconies Cliff Trail with simply follows some cliffs that are above the caves. We chose to do the cliffs on the way back. 

balconies map
So we actually technically did 6.87 miles coming from the east side of the park. A little bit more because we walked around a bit to look at things, so closer to a bit over 7 miles. In 105 degree heat. Pinnacles was no joke.

We were actually going to loop back on another trail, the High Peaks Trail, but since it was so hot out we decided not to, which probably saved us from heat stroke. I wish we went back through the caves, and not the cliffs because at least the caves were shaded and cool. The Balconies Cliffs were mostly direct sun!

Balconies Ledges
Despite Heat Exhaustion starting to set in, the views from the Balconies Ledges were pretty great!

Beautiful rocks
Awesome landscapes!

We dragged on finishing the trail, fighting just to continue, it was so hot. Thankfully we each had our water bladders and back up water bottles. I legitimately don't know what we'd do if we weren't prepared. We did start exhibiting signs of heat exhaustion though, unfortunately. I could hear my heart rate pounding in my ears sometimes. Not as bad as heat stroke, but still concerning. 


So hot out
The unforgiving and hot valley of Pinnacles

 Once we finished the trail we stumbled back to the car and sat with the AC blasting in our face. We drove up to the park store and each bought some cold gatorades. Yeah not great with all the sugar, but we needed electrolyte-focused hydration bad, baby. 

Acorn Woodpecker at pinnacles
Maybe it was the heat delirium, but I think this Acorn Woodpecker was yelling at me to stop hiking in this heat and chill.

 Our plan was to then drive over to the Bear Gulch reservoir area and hike around. The caves were closed, but you can at least still hike around to the reservoir. The both of us were so beat up and legit experiencing heat exhaustion signs that we sadly resigned, and decided it was in our best interest not to do it. Interestingly, I found out that you can experience the symptoms for up to 48 hours afterwards, and I did in fact. I felt somewhat weak and dizzy for about 36 hours after. Pretty wild. Take hot weather seriously, my dudes. I didn't get sunburned though, so that's a silver lining. We did something right at least. 

Let's take a moment to appreciate some of the plants though. It's crazy what beautiful things can grow in such harsh environments. 

Wooly Blue Curls at Pinnacles NP
These Wooly Blue Curls are stunning!

Elegant Clarkia at Pinnacles NP
Elegant Clarkia is also super cool!

Venus Thistle Pinnacles NP
Vibrant Venus Thistle !

California Buckeye
We saw this California Buckeye all along our trip. Very cool though!

We saw plenty others but I won't suck up all of your bandwidth on it.

Common Checkered Whiptail Lizard
The amount of lizards we saw on our CA trip was insane. More than I've seen in my entire life. All over. Every footstep -- lizards scatter. This Checkered Whiptail is just chilling in the small piece of shade afforded to it.

Time to head to our next hotel in Coalinga and relax before heading to Sequoia NP tomorrow!


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