Named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley, this off-the-beaten-path park protects one of California’s most unique landscapes. Formed by the movements of tectonic plates over millions of years, the rocky spires at the heart of the park are the eroded remnants of an long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moved nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.
Initially established as a national monument in 1908, Pinnacles earned national park designation in 2013. The park, divided into eastern and western sections with no through road connecting them, preserves forests of oak, sycamore and buckeye, wildflower-strewn meadows, caves and dramatic rock formations. Endangered California condors still soar overhead, and the park's remote beauty makes it popular with hikers and climbers. Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit.