Jawbone Trail
A view of the High Peaks from the Jawbone Trail. Photo by Emily Novack.
"Everyone needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike."

-John Muir

Did you know that the area within Pinnacles National Park is designed as wilderness? This means, when you step on the trail to the High Peaks or to Chalone Peak or Juniper Canyon, North or South Wilderness or even on the Old Pinnacles trail, you’re hiking in areas protected not just by the laws that created and protect national park areas. These trails and the surrounding areas are in the Pinnacles Wilderness, and under the Wilderness Act of 1964, they are given a greater protection from development and are managed for “wilderness values”.

What is wilderness?

Wilderness, as defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964, is

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Wilderness is physical landscapes, but can also be a spiritual landscape. John Muir, a 20th century naturalist, described the essence of wilderness as the freedom, solitude and the beauty of the mountains. To other people, wilderness can be likened to a great work of art or an outdoor cathedral. And to other people, it can be a place where their emotional and physical limits area tested as they enter areas where trails don’t exist, where help is hours or days away and the presence of another human being is the exception, not the norm.

Wilderness areas have no roads, no power lines, and no accoutrements of civilization.

Many parks have wilderness areas within their boundaries - - and Pinnacles is no exception, with about 80% of its 24,000 acres designated as wilderness. In this wilderness are the rock spires that give Pinnacles its name, as well as Chalone Peak, the highest peak in the Gabilan Mountains, creeks and canyons that are home to the endangered red-legged frog, night skies full of stars and other qualities too numerous to name.

What use is wilderness?

To many Americans, the word wilderness means a hotel with no room service, or an area where their cell phones don’t work. To others, it conjures up the mental image of barren landscapes, dotted with sickly looking plants and an occasional lizard. Or even snowscapes, with harsh winds and blowing snows, where nothing could ever live.

This is far from the truth.

Wilderness areas provide a wide variety of natural environments - - snow capped peaks, forests of green conifers as far as the eye can see, deserts of bizarre plants and animals, meadows of wildflowers, even coral reefs and other wonders of the oceans. Many of these areas are homes to threatened and endangered species of plants and animals.

Most wilderness areas have been undisturbed by mankind, and therefore are a window into the past. Imagine the thrill of seeing areas as they were seen two or even three hundred years ago!

And on the more spiritual level, places in the wilderness beckon to people as places where they can connect with themselves in solitude, they can reflect as they look into a mountain stream or even if they never set foot in a wild place, people need to know that there are places wild and untamed…

“Wilderness puts us in our place. It reminds us that our plans are small and somewhat absurd. It reminds us why, in those cases in which our plans might influence many future generations, we ought to choose carefully. Looking out on a clean plank of planet Earth, we can get shaken right down to the bone by the bronze-eyed possibility of lives that are not our own.”

- Barbara Kingsolver

Last updated: May 6, 2018

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

5000 Highway 146
Paicines, CA 95043


(831) 389-4486
Please call the number above for all park related inquiries. For camping questions contact the Pinnacles Campground at (831) 200-1722. For the park book store, please call (831) 389-4485.

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