millerton state recreation area, ca
Distance: 2.6 miles roundtrip (out and back)
Elevation Gain: 1,019 feet
Seasonality: Year round, wildflowers bloom in March/April
Trailhead: Two trailheads, but the recommended one is at the South Finegold Picnic Area on Sky Harbour Road
Parking: Approx 40 parking spots at the South Finegold Picnic Area, but there is also space along the Sky Harbour Road where you can park. Lot fills up quickly during summer months. Lot open 8am - 8pm.
Facilities: Flush toilets and potable water at trailhead. No potable water on the trail.
Difficulty: The steep incline is doable for families if frequent breaks are taken.
Pincushion Peak Trail is one of the most popular hikes in the Millerton Lake area. From the peak, you will have a 360° degree view of Millerton Lake, the San Joaquin Valley, and the Table Top Mountains. The trail is often used by hikers who are training for other hikes, and you will often see people running up this hill for trail run training. This is also the trail for the annual Pincushion Peak Trail Run in September - a very fun and challenging run for those who like trail runs!
This trail has the best experience in early spring when the wild grasses are green, the wildflowers are blooming, and the weather is cool. This hike is very exposed to the sun and there are only a few places to catch some shade in the sweltering summer. You may even see cattle grazing alongside the trail (or at least their salt licks!), so be sure to close the cattle gate behind you at the trailhead!
Trip Planner Details:
With only about a 45 minute drive, Pincushion Peak is one of the best ways to get away for a quick hike without having to travel too far.
It is located approximately six miles north of Table Mountain Casino. Once you pass Friant Dam, Friant Road turns into Millerton Road. Right before the Table Mountain Casino entrance, turn onto Sky Harbour Road and that will dead-end into South Finegold Picnic Area. At the South Finegold Picnic Area, there is parking, restrooms and water fountains.
There are two trailheads for this hike, but the trip described here is for the South Finegold Trailhead on the shore of Millerton Lake. The trail is not clearly marked, so make sure you print the topo map to ensure you are staying on the right trail to take you to Pincushion Peak and not further onto the San Joaquin River Trail. If you have someone in your party that is not able to scramble up rocks, there is an alternate route to get to the peak - refer to the topo map for details.
There is a self regulated day use fee of $5 to park in the South Finegold Picnic Area, but there is also plenty of parking outside the gate on Sky Harbour Road. Gate hours are 8am - 8pm.
When You Do Your Research:
If you Google "Pincushion Peak Trailhead," Google Maps is going to send you to a trailhead that is 2.5 miles south of the South Finegold Picnic Area, which is the trailhead we recommend for this hike. Although the Pincushion Peak Trailhead starts at about 300 feet higher than the Finegold trailhead (making the total elevation gain about 700 feet instead of 1,000), the trail is more elusive and you may end up accidentally getting onto the San Joaquin River Trail that will bypass Pincushion Peak and dump you off into the South Finegold Picnic Area.
Also know that if you Google "Pincushion Peak," you may be directed to the Pincushion Peak nestled deep in the Sierra National Forest north of Mono Hot Springs. That is not this hike. You are looking for the Pincushion Peak in Friant or Millerton.
Tips From One Who Hiked It:
This is a highly trafficked trail and you will see many people running up the hill for training, or doing laps in full hiking packs as part of their training for hiking. Yield to those individuals and enjoy the views! You will have a 360 degree view of Millerton Lake, so make sure you have your camera!