North Chalone Peak is an easy 9-mile round-trip hike, beginning at the Bear Gulch Visitor Center in Pinnacles National Monument. The Visitor Center is accessible by car only from the east entrance to the Park. Pinnacles NM is about 35 miles south of Hollister, so it's an easy day trip from anywhere in Silicon Valley.
The vertical gain of this hike is 2,044 feet from the trailhead elevation of 1,260 feet to the summit elevation of 3,304 feet. The trail is generally in excellent condition. The most interesting segment of the hike is the first 1.2 miles from the Visitor Center to Bear Gulch Reservoir. The trail goes up a narrow canyon, where huge boulders have rolled down to form "caves". Just below the reservoir, there's a short section with a handrail where the trail is actually a narrow stairway cut into the rock. Above Bear Gulch Reservoir, the trail becomes wider, and the constant uphill grade allows for a very steady and comfortable walking pace. The final approach is on a steep gravel road, which leads up to the observation tower on the summit.
I made this hike on a cool, clear winter day. Hiking in Pinnacles is much more comfortable if you avoid the oppressive heat of the summer months. I got a late start, leaving the Bear Gulch Visitor Center at 1:35 pm. I made pretty good time, and reached the summit in exactly 2 hours. I passed only 5 people on the trail once I got above Bear Gulch Reservoir. It was very tempting to make the short hike on over to South Chalone Peak, but the park closes at 6:00 pm, and I didn't feel like pushing my luck. I left the summit at 4:00 pm and got back to the trailhead at 5:25 pm, just before dark.
As I finished the hike, I was concerned to find emergency vehicles in the Bear Gulch parking lot, as well as a helicopter waiting near the park entrance. I watched for news reports for the next couple days, but didn't see any, so hopefully it wasn't a serious incident. On the way home I made my customary post-Pinnacles stop at the Tres Pinos Inn for dinner. This place has first-class food and service, but it's one of those rustic-looking places where hiking boots and blue jeans don't get a second look. Make sure to get a glass (or two) of the excellent Hollywood Red from the local De Rose winery with your dinner.
To summarize, the Chalone Peak Trail is a worthy hike, although it wouldn't be my first choice at Pinnacles. There's just something about walking the last few hundred yards on a road and then finding an ugly building on the summit that detracts from the experience of climbing a mountain. Despite that, there are very impressive views in every direction on a clear day. But, all things considered, I'd say the High Peaks Trail / Tunnel Trail loop is a more interesting hike if your time at Pinnacles is limited. If you just want to put in some miles, the North Wilderness Trail makes a nice loop through some interesting country.