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Visited: October 9, 2016 & October 29, 2016
Description: Easily accessible adventure into two talus caves
Entrance Fee: $15/vehicle, valid for 7 days
$10/individual, hike/bicycle, valid for 7 days
Length: ~4 miles total from East Entrance, including both caves
Elevation: ~300′-500′ of elevation change
Duration: ~4 hours
Difficulty: Too easy
Terrain: Sandy, paved trails
Parking: Parking lots
Best time to go: Allegedly, the last week of October is best because all the caves may be fully open but usually, Bear Gulch Cave is just partially open or even closed!
Bring: Water, sunscreen, flashlight
First off, get there early! Parking is very limited and if you don’t want to add even more miles to your hike than necessary, leave that cozy bed of your’s and get to it!
What’s so special about Pinnacles National Park? It’s one of the best and most accessible places to explore talus caves. Instead of the usual limestone cave formations, talus caves are formed by boulders falling and blocking the narrow canyons to create high ceilings and passages through the debris. With a little help from the National Park Service, you can easily tour these caves (when weather permits).
There are two different entrances:
We entered through the East because it was closer to San Francisco. It also seemed like a better plan of attack because the hike along Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Caves might be easier than taking High Peaks Trail from the West Entrance to Bear Gulch Cave. We wanted to be a little lazy… 🙂
There is no through-road so if you enter the East Entrance and want to check out both caves in one day, you can either hike to the other one or drive around the park to the other cave.
Now on to the main reason you’re probably here… the CAVES! There are two caves:
1) Balconies Caves
Starting from Old Pinnacles Trailhead parking, simply follow the trail for about 1.5 miles until you hit the entrance of the cave. The elevation change is pretty level throughout the hike. We were surprised by how easy it was but we weren’t complaining!
Right when you enter, it already starts to look exciting. We were definitely thrilled to be here. You will need to use a light soon so remember to bring a flashlight.
Follow the path and watch your head! It can be a tight squeeze but if you’re not as big as a Snorlax, you should fit 😛 Eventually, you will reach the opening and you will see the light *queue angels singing* 👼🏻👼🏻
Once you’re out of the cave, you can either continue following the trail to Chaparral Picnic Area or take the trail around the cave back to the cave entrance to head back to the parking lot. We decided to just go back through the cave again for more fun 🙂🙃
2) Bear Gulch Cave
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to park at the trailhead for Bear Gulch. Otherwise, you can find a spot in one of the other lots and walk a few yards to the trailhead. Just a few yards? Doesn’t sound bad at all if the sun isn’t beating down on you…
Ascending up the hill for about .5 miles and continuing forward, you’ll hit an opening through the mountain. Don’t get excited because this isn’t it. You still have to walk a few more yards before you reach your destination.
Follow the signs for the cave and you will finally hit your goal.
Bear Gulch Cave is definitely more developed than Balconies Cave.
When we first visited Pinnacles, we knew Bear Gulch cave was only partially open from their website. Even though we knew this, we were still upset to see that it was actually closed! NPS did a really good job blocking off every crevice to prevent people from trying to get through… not like we tried looking for a way 😅🙈 But we understand… We wouldn’t want to disturb the nesting area for the bats.
If you’re unlucky enough to visit when part of the cave is closed, you can sadly exit the cave to the left.
If you’re there when it’s open, go straight through and continue the adventure!
It does get pretty cramped and you may experience a bit of claustrophobia but it doesn’t last too long. Just make sure you follow the white arrows to guide you through! A group of fellow explorers almost ended their cave excursion early because they didn’t see the arrows.
Upon exiting, you can either follow the Moses Spring trail for a short bit which will lead you back to the entrance/exit where the cave gate is usually closed and continue on the trail back to your car or just go through the cave again! 😀
We were sad the adventure ended so quickly but we were very happy to have finally been able to cross Pinnacles National Park off our HikeSnobs List.
- Get there before 10a because parking gets filled quick!
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