Location: Pinnacles National Park, California
Hike: Loop trail through Bear Gulch and High Peaks (Moses Spring Trail to Bear Gulch Cave Trail to Rim Trail to High Peaks trail to Condor Gulch Trail then back to the Bear Gulch parking lot)
Distance: 6.1 miles (6.5 miles if you add exploring trail off shoots)
Duration: 5 hours
Elevation: 1300 ft
Difficulty level: Moderate to strenuous
Pinnacles National Park is a place of exceptional beauty everywhere you turn. My daughter and I shared one camera, and between the two of us took over 400 pictures just on Saturday alone. I kept hearing her say, “this will be my new screen shot,” over and over again. I, myself, kept tripping over rocks because I didn’t want to look down at the trail – too much spectacular scenery to take in!
Everyone talks about the caves at Pinnacles, so we started our hike heading to the caves. We weren’t sure about the weather (showers forecasted throughout the day), so we wanted to see as much as we could up front in case the weather got too bad to hike.
Summary of our hike:
Bear Gulch parking area to Moses Springs trail head – 0.3 miles
Moses Springs Trail to Bear Gulch Reservoir (through the caves) – 0.7 miles
Rim Trail – 0.4 miles
High Peaks Trail to the Juniper Canyon trail junction – 1.5 miles
High Peaks Trail to Tunnel Trail junction through the Steep and Narrow section – 0.7 mile
High Peaks Trail to Condor Gulch Trail – 0.6 miles
Condor Gulch Trail to Bear Gulch parking area – 1.7 miles
We also explored the Chalone Trail and several off shoots off 0f High Peaks Trail (+ 0.4 miles)
Total miles hiked = 6.5 miles
Moses Springs Trail
We didn’t encounter many people along this section and we took our time getting introduced to the colorful rock formations of Pinnacles.
The trail continues to gradually climb uphill until you reach this area. I initially thought this was the cave entrance, but it turned out to be a tunnel.The cave entrance is actually through this area.
The cave really lived up to all the hype! The waterfalls and streams running through the cave made water an interesting focal point. The sound of the waterfall was very loud in some sections and you could definitely feel the moisture in the air.
There were areas where light from above illuminated the glistening walls and sparkling streams you were walking next to, while other areas it was so dark that you needed a flashlight to see right in front of you. This is because these caves are talus caves, meaning they were formed by huge boulders that dropped into the narrow canyons forming a roof.
Make sure to bring a flashlight, not just for safety, but to be able see it all, especially the waterfalls in the dark (you can hear them). There is a definite “trail” that you follow with pathways, stairs that have handrails, and metal walkways. The cave was so fun to explore! That’s why we came back and walked through it again the next day.
After we squeezed out of the cave, there was just a small hike up to the reservoir.
We wanted to find a place to sit and have a snack. Everyone else seemed to have the same idea, this area was a popular spot for having a mid morning snack. We walked east on Chalone trail for a bit, then followed a trail next to the reservoir.Pretty soon, we found a spot with a flat rock to sit on.The weather seemed to be holding, so we decided to go for a longer hike. We headed back to the Rim Trail sign which was near the stairs that lead up to the reservoir, and started our ascent towards High Peaks.
High Peaks Trail to the Juniper Canyon Trail junction
High Peaks Trail (through the Steep and Narrow section)
Here comes the Steep and Narrow section.
High Peaks Trail to Condor Gulch Trail
Condor Gulch Trail to Bear Gulch parking area
The last bit of the hike to the parking lot. There were many wildflowers in this section (see previous post for wildflower pictures).
This hike took us about 5 hours, stopping twice to eat and rest, and pausing to take so many pictures! We spent about 30 minutes exploring various trail off shoots and climbing on rocks near the caves which was so fun. You can definitely do this hike faster, but this hike is not one to power through. The caves and the Steep and Narrow sections are worth taking your time and fully exploring. Marvel at the wildflowers all around, and try to spot one of the California condors that soar high above. There is just so much to see and appreciate. After the hike don’t forget to reward yourself with an ice cream bar from the store next to the visitor’s center (open until 5 pm), it was the perfect way to forget about our sore muscles… for a little while at least.
If you’re interested, check out our experience at the campground and explorations (Springtime in Pinnacles National Park)