Hikes in Pinnacles National Monument
1 Jan 2012
Pinnacles National Monument is famous for curious rock formations suitable for rock climbing and hikes through caves!

Location: here. Pinnacles is about 50 miles south of Gilroy, CA. The park has two entrances, which are not connected by road inside the park. So make sure you drive to the correct entrance. The Eastern entrance is much more popular because the cave close to that entrance (Bear Gulch Caves) is longer and more exciting.

Hiking through Caves: At Pinnacles, there are two 'cave trails' (Balconies Cave Trail and Bear Gulch Cave Trail) that require flashlight. These are open only in select months, so check Cave Status. Caves are closed for the protection of Townsend's big ear bats that reside in them. Caves are open for a limited period: twice a year for at least one week and up to four weeks each March and October, depending on the presence of the colony of bats.

I visited both caves in March 2010 — there was about 5 to 12 inches of water in some section of Bear Gulch Cave. I was able to hop on stones most of the time but there were some portions where my feet got wet. Rubber slippers would be handy. The park website warns that sometimes there is knee-deep water inside the caves. So be prepared.

Full Moon Hikes: Pinnacles is also known for eerie 'full moon hikes'.

Best Time to Visit: Most of the trails are in the open. So avoid summers — it's quite hot. Also check out Cave Status for optimal experience.

Parking: In March 2010, parking fees was $5 per vehicle. The parking lot close to Bear Gulch Day Use Area was full. March is a popular month for visiting Pinnacles. There was an overflow parking area next to the East Entrance. The park provided shuttle service between these points. It took us about 20 minutes one-way waiting for the shuttle and traveling in it.

Hiking Trails: (1) When caves are closed, you may hike along trails that parallel the cave trails. (2) A portion of High Peaks Trail that is marked "Steep and Narrow Section" on the map is indeed very steep. In fact, some of this section is composed of tiny steps carved out in stone and handrails by the side.

Points of Interest: There are 5 interesting areas in Pinnacles that are reachable through hiking trails: (a) Balconies Cave, (b) Bear Gulch Cave, (c) High Peaks, (d) Northern Wilderness, and (e) Chalone Peaks. Each of the hikes listed below takes you through one or more of these five spots.

Hikes from Bear Gulch Day Use Area (East Entrance)

Bear Gulch Day Use Area provides quick access to Bear Gulch Cave, which is only about a mile away. This cave is longer and more interesting than Balconies Cave. Just beyond Bear Gulch Cave lies Bear Gulch Reservoir, which is quite pleasant (see trail map). Longer routes may be formed by including other points of interest like High Peaks or Balconies Cave.

2.5 miles
500 ft
Bear Gulch Cave
Short, sweet hike through Bear Gulch Caves in Pinnacles.

6.2 miles
1500 ft
Bear Gulch Cave & High Peaks - Route I
Fantastic short hike going through Bear Gulch Cave and High Peaks which offer panoramic valley views of rock formations in Pinnacles.

8.2 miles
1800 ft
Bear Gulch Cave & High Peaks - Route II
Fantastic hike going through Bear Gulch Cave and High Peaks which offer panoramic valley views of rock formations in Pinnacles.

12.7 miles
2600 ft
Balconies Cave, High Peaks & Bear Gulch Cave - Route I
Awesome hike through all major attractions of Pinnacles including both caves and High Peaks.

Hikes from Chaparral Ranger Station (West Entrance)

Balconies Cave is within one mile of Chaparral Ranger Station. This cave is shorter and less interesting than Bear Gulch Cave. Longer routes may be formed by incorporating other interesting spots in the park like High Peaks or North Wilderness.

2.1 miles
300 ft
Balconies Cave
Short, sweet hike through Balconies Cave in Pinnacles.

4.9 miles
1200 ft
High Peaks
Short, vigorous hike to High Peaks in Pinnacles.

6.6 miles
1500 ft
Balconies Cave, High Peaks - Route I
Nice hike visiting both Balconies Cave and High Peaks in Pinnacles.

9.6 miles
1800 ft
Balconies Cave, High Peaks - Route II
Nice hike visiting both Balconies Cave and High Peaks in Pinnacles.

9.0 miles
2600 ft
Bear Gulch Cave, High Peaks - Route I
Great hike via High Peaks and Bear Gulch Cave in Pinnacles.

12.6 miles
2800 ft
North Wilderness, High Peaks
An awesome hike through a remote section of Pinnacles and through High Peaks that offer magnificent valley views.

Hikes from Old Pinnacles Trailhead (East Entrance)

Old Pinnacles Trailhead is a good place to start long hikes that go through multiple points of interest like High Peaks and any of the caves.

5.8 miles
500 ft
Balconies Cave
Relaxed hike to Balconies Cave from Old Pinnacles Trailhead

10.2 miles
1400 ft
Balconies Cave, High Peaks
Nice hike visiting both Balconies Cave and High Peaks in Pinnacles.

10.1 miles
2600 ft
Bear Gulch Cave, High Peaks
Awesome hike in Pinnacles going through a cave and High Peaks, that offer panoramic valley views.

Hikes from Pinnacles Visitor Center (East Entrance)

Pinnacles Visitor Center is quite far away from most of the popular hiking trails. It is possible to walk along a trail that parallels Highway 146 to reach Bear Gulch Day Use Area (almost 3 miles away) or Old Pinnacles Trailhead (almost 2 miles away). However, this trailhead is not recommended for first time visitors since the long walk to other trailheads is much less scenic than other hiking trails.

7.1 miles
900 ft
Bear Gulch Cave
Hike through Bear Gulch Caves in Pinnacles from the Visitor Center.

© Copyright 2008—2020, Gurmeet Manku.