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.