On January 10, 2013, President Obama signed legislation elevating Pinnacles to National Park status and giving Bay Area residents their most accessible National Parks for hiking, camping and rock climbing. Previously a national monument, established as such by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1908, the Pinnacles themselves are the western half of the eroded and exposed basaltic core of an ancient volcano that has been slowly moving northward astride the San Andreas Fault from its start point 150 miles south near Lancaster, CA. Crazy, right?


This hike takes you around the northern edge of the dramatic rock outcroppings and into some rugged and beautiful terrain. While the Pinnacles can be accessed from either the east or the west sides of the park, Highway 146 is not a through road across. Camping is offered on the east side, where we recommend beginning the hike.


After entering the park, proceed along Pinnacles Highway to the trailhead at the Chalone Creek Road. The trail to the Balconies Caves and Cliffs follows the creek. At the three-mile mark, make you choice: caves or cliffs first?

(Courtesy of Visit California)

CLIFFS: The cliff trail offers outstanding vistas of the looming peaks nearby and are a popular destination for Bay Area rock climbers. You may even catch a glimpse of a roosting California Condor, as we did during a recent visit to Pinnacles. Hiking the loop trail around the highest pinnacles is an exciting adventure in itself and not without some somewhat scary twists and turns on the highest trails above.

Lower Bear Gulch Cave(Courtesy of kcet.com)

CAVES: The caves formed many millennia ago when immense, eroded boulders fell upon one another and water subsequently eroded passages between them. The passage will take a bit of scrambling and climbing, but it's interspersed with shafts of light from openings above.


This hike is best done in the spring or fall due to the high temperatures that are the norm during the summer. Regardless of the time of year, always pack plenty of water, and when accessing the caves, carry individual flashlights and bring a light sweater or windbreaker as the caves can get a bit chilly, especially after a spring shower.


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This post was originally published in May 2013.