Note: In response to COVID-19, Bear Gulch Cave is closed to visitation. For more info visit the official Pinnacles National Park site.
This short hike takes you through Bear Gulch Cave, a cave formed by giant talus boulders that have fallen on top of a ravine.
The cave is probably the most popular attraction in Pinnacles, one of California’s least visited national parks. (It received fewer than 200,000 visitors in 2019).
Its home to several bat colonies, so the park service closes half of the cave on a rolling schedule. However, for 10 months out of the year, you can enter the cave.
Hiking through the cave doesn’t require any technical gear or experience with spelunking, but you’ll want a headlamp.
Note: You’ll want your hands free to scramble, so a headlamp works better than a flashlight for this hike.
If you get claustrophobic, DO NOT enter this cave. There’s a section that requires squatting and even crawling to get through. Also, plan on getting your feet wet as there is flowing water in the cave.
- Distance: 1.5 miles out and back
- Hike Time: 1-2 hours
- Elevation Gain: 240 feet
- Fee: $30 per vehicle or America the Beautiful Pass
- Dogs: No
- Difficulty: Easy
Hiking Bear Gulch Cave
The hike starts at Bear Creek Picnic Area, a small paved parking lot that has a toilet and well-shaded picnic tables.
Follow the trail on the southwest side of the lot as it meanders through the forest above Moses Creek.
After 0.1 miles, you’ll come to a junction. Bear left to continue to the cave.
If there’s someone in your party that’s uncomfortable with going through the cave, they can bear right and meet up with you on the other side via High Peaks Trail and the Rim Trail.
You’ll pass through a couple short tunnels before entering the cave. When we walked through in March 2020, I joked that this was our practice run.
The cave has a dramatic entrance with moss-covered rocks and a babbling creek. Occasionally, there are rails to assist you and steps carved into the rock.
Halfway through, there was a junction where we turned right. This is where the cave walls got narrower and the ceiling lower. We could tell our 2-year-old was a bit nervous, but with our help she made it through just fine.
You’ll feel a great sense of accomplishment and relief when you exit the cave on the other side.
After climbing a series of stairs, Bear Gulch Reservoir comes into view. It’s a beautiful site, surrounded by rock formations that form the national park’s namesake – pinnacles.
If you have the time, I suggest continuing to the right, up the Rim Trail. After 0.5 miles, bear left onto High Peaks Trail and hike uphill until you’re ready to turnaround.
Up above, on the flanks of Scout Peak, there are great views and wonderful places to stop and eat lunch.
Condors frequently fly in this area, so be sure to keep an eye out for them. When we went, we were lucky enough to see a couple!
To get back to the parking lot (and avoid going through the cave again), you can follow High Peaks Trail all the way back.
From Hollister, get onto California State Route 25 and continue for 28.2 miles.
Take a slight right onto Pinnacles Highway (CA-146) and continue for 3.8 miles, past the East Entrance Station.
Turn left on the next road and continue 1.4 miles to a small parking lot.