Outdoors California is a treasure trove with coastal mountains, redwoods, the Sierra/Cascades, and the desert. People often drive past the Central California on their way to somewhere else. Pinnacles National Park, about 30 miles South of Hollister, is an excellent outdoors destination. Pinnacles’s crags, caves, waterfalls, and unique animals (tarantulas, bats, condors) are best in fall and spring. Temperatures are milder and perfect for a Halloween themed hike. My friend, Mark, and I visited on Friday.
After an excellent breakfast in Hollister at the Country Rose Café, we drove to the East entrance of Pinnacles National Park. Our objective was Bear Gulch Cave and the High Peaks Trail, the classic hikes of the park. The 6.2 mile hike started at the Bear Gulch Day Use area. We hiked 1.2 miles above and below ground on the Bear Gulch Cave Trail to the Bear Gulch Reservoir. Next we climbed 3.3 miles up the Rim Trail to the High Peaks Trail. The High Peaks trail provides the best views and up close views of Pinnacles namesake rock formation. We then descended the 1.7 mile Condor Gulch Trail past a cascading waterfall to our car.
Hiking through Bear Gulch Cave. The cave follows a small stream near the bottom of a canyon. Flashlights are necessary, and at multiple places, I had to get down on my hands and knees. A colony of bats lives in the caves. The bats were elsewhere (presumably on Halloween related business), so we were able to traverse the entire cave. Different parts of the caves close depending on the bats sleeping habits.
The cave emerges at the Bear Gulch Reservoir.
October & November are tarantula mating season, and we saw several on the trip. We spotted our first one at one the climbing areas marked by a National Park Service carabiner sign.
The High Peaks Trail area transects the tallest peaks of the park.
Rangers installed handrails along many areas to provide protection in the most exposed areas. The high peaks area was beautiful on a rainy day and would be stunning on a clear day. The rocks reminded the Pikes Peak region of Colorado (hoodoos) and Zion National Park. The San Andreas Fault deposited this remnant of an ancient volcano from 200 miles south of the park.
After some fun and exposed traverses, we descended down the Condor Gulch Trail. The area felt like an appropriate backdrop for a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western with the rolling hills, dry vegetation, and hidden waterfalls. The Bear Gulch / High Peaks loop took ~4 hours of hiking time. I can’t wait when to return to Pinnacles National Park with my family in the spring.