Bear Gulch Cave-Rim Trail, Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, California



Pinnacles National Park is one half of an ancient volcano that was cut into two by tectonic forces about 20 million years ago. Two thirds of the volcano eventually became Pinnacles National Park while the other side of it became the Neenach Formation almost 200 miles south. Our visit this time had us explore Bear Gulch talus caves. Talus caves are caves formed by boulders and rocks that fall into a narrow canyon. The canyons here are the result of faults and fractures in the central area of volcanic rock. Rock falls that helped form Bear Gulch Caves are believed to have occurred during the last Ice Age.

Columns of Giant Rocks along the Bear Gulch Trail

Columns of Giant Rocks along the trail to Bear Gulch Cave

Columns of Giant Rocks along the Bear Gulch Trail



We made our start on this 2-mile trail at 11am after arriving at Bear Gulch Parking area. After packing our snacks and water, we started our walk slightly uphill along fluorescent green moss-covered giant rocks. We visited this part of the trail last summer and it definitely did not look this beautiful. The bright green moss-covered rocks were situated below huge red columns of rocks. These sights kept us occupied until we came to the first cave.

Tall Rocks forming a narrow pathway on the way to the Cave

Tall Rocks forming a narrow pathway on the way to the Cave

Green Rock Columns



The first cave area was short before we saw some daylight coming through the roof of the cave. The trail was covered with water, providing just stepping stones peeking out of the water to hop on. We managed to make our way to the next section which was both dark and wet. Flashlights and head lamps (or in our case the Torch app) would be very useful here. Through an open gate, up a wet winding flight of stairs, we made our way to the side of some waterfalls, then crossed over it on a metal bridge. There were many, many boulders to squeeze between and under.


Talus Caves

Entering the caves

Talus Caves



After this first cave area, there was an open area with a view of mossy rocks stacked in loose piles, and more tall columns rocks in the distance. This daylight was short-lived, and we came upon another tight squeeze under a large boulder. Probably not a good hike for a child backpack carrier. We crawled under the rock to continue on. Crossing a rock bridge over a creek brought us to the bottom of some more stairs. These stairs were very narrow, steep and wet, though it had a guard rail, with a waterfall on its left side flowing into the creek we just passed.



In the Talus Caves

 In the Talus Caves



At the top of the stairs we got our first view the Reservoir. Surrounded by rocks of different shapes, this Reservoir reflected most of what surrounded it. A nicely manicured stone bridge brought us to the other side of the Reservoir where many hikers were enjoying a snack and a view. We followed suit and enjoyed a few moments of peace.

Our first view of the Reservoir

Our view of the Reservoir

Our first view of the Reservoir


Soon after, we made our way back to the picnic area by the creek for a warm lunch. We took the Rim Trail back. On this trail, we had a view of the rocks in surrounding area and all the dark clouds over the neighbouring areas. We kept the kids closeby due to big drops. The Cave trail was full of variety and surprises that we did not expect. It was definitely a cool hike, but one that brought out the nervous mom in me, given the dark, wet trail and big drops. Part of Bear Gulch Cave may be closed at different times of year to accommodate roosting bats or inclement weather. We came across many climbers along our hike. Moses Spring trail is an alternative way to get to the Reservoir if you are looking to avoid the caves. We did not explore this route.


We recently went on Moses Spring Trail.  It is also a beautiful hike with many big drops into a canyon, so definitely keep kids closeby and under control.  As with most hikes in Pinnacles, we found many many mountain lion scat along the way, indicating their presence, though have not had an encounter, so yet another reason to keep kids closeby.  Know what to do if you do by chance have a face-to-face encounter these creatures.  From my last search on the subject, I believe the thing to do is to make many loud noises, carry young kids and appear as big as possible. Whatever you do, don't crouch down, as you would resemble a prey.  Again, luckily, in all our miles of hiking, we have not yet had such an encounter, but as a nervous mom, it is something always on my mind.


Practical Information (as of February 2017):

Features:  Walk into a couple of talus caves along a waterfall to a reservoir, passing by columns of mossy rocks (in the spring) and red rocks, all part of an ancient volcano split into two by tectonic forces

Our Hike:  2 miles round trip, 400 feet elevation change, cave is very dark (bring a light source), wet and has big drops

Entrance fee:  $15/vehicle or free with Annual Interagency Pass

Pinnacles Bear Gulch Cave Status:  Cave Status

Amenities:  flush toilets, water at Parking, picnic tables, trash cans, Visitor Center, shuttle stop

Other:  Bring flashlight if you are going through the Cave, check for Cave closure, Check weather - Flash floods can occur in the Cave when there is rain in the surrounding area


Warning:  All listed adventures come with inherent risks. The information provided is based on personal experience which may or may not be typical. The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, preparation and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. As such, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal preparation and judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and always be safe.

Current rating: 5


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