We recently visited Pinnacles National Park to try a few hikes. Our favorite was Bear Gulch Cave, which is located in the more popular east side. This short trail is very shady and features a talus cave, so you’ll need light. We also spotted several cool birds near the trailhead. Add Bear Gulch Cave in Pinnacles to your must-do list.
Parking is a problem from Bear Gulch Cave as there are only 10 spots in the parking lot near the trailhead at Moses Spring. It is likely that you’ll have to park down the road in a larger lot. Luckily, there is a nice shady hike through the trees to the upper lot. From the trailhead lot, this hike is only 1.5 miles roundtrip. The lower lot adds about a half mile each way, so drop off the kids and drive down to park.
The first thing we noticed at the trailhead was the birds. We saw stellar’s jays and scrub jays before we even left the parking area. We also heard woodpeckers hammering in the trees. Upon closer inspection, these turned out to be acorn woodpeckers, which are really beautiful. We’d never seen them before.
- Distance: 1.3 miles RT
- Elevation Gain: 261 feet
- Dog-friendly: NO
After our sighting, we headed up the Moses Spring Trail toward Bear Gulch. It is nicely shaded all the way to the talus cave, and there isn’t much elevation gain until you get to the cave. This trail is a lollipop, so you’ll have to make a decision before you reach the cave. There are two junctions, and we recommend going left at both of them.
First, you must stay left to stay on the Moses Spring/Bear Gulch trail and not head up on to the Rim Trail. Then, at the second fork, we recommend going left again, which means that you’ll climb up through the cave. That is a lot easier than going down. Passing others who choose the reverse route is not an easy task, either. There are signs at both junctions and it is easy to see where you are going.
Bear Gulch Cave
A talus cave is not a true cave, but a passage formed when rock falls. That means that a talus cave does allow some light to come in through the cracks around the larger rocks. Though the cave isn’t completely dark, you will definitely need light. Our boys wore headlamps in Bear Gulch Cave, and we stumbled around with our phones, but mostly, we stayed close to their lights. It would not be enjoyable to try this hike with just a phone, as you wouldn’t have enough light to see the cave, and you’d be unsure of which direction to go.
This talus cave is quite long and winding, and there is a fair amount of climbing. Most kids above toddler age should be okay, but those with unsure footing should avoid this hike. There is also a bit of scrambling and squeezing, and a lot of ducking. We always wear hats in caves, so if we do hit our head, it takes some of the sting out. We enjoyed exploring the cave, especially since it is formed so uniquely.
Bear Gulch Cave does have steps and handrails through the steepest part, so there is some help. However, the last stretch is a tough climb straight up. Again, most healthy people age 5-55 should make it fairly easily, but this trail is not for everyone.
After you exit the cave, the trail heads back downhill to the parking lot. The final walk back is easy and gentle. Some hikers decide to continue up to the reservoir. We didn’t have time or the energy, so we saved that adventure for another time. For more info on that hike, check out the Pinnacles National Parks site.
There is another cave in Pinnacles on the west side. If you have time, you should definitely visit the Balconies Cave.