Hike the Bear Gulch-High Peaks Loop in Pinnacles National Park

Rate this Adventure Bear Gulch Parking Lot

See the best of Pinnacles National Park as you hike through talus caves, and along volcanic rock formations.

Begin this adventure by entering Pinnacles National Park's East entrance via CA HWY 146. Shortly after entering the park, you will need to stop by the visitors center to pay the entrance fee ($25 as of 2018). After leaving the Visitor’s Center, the drive to the trailhead parking area is about three miles. There are two parking lot options for this hike; we opted to park at the second lot, which only has about ten spots and is closer to the start of the trail leading to the caves. However, if you plan to do the entire hike as a loop like we did, we advise you to park at the first lot, which is about a half mile back and has more parking spots. Also, this way you don’t have to walk an extra mile uphill to get back to your car at the conclusion of the hike. 

Start off by taking the trail to Bear Gulch Caves, which is an easy one at just 0.7 miles from parking lot number two. Shortly into the hike, you’ll quickly see the namesake pinnacle rock formations alongside the trail. Before long, we arrived at the caves, which are preceded by a sign that reminds you that caves are dark and slippery! This was the first point on our hike that exceeded my expectations. The walk through the lower cave leads you past small streams of water and up stone staircases. 

Passing under a large boulder stuck between two rock walls, we arrived at a set of stone steps that led out of the caves. Once we reached the top of stairs, we were greeted by the sight of the Bear Gulch Reservoir, a small body of water surrounded by pinnacles. 

From here, follow the sign for the Rim Trail and start heading up. About a half mile along the Rim Trail you will arrive at a junction to split on to the High Peaks Trail. The trail gradually climbs alongside the pinnacles, with views in every direction. A small series of switchbacks will eventually lead to Scout’s Peak, a great place to stop for lunch as we did. 

After refueling, follow the sign to continue along the High Peaks Trail. The first portion of the trail is pretty straightforward, and at one point, we even thought we were just going to be heading back down to the car without any incline, but boy were we wrong! As the trail begins to switchback up into the pinnacles, we found ourselves walking on stone steps alongside the rock. From there, a hand rail is in place to help you up the steps. We continued walking along a small wooden bridge, and then squeezed past a narrow section between two rocks before heading back down a set of stone steps.

From this point, the last 2.3 miles down the Condor Gulch Trail are relatively easy as the trail begins to gradually descend. Back at the trailhead, it’s another 0.5 mile to parking lot number two. 

Pack List

  • Water
  • Snacks/Lunch
  • Hiking Boots
  • Camera
  • Headlamp/Flashlight
  • Sunscreen
  • Money for the entrance fee ($25 in 2018)
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RT Distance 6 Miles
Elevation Gain 1500 Feet
Activities Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Year Round
Trail Type Loop
Features
Bathrooms
Easy Parking
Family Friendly
Lake
Scenic
Wildflowers
Wildlife

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