Bear Gulch / Chalone Pk. Trail (dayhike)

Trip Date: 12/3/2015

Location: Pinnacles National Park

Permit/Pass: Private, Non-Commercial Vehicles (including motorcycles): $15.00 / vehicle - Valid for 7 days

Individual, Hike / Bicycle: $10.00 / person - Valid for 7 days

Trail maps: NPS mapOld map

Directions: East entrance: From the south - take Interstate 5 to Hwy 198 west to Hwy 25 north to a left turn onto Hwy 146 - essentially the east entrance to the park. Turn left into the Pinnacles Campground to check in at the Pinnacles Visitor Center. From the campground, the Bear Gulch Area is 3.5 miles further into the park along Hwy 146.

From the north - take Hwy 101 to the city of Gilroy to Hwy 25 south. Follow 25 to the city of Hollister. Go through the town of Hollister and continue about 30 miles to Hwy 146. Turn right on Hwy 146. Turn left into the Pinnacles Campground to check in at the Pinnacles Visitor Center. From the campground, the Bear Gulch Area is 3.5 miles further into the park along Hwy 146.

West entrance: Take Hwy 101 to the town of Soledad. In Soledad take Front St. to East St. and turn northeast to follow Hwy 146 East which turns east on Metz Rd. in a few blocks. Keep an eye out for Hwy. 146 veering off to the left in a couple of miles. Be aware that the highway turns into a one lane road, drive with caution. Follow Hwy 146 for 14 miles into Pinnacles National Park.

Synopsis: Talus caves are essentially big boulder piles that leave access underneath. The Bear Gulch Caves on this hike are fun and interesting, and lead to the picturesque Bear Gulch Reservoir. We chose to extend this short hike by heading south and up on the scenic Chalone Peak Trail with the intent of going all the way to Chalone Peak, however deteriorating weather cut our trip short.

Trail sequence: Moses Spring Trail / Bear Gulch Cave Trail / Chalone Peak Trail / Rim Trail / Moses Spring

Type: Balloon loop

Distance: 3.5 miles

Elevation: Min. - 1239', Max. - 2164'


Rating: Easy-Moderate (factors: dark, cramped talus caves)

Notes: Bring a headlamp or flashlight on the cave trail. You can get through without one but it helps.

Track: Bear Gulch / Chalone Pk. Trail - Pinnacles NP

Turn by Turn:

  -- Find the trailhead on the southern side of the parking lot and head up the immediately climbing trail toward the Bear Gulch Caves. After a short distance you come to a junction with the High Peaks trail on the right. Continue straight (south).

  -- After another few tenths of a mile you reach a fork in the trail. The right path continues the Moses Spring Trail up and over the caves. The left path heads down a bit, through a short tunnel, and eventually to the talus caves.

  -- Follow the trail through the caves as it climbs and twists, eventually climbing some railed steps to the reservoir.

  -- Cross the reservoir dam and follow Chalone Peak trail south up the canyon. To the east you'll see the Little Pinnacles, Frog Canyon and Mt. Defiance.

  -- After you pass a huge rock outcrop hanging over the right side of the trail you turn to the east and climb to a hairpin turn in the trail. It was here that we turned around due to conditions. (If you wish to continue to North Chalone Peak stay on the path for another two miles or so.)

  -- Upon returning to the reservoir, find the Rim Trail on the north side of the dam and head up around the ridge. After about a half-mile the trail dead-ends at a junction with the High Peaks Trail. Turn right (east) on the High Peaks Trail.

  -- A few tenths of a mile of descent into the canyon brings you back to the Moses Spring Trail. Turn left (north) to return to the parking lot.

Photos: Flickr

Video: Youtube