Bear Gulch Cave Falls and Condor Gulch Falls

Pinnacles National Park / Paicines, California, USA

About Bear Gulch Cave Falls and Condor Gulch Falls


Hiking Distance: 5.3-mile loop (2.4 miles round trip to Bear Gulch Reservoir)
Suggested Time: 3-5 hours

Date first visited: 2020-02-23
Date last visited: 2020-02-23

Waterfall Latitude: 36.47381
Waterfall Longitude: -121.1864

Bear Gulch Cave Falls and Condor Gulch Falls were two incidental waterfalls that I encountered while doing the ranger-recommended loop hike encompassing the Bear Gulch Cave Trail, the High Peaks Trail, part of the Moses Spring Trail, and the Condor Gulch Trail.

In essence, this hike linking the aforementioned trails was the park’s signature hike that encompassed the best of Pinnacles National Park in about a half-day.

Pinnacles_NP_080_02232020 - One of the Bear Gulch Cave Falls within the cave itself
One of the Bear Gulch Cave Falls within the cave itself

Moreover, these waterfalls were more like side attractions to the namesake Pinnacles formations that the Pinnacles National Park (formerly the Pinnacles National Monument until Presidence Obama declared it a national park in 2012) was known for.

As a result, while I came here to check out the waterfalls and write about them, this page focuses on the entirety of the loop hike that took it all in, but I will provide a couple of options to shorten the hike if you don’t have a half-day (not including the driving to get here).

After all, I’d think it would be insane to go out-of-the-way to Pinnacles National Park and miss out on the park’s best hiking trail in pursuit of only the waterfall side attractions.

Nevertheless, as for the waterfalls themselves, the Bear Gulch Cave Falls was actually a man-modified or man-made waterfall whose longevity in its flow was the result of the Bear Gulch Reservoir supplying the Bear Creek, which spilled over a cascade into the Bear Gulch Cave.

Pinnacles_NP_152_02232020 - The Bear Gulch Reservoir Falls, which seeps from the rock dam and drains right into the Upper Bear Gulch Cave
The Bear Gulch Reservoir Falls, which seeps from the rock dam and drains right into the Upper Bear Gulch Cave

As the creek continues to lose elevation in the darkness of the cave, I encountered (as well as heard) a few more cascades before Bear Creek eventually re-emerges from the Bear Gulch Cave on its way to the Bear Gulch Nature Center and beyond.

I could only see this particular waterfall in segments, but it was perhaps the most satisfying of the waterfalls (whether natural or not) that I found in the Pinnacles National Park.

On a different drainage (towards the end of the clockwise loop hike, which I’ll describe in detail below), the Condor Gulch Falls was merely a seasonal cascade that I’d imagine could only be seen after a heavy rain or immediately after a series of storms, which would allow the creek to be visible amidst the overgrowth.

I didn’t find any particular spot where I would have seen a bonafide waterfall, and that’s why I’d imagine you wouldn’t see any waterfall here except during those instances where a heavy rain would at least flood the creek enough to see it.

Experiencing Pinnacles National Park’s Signature Hike

Pinnacles_NP_196_02232020 - Looking down at the Bear Gulch Reservoir from somewhere near the so-called Monolith
Looking down at the Bear Gulch Reservoir from somewhere near the so-called Monolith

Now that I’ve provided some of the motivations for doing the half-day hike that a Pinnacles National Park visitor center ranger recommended, I’ll now delve into a trail description of it.

In summary, the park literature calls this hike the “Condor Gulch-High Peaks Loop”, which is essentially a 5.3-mile clockwise loop with a 1300ft elevation gain.

While it says that this hike typically takes 3-5 hours, I wound up taking about 4.5 hours to complete the hike with plenty of photo stops and exploring side trails along the way (so it’s conceivable that I might have ended up hiking about 6 miles overall).

They call this a “strenuous walk”, but I’d attribute most of the difficulty of the hike to the climbing, some narrow ledges, and tight spaces (especially in the Bear Gulch Cave).

Pinnacles_NP_383_02232020 - Pinnacles galore at the high point of the High Peaks Trail, which I believe to be Pinnacles National Park's signature hike
Pinnacles galore at the high point of the High Peaks Trail, which I believe to be Pinnacles National Park’s signature hike

If you look at the map that the park service provides (or the map that I provide in the directions below), you’ll see that this hike starts and ends at the Bear Gulch Nature Center parking lot.

It then progresses in the following manner…

  1. Walk to the Bear Gulch Cave Trailhead – 0.3 miles
  2. Walk to the Connector Trail near the Moses Spring Trail junction – 0.2 miles
  3. Hike through the Bear Gulch Cave to the Bear Gulch Reservoir – 0.7 miles
  4. Following the Rim Trail to the High Peaks Trail and the other side of the Connector Trail – 0.4 miles
  5. High Peaks Trail to the Juniper Canyon Trail junction – 1.5 miles
  6. High Peaks Trail between the Juniper Canyon Trail junction and Tunnel Trail junction – 0.7 miles
  7. High Peaks Trail between the Tunnel Trail junction and Condor Gulch Trail – 0.6 miles
  8. Condor Gulch Trail – 1.7 miles

Walk to the Bear Gulch Trailhead and the Connector Trail near the Moses Spring Trail Junction

When I did this hike, I started right at the parking lot for the Bear Gulch Nature Center.

The park service had closed the road leading to its end over the final 0.3 miles so I walked that stretch past some picnic tables alongside Bear Creek.

Pinnacles_NP_016_02232020 - On the ascending trail leading up to the Bear Gulch Cave Trail and Moses Spring Trail junction
On the ascending trail leading up to the Bear Gulch Cave Trail and Moses Spring Trail junction

After arriving at the parking lot at the end of the road, I then followed the well-signed trail as it ascended somewhat gently for the next 0.2 miles towards the Moses Spring Trail junction.

If I wanted to cut off about 0.8 miles to the overall hike, I could take a connecting trail bypassing both the Moses Spring Trail and the Bear Gulch Cave Trail towards the Rim Trail and the High Peaks Trail.

The problem with doing this cutoff is that you’d miss out on one of the highlights of the hike, which is the Bear Gulch Cave and Reservoir.

Hike through the Bear Gulch Cave to the Bear Gulch Reservoir

Continuing on the main trail and keeping right at the first junction, I then encountered another trail junction which now had a sign pointing to the right for the “Moses Spring”.

Pinnacles_NP_048_02232020 - The Moses Spring Trail actually ascends and hugs ledges above and outside the Lower Bear Gulch Cave
The Moses Spring Trail actually ascends and hugs ledges above and outside the Lower Bear Gulch Cave

It turned out that the Moses Spring Trail climbed steeply in among the steep cliffs and rocks of part of the Pinnacles formations.

It ultimately connected with the upper part of the Bear Gulch Cave, but it bypassed the spooky part of the Bear Gulch Cave itself.

So I kept right at this junction to continue towards the Bear Gulch Cave.

The trail ultimately meandered alongside Bear Creek for a bit as the canyon closed in and entered the Bear Gulch Cave.

Right before entering a cave, a sign indicated that you’d need a flashlight to make it through the cave, and I’d argue that it’s probably a good idea to do that.

Pinnacles_NP_092_02232020 - Ascending steps within the Lower Bear Gulch Cave
Ascending steps within the Lower Bear Gulch Cave

Even at the height of a sunny day, there are enough dark regions in the cave, where daylight doesn’t quite penetrate through its depths, and that’s where you’ll want a light to at least make you aware of any slippery steps that you might otherwise not notice.

Within the cave (more like a deep slot canyon) section, there were wedged boulders hanging above me as well as waterfalls on Bear Creek (see photo at the top of this page).

The narrow corridors of the cave made it tricky to scoot by large hiking groups going in the opposite direction, and I did recall one spot where I had to crawl to get through a low “tunnel”.

In any case, there were also some gates set up where the park service might close parts of this trail due to nesting bats or flooding.

Pinnacles_NP_150_02232020 - Context of the lower part of the Bear Gulch Reservoir Falls and the steps hugging a ledge and leading out of the Upper Bear Gulch Cave towards the Bear Gulch Reservoir
Context of the lower part of the Bear Gulch Reservoir Falls and the steps hugging a ledge and leading out of the Upper Bear Gulch Cave towards the Bear Gulch Reservoir

Thus, I found that it can be disorienting in this most interesting section of the hike given all the criss-crossing trails.

When I ultimately emerged from the other side of the Bear Gulch Cave, there were a bunch of different trails going this way and that, but I ultimately followed a trail that led me back towards the Nature Center before re-entering the upper part of the Bear Gulch Cave (somewhere here, I think the Moses Trail eventually hooks up with this trail).

This was when I managed to climb up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir while seeing the cascade or waterfall resulting from the rock dam’s outflow before spilling into the dark depths of the Bear Gulch Cave.

I’ve noticed that the Bear Gulch Reservoir was a very popular spot to chill out, and you could use this as the stopping point before going back to the Bear Gulch Nature Center either back down through the cave or via the Moses Spring Trail (making for a 2.4-mile out-and-back hike).

Pinnacles_NP_166_02232020 - The Bear Gulch Reservoir was a popular spot to chill out and have a picnic, and it could also be a turnaround point to make this a shorter 2.4-mile loop hike returning via the Moses Spring Trail or the Bear Gulch Cave Trail
The Bear Gulch Reservoir was a popular spot to chill out and have a picnic, and it could also be a turnaround point to make this a shorter 2.4-mile loop hike returning via the Moses Spring Trail or the Bear Gulch Cave Trail

However, I continued on with the loop trail, which started climbing after a sharp right to go onto the Rim Trail (you don’t need to cross the dam to get onto this trail).

The Rim Trail and the High Peaks Trail to the Juniper Canyon Trail Junction

Continuing on the Rim Trail, which rose quickly from the Bear Gulch Reservoir, I eventually went among some of the immediate pinnacles formations (almost reminding me of hiking among the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon) before the trail provided panoramas of the valley of Bear Gulch.

For the next 0.4 miles, the trail gently climbed as it meandered past some more scattered pinnacles formations before reaching the other side of the Connector Trail.

If you take that trail and go back to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area, then you’re looking at about a 3.2-mile loop hike, but I kept left at this junction to go onto the High Peaks Trail.

Pinnacles_NP_270_02232020 - Ascending on the High Peaks Trail and headed to the pinnacles at the highest point of Pinnacles National Park
Ascending on the High Peaks Trail and headed to the pinnacles at the highest point of Pinnacles National Park

This part of the trail was where I gained most of the elevation as it went on for 1.5 miles.

It started off a bit gently with broad sweeping panoramas, but as it got closer to the pinnacles formations at the top of the park, the trail climbed in earnest over switchbacks.

During this section of the hike, I caught distant glimpses of the Bear Gulch Reservoir as well as an intriguing jug handle arch that seemed to be in the budding stages of formation.

From certain angles, this arch looked more like a swan about to peck its own neck or something.

Pinnacles_NP_291_02232020 - One of the pinnacles formations that appeared to be a budding jug handle arch, but as you can see in the picture that when viewed from this angle, it almost looks like a swan's head
One of the pinnacles formations that appeared to be a budding jug handle arch, but as you can see in the picture that when viewed from this angle, it almost looks like a swan’s head

Anyways, this “arch” was shortly after a short tunnel or man-made arch that the trail went right through near the start of the serious switchbacks.

Ultimately, the High Peaks Trail joined up with the Juniper Canyon Trail near the crest of this climb, which was near the Scout Peak.

There was a restroom facility up here as well as a bench with a sweeping panorama towards the coast as well as the parking lots on the western side of Pinnacles National Park.

The Juniper Canyon Trail descended towards the parking lots down below on the west side of the park so I kept right to continue on the High Peaks Trail, which now meandered among the park’s uppermost formations.

The High Peaks Trail between the Juniper Canyon Trail and the Tunnel Trail

Pinnacles_NP_353_02232020 - The High Peaks Trail ascends up to the High Peaks themselves where it's possible to look down at the parking lots for the west side of the Pinnacles National Park
The High Peaks Trail ascends up to the High Peaks themselves where it’s possible to look down at the parking lots for the west side of the Pinnacles National Park

This steep and narrow section of the High Peaks Trail essentially skirted the ridge at the very top of Pinnacles National Park.

On the one hand, I got broad sweeping panoramas to the west towards the coastal mountains (including the fog there) as well as more pinnacles formations framing the western parking lots down below.

On the other hand, the trail also allowed me to look eastwards towards the Condor Gulch and ultimately the Bear Gulch.

Parts of this trail involved steps etched into the rock wall (acting almost like natural ladders or stairs), while other parts involved clinging onto ledges with the aid of railings to deal mentally with the dropoff exposure.

Pinnacles_NP_398_02232020 - This was a particularly narrow part of the High Peaks Trail where I had to contort myself and squeeze by the railings and the low hanging cliffs
This was a particularly narrow part of the High Peaks Trail where I had to contort myself and squeeze by the railings and the low hanging cliffs

There was even one section where I had to contort my body at an overhang given how much I needed to squeeze by the cliff wall and the railings.

Eventually, this dramatic section of the High Peaks Trail joined up with the Tunnel Trail Junction in about 0.7 miles near Hawkins Peak.

The Tunnel Trail also descended to the Juniper Canyon Trail and eventually the western parking lots so I kept right to continue on the High Peaks Trail.

The High Peaks Trail and Condor Gulch Trail

For the remainder of the 2.3 miles to the Bear Gulch Nature Center, the High Peaks Trail offered more panoramas of pinnacles formations before ultimately descending back to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area on the Condor Gulch Trail.

Pinnacles_NP_461_02232020 - Looking northwards towards what I think are the Old Pinnacles or parts of the Balconies as seen along the High Peaks Trail near the top of the Condor Gulch Trail
Looking northwards towards what I think are the Old Pinnacles or parts of the Balconies as seen along the High Peaks Trail near the top of the Condor Gulch Trail

In the first 0.6 miles as the High Peaks Trail made its descent going around the north side of Hawkins Peak, it provided views to the north in the direction of the Balconies and the Machete Ridge.

As the High Peaks Trail continued its descent around Hawkins Peak, it ultimately joined up with the Condor Gulch Trail, where I then kept right to leave the High Peaks Trail for the Condor Gulch Trail.

The trail then continued its descent as it started to make a curve swinging back towards the pinnacles that I had just hiked through around Hawkins Peak.

At roughly 0.7 miles, there was a spur trail that went to an overlook of both the Condor Gulch and its seasonal creek looking downstream while the Hawkins Peak pinnacles were in my face looking in the other direction.

Pinnacles_NP_488_02232020 - Descending to the pinnacles near Hawkins Peak, which rising behind the Condor Gulch Overlook
Descending to the pinnacles near Hawkins Peak, which rising behind the Condor Gulch Overlook

It was also at this overlook that I noticed rare California Condors circling and gliding overhead as some of the neighboring inaccessible pinnacles also seemed to act as nesting grounds away from other would-be predators.

For the remaining mile of this epic loop hike, the Condor Gulch Trail continued its moderate descent to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area as it brought me further away from the pinnacles that I had just gotten close to.

During my February 2020 hike, there was no water in Condor Gulch, but I’d imagine that in far wetter times, the creek might flow well enough to reveal parts of the Condor Gulch Falls amidst the overgrowth.

I couldn’t tell if there was an obvious spot for the Condor Gulch Falls so I had to believe that it was really more of a small series of cascades that would otherwise be unremarkable.

Pinnacles_NP_506_02232020 - I wonder if the Condor Gulch Trail was named because it seemed to be a good spot to check out the critically endangered California Condors gliding and hovering high up in the skies above the High Peaks pinnacles
I wonder if the Condor Gulch Trail was named because it seemed to be a good spot to check out the critically endangered California Condors gliding and hovering high up in the skies above the High Peaks pinnacles

The hike ended right at a signed footbridge over the dry Condor Gulch Creek, and right across the crosswalk from the main lot of the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.

Authorities

Bear Gulch Cave Falls and Condor Gulch Falls reside in the Pinnacles National Park near Paicines in San Benito County, California. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Pinnacles_NP_006_02232020 - Walking through a picnic area on a trail paralleling the last of the road to the Bear Gulch Cave Trailhead and parking lot
Pinnacles_NP_008_02232020 - It was very tranquil when I started the clockwise loop hike of the High Peaks Trail and Condor Gulch Trail combo
Pinnacles_NP_009_02232020 - The trailhead for the Bear Gulch Cave and Reservoir Trail
Pinnacles_NP_021_02232020 - Hiking on the gently ascending trail leading into the pinnacles formations neighboring the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_028_02232020 - Continuing to hike among the pinnacles of Bear Gulch en route to the cave and reservoir
Pinnacles_NP_035_02232020 - Approaching a little tunnel on the way to the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_039_02232020 - This was the Moses Spring Trail, which bypassed the lower part of the Bear Gulch Cave and ultimately rose up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir
Pinnacles_NP_040_02232020 - This was one of the climbing walls next to the Moses Spring Trail
Pinnacles_NP_046_02232020 - The Moses Spring Trail featured interesting top down views of the neighboring pinnacles surrounding the head of Bear Gulch
Pinnacles_NP_049_02232020 - This was around the time that I realized that the Moses Spring Trail would bypass the Bear Gulch Cave so I turned around after getting this nice view and backtracked to the bottom to go into the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_056_02232020 - The trail narrowing as it started to squeeze into the slot-like confines of the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_058_02232020 - Sign indicating that it's a good idea to bring a torch (i.e. flashlight or headlamp) into the darkness of the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_061_02232020 - Near the entrance of the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_064_02232020 - Entering the darkness of the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_067_02232020 - One of the gates set up within the Bear Gulch Cave to close off access if rare bats need space to breed or if the cave happens to be flooded
Pinnacles_NP_084_02232020 - Ascending past this attractive waterfall within the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_090_02232020 - Not a whole lot of room to squeeze by people going in the opposite direction within the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_094_02232020 - Lots of giant boulders wedged in the slot-like canyon of the Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_099_02232020 - One of the small waterfalls within the Lower Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_101_02232020 - Finally some daylight to leave the Lower Bear Gulch Cave, but I had to crawl in order to fit through this corridor to get out
Pinnacles_NP_108_02232020 - Continuing to climb up the steps to go further above the Lower Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_114_02232020 - Passing by some people climbing this big rock wall on the way to the Upper Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_139_02232020 - On a spur trail that actually continued as part of the Moses Spring Trail (though I was disoriented at the time and didn't even know about it). The people down below had just left the Lower Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_141_02232020 - Descending into the depths of the Upper Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_143_02232020 - Some kind of rock bridge within the Upper Bear Gulch Cave traversing a stagnant pool and stream
Pinnacles_NP_144_02232020 - Within the Upper Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_148_02232020 - Checking out an intriguing giant boulder wedged above the Upper Bear Gulch Cave
Pinnacles_NP_151_02232020 - Looking towards the Bear Gulch Reservoir Waterfall
Pinnacles_NP_154_02232020 - Looking back at the narrow trail that faced the Bear Gulch Reservoir Waterfall with some people perched above that falls on a ledge
Pinnacles_NP_155_02232020 - Finally making it up to the Bear Gulch Reservoir
Pinnacles_NP_158_02232020 - Looking across the rock dam responsible for the Bear Gulch Reservoir
Pinnacles_NP_161_02232020 - Contextual view looking down at the Bear Gulch Reservoir Waterfall and the ledge trail opposite it
Pinnacles_NP_170_02232020 - Looking up at a big pinnacle (the Monolith?) as some hikers were continuing by it to pursue the Rim Trail towards the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_183_02232020 - One last look at the Bear Gulch Reservoir Waterfall before continuing on the Rim Trail
Pinnacles_NP_187_02232020 - I noticed this fellow hiding within the rock dam holding up the Bear Gulch Reservoir
Pinnacles_NP_208_02232020 - Looking back at the pinnacles formations near the mouth of the Bear Gulch Reservoir
Pinnacles_NP_246_02232020 - The pinnacles formations were more sparse and scattered about as the Rim Trail connected with the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_267_02232020 - Hiking up the High Peaks Trail towards the pinnacles of the High Peaks themselves
Pinnacles_NP_275_02232020 - Approaching a tunnel on the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_285_02232020 - Context of what appeared to be a jug handle arch on the High Peaks Trail during the climb up to the Scouts Peak area
Pinnacles_NP_308_02232020 - The ascent on the High Peaks Trail leading up to the Juniper Canyon Trail junction
Pinnacles_NP_313_02232020 - Looking towards some jagged volcanic formations near the Scouts Peak as seen along the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_317_02232020 - Looking back in the distance towards the Bear Gulch Reservoir after nearly making it to the Juniper Canyon Trail junction
Pinnacles_NP_334_02232020 - A restroom facility somewhere near the Scouts Peak part of the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_341_02232020 - Looking towards the pinnacles formations on the western side of Pinnacles National Park from the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_355_02232020 - The High Peaks Trail also faced the eastern side of the park towards Condor Gulch as I continued to traverse the High Peaks Ridge dividing the Pinnacles National Park into west and east
Pinnacles_NP_366_02232020 - Looking down at the Hawkins Peak and the Condor Gulch Trail from the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_371_02232020 - When they say the High Peaks Trail was narrow and steep, they weren't kidding
Pinnacles_NP_381_02232020 - Continuing to do some more climbing on the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_393_02232020 - Another look down at the Condor Gulch Trail from further along the highest part of the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_402_02232020 - Descending rock footholds on the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_406_02232020 - More tricky descents on the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_415_02232020 - Looking in the other direction towards the pinnacles on the west side of Pinnacles National Park
Pinnacles_NP_427_02232020 - Where the High Peaks Trail (right) and the Tunnel Trail (left) junctioned
Pinnacles_NP_455_02232020 - Looking towards pinnacle formations more towards the northern side of Pinnacles National Park as seen from the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_460_02232020 - The High Peaks Trail as it swung around Hawkins Peak and approached the Condor Gulch Trail
Pinnacles_NP_468_02232020 - The junction of the High Peaks Trail and the Condor Gulch Trail (to the right)
Pinnacles_NP_470_02232020 - Getting my first glimpse (in a long while) of the Bear Gulch Day Use Area parking lot as I was descending the Condor Gulch Trail
Pinnacles_NP_475_02232020 - Descending the Condor Gulch Trail
Pinnacles_NP_479_02232020 - Some wildflowers already starting to bloom along the High Peaks Trail as Spring was starting early this year
Pinnacles_NP_488_02232020 - Other wildflowers blooming by the High Peaks Trail
Pinnacles_NP_502_02232020 - Looking up at some California Condors flying high above the Condor Gulch Trail
Pinnacles_NP_510_02232020 - Descending along the Condor Gulch Trail as it was mostly downhill to the Bear Gulch Day Use Parking Lot
Pinnacles_NP_540_02232020 - Looking back towards the pinnacles of the High Peaks from lower on the Condor Gulch Trail
Pinnacles_NP_543_02232020 - Descending to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area towards the bottom of the Condor Gulch Trail
Pinnacles_NP_544_02232020 - Finally making it back to the Bear Gulch Nature Center and Day Use Parking Lot to end the epic loop hike

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


Bear Gulch Cave Falls and the Condor Gulch Falls were in the eastern side of Pinnacles National Park.

Although the park also had a western side, there is no road that directly connects the two sides (it would require about a 1.5-2 hours drive to get from one side to the other).

Pinnacles_NP_353_02232020 - Looking down at the parking lots on the western side of Pinnacles National Park from the High Peaks Trail at the very top of the park. This is why you can't drive directly from east to west through the park
Looking down at the parking lots on the western side of Pinnacles National Park from the High Peaks Trail at the very top of the park. This is why you can’t drive directly from east to west through the park

So we’ll just describe the driving directions to only the east side of the park.

Directions from San Jose

From San Jose, we headed south on the US101 south towards Gilroy for about 33 miles before taking the exit 353 to CA-25 south.

We then followed the CA-25 south (towards Hollister) for about 42 miles before turning right onto the CA-146 leading into the east entrance for Pinnacles National Park.

Next, we followed the CA-146 west for about 2 miles before turning towards the Visitor Center to pay for the entrance fee ($30 per vehicle as of 2020).

If no parking was available at the Bear Gulch Nature Center (which is the closest sanctioned parking lot for the High Peaks Trail and Condor Gulch Trail), then you’d have to find parking in the large lot here, then take the park shuttle.

Pinnacles_NP_003_02232020 - The parking lot at the Bear Gulch Nature Center, which was also the nearest car park for the High Peaks Trail and the Condor Gulch Trail, which both led up to the namesake Pinnacles formations
The parking lot at the Bear Gulch Nature Center, which was also the nearest car park for the High Peaks Trail and the Condor Gulch Trail, which both led up to the namesake Pinnacles formations

However, if you wish to try your luck at parking at the Bear Gulch Nature Center lot, then you’d continue on the CA-146 (bearing left at the junction with Old Pinnacles Road) for about 3 miles before arriving at the desired lot.

Overall, this drive would take about 90 minutes though it could be longer depending on traffic as well as any queues to pay for the park fees.

Directions from Coalinga

If you’re headed north on the I-5 from the south (like say Los Angeles or Bakersfield), then you’d want to take the exit 325 for Jayne Ave, then turn left and follow this straight shot road as it ultimately coincides with the CA-33 west towards Coalinga.

Then, at the intersection with Elm Ave, turn left to go onto the CA-198, and follow this somewhat winding road for about 34 miles towards its junction with the CA-25 north.

Pinnacles_NP_611_02232020 - There's very limited parking at the Bear Gulch Nature Center so it might be just as suitable to take the park shuttle from the visitor center where there's more ample parking
There’s very limited parking at the Bear Gulch Nature Center so it might be just as suitable to take the park shuttle from the visitor center where there’s more ample parking

Turning right to go onto the CA-25 north, we’d then drive for another 33 miles towards the CA-146 west junction, and then we’d follow the directions as above to reach the main visitor center and ultimately the Bear Gulch Nature Center lot.

It took us around 90 minutes to drive between Pinnacles National Park and the I-5 near Coalinga.

For geographical context, Paicines (the nearest town to the east entrance of Pinnacles National Park) was about 28 miles (over 30 minutes drive) southeast of Gilroy, 52 miles (about an hour drive) east of Monterey, about 60 miles (over an hour drive) southeast of San Jose, 125 miles (over 2 hours drive) west of Fresno, and 292 miles (nearly 5 hours drive) northwest of Los Angeles.

Sweep covering the dark interior of the bear gulch cave waterfall


Sweep around the waterfall beneath the reservoir


Sweep starting from the reservoir then descending towards the base of the waterfall beneath

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Tagged with: pinnacles national park, pinnacles national monument, paicines, san benito county, california, bear gulch, bear gulch cave, bear gulch reservoir, condor gulch, high peaks trail



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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