Pinnacles National Monument

Bear Gulch Caves - Balconies Caves

Useful Information

Location: Paicines, CA.
Bear Gulch Caves: 1.1km from the Bear Gulch visitor center, east side.
Balconies Caves: 1.1km from the Chaparral Ranger station, west side.
Open: -Mar daily 7:30-19, Apr- daily 7:30-21.
Fee: 7 day ticket per car $7.
Classification: talus caves
Light: none, bring electric torch
Guided tours:  
Address: Superintendent, Pinnacles National Monument, 5000 Highway 146, Paicines, CA 95043, Tel: +1-831-389-4485.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1908 the area becam a National Monument.


The Pinnacles Formation consists of rhyolitic breccia and is the remains of an ancient volcano. The volcanoe erupted about 320km to the south and then was shifted north along the San-Andreas-Fault. Erosion formed the pointy pinnacles and the area and the National Monument were named after this characteristic geologic feature.

The collapse of fragile pinnacles caused the accumulation of talus. Inside this more or less loose blocks of rhyolite numerous caves can be found. The caves are so-called Speleologytalus caves, a labyrinth of chambers and crevices covered by an accumulation of talus. This kind of caves is very rare.

Two of the caves are developed with trails for self guided tours. You should definitely bring light to visit them. The trails are described as being "easy enough that even young children can enjoy it".

Bear Gulch Caves at the east entrance are closed at certain times, to protect a colony of Townsend's Big-eared Bats. At this times they can only be visited by a virtual tour, see links below. One highlight of the caves is the Bear Creek forming subterranean cascades in the caves. Unfortunately part of the trail through the caves uses the bed of Bear Creek, so Wellingtons may be a good idea.

The second caves, Balconies Caves at the west entrance, are open except during periods of high water.

The caves are located at opposite sides of the park, at the two entrances. There is no road through the park, and the drive time around through oak-dotted hills is over an hour. It is also possible to hike through the park, the big loop takes about a day. At the east entrance is a small visitor and a campground, but there is no food available in the park. The best time to visit Pinnacles is in March and April, when the weather is comfortable, the streams are flowing and the wildflowers are at their peak. However, for the caves the dry summer is much better.