Pinnacles National Monument - Hike Bear Gulch Cave and High Peaks - Hike the Balconies


Tackle the Pinnacles

You haven't seen California quite like this: rugged rock spires, deep cave waterfalls, valleys, streams, and a seasonal wildflower extravaganza—all packed into one small park inland from Monterey. This spring, take a weekend to explore one of California's coolest geological formations: Pinnacles National Park.

Beach Gulch Cave

Grand Central Circuit

Bring your flashlight, binoculars, and hiking boots for the Pinnacles grand tour, a 5.5-mile hike that begins at the Bear Gulch visitor center. Start on the Moses Spring Trail and within a mile reach one of the highlights of the park, Bear Gulch Cave. The first section is a deep, narrow gorge suitable for most explorers. True spelunkers can continue into the upper half of the cave where crouching and negotiating tight squeezes is part of the fun. Or just skip that section by taking the marked lead-out path. Either way you'll pop out at Bear Gulch Reservoir and make your way to Pinnacles' iconic High Peaks: massive golden-orange rock monoliths rising from the rolling green foothills. These volcanic formations are home to the endangered California Condor. Scout Peak is a favorite condor hangout, and a bench near the top of the climb is a great place for trying to spot this elusive scavenger. Continue through the heart of Pinnacles to the most exciting part of the hike, the "steep-and-narrow" section. Hold on to the handrails! The next few minutes are spent climbing up and down steps carved into the rocks, which rewards with expansive views of the park. Descend via the Condor Gulch Trail.

TIP: California Condors are the Cadillacs of the sky. With their 9-and-a-half-foot wingspans, they steadily cruise the thermals without rocking back and forth like their look-a-like relative, the turkey vulture.

Balconies Cliffs Pinnacles

View from the Balconies

Expand your Pinnacles horizon with a hearty 8.5-mile round-trip trek from one side of the park to the other. Starting from the Old Pinnacles trailhead you'll bisect the High Peaks and descend to the western entrance before making your way back on the less-explored Balconies. Start with the hard part first: climbing up the High Peaks Trail. During spring, Pinnacles is a loping canvas of 100 types of wildflowers. Purple shooting stars and raspberry Indian warriors light up the trails along with white-and-fuzzy buck brush and popping baby blue-eyes. Reach the High Peaks and scan the sky for California Condors. Descend the Tunnel Trail to Juniper Canyon and the more-remote western entrance of the park where you're greeted with a bustling creek and grasslands shimmering in the breeze. Pick up the Balconies Trail for a few minutes before veering onto the Balconies Cliffs Trail. This less-used trail has amazing views of towering Machete Ridge, and is a good place to stop for lunch. The final part of the trail is an easy 2.3 miles along Chalone Creek.

Pinnacles National Monument

Pinnacles P.S.

East of Eden: The eastern side of Pinnacles offers the best access to the highlights, and has two information centers. The only option for accommodation in this neck of the woods is Pinnacles Campground nestled in the foothills. Campsites are basic and do the trick. There's a night program on weekends led by a ranger at the amphitheater. The Story of the Stars is a favorite, featuring luminaries from Copernicus to Galileo.

West Side Story: The drive from the eastern to western entrances takes about an hour and a half, through beautiful rolling green pastures, farmland and vineyards. There's parking but no information center. The Inn at the Pinnacles is a bed and breakfast that operates on weekends only, and is within a few miles of the western entrance. Private patios, gas fireplaces, and soaking tubs are some of the luxuries here. Nearby Chalone Vineyards is a regional staple with a welcoming tasting room. Their Chardonnay is a classic.

TIP: Join a Star Party on Pinnacles' west side. Local astronomers have telescopes set up for all to use.

Hike Mount Kilimanjaro

Make It Happen

It's best known as the tallest freestanding mountain in the world. But you can call her Kili. At 19,340 towering feet, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro may look out of reach; but Africa's majestic mountain is actually one of the most accessible summits in the world. The key is to go with people who really know the mountain—and what they're doing. Real Life Adventure Travel—based in the East Bay and Tanzania—is the leader in small-group outings on Kili. Keeping groups limited at two to eight people (that's one guide for every two climbers!) Robin Felix, Fredrick Chikima, and their Tanzania-based staff give the insider's view on everything from indigenous plant life to the sounds of the diverse wildlife on the mountain; after all, you'll be walking among the "kings and queens of Kilimanjaro": elephants, leopards, buffalo and primates. RLAT is getting ready for three summer trips to the top of Kili. Each one is unique and all take the less-traveled (and more beautiful) routes like Lemosho or Rongai to the summit. Your journey begins in a rainforest, ends at a glacier and includes gourmet meals, top-notch equipment, and the best guides in the business. Hakuna matata! Make it happen. Watch the video to learn more.

TIP: Weekend Sherpa readers receive 10% off your trip! Book by April 15and mention this ad.

Upcoming Kilimanjaro Trips:
Lemosho Trip with Luxury Walking Safari: June 20 – 30
Lemosho Crater with Luxury Walking Safari: July 4 – 15
Rongai Trip: Aug. 22 – 30

Contact Real Life Adventure Travel; 877-UGO-KILI. Trip prices range from $2,630 to $4,090.

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