Pinnacles National Park, CA: Balconies Cave Trail

Hiking at Pinnacles National Park will make you feel like a true outdoor explorer as you make your way through heart of Balconies Cave Trail.
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Hiking at Pinnacles National Park will make you feel like a true outdoor explorer as you make your way through heart of Balconies Cave Trail.

Pinnacles National Park is a small yet highly adventure-packed national park. Recently upgraded in 2013 from National Monument to National Park, this 41-square-mile park contains hiking, camping, rock climbing, and light-spelunking. A main highlight is a short hike and light-spelunk on Balconies Cave Trail, which will definitely satisfy your adventure bug. BY MELISSA AVERY, Chasqui Mom

Trip Stats
Distance: 2.8 miles
Time: 4 hours 30 mins (Hiking with Children)
Distance from San Francisco: 2 hour 20 minutes
More Information: Pinnacles National Park - National Park Service

Prep
1. Park Entrances Fees are $10 per vehicle or free with a National Parks Pass. There are TWO entrances at Pinnacles, determine which entrance (West or East) before driving out. The West entrance is closer to Balconies Caves but you can hike from the east side of the park. You cannot drive through the park.
2. Bring LOTS of Water! Pinnacles NP is very arid and even on a cool day dehydration is a major concern.
3. Talus Caves: The caves (Balconies and Bear Gulch) close occasionally due to bats roosting and flooding, check the website before heading out Pinnacles to determine your route. Also, bring headlamps or a flashlight to navigate through the caves
4. Overflow Parking Lot: The parking lots are small and there is an overflow parking lot, which will ¾ mile to this hike

Explore
Mile 0.0: Start at the Chapparral Trailhead Parking lot and turn left on Balconies Trail for 0.6 miles for a flat hike through the chaparral and dry creek beds.
0.6: At intersection of Balconies Trail and Balconies Cliff Trail, continue straight for 0.4 miles on Balconies Cave Trails alongside a dry river bed which will eventually lead through the Balconies Caves.
Note on Balconies Cave: The trail becomes very narrow, dark and steep through the caves. Make sure a headlamp or flashlights are used to navigate through the caves and follow the painted arrows through the caves.
1.2: At the Y-intersection, turn left on Balconies Cliffs Trail for a steady uphill hike, 250 feet elevation over 0.5 miles, to the summit. Enjoy the views of Machete Ridge and look for rock climbers!
1.7: Continue on Balconies Cliffs Trail for a downhill hike through Machete Ridge “valley” for 0.4 miles.
2.1: Turn right on Balconies Trail return back to Chapparral Trailhead Parking Lot
2.6 (optional): Turn right on an unnamed fenced trail to the picnic area and continue through the picnic to the parking lot.

Reward
1. Best Time to Visit: Winter, particularly late winter early spring are best. Temperatures are in the 100s in the summer.
2. For Families: Take the kids to the Visitor Center to get their Junior Ranger booklet. Also, the caves are always the most exciting part of the hike.
3. Natural Air Conditioning: Just when you think the day is a little too warm, Balconies Caves provide some natural air condition as well as the giant talus formations.
4. Wildlife: Keep your eyes out above for condors that live on the High Peaks which can be seen from the Trailhead. Condors aren’t the only active wildlife, rattlesnakes are highly active all over Pinnacles so watch you footing too.

Family Hiking Day
Temp: 75 F, Sunny (May)
Who: Six Adults, three children
Family Gear: Four daypacks, two kid carriers and one soft infant carrier
Snacks: Water, Sandwiches, Fruit and Banana Chips

Trail Facts

  • State: CA
  • City: San Jose
  • Distance: 0.0
  • Land Type: National Park