South Bay

Pinnacles National Park

Saturday, February 2, 2013: Starting off the post with an "old time" picture.  We arrived at Pinnacles National Park (formerly Pinnacles National Monument) in about an hour and forty-five minutes from Fremont.  Just about how long my kids last in the car without stopping.  My husband check-in, paid our parking fees while I took the kiddos to the baño.  I love visitor/gift shops, my former "mall rat" personality wanted to impulse buy all the little nick-knacks in the gift shop but I resisted.

I had a small conversation with the Park Ranger in regards to "kid-friendly" trails and she suggested what I had planned, hiking to the Bear Gulch Caves.  She had mentioned that the Bear Gulch Day Use Parking was completely full so we would have to park on Bench Trail and hike into Bear Gulch Day Use area.

Here I am at Peaks View on Bench Trail, with Pinnacles incorrect sign.  Pinnacles has recently been upgraded to a National Park, yay!!  After what seemed like an eternity to get the backpacks ready, changed baby diapers, collected everything that is needed to hike with children, we were finally ready to start our hike.

We started at Bear Gulch Trail head where it intersected with Bench Trail and SLOWLY started hiking across a dry river bed.  The kids had been sitting in there car seats for almost two hours so they wanted to "hike".   Here's my daughter "hiking"....its really frustrating sometimes because it takes us so long to get hiking and then all the kids want to do is sit in the dirt and play with the rocks.  We just have to remind ourselves that hiking with little ones is all about the journey and not the destination.  Patience is the key word.

Bear Gulch Trail to the day use area was a low grade uphill trail, approximately one mile but it was the hardest mile of our lives.  After the kids were done "hiking" we loaded them up in our carriers and started to hike at our "normal" pace.  My daughter weighs 25 lbs + 5 lbs carrier + 10 lbs of stuff in the carrier = 40 lbs minimum on my back.  I'm 5 feet tall and weigh 114 lbs, that's a lot of weight for me.  Not to mention my husband who carried our son who weighs 35 lbs + 7 lbs carrier + 15 lbs of stuff = 57 lbs minimum on his back.  It was an fairly easy hike to the day use area but with all that weight and a slight uphill trail it was so difficult.

The Beach Gulch Trail followed a dry creek, which turned into a real creek, then disappeared into a dry creek then it would appear again all along the trail to the day use area.  I saw this heart shaped cave that had the creek flowing in it.  I thought it was very beautiful.

My super strong husband hiking on Bear Gulch Trail.

A long mile later we had reached the Beach Gulch Day Use Area.  We were headed to the Bear Gulch caves, but we wanted to have lunch at the picnic tables and give our backs a break.  My daughter was passed out asleep in my carrier so we made her comfortable with a neck pillow and the rest of us had lunch.  I thought this sign was a little funny, why wouldn't hikers use the trail?

Woody Woodpecker decided to join us for lunch as well.  After doing a little research on this particular Woodpecker, it is an Acorn Woodpecker.  They are very protective of their acorn "storage" trees.

Our first view of Pinnacles awesome rocks a few minutes after we started to hike after our lunch break.  Designated rock climbing areas where everywhere and so were the rock climbers.  If I were a rock climber (which I'm not) I would definitely climb at Pinnacles.

Our son had been watching an episode of "Go, Diego, Go" where Diego goes into caves to save the Tamarin Monkey's with a flashlight. Of course we had to take every flashlight we owned because that is what you need to go through a cave according to our son.  He kept telling me, "Don't worry mommy! I have a flash light!!" Sometimes TV episodes can come to life for my little one.  My son truly loved the caves.  On the other hand, my daughter was clinging on to me for dear life.

Bear Gulch Caves were very nice.  The temperature dropped significantly once we were in the caves, the creek was running through it and it was very dark, pitch black at some points.  Everything was a little wet, there were little bridges to cross the creek and sometimes the creek overflowed the bridges.  Those are the moments I'm glad I purchased real hiking boots for my toddler.

The trail disappeared into the darkness of the caves and we started to go up the stairs to get out of the caves.  My daughter was a little frightened from all the darkness, but she just needed to hear my voice when she couldn't see me.  At certain points, my husband had to guide me how to turn to not hit my daughter against the cave walls.  There was an extremely narrow part of the caves that my son could easily get by (being a toddler) but my husband had to drag himself on his belly and I had to crawl on my knees with my daugher still in my backpack.  My husband guided me from the front and the people behind me guided me from the back.  It was quite exciting, I must say.  At some point after we exited the caves I lost my daughter's pink highlighter jacket, a clothing sacrifice.  (We later found it stuffed in our backpacks).

I was a little disappointed with my camera in the caves.  None of my caves pictures came out nice, very blurry or the lighting was bad.  The picture above with the rugged looking feel, had to be edited because it just looked like a washed out photograph.  I love how it looks like the giant boulder is about to fall down. Up, up up to Bear Gulch Reservoir we went.

One of my favorite pictures of this hike at Bear Gulch Reservoir.  We had second lunch at the Reservoir and watched other parents chastise their kids for trying to "not" fall in the water.  At one point my daughter got a running start down the hill towards the water and mama bear instincts came out, ran down the hill and grabbed her.

We decided to try to hike up to High Peaks, so we left the Reservoir and started on Rim Trail.  A view of Bear Gulch Reservoir from Rim Trail which was only 0.4 miles.  We saw so many rock climbers in those 0.4 miles, quite amazing.

I hadn't even noticed that we were on High Peaks Trail because I was trying to distract my daughter from not wanting to get out of the carrier by giving her pieces of chocolate.  Rim Trail and High Peaks Trail are the types of trails I love, beautiful scenery that we can quickly cover lots of ground even at our son's hiking pace.  We saw lots of Manzanita trees, Shoot Star Flowers, and lots of green.  One of my "artistic" pictures while we took a break and the kids ran around playing in the dirt.

We hiked to the base of Scout Peak when the kids were getting cranky.  Our goal was to hike to the High Peaks because that's what Pinnacles is all about and the possibility of seeing Condors up there.  It was 4:30 p.m. and we had to reevaluate our hike.  With only one hour left before sunset we had to turn back and head down back the way we came.  The trail was becoming narrower and steeper and our son was becoming too comfortable with his proximity to the cliffs so we had no problem turning around.  We strapped the kids back in our carriers and headed back down to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.

It was a very overcast day, but at sunset the sun finally broke through the clouds and it was a beautiful sunset.  I took a few pictures of the sunset but none came out nice.  New camera needed indeed.  We made it back to the Day Use Area just before all the light had left the sky, just in time.


My husband ran from the day use area to where our car was parked and drove to the day use area to pick us up. That is why the distance is 6.4 miles, but the rest of us hiked 5.4 miles.  Best husband ever!

We started at the far right hiked through the caves, to the reservoir to the base of Scout Peak and back to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.

About 1,600 feet in elevation change.

I loved this hike and definitely will be visiting Pinnacles National Park again.  Happy Hiking!!

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Related Posts and Links:

  1. Youth Camping & Hiking at Pinnacles National Park
  2. High Peaks at Pinnacles National Park
  3. Pinnacles National Park, CA: Balconies Cave Trail - Backpacker Magazine