Bear Gulch Trail

Pinnacles National Park, California

Distance1.0mi
Elevation Gain332ft
Trailhead Elevation1,268ft
Top1,268ft
Elevation Min/Max980/1268ft
Elevation Start/End1268/1268ft

Bear Gulch Trail

Bear Gulch Trail is a hiking trail in San Benito County, California. It is within Pinnacles National Park. It is a mile long and begins at 1,268 feet altitude. Traveling the entire trail is 1.9 miles with a total elevation gain of 332 feet. The Bear Gulch Day Use Area and Bear Gulch Day Use Area parkings are near the trailhead. There are also drinking water and restrooms. The Bear Gulch Visitor Center information can be seen along the trail. This trail connects with the following: Bench Trail and Condor Gulch Trail.

Bear Gulch Trail Professional Guides

Detailed Trail Descriptions from Our Guidebooks

Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally
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"This is a “must-hike” moderate trail laced with wooden footbridges across seasonal Bear Gulch Creek, passing beautiful time- and element-sculpted boulders that tumble into cascades and waterfalls during wet winters and early spring. Even in dryer conditions, ferns and clump grass–like sedges adorn the creek bed under the canopy of sycamore, oak, and buckeye trees. Popular Bear Gulch Day Use Area boasts several tempting trailheads. The Peaks View trailhead at the east end of the parking lot is the gateway to Bear Gulch Trail, one of the park’s most enchanting hikes and voted one of the favorites among park employees. Bear Gulch Trail is unmarked except for the trail sign that reads To Peaks View. This hike is a moderate rather than easy 2-mile out-and-back because what goes down must come up." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
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"This is a “must-hike” moderate trail laced with wooden footbridges across seasonal Bear Gulch Creek, passing beautiful time- and element-sculpted boulders that tumble into cascades and waterfalls during wet winters and early spring. Even in dryer conditions, ferns and clump grass–like sedges adorn the creekbed under the canopy of sycamore, oak, and buckeye trees." Read more
Day Hikes around Monterey & Carmel (Day Hike Books)
Robert Stone
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"This popular loop hike is the easiest and shortest hike in Pinnacles National Monument, yet it is a fascinating and diverse journey. Bear Gulch Cave is another talus cave that was formed by giant boulders falling into a narrow canyon, wedging themselves to- gether to form a ceiling. The winding cave passage, which can be walked from one end to the other, is pitch black in places, natu- rally spooky, and can induce claustrophobia. The cave is home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats. The shy bats, numbering over 350, is one of the largest colonies in the state. The bats use the cave for roosting, hibernating, and raising their young. The trail emerges from the cave at Bear Gulch Reservoir, a manmade reservoir in a boulder-filled gorge on Bear Creek. The picturesque, rock-walled reservoir sits upstream from the cave at an elevation of 1 ,600 feet. The loop returns on the Rim Trail, a short but scenic route perched on Discovery Wall, the west wall of Bear Gulch. The path overlooks the gulch and Bear Gulch Cave. The hike begins at the lower end of Bear Gulch among moss- covered rocks. The trail climbs through the shaded forest to the cave. Weaving through the cave includes climbing, ducking, squeezing, and scrambling in a dark and narrow passage with low" Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
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"This is one of the classic hikes in Pinnacles National Park, with almost half a mile of intimidating, steep, narrow chiseled rock steps, sometimes assisted by metal pipe handrails on the rock faces. The scenic trail climbs out of leafy Bear Gulch up to the Pinnacles saddle straddling the east and west sides of the park beneath Scout Peak, before looping around the panoramic High Peaks where condors love to soar. The loop closes back at the saddle." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
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"It is worth noting that Pinnacles National Park has some of the most accessible talus caves in the National Park System. Cave lovers who don’t have a lot of time or stamina for a long hike will love this trail. In addition to the unique rock-step climb out of the cave (flashlight required), this hike loops back along the volcanic walls of the gulch, passing Moses Spring, where you may spot the endangered red-legged frog soaking in the freshwater spring. Your passage through the cave on this route will be short but memorable. The hike begins along the picnic area’s leafy corridor before the gentle climb up Moses Spring Trail into the cool moist air of the cave. This hike is also a good alternative to the more exposed hillside and Pinnacles slope trails that can get uncomfortably to dangerously hot in the summer." Read more
Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally
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"It is worth noting that Pinnacles National Park has some of the most accessible talus caves in the National Park System. Cave lovers who don’t have a lot of time or stamina for a long hike will love this trail. In addition to the unique rock-step climb out of the cave (flashlight required), this hike loops back along the volcanic walls of the gulch, passing Moses Spring, where you may spot the endangered red-legged frog soaking in the freshwater spring. Your passage through the cave on this route will be short but memorable. This hike is also a good alternative to the more exposed hillside and Pinnacles slope trails that can get uncomfortably to dangerously hot in the summer." Read more
Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally
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"This is a sweet trail that combines shade and a moderate incline to open views of striking volcanic formations contrasted by the oasis-like feel of the unlikely body of water at the foot of Chalone Peak’s more arid chaparral zone. The trail then loops through an enchanting boulder tunnel and cliff-shouldered corridor back into Bear Gulch. Within 250 feet from the trail-head, the trail cuts through a shady picnic area before reaching the Moses Spring parking area and another trailhead sign for the High Peaks. Note that although you can park here to hike to the High Peaks, there are only ten spaces, and they typically fill up with rock climbers getting an early start, especially on weekends." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
View more trails from this guide book
"This is a sweet trail that combines shade and a moderate incline to open views of striking volcanic formations contrasted by the oasis feel of the unlikely body of water at the foot of Chalone Peak’s more arid chaparral zone. The trail then loops through an enchanting boulder tunnel and cliff-shouldered corridor back into Bear Gulch." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
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"Moses Spring Trail is a cornucopia of sights and experiences. This sweet trail traces volcanic cliff walls where an underground spring feeds verdant ferns and the cool moist air lets velvety green moss drape boulders like wallpaper. The last stretch of seventy-five rock-etched steps out of a boulder tunnel feel like the portal to a hidden world as you emerge at the head of the reservoir. There is an interpretive panel about the threatened red-legged frog (largest native frog in the western United States) at the reservoir." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
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"This is a very popular trail to the Pinnacles saddle that straddles the east and west sides of Pinnacles National Park. The trail climbs out of a shaded gulch overlooking the chaparral landscape, and switchbacks up the backside of the volcanic sentinels to the saddle at the base of Scout Peak." Read more
Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally
View more trails from this guide book
"This is one of the classic hikes in Pinnacles National Park, with almost half a mile of intimidating, steep, narrow, chiseled rock steps, sometimes assisted by metal pipe handrails on the rock faces. The scenic trail climbs out of leafy Bear Gulch up to the Pinnacles saddle, straddling the east and west sides of the park beneath Scout Peak, before looping around the panoramic High Peaks where condors love to soar. The loop closes back at the saddle. Within 350 yards from the trailhead, the trail cuts through a shady picnic area before reaching the Moses Spring trailhead and a parking area and sign for the High Peaks. At 0.3 mile up the trail, you come to a junction for the Moses Spring Trail to the left and the High Peaks Trail to the right. Bear right on the High Peaks Trail for the 0.5-mile-long gradual climb before the trail transitions to switchbacks in more exposed chaparral terrain. On weekends especially, keep your eyes open for climbers perched on massive boulders or dangling from ropes on the right side of the trail." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
View more trails from this guide book
"Rarely does such a short little hike pack so much adventure. This is one of the many unique and distinct worlds within Pinnacles National Park, which has some of the most accessible talus caves in the National Park System. The catch is that you must be sure-footed and comfortable in dark, tight spaces. If you meet those criteria, this hike through one of the park’s most extensive talus caves will astonish you." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
View more trails from this guide book
"Pinnacles National Park has some of the most accessible talus caves in the National Park System. This hike is a “cave fest” for cave lovers but comes with both bad news and good news. The bad news is that the two sets of caves are on opposite sides of the park, so you will have to climb up the east side from the Bear Gulch Caves to get down to the Balconies Cave on the west side. The good news is that the loop back to the trailhead is mostly on flat terrain except for the last mile uphill along lovely Bear Gulch Creek." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
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"This hike is the shortest route to the Chalone Peaks. On a warm day it is also the coolest route to the reservoir on the way to the peaks. The hike climbs out of shady Bear Gulch and along Moses Spring Trail’s picturesque rock tunnels and passages before reaching the reservoir’s edge and the interpretive panel about the threatened red-legged frog. From here it’s a steady, sweeping climb up the exposed, chaparralcovered slopes of the South Gabilan Range away from the towering volcanic stone outcrop. The cardio pump to the fire tower on the top of North Chalone Peak is rewarded with breathtaking views across the valley’s farmland and vineyards all the way west to the Santa Lucia Range. Ambitious hikers who want to rack up more miles and sweat can continue to lower South Chalone Peak. You won’t get any views worth remembering on South Chalone, but you’ll be able to say that you hiked to the southernmost destination in the park." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
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"The out-and-back hike from one side of the park to the other is for the hardy hiker. This is a scenic but strenuous traverse from east to west up a shady gulch hugging the exposed volcanic rock palisades of the park. Once over the top the descent traces the impressive rock face of the west flank down shady Juniper Canyon to an expansive, well-developed picnic area." Read more
Best Easy Day Hikes Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
Linda B. Mullally and David S. Mullally
View more trails from this guide book
"Rarely does such a short little hike pack so much adventure. This is one of the many unique and distinct worlds within Pinnacles National Park, which has some of the most accessible talus caves in the National Park System. The catch is that you must be sure-footed and comfortable in dark, tight spaces. If you meet those criteria, this hike through one of the park’s most extensive talus caves will astonish you. Bear Gulch Caves happen to also be the home of bats. They are “bat caves” of sorts. Park biologists specifically monitor the Townsend’s big-eared bat population and their migration patterns to determine which caves to close when and for how long, so the public can have access to parts of the talus caves (if not both Lower and Upper Caves) without risk of disturbing the breeding, birthing, and rearing process." Read more
Hiking Pinnacles National Park (Falcon Guides)
David Mullally and Linda Mullally
View more trails from this guide book
"If you thrive on the exhilaration and exertion of climbing to feast on soaring views, and the thrill of navigating steep and narrow trails chiseled in volcanic rock, but also enjoy the solitude of long meanders across the California chaparral landscape, then this hike is for you. Just when you think the day couldn’t get any better, the last mile of trail climbs up picturesque Bear Gulch, following the seasonal gurgles and cascades of Bear Gulch Creek across six wooden footbridges." Read more

Bear Gulch Trail Reviews

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5/6/2018
What a fun and fascinating little hike! This begins as a pleasant walk along a birdsong-filled wooded path and heads through tunnels and a dark damp cave system with lots of twists and turns. A flashlight is needed to navigate through the caves. If you are tall, you’ll need to watch your head. Pinnacles is home to 13 different species of bats but, while there are bat communities living within the park’s talus caves, you probably won’t see them. That is certainly for the best—because these sensitive creatures and their habitat should be respected and not disturbed. Beyond the caves is beautiful Bear Gulch Reservoir, surrounded by more picturesque rock formations. Unless you want to return through the caves, you can take the Rim Trail (with lovely views of eastern mountains and wildflowers) to loop back to the trailhead.
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Trail Information

Pinnacles National Park
Nearby City
Pinnacles National Park
Parks
Pinnacles National Monument
Local Contacts
USGS North Chalone Peak; Pinnacles National Park map; Tom Harrison map of Pinnacles National Park
Local Maps