I must tell you about the adventure we took a few weeks ago to Pinnacles National Monument. If you live in California, this is a must-see! And, even if you don’t live in California, if you ever plan to visit, you need to check this place out! It’s about 2 hours south of the San Francisco Bay Area and is a quiet, beautiful park with nice hiking, climbing and cave exploring. This serene area is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen as an adult. It has well marked and obvious trails for the nature photographer or group of cub scouts to meander through; in addition, it has some amazing caves with waterfalls in them (the kids loved this!). The wildflowers are especially nice in Spring (roughly late March to early May). Lots of birdwatchers enjoy the park as well.
We went to the East side of the park to the Bear Gulch caves. From the ranger station and east parking lot, we headed down a paved road towards Bear Gulch and then followed the well-marked trail to the caves. There is a high-caves area and a lower caves area (one or the other may be closed because of the protected bat colonies that live there). You may not actually see any bats, and for many, that’s just as well. Bring a flashflight! A small one will do. The kids loved the walk through the caves and and the fact that they had to squeeze around the occasional rock.
It is a little slippery here and there and you may have to crawl a tiny bit (maybe 5 feet once or twice), but seniors and parents with small children (infants and toddlers too) routinely go through the caves. The kids had a fantastic time exploring, pointing out different birds, rock formations, and the scenery. One thing I must point out is that the National Park Service has done a very nice job keeping this place safe and well marked. I was so impressed with the trails and the safety features in the caves. At the bottom of the caves there is a small dam and reservoir. It is a nice place for a picnic or snack after going through the caves. It’s just gorgeous!
(Picture of reservoir on right)
Before you start on your hike, there is a small ranger station building where you can see a scale model of the park, use the restrooms (across the road) and meet with the rangers who are very friendly and will talk with the kids about all of the wildlife and plants in the area. There is also a campground accessible on the east entrance to the park only. You drive past it on the way into the east entrance of the park. It looks nice but we haven’t stayed there yet.
One additional note–the road into the east and west side of the park do not connect! You need to decide which side you want to enter, because it is a long (one hour) way around to the other side.
There is a good map of the park available here (oddly, there isn’t one on the NPS site): http://www.classbrain.com/artmonument/uploads/pinnmap1.pdf
TIPS FOR THE PARK:
* Hiking on the west side is a little more desert-like, while the east side is a bit more forested.
* Check the website listed above for a botanical description of the 4 sub-ecosystems in the park.
* Make sure you bring lots of water to guzzle as you will need it.