Balconies Caves Trail
Pinnacles national park, CA
Balconies caves trail
Distance: 2.6 miles roundtrip (loop)
Elevation Change: Approximately 100 feet
Seasonality: Open mostly year round, but check current park conditions for cave closures due to water, rock fall, and bats. The park can get to temperatures of 100 degrees and hotter in the summer.
Trailhead: Clearly marked sign saying “Trail Head” and accessed from the West Pinnacles (Chaparral) park entrance at the very end of Hwy 146.
Parking: Ample parking available at the Chaparral Trailhead Parking Lot at the end of Hwy 146.
Facilities: Pit toilets at trailhead parking lot. Potable water not available on the trail. Flush toilet facilities and potable water available at the West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station two miles prior to the trailhead parking lot.
Difficulty: Easy, or moderate if you have knee or back problems.
The Balconies Caves Trail gives you the opportunity to scramble through talus caves (caves that are formed when boulders tumble into a gorge and create a cave ceiling, not the traditional caves that go into the sides of mountains) and view the soaring reddish pinnacles that are the namesake of this park. About half of this trail is hiking through the chaparral to get to the caves, but the two major caves are still worth the trip (for longer caves, visit the Bear Gulch Trail). Fun for both adults and children alike, just make sure to bring a headlamp or flashlight.
Trip Planner Details:
After leaving the town of Soledad, the road to get to this hike can be very narrow and difficult to navigate. At times it feels like you are in the middle of nowhere, but there are a few wineries tucked away back in these hills. You will be following Hwy 146, which ends at the trailhead parking lot. You are essentially exiting Hwy 101 on exit 303 or 302 to get to Front Street in Soledad, turning onto East Street, then Metz Street, and following Shirtail Canyon Road (Hwy 146) to the trailhead.
Since the trail is a loop, you can hike it clockwise or counter clockwise. For the best experience, hike it clockwise when you hit the fork in the road about half a mile in. At this point you will see a sign that says “Balconies Cliffs Trail” and “Balconies Caves.” Make the turn that says “Balconies Cliffs Trail,” and don’t worry, you will still see the Balconies Caves.
Pack food and water for the trip, there are no snacks in the visitors center. Water fountains and flush toilet restrooms are available.
There is a park entrance fee of $25 to enter Pinnacles National Park. For more information about what else you can do in the park, visit the Pinnacles National Park website.
When You Do Your Research:
Please note that you are driving to the West Pinnacles Park Entrance, not the East Pinnacles Park Entrance. There is no road that connects both halves of the park, so keep that in mind as you plan this trip. There are more hiking trails at the East Pinnacles entrance, so if this is your first time, you may want to explore the East part of the park first because it is more trafficked and has more hiking opportunities and visitor center museums.
Tips From One Who Hiked It:
Make sure you bring your headlamp or flashlight. Some parts of the caves are completely pitch black. This side of the park tends to be a bit hotter, so check temperatures and park conditions before embarking on this hike.