This new-ish national park in Northern California is visually stunning and features an easy hike complete with a waterfall, inside a cave. Bring a flashlight!

A rush of water echoes against cool dark rocks. Small patches of sunlight occasionally filter down through a ceiling stacked so deep with boulders that it has created a cave. It’s hard to hear my little niece calling down from a steep stone staircase paralleling the cascade in the dark. She’s urging me upwards and onward.

The trail has just brought us into the cool cover of the famous talus caves from a warm sunny day outside at Pinnacles National Park. My six year old niece charges off with the energy of Dora the Explorer. My sister follows. I linger behind for a moment to appreciate a cool breeze coming from deeper within the cave that smells damp and delicious before heading further in.

Hiking through a talus cave in Pinnacles National Park in northern California.

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2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) and Pinnacles, which was made a National Park by President Obama in 2013, is only a 1.5 to 2 hour drive from the Bay Area’s major airports. Perhaps because it’s so new, it was comparatively uncrowded.

Hikes. Caves. Waterfalls.

According to the NPS website, Pinnacles has over 30 miles of trails including several that go through its famous talus caves. The hikes range from easy to challenging, and all of them have huge pay-offs like the easy 2.2 mile Moses Spring loop trail we did. This trail took us through Bear Gulch Cave and its waterfall, up to a pristine reservoir ringed with trees, and along a ridge with panoramic views of beautiful volcanic rock formations, before looping back down.

Amateur spelunkers in Bear Gulch Cave

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Rock Climbing. Condors. Bats.

There’s also a lot of things to do for the more advanced outdoor enthusiast. Pinnacles is known for having great rock, and even for those who don’t climb the routes are impressive enough that they’re fun just to watch. My fearless niece even crawled out onto Teaching Rock from the back side to get a bird’s eye view of some of the climbers far below.

Also keep an eye out for California Condors and bats. The California Condor Recovery program releases condors into the wild at Pinnacles and there are 35 condors that they are currently tracking in the park. You’re more likely to see bats in the caves because that’s where they hibernate.

If you go:

It’s best to check the status of the caves online beforehand because they can close depending on water levels and the bat colonies. Also check out the NPS website for more info on planning your visit.

— Laura Rowley

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Written by Laura Rowley

I am an artist, flight attendant, and travel blogger.

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