Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies is a 5.3 mile moderately trafficked loop trail located near Paicines, California that features a cave and is rated as moderate. The trail is primarily used for hiking, walking, and nature trips and is accessible year-round.
Directions from Soledad: Follow Highway 146 12 miles to the Chaparral Ranger Station. From the ranger station walk northeastward on the Balconies Trail. At the fork in the trail, .6 miles from the trailhead, take either side. The Balconies Trail loop ends at the Old Pinnacles Trail.
This is an amazing cave trail!
Balconies Cave is larger than the Bear Gulch Lower Cave. I can't compare it to the Bear Gulch Upper Cave as it was closed when we visited.
Before attempting to hike to Balconies Cave, make sure you check if it is open. It is sometimes closed for weather (E.g., in case a flash flood is possible). Here is the site to check the status:
I would check that before heading out (or ask a ranger) so you don't hike to a dead end.
We hiked this trail in November in the rain, but thankfully the cave remained open. We saw some people on the trail, but not many. There were more in and around the cave itself as there is a parking lot and shorter trail to reach the cave, which bypasses the Old Pinnacles Trail portion of this hike.
The hike was beautiful and the rain gave it a lovely coloration. The trail is a lollipop and in total you will cross the creek five times in each direction (only one is actually on a little bridge). For us the creek was mostly dry (only two of those seven times had any water at all), although in the spring following a wet winter these might be challenging.
The cave was extraordinary. It is however, pitch black in some sections so flashlights or head lamps are a must. It would also be helpful to bring gloves as several points in the cave require difficult maneuvering and fitting through tight spaces. Hiking through the cave through the Old Pinnacles Trail does point you in an easier direction thou. There is one point in the cave where you need to almost boulder in the darkness to get up to the opening. That segment would have been much more difficult going down than up.
Once through the cave, you go back via the Balconies Cliffs before meeting back up with the Old Pinnacles Trail. Watch for this sign so you don't miss the turn or you'll wind up on the longer Wilderness Trail.
This trail and cave was awesome - we actually ate our lunch in the cave itself! When visiting Pinnacles National Park make sure not to miss this one.
Really nice hike, with good combo of sun/shade and mostly flat. Caveat, we missed a turn in the caves and wound up scrambling up a really steep, dangerous wall, thinking it was the trail. It was _A_ trail and eventually, we found the real trail.
Did this as part of a 10 mile loop around the park. Not very crowded here. There was one point in the North end that I went a hour without seeing someone. Its very easy, lots of small stream crossings over the same creek. A great time, pretty shaded for the most part.
nice easy trail.
This is a mostly flat, easy hike to reach the caves and see the Balconies. There are sections of shaded and unshaded trail along the way.
Thought this was a really cool hike!
Went with 5 other friends.
Lucky us it was free because of the holiday weekend. It trekked us through diverse landscapes. Suitable for the beginner adventurer with little equipment needed (a flashlight is quite handy for the cave portion, even though it was pretty short). We started at the east entrance and hit the caves first. It felt like just the right length with some decent climbing. There is also a section specifically for before the cave for rock climbers :o There were parts that were shaded, while others out under the sun (especially when we went up the condor gulch portion).
The entire trail is a loop with small routes to cut the loop shorter. Shuttles run during the day to take visitors from one entrance to the other. There were quite a few rangers that day, all of whom were very friendly and informative.
The loop we took was almost 10 ish miles. Combined with relatively cool weather (70 ish)... it was perfect :D
As always, bring water, sunblock, hat, snacks and other essentials.
Didn't use hiking sticks for this one, some others in the group did (but it would have been useful going up Condor Gulch)
Hike vid: https://youtu.be/GrvAlBQSSdg
Wonderful hiking for all! Caves very enjoyable but please take flashlight. We just came back from there and are looking forward to visiting the park in the spring time with the flowers in bloom.