Long hike .. took about 4.5 hours will do it again
Great hike with the kids. They had so much fun climbing through the caves with their flashlights and seeing the boulders strewn throughout the canyon. They also enjoyed the climbing under the wedged boulders. Good fun. Not too difficult (I.e. Not too much elevation gain) that it proved too tough for the kids (8,8, and 11). Beautiful views of geology. A cool wind rustled the leaves of the trees -- I haven't heard this sound since having led the east coast and it took me right back. Beautiful golden hues at this time of year. The caves do require you to get pretty low and also can be quite narrow in spots.
Took the Balconies Cliffs to Old Pinnacles as part of a 10 Mile loop around the park. The Cave was closed, but there are great views from the cliff side of both Balconies and Machete ridge and others. For climbers there were lots of access trails for getting up on the rocks.
This trail was amazing!
You start off on a relatively long uphill battle, walking a long a swerving road until you get to the top. As you go up, there is very really shade, and the sun is scorching hot; especially if you go at 3pm, on a hot day, near the beginning of June. I would recommend to stop and take a breather every 15 minutes and appreciate the view around because the elevation increase is very rapid. By the time you reach the top, you are drenched, exhausted yet simultaneously energized by plethora exposure to the sun, and are surrounded by the fascinating high peaks and rock formations of the pinnacles.
The path is then more or less flat for a little while with some intermittent shade until you reach a set of large rocks that you need to climb! Luckily, foot holes were drilled into the side of the rock and a rail has been put in place as well make it a very safe climb, but it's fun and exciting nonetheless.
One of the most exciting parts was the cave you had to go through about 3 - 4 hours into the hike. It is pitch black, so make sure to bring a flashlight. It is also very slippery, so make sure to take your time as you descend further down. It is unlike anything I've experience int he past, and was thrilled by every moment that I got to spend in it.
The hike culminates with a very flat and simple 1 - 2 mile walk that takes you across the whole park back to the parking lot, which was a nice way to cool off.
My friends and I did the hike in just under five hours, between 2pm and 7pm. The sun was hot, the trail was bare, so this is definitely not a trail where you want to make sure that you've brought enough water.
Seeing how this is a relatively strenuous hike, in a less popular location, we only came across a few other groups of hikers along the way.
Definitely a must for any avid California hiker!
Catherine M. on Balconies Trail
Great side-trip 2-hour hike as a stop off Hwy 101 heading up to San Francisco. But you absolutely need a flashlight to pass through the cave.
Hiked it counter clockwise and found it easier climbing up the cave! Kids loved it! Get the 50 cent guidebook at the ranger station and follow the signs. It explained everything. Great views from the balconies and tons of rocks to explore. New welcome center is fantastic!!