We worked our way slowly south through California for many reasons. The weather was amazing and there was so much to see and do. We also felt like California is so far away from where we usually are when we’re in the US that we’re unlikely to get back there again any time soon. And at this particular point in our trip through California, we were trying to time it right to see our friends in Santa Barbara when they were home. And so it was that we discovered Pinnacles National Monument, a stop that was never a part of our planned route but which certainly ranks among our favorite places that we’ve visited.
Pinnacles NM is named for the particular mountain formations in the park, but what we enjoyed most about the Pinnacles was hiking through them. There is one trail in particular that, when it’s safe enough, takes you through a cave. There is a lower part of the cave, after which you can turn out of the cave and continue on the “outside” trail, or you can continue into the upper cave, which is much more difficult (and therefore fun!) to traverse. It’s a wet cave, and certain times of year there’s too much water and part or all of the cave is closed. But when we were there, the whole thing was open.
We’ve been in several caves in the National Park system on our trip, and all were amazing in their own ways. This cave didn’t boast any unique geological features (that I know of) and there are no guided tours. There are no paved walkways or handrails (except one part of the lower cave where there are stairs) and no artificial lights. There are white arrows spray painted on the walls so you won’t get lost and hikers are advised not to enter without flashlights.
It was high adventure that was perfect for a family with small children. It was just hard enough to be exciting, but not so difficult as to be too much or unsafe. So, with headlamps on, we crawled over, ducked under, crossed streams on stepping stones, and squeezed a baby carrier through impossibly small spaces. Emelie led the group, and charged ahead with great excitement and absolutely no fear. Sometimes it was hard to get her to stop long enough for me to turn around and help Staffan and Peter get through. We had so much fun!
The trail comes out by a reservoir where we sat to have a picnic lunch. A few drops of rain sprinkled on us but it blew over quickly without developing into much. It was a loop trail and most people go up through the cave but then back down on the “regular” trail. We gave Emelie the option and she overwhelmingly chose to go back through the cave. We chose to only go back through the lower cave in the interest of time, but after another tour through the cave we walked back to the car. I would thoroughly recommend this hike to anyone who has little ones with a bit of an adventurous spirit. It’s truly a gem that no one really seems to have heard of and that was the opposite of crowded and over-commercialized, the way some of the “bigger” parks can tend to be. Highly recommended.
There is also campground at Pinnacles NM, and we stayed there the night before our hike. It is very basic, but adequate and as far as we know the only place to camp in the vicinity. Here’s a review:
Pinnacles National Monument Campground
Location: Within Pinnacles NM, which is pretty far out from anything else
Site description: Gravel and “grass” sites, relatively small but since it wasn’t crowded it felt spacious
Facilities: Bathrooms and coin-operated showers in a building near the office, which is a bit of a walk from all the campsites. The primitive campground areas have their own bathhouses, but they are not in the same place as the developed campground (with electricity). No dish-washing facilities, no playground. There is a pool but it was closed for the season (though they still watered the grass around it all night so that it was thick and green and not crunchy brown like the rest of the area).
Neighborhood: Relatively quiet, just a few neighbors with RVs, one other family with kids
Comments: It is really annoying to have to walk that far to go to the bathroom, especially at night. But it was dark enough and private enough to just pee on the ground at night. So it worked fine.
Posted in Campground Reviews, National Parks, USA Roadtrip 2012 and tagged California, California travel, campground, cave, exploring, national park, Pinnacles National Monument, travel with toddlers by Christine with no comments yet.