Artist’s Drive (Death Valley National Park, CA)

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Artist’s Drive, Death Valley National Park, January 2020

Artist’s Drive is a popular, 9-mile one-way scenic road in the heart of California’s Death Valley National Park that weaves through craggy badlands and skirts colorful hillsides in the shadow of the Black Mountains. The drive bears east from Badwater Road, roughly 10 miles south of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, in Death Valley. Climbing up out of the salt flats, the drive offers views of the western flank of the Black Mountains (most illuminated in the evening) and the Panamint Range across the valley. Gray and brown hues give way to more diverse colors at Artist’s Palette, a beautiful landscape of greens, oranges, and purples caused by the oxidation of iron, manganese, and mica. Beyond Artist’s Palette, the drive descends through narrow canyons in the Artist’s Drive Formation, finally leaving the yellow badlands at the end of the 9-mile journey, returning to Badwater Road.

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Toward the start of Artist’s Drive, looking down at Death Valley and the Panamint Range

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Telescope Peak and the Panamint Range from Artist’s Drive

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Artist’s Drive

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Approaching Artist’s Palette

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Artist’s Palette

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Artist’s Drive through the badlands

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Natural Bridge (Death Valley National Park, CA)

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Natural Bridge, Death Valley National Park, January 2020

California’s Death Valley National Park sports many natural archways, but there is none more prominent than the natural bridge in Natural Bridge Canyon, which slices through the Black Mountains south of Furnace Creek and Artists’ Drive. The natural bridge is easily accessible by way of a short trail, with roughly 80 feet in elevation gain. Here a series of flash floods over the centuries has carved a gaping hole in the canyon, one of the largest natural bridges in the region.

Natural Bridge Death Valley hike information

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Map of the Natural Bridge Trail, Death Valley National Park

The hike

The trailhead for Natural Bridge is situated roughly 16 miles south of Furnace Creek Visitor Center in Death Valley National Park and six miles south of the entry for Artists’ Drive, just off Badwater Road. The rocky but 2WD accessible Natural Bridge Road provides visitors access to the trail’s start. There is ample parking here, as well as several interpretive panels on the hike and local geology.

The short hike to the natural bridge begins by skirting a left-hand bend, climbing surprisingly steeply—like seemingly every other side drainage in Death Valley—into the mouth of Natural Bridge Canyon. Here the region’s periodic rains have carved a relatively shallow channel into the mostly reddish Furnace Creek Formation, composed of cemented gravel, silty mud, and ash from the Black Mountains volcanic field. This conglomerate rock layer is extremely thick, at least 5,000 feet deep, and not particularly graceful—a sharp contrast from the smooth and picturesque sandstone found in much of southern Utah.

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Natural Bridge Canyon

The canyon is nonetheless enjoyable, with the walls gradually constricting as a social trail climbs a sandy bench on the right (before prompting dropping back into the wash). Follow the dry stream bed for about ¼ mile to reach the natural bridge, an impressive sight with an aperture at least 30-40 feet high. Unlike arches, natural bridges are formed by waterways, this one sculpted by flood waters that cut through a weakness in the thick rock.

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Approaching the natural bridge

It is possible to continue for another ¼ mile beyond the natural bridge, where passage ends at a dryfall, but most visitors will turn around at the bridge, descending back to the parking area with terrific views across Death Valley and Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America.

Allot about a half-hour for this easy and brief out-and-back journey.

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Death Valley from near the Natural Bridge parking area

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Fall Canyon (Death Valley National Park, CA)

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Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, January 2020

Carving a dramatic gorge hundreds of feet deep in the Grapevine Mountains, Fall Canyon is a relatively popular destination in California’s Death Valley National Park. The hike through the lower reaches of the canyon is moderately difficult but climbs relentlessly, a common trait of canyons in the area, tilting upward from the vast expanse of Death Valley. Along the way, hikers are rewarded with views of snaking narrows and highly-streaked walls, ending at a dryfall at 3.2 miles. A sketchy bypass on the south side of the canyon provides onward passage beyond the pour-off, but most visitors turn around here.

Fall Canyon Death Valley hike information

Fall Canyon Death Valley map

Map of Fall Canyon, Death Valley National Park, created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The hike to Fall Canyon begins at the end of the two-way section of the Titus Canyon Drive, a rough but 2WD-accessible road situated off the Scotty’s Castle Road in Death Valley National Park. (Note: The trailhead is located roughly 35 miles northwest of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center.) The Titus Canyon Drive itself climbs 800 feet in elevation from the base of Death Valley or, alternatively, travelers can visit Fall Canyon after driving the length of the one-way section of the road, which winds through Titus Canyon and begins outside the park near Beatty, Nevada.

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Starting out on the route to Fall Canyon

The route to Fall Canyon begins next to the restrooms at the parking area, skirting the western flank of a crumbly hillside. The first section of the hike traverses an alluvial fan, formed by the accumulation of deposits from the nearby canyons and mountainsides, sloping ever-steadily down into Death Valley. At 1/3 mile, the single-track trail enters a wash, then follows the left fork before climbing up to a high platform with unobstructed views of Death Valley and the Cottonwood Mountains beyond.

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Looking back at Death Valley, Tucki Mountain, and the Cottonwood Mountains

Nearly ½ mile from the trailhead, the route descends sharply into another dry creek bed, then follows the arroyo up again to a rocky ridgeline. From here, one can see down into a third, much larger wash: this is the drainage for Fall Canyon, reached by way of a steep descent at about the 7/10-mile mark.

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Entering the drainage for Fall Canyon

Once in the broad gulch, head east as the drainage cuts into the Grapevine Mountains. This is the start of Fall Canyon. As the walls begin to take form, hikers start to notice streaks, ridges, and mosaic patterns in the stony breccia, part of the broader, Cambrian-era Bonanza King Formation, one of the thickest rock layers in Death Valley National Park. At the one-mile mark, the canyon narrows for the first time to a width of roughly 40 feet across. Following a right-hand bend and broader left turn, the canyon further constricts at 1.25 miles, forming orange- and gray-tinted narrows. Vegetation in the area is sparse, largely confined to hearty sagebrush.

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First narrows of Fall Canyon

 

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Spectacular walls of Fall Canyon

As the canyon opens up again at around 1.5 miles, the vertical cliffs rise more than 500 feet in either side. The next set of narrows at 1.8 miles are as little as 15 feet wide, and the undulating walls, partly stained with iron oxides, make for some of the best scenery on the hike.

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Dark narrows in Fall Canyon

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Iron-bleached walls of Fall Canyon

The gorge opens to the sunshine again at the two-mile mark, and a large side canyon comes in from the left (it quickly ends at an impassable dryfall). Ahead is a stony monolith, more than 100 feet high, marking the onward passage up-canyon. Soon enough, the walls constrict again, and a left-hand turn reveals an unusual feature on the south-facing rock wall that resembles a swirl of fudge in a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Not to be outdone, a larger and grander version of the swirling rock is visible around the corner, with distinct, dark ridges leading upward into the mountains. The walls here are now more than 800 feet tall, with the mountaintops continuing even higher. By now there is also more vegetation in the canyon, with the usually dry basin and cliffs supporting occasional creosote bush or even cactus.

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Around mid way up Fall Canyon

After a straightaway in the sun, the canyon yields right at 2.7 miles, cutting through low narrows that constrict to around eight feet. Ahead the canyon is varied and ledge-like, with distinct streaks on the protruding walls. In the final stretch, a smooth layer of gray dolomite rock begins to blanket the sides of the canyon, indicating another narrowing of the route.

At last, the hike ends (for most) at the appearance of an 18-foot dryfall at 3.2 miles. It is possible to continue onwards by backtracking about 50-75 yards and taking a potentially marked bypass on the south side of the canyon. The route is sketchy, however, with serious exposure. (Note: A bummer, since evidently some of the canyon’s best narrows are just beyond.) All but the bravest will head back down canyon from this point, returning the way you came.

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Dryfall at the end of the hike

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Around the sketchy bypass

The return is significantly easier than the initial journey to the dryfall. While lacking any particularly steep drops (except for the dryfall), Fall Canyon is positioned on a steady incline, with inward hikers gaining more than 1,300 feet over the course of 3.2 miles. On the return route, this gain becomes 1,300 feet in elevation loss, helping to provide additional momentum, like having wind at your back.

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Returning down Fall Canyon

All told, a journey up Fall Canyon to the dryfall and back covers 6.4 miles and should take 3-4 hours.

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Teutonia Peak Trail (Mojave National Preserve, CA)

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Teutonia Peak Trail, Mojave National Preserve, January 2020

Mojave National Preserve is a wild playground of desert peaks, sand dunes, Joshua tree forests, rocky jumbles, and dry lakebeds situated in southern California, near the Nevada and Arizona borders. Considerably less crowded than nearby Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave boasts a seemingly endless set of hiking opportunities, as well as a relatively liberal roadside camping policy. For starters, try the 3.2-mile round-trip Teutonia Peak Trail in the northern reaches of the park, roughly 12 miles south of Interstate 15. Here the views themselves are spectacular, but the real attraction is the peak’s location astride the world’s densest concentration of Joshua trees.

Teutonia Peak Trail Mojave hike information

Teutonia Peak Trail Mojave hike map

Map of Teutonia Peak Trail, Mojave National Preserve; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The Teutonia Peak Trail in Mojave National Preserve takes off from the west side of Cima Road, 12 miles south of Interstate 15 (Exit 272). The turnoff is situated just north of the White Cross World War I Memorial and Sunset Rock, an excellent roadside camping area that, due to its relatively high elevation, is chilly in winter. (Note: No one in their right mind should visit Mojave in the heat of the summer, where temperatures regularly top 100-110 degrees.)

Immediately from the trailhead, which has several parking spaces and an introductory sign, one is immersed in a sea of Joshua trees. These desert wonders are actually not even trees at all; rather, they are a particularly large species of yucca that is found largely at elevations between 2,000 and 6,000 feet.

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Joshua trees with Teutonia Peak beyond

As you walk along the relatively level trail toward Teutonia Peak, you will notice that the Joshua trees are not alone. The desert landscape also features bunch grass, Mojave yucca, several varieties of sagebrush, a particularly interesting flavor of cactus called the buckhorn cholla, and occasional patches of juniper and pinyon pines, the last of which become increasingly ubiquitous at higher elevations.

The broad Teutonia Peak Trail follows a sandy trace for the first mile, climbing only a single rock step at 4/10 mile before passing between two bulging rock outcrops. Stay straight as the path crosses a dirt road at ½ mile. Inching closer to the base of the mountain, the route remains rather level for the next half-mile before leaving the road trace at the one-mile mark. (Note: It is possible to bear left at the road junction here to reach the old Teutonia Silver Mine, where one can peer down the (fenced-off) mine shafts.)

Beyond the one-mile mark, the trail finally begins to climb in haste, leaving behind the Joshua tree forest. Amid a dense grove of junipers, the trail bounds up a series of switchbacks. At 1.25 miles, the Teutonia Peak Trail crests a high ridgeline, offering views of the rocky wonderland beyond.

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Northside views from the climb up Teutonia Peak

From here the trail bears left, continuing up the slope toward Teutonia Peak. At 1.4 miles, the path crests a higher ridgeline, and hikers get their first look at Cima Dome (5,745’) to the west, a gently-sloping mound that is reportedly the most symmetrical natural dome of its kind.

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Cima Dome – a dramatic incline in which photos do not do it justice

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Approaching the summit of Teutonia Peak

Rounding to the backside of Teutonia Peak, the trail climbs a steeper, rockier incline before ending at a high notch with eastward views back toward the trailhead, with Kessler Peak (6,163’) beyond. The actual summit lies farther to the south: while it is possible to continue beyond the end of the trail, looping around the peak’s various rock jumbles, reaching the actual peak requires at least a Class 3-4 climb. Not recommended without rock climbing experience.

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Northward view of Clark Mountain Range and Shadow Valley

Besides terrific views of Kessler Peak, Teutonia Peak also provides a vantage point for seeing the desolate New York Mountains to the east, as well as the continuation of the Ivanpah Mountains and Clark Mountain Range to the north. To the west, beyond Cima Dome and Shadow Valley, is the relatively low Cinder Cone Lava Beds area, with the Soda Mountains in the distance.

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View northeast to the Mescal Range and Ivanpah Mountains

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Kessler Peak from Teutonia summit

Once ready, return the way you came, enjoying again the dense forest of Joshua trees. Allot about 2-3 hours for this 3.2-mile round-trip hike. Gaining 650 feet in elevation over a short period, this hike is best described as moderately difficult.

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Marvelous Joshua trees along the Teutonia Peak Trail

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Bald Mountain Loop (Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, CA)

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Bald Mountain Trail, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, December 2019

Towering above California’s wine country, Bald Mountain (2,729’) is the highest point in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park and one of the tallest peaks in the Mayacamas Mountains, a subset of the Coast Range in the North Bay. While the main draw of Sugarloaf Ridge is the nearby 25-foot seasonal waterfall, hearty hikers can trek to the summit of Bald Mountain for panoramic views stretching as far as the San Francisco Bay and Golden Gate Bridge to the south and Sierra Nevada to the east, with endless ranges and valleys in between. The following describes a 6.6-mile stem-and-loop that ascends the Bald Mountain Trail and descends the Gray Pine and Meadow Trails, making for a strenuous, 3- to 5-hour jaunt.

Bald Mountain Trail loop Sugarloaf Ridge State Park hike information

Bald Mountain Trail loop Sugarloaf Ridge map

Map of Bald Mountain Loop, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Start this hike from the main recreation area in Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, a roughly 4-mile drive east of Kenwood, California in Sonoma Valley. While the shortest loop technically starts from the Robert Ferguson Observatory at the end of Adobe Canyon Road, most hikers seeking to conquer Bald Mountain will begin at the parking area just east of the Sugarloaf Ridge Visitor Center, on the north side of the road. Across the drive to the south is the Sugarloaf Ridge Campground, across the banks of Sonoma Creek. There is an interpretive sign and map, as well as pit toilets, at the trailhead.

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Start of the Bald Mountain Trail

Bald Mountain Trail to Bald Mountain summit (2.7 miles)

Begin by following the sign for the Bald Mountain Trail. (Note: The Stern Trail, which also leaves from here and provides quicker access to Bald Mountain, is less scenic and follows a wide road, making the path described below more enjoyable.) As the gravel-packed trail climbs mildly to an initial junction, the hulking mass of Red Mountain (2,548’), with Bald Mountain beyond, dominates the landscape to the north. At the first fork, encountered within a minute of hiking, stay right, edging through an oak-pine woodland. After a set of switchbacks, the well-trodden path spits out into a grassy meadow.

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Toyon plants along the Bald Mountain Trail

At 3/10 mile, stay left at the second junction, continuing on the Lower Bald Mountain Trail. Remain left again at a subsequent fork, then climb back into the woods around ½ mile. Live oaks predominate for a brief period, but the trail soon reenters the sun, cutting through a section flush with low, scrubby, and berry-toting toyon bushes. By 9/10 mile, when the trail intersects with the paved but hikers-only Bald Mountain Road, hikers have gained roughly 400 feet in elevation.

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Ascending toward Red Mountain and Bald Mountain

Bear right on the road, following as it continues to climb, providing sweeping views to the south and east, including Adobe Canyon, Sugarloaf Ridge (2,265’), Little Bald Mountain (2,275’), and the Brushy Peaks (2,243’). Just beyond the park boundary to the east, in the shadow of Mount Saint John (2,375’), is a small vineyard and a quicksilver mine.

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Eastward view of the Sugarloaf Ridge area

For the next mile, the road ascends steadily as it rounds a series of bends and minor ravines, largely in full sun. Stay left on the main road at the junctions with the Vista Trail and Red Mountain Trail at 1.1 miles and 1.9 miles, respectively. After passing the second junction, the vegetation becomes denser and taller, with toyons and other shrubs replaced with California’s characteristic oak and bay woodlands. Here the trail actually sheds elevation in a brief descent before climbing again to a windy saddle between Red Mountain to the south and Bald Mountain to the north. Approaching a fork in the road at 2.25 miles, views open up to the west, toward Santa Rosa and Mount Hood (2,730’), which is actually a foot taller than Bald Mountain.

Bear left at the junction, then ascend the gravel track as it makes the final approach to the summit. Passing a picnic table on the right, the Bald Mountain Trail wraps around the south-facing hillside to the west. At 2.66 miles, there is another fork, this time with the High Ridge Trail. Stay right, then right again at another junction—with the Gray Pine Trail—at 2.7 miles. From here it is a short climb to the summit of Bald Mountain.

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View north to Mount Saint Helena from the Bald Mountain summit

On a clear day, the views from Bald Mountain are some of the best in the Bay Area: one can see north across Napa Valley to some higher peaks in the Coast Range, including Mount Saint Helena (4,341’) and Saint John Mountain (6,783’). To the east, on the horizon, one can make out the curvature of Pyramid Peak (9,983’), situated all the way across the Central Valley in the Sierra Nevada. Southward, past Red Mountain, hikers can spot Mount Diablo (3,849’) and the San Francisco Bay, with the Golden Gate Bridge and Pacific Ocean beyond. To the southwest are Point Reyes, Santa Rosa, and Sebastopol—with Mount Hood obstructing the vista due west.

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Southeasterly view from the summit

Gray Pine Trail and Meadow Trail to Bald Mountain Trailhead (2.9 miles)

From the summit, the quickest way back down is to return the way you came. But to make a loop of it, instead backtrack for 50 yards and turn right on the Gray Pine Trail, which bears east from the summit. This wide track bounds up and down a ridge with several minor hills, generally shedding elevation. At 3.5 miles, stay left at the junction with the Red Mountain Trail, then climb—along the Napa-Sonoma County Line—to another fork where a dirt track enters from the left. Stay right, approaching a third junction at 3.8 miles. Bear right here again, staying on the Gray Pine Trail as it traverses a narrow and precipitous ridgeline heading south.

After flirting with a string of power lines, the Gray Pine Trail descends steadily and steeply into Adobe Canyon and the Sonoma Creek drainage. At 4.9 miles, cross a tributary of Sonoma Creek, which flows through a man-made pipe. By 5.1 miles, you are firmly in the valley, and the trail levels before traversing Sonoma Creek. Just beyond, stay left at the junction with the Vista Trail.

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Crossing Sonoma Creek

At 5.25 miles, the trail crosses the main stream again, this time in the shade of a moss-covered bay tree. In the clearing beyond, bear right on the Meadow Trail, which immediately traverses a wide bridge over Sonoma Creek. Keeping the creek on your left, the Meadow Trail weaves through a patchwork of woods and open fields, opening up into a broad meadow at 5.75 miles. The Adobe Canyon Road and Robert Ferguson Observatory are ahead. Stay right at the junction with the Hillside Trail, then cross the parking lot for the observatory. A sign for the Lower Bald Mountain Trail marks the continuation of the hike.

After climbing briefly, hikers return to familiar terrain: the initial hillside encountered at the start of the loop. Stay left at two subsequent junctions, then follow the Lower Bald Mountain Trail down a set of switchbacks, through a grouping of live oaks, and back to the parking area.

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Returning to the trailhead

This strenuous hike covers 1,500 feet in elevation gain and takes about 3-5 hours to complete.

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Fremont Peak Trail (Fremont Peak State Park, CA)

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Fremont Peak Trail, Fremont Peak State Park, October 2019

Fremont Peak, one of the highest in the Gabilan Range south of the Bay Area, takes its name from the 19th century explorer, military officer, senator, and presidential candidate John C. Fremont, whose survey expedition passed through the area in 1846. Facing objections from the Mexican authorities who controlled the area at the time, then-Captain Fremont ascended the peak, constructed a makeshift fort, and raised the United States flag on the summit, preparing for potential battle. As Fremont reconsidered his position and a windstorm blew down the flag, Fremont ultimately retreated – but the scrubby peak was later named in his honor.

Today, Fremont Peak State Park preserves 159 acres surrounding the summit and is accessible by way of an 11-mile, intensely winding road that heads south from the old mission town of San Juan Bautista. The short Fremont Peak Trail wraps around the mountain before ascending to the summit, which features stunning panoramic views of the Gabilan Range, Diablo Range, Salinas Valley, and—on clear days—Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The viewpoint is particularly stunning at sunset, as the photos below demonstrate…

Fremont Peak Trail hike information

Fremont Peak Trail map

Map of Fremont Peak Trail, Fremont Peak State Park; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

Often overlooked in favor of nearby Pinnacles National Park, California’s Fremont Peak State Park covers a small but scenic landscape with a diversity of landscapes and plant communities. The centerpiece, of course, is the 3,169-foot Fremont Peak. The narrow but paved road accounts for all but 300 feet of the elevation gain, making the climb to the top of Fremont Peak a relatively easy and brief endeavor.

Begin the hike from the parking area at the end of San Juan Canyon Road, past the turnoffs for the Valley View and Oak Point Campgrounds. (Note: On the park map, look for the parking area next to the “Historic Building” and “Fremont Historical Plaque.”) From the parking area, look for the start of the Fremont Peak Trail heading west, a short turnoff from the San Juan Grade Road, which serves as the access drive to a pair of radio towers. (Note: There is, however, a memorial plaque and monument less than a minute’s walk up the drive that are worthy of checking out.)

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Fremont Peak Trail rounds a bend to the south side of the mountain

Leaving the parking area behind, the Fremont Peak Trail wraps around the northern flank of the mountain, with relatively dense woodlands blanketing the hillside below. After a mostly flat and straightforward preamble, the trail becomes rockier and steeper as it climbs to clear a high saddle between Fremont Peak on the left and the lower mounts of aptly-named Rocky Ridge on the right. At ¼ mile, the well-manicured trail descends briefly to the south side of Fremont Peak, affording views down into Gabilan Creek Valley. After traversing a short bridge, a dark—but ultimately brief—rock crevice on the left invites exploration.

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Grassy southern slope of Fremont Peak

Unlike the northern slope, the south side is largely free of greenery, defined instead by wiry grasses and minor rock outcrops. As the Fremont Peak Trail bears eastward, the summit comes into view on the left, and the path climbs steadily, through a pair of switchbacks, to a trail junction at ½ mile.

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Switchback on the Fremont Peak Trail

Here a service road heads right, downhill, toward the broadcasting towers (outside the park boundary and off-limits to hikers), while the trail continuation bears left. There are multiple options to reach the summit, but the easiest is arguably a relatively well-defined path that ascends a set of stairs to the right before fading away into the rock jumble. Some minor scrambling is required for the final climb to the windy summit.

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Final approach to the summit

Atop the summit is a plaque dedicated to John C. Fremont, as well as a flagpole. From the top, one can see north across the park campgrounds to the San Juan Bautista area and Santa Clara Valley. To the east, the view is partly obscured by the radio towers, but the Gabilan Range unfolds with the San Andreas Rift Zone beyond. The Gabilan Range also continues to the south, toward Pinnacles. It is the westward views that are the most rewarding, especially on a clear day, when one can see Monterey Bay and the Monterey Peninsula, with the Santa Lucia Range and Big Sur area beyond.

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Views westward toward Monterey Bay from the summit of Fremont Peak

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View north over the campground area and parking lot

Once ready, return the way you came, carefully descending the craggy jumble of rocks that forms the summit. Follow the Fremont Peak Trail back to the parking area for a 1.2-mile round-trip jaunt that should last around 1-1.5 hours.

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Chalone Peak Trail (Pinnacles National Park, CA)

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Chalone Peak Trail, Pinnacles National Park, August 2019

Rising to 3,304 feet, Chalone Peak is the highest point in California’s Pinnacles National Park and a worthy challenge for peak-baggers who seek to brave the exposed sun and 2,000 feet in elevation gain to reach the summit. The Chalone Peak Trail juts off from the end of Bear Gulch Cave in the eastern section of Pinnacles and climbs through a section of the park’s namesake spires and knobs before ascending a scrubby ridgeline to the windy highpoint. In terms of distance and elevation gain, this is probably the most difficult maintained hike in the park.

Chalone Peak Trail Pinnacles hike information

Chalone Peak Trail Pinnacles hike map

Map of Chalone Peak Trail, Pinnacles National Park; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

To reach the trail’s start, drive west along Pinnacles Highway from the Pinnacles Visitor Center in the eastern section of the park, continuing for 3.3 miles to the end of the road. Park at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area, which has a restroom and picnic tables. Tucked away in a shady canyon, Bear Gulch is a popular starting point for the short jaunt through Bear Gulch Cave, one of the area’s finest examples of a boulder-choked talus cave. (Note: For a full description of this shorter hike, see my post from January 13, 2020. To reach the trailhead, continue past the Bear Gulch Nature Center, which serves as the starting point for the excellent Condor Gulch-High Peaks Trail LoopParking is somewhat limited at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area; if there are no spots, backtrack to the Nature Center and park there, then follow an easy, wide path through a picnic area for ¼ mile to reach the trailhead.)

The approach to Chalone Peak begins by climbing the Moses Spring Trail from the parking area, traversing a shady oak woodland and entering a narrow gorge rimmed by rhyolitic breccia. Stay left at the first trail junction, then follow the path through a short, man-made tunnel. Take the left fork again at the next junction, turning onto the Bear Gulch Cave Trail. From here it is a short walk to the entrance of Lower Bear Gulch Cave, about 4/10 mile from the trailhead. (Note: Bring a flashlight for the cave, and check at the Visitor Center to ensure that the caves are accessible. Upper Bear Gulch Cave is generally open for only a short window in late March and late October and thus excluded from this description. The lower cave is usually open year-round except between mid-May and mid-July. If both caves are closed, use the Moses Springs Trail to bypass the cave to the west.)

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Entrance to Lower Bear Gulch Cave

Lower Bear Gulch Cave is dark and spooky, with vaunted ceilings formed by massive chockstones adorned with green lichen. After crossing the often-dry Bear Creek drainage, the trail climbs a long, winding staircase to bypass a series of dryfalls. After about 1/10 mile, the footpath leads through a narrow cut and reemerges into the sunlight above the cave. (Note: A spur near the end of the dark passage leads to Upper Bear Gulch Cave on the right but is closed most of the year.)

At the top of the cave, bear left at the subsequent trail junction, staying on the Bear Gulch Cave Trail. From here the path ascends a scrubby hillside, then follows the boulder-choked canyon to a second, shorter cave at 6/10 mile. The chockstones in this dark passage, wedged between the canyon walls, are enormous and nearly touch the floor, requiring hikers to duck their heads as they pass.

Emerging out of the cave, hikers ascend a narrow staircase to reach the Bear Gulch Reservoir, a man-made lake that is nonetheless scintillating in its calmness amid a setting of towering stones. This is a popular lunch spot and turn-around point for day hikers.

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Bear Creek Reservoir

Having cleared the cave section, bear left at the reservoir at the start of the Chalone Peak Trail, which hugs the lake’s eastern shoreline. Pass a spur to “The Sisters” climbing area on the left, staying on the main track as it bears southward. Around ¾ mile from the trailhead, the trail cuts left and leaves the reservoir behind, beginning a steady ascent through a side canyon in an area known as the Little Pinnacles. As you gain height, look back to the north for distant views of the High Peaks, the towering heart of Pinnacles National Park.

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Distant views of the High Peaks of Pinnacles from the Chalone Peak Trail

Although not particularly steep, the ever-climbing trail gains 200 feet in elevation before cresting a ridgeline at 1.25 miles. One can now see down Frog Canyon to the east, flanked by the imposing Mount Defiance (2,657’) beyond. While not as ubiquitous as in the High Peaks, the rhyolitic pinnacles on the right are impressive in their own right. Even better, the crowds are likely to be minimal, leaving one virtually alone in the rock-strewn wilderness.

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High stones of the Little Pinnacles

Beyond the ridgeline, the Chalone Peak Trail ascends again, hugging the western slopes of Frog Canyon. After a set of switchbacks, hikers encounter sporadic manzanitas, sporting lime green leaves and deep red bark. Overtaking another ridgeline at about the two-mile mark, hikers get their first views of Chalone Peak in the distance. The plant life here is all scrubby chaparral, with the predominant shrub being the ubiquitous chamise.

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View east of Mount Defiance, with the Chalone Creek Valley beyond

From the saddle at the top of Frog Canyon, the trail continues right, beginning a long and arduous climb up the northern rib of the Chalone Peak behemoth. The north-facing hillside offers tremendous views of the Pinnacles region, including Bear Gulch and the High Peaks. At 2.5 miles, a rock outcrop provides perhaps the best viewpoint of the entire hike (because the Pinnacles are more distant from the summit of Chalone Peak).

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Excellent views of the High Peaks in Pinnacles National Park from the Chalone Peak Trail

As the trail bends south, take in westward views over Salinas Valley to the Santa Lucia Range beyond. Down in this valley is the town of Soledad, the gateway to the western reaches of Pinnacles National Park.

A little over three miles into the hike, the trail reaches a cattle fence, with a wooden stile providing onward passage. Follow the fence on the left as the trail continues to climb. At 3.2 miles, the Chalone Peak Trail merges with a wide gravel road. Continue left, following the broad track as it approaches the peak to the south. By now you have gained more than 1,500 feet in elevation.

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Chalone Peak tower visible ahead

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Approaching Chalone Peak from the north

After a brief descent to a high saddle, the ascent picks up again, following the west-facing flank of North Chalone Peak. This is the steepest part of the hike and often in the sun. At 3.7 miles, pass through a metal gate, passing the easy-to-miss spur to South Chalone Peak (2,269’) on the right. (Note: Technically this hike describes a climb to North Chalone Peak, the highest of the two. But it is possible to continue from here on an unmaintained path to South Chalone Peak.) Just beyond, the road passes under a string of power lines.

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View south to South Chalone Peak

Finally, at 3.8 miles, the path rounds a left-hand bend, and the abandoned tower atop Chalone Peak appears ahead. Follow the road as it winds around to the top, just under four miles from the trailhead.

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Summit of North Chalone Peak, highest point in Pinnacles National Park

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View west across Salinas Valley to the Santa Lucia Range

While the tower itself is closed to visitors, circling the summit provides panoramic views of the region. To the north, one can peer over the Pinnacles region, with the Gabilan Range continuing beyond. The Coast Range sprawls eastward toward the Central Valley, with Mount Defiance in the foreground to the northeast.

The southward view is dominated by South Chalone Peak, a summit accessible to hikers by way of an additional 1.6-mile one-way track. To the west, one can see across Salinas Valley to Soledad and the Santa Lucia Range, with the Pacific Ocean obscured behind the high mountains. In short, North Chalone Peak, the third-highest mountain in the Gabilan Range, is one of the best viewpoints in the region.

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Distant view of the High Peaks from Chalone Peak

The drawback, of course, is the looming reality of a 4-mile hike back the way you came to return to the trailhead. Yet the downhill slope is considerably more pleasant than the earlier ascent, and shifting light offers different perspectives of the pinnacles, peaks, and canyons along the way. Once back at the Bear Gulch Reservoir, there are a few options to return to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area: the first is to return down Bear Gulch Cave, the second is to follow the cave trail part way down and then turn on the Moses Spring Trail, and the third is to follow the scenic Rim Trail along the western slopes before descending the High Peaks Trail back to the start.

If taking the shortest route (through the caves), the entire round-trip hike clocks in at about 7.8 miles, a half-to-full day of hiking for many. Allot at least four hours for the out-and-back; all but the heartiest hikers will probably need at least five or six.

Posted in California, Pinnacles National Park, Strenuous Hikes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

South Wilderness Trail (Pinnacles National Park, CA)

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South Wilderness Trail, Pinnacles National Park, August 2019

Every national park has one: a trail that, despite lacking any particularly notable beauty, exists seemingly to be hiked only by those seeking the satisfaction of completing every trail in the park. In Capitol Reef National Park, a former focus of this blog, it is the much-maligned Old Wagon Trail. In Pinnacles National Park, it is the pleasant but underwhelming South Wilderness Trail. Starting part way down Pinnacles Highway on the east side of the park, this winding track follows a seasonal stream through thickets of valley oaks and features distant views of Mount Defiance and Chalone Peak, two of the highest mountains in the Gabilan Range. The flat and easy Bench Trail connects Pinnacles Campground with the start of the South Wilderness Trail.

South Wilderness Trail Pinnacles hike information

South Wilderness Trail Pinnacles map

Map of South Wilderness Trail, Pinnacles National Park; created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The Bench Trail, which provides access to the South Wilderness Trail, takes off from the southwest corner of the Pinnacles Campground, just beyond Group Sites 133 and 134. (Note: To access, walk or drive through the RV area and continue to the end of the road; the rest of the campground through the brush to the south.) A single trail sign marks the start of the wide path that weaves through a thicket of shrubs. After 1/10 mile, the path reaches a gate and trail information board. Continue past the gate, with an open field on the right. In the sunny sections, one can see Mount Defiance (2,657’) straight ahead; however, the main Pinnacles area—the High Peaks—is obscured from view.

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Bench Trail, with Mount Defiance beyond

Roughly paralleling Pinnacles Highway, the road noise never really dissipates along the Bench Trail. By 4/10 mile, the path buts right up against the road; in fact, there is an interpretive wayside along the trail that discusses road traffic and efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

At 6/10 mile, the Bench Trail intersects a gravel fire road heading south. Bear left on the road, then continue straight as the Bench Trail continues off to the right around 70 yards later. This area is one of the prettiest of the hike, with towering valley oak trees providing temporary shade.

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Towering oaks along the fire road

After following the fire road for about ¼ mile, look for a signed single-track bearing off to the right: this is the South Wilderness Trail. Following this spur, the modest wash that was on the left gives way to a much larger one on the right: Chalone Creek, which is likely to be mostly—although not completely—dry in summer. Amid a smattering of gray pines and open fields, the trail drops to cross Chalone Creek at about the hike’s one-mile mark.

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Opening along the start of the South Wilderness Trail

Follow the faint path up the valley, keeping the creek on your left. At 1.1 miles, two tall pines and a sycamore provide shade on a hot day. Shortly after, the trail runs right up to the base of the hillside on the right but does not climb it, staying in the low floodplain of Chalone Creek.

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Climbing up along the banks of Chalone Creek

After a half-mile of flat and pleasant hiking, the trail suddenly veers right and climbs 10-15 feet abruptly; here the creek runs almost right up against the hillside, requiring hikers to gain height to clear the terrain. Traversing an elevated bench, the path skirts a side ravine at about 1.8 miles, then the South Wilderness Trail ascends again, following the narrower canyon as it bends right. Chalone Peak (3,304’), the highest point in Pinnacles National Park, is now visible ahead. After this brief interruption, the trail descends back to the floodplain.

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Chalone Peak in the distance

As the path encounters a dry, sandy basin at around 2.25 miles, the trail becomes more difficult to follow. Generally, however, it is wisest to simply follow the dry stream bed (a corollary of the main Chalone Creek to the left) as it meanders through the brush. Occasional rock cairns mark the way. At 2.4 miles, the trail crosses another stream bed where the trail continuation is easier to discern. Finally, the path returns to the woods, briefly following the banks of the creek, then climbs to a grassy area with views of the mountains.

About 2.6 miles from the trailhead, the South Wilderness Trail crests a hill, revealing a turn in the canyon to the right. After a brief downhill, the trail abruptly ends at 2.9 miles at a barbed wire fence, with private property beyond. It is possible to follow a social trail continuing along the fence on the right, but there is little to gain, so this is—for all intents and purposes—the terminus of the hike.

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End of the South Wilderness Trail

The views from this area are decent: the chaparral valley continues southward, at the base of a series of sloping peaks on the right. None of this hike, however, is overwhelming, and hikers are likely to be captivated less by grandeur than by relief that the trail has ended. Of course, it’s a 2.9-mile return journey to the trailhead, back the way you came. At least a series of nice oaks, pines, and sycamores provide some relief from the hot sun. All told, the out-and-back clocks in at around 5.8 miles, a hike that should take 3-4 hours. The elevation gain is rather negligible, although there are some climbs and dips that make this a potentially moderately difficult hike.

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Bear Gulch Cave – Rim Trail Loop (Pinnacles National Park, CA)

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Bear Gulch Cave Trail, Pinnacles National Park, August 2019

Sporting one of California’s finest talus caves and shoreline access to a picturesque, rock-hewn reservoir, the Bear Gulch Cave Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Pinnacles National Park. Here a jumble of boulders, so large and tightly-packed that it blankets the ground with darkness, forms subterranean passages home to a resident colony of big-eared bats (though rarely seen). Beyond the reservoir, rock outcrops and excellent views of Bear Valley, the High Peaks, and the broader Gabilan Range entertain visitors returning to the trailhead via the Rim Trail, capping off a short, 1.5-mile loop. (Note: Bring a flashlight for the cave, and check at the Visitor Center to ensure that the caves are accessible. Upper Bear Gulch Cave is generally open for only a short window in late March and late October and thus excluded from this description. The lower cave is usually open year-round except between mid-May and mid-July.)

Bear Gulch Cave Trail Rim Trail Loop Pinnacles hike information

Bear Gulch Cave Trail Rim Trail Loop Pinnacles map

Map of Bear Gulch Cave – Rim Trail Loop, Pinnacles National Park, created using alltrails.com (Check out the PDF version, interactive map, and MapMyHike track)

The hike

The moderately difficult circuit hike begins and ends at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area in the eastern section of Pinnacles National Park, situated at the end of Pinnacles Highway, roughly 3.3 miles from the Pinnacles Visitor Center. (Note: Continue past the Bear Gulch Nature Center, which serves as the starting point for the more strenuous Condor Gulch-High Peaks Trail Loop. Parking is somewhat limited at the Bear Gulch Day Use Area; if there are no spots, backtrack to the Nature Center and park there, then follow an easy, wide path through a picnic area for ¼ mile to reach the trailhead.)

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Start of the trail heading up to Bear Gulch Cave

From the trailhead, follow the well-worn and obvious path southward; this is technically the Moses Spring Trail. (Note: A trail sign offers updates on the status of cave closures.) The trail begins by climbing through oak woodlands, leaving the base of Bear Gulch behind. At 1/10 mile, hikers enter a narrow canyon with shaded walls of breccia and the characteristic boulders that form the dark caves ahead. After climbing through a rocky notch, the drainage widens again, revealing a lush riparian landscape, a relative rarity in a park dominated by dry chaparral.

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Bear Gulch Canyon

Bear left at the first trail junction, where the High Peaks Trail comes in from the right. (Note: This will be your return route.) Following a dry creek bed upstream, the Moses Spring Trail cuts through a short tunnel at ¼ mile climbs to a large boulder with open views up-canyon. The rhyolite outcrops here take on a gray-orange hue, with occasional splotches of red and yellow. Just beyond, stay left at the trail fork, starting up the Bear Gulch Cave Trail.

At 4/10 miles, the trail passes through a narrow slot, passing a high alcove on the right. Just beyond, a trail sign (“Caution Flashlights Required Low Ceilings Slippery When Wet”) marks the start of Lower Bear Gulch Cave. Don your headlamps here and prepare for cooler temperatures as you enter the spooky darkness.

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Entrance to Lower Bear Gulch Cave

After passing under an initial low overhang, the ceiling rises to around 40-50 feet, and the trail traverses a short bridge over Bear Creek, which is likely to be dry much of the year. Bear Gulch Cave began as a basic canyon, formed by faults and fractures in the igneous rock. Yet over time the narrow slot filled with massive boulders, forming a dark ceiling above. Green lichen blankets the walls, shielded from the menacing sun and soaking up the rare rains that reach Pinnacles a handful of times per year.

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Dark channel in Bear Gulch Cave

Continuing through the thin channel, the cave gets darker and darker, and a hiker’s staircase provides onward passage. Metal railings assist with the climb and provide security from the sheer drops into the dimly-lit cracks below.

Clearing a set of chockstones, the ascending stairs end at a dark passageway with a fork: the continuing trail to Upper Bear Gulch Cave heads right (but is closed most of the year). Unless you are lucky enough to visit when the upper cave is open, you will be forced to exit the cave through a narrow slot to the left.

 

Another trail fork awaits once you emerge back into the sunlight at around ½ mile. Heading right leads to a popular climbing area (Discovery Wall), as well as the continuation of the Moses Spring Trail, which skirts the top of the cave. Head left at the junction, continuing as the Bear Gulch Cave Trail bounds up a hillside, then through another narrow notch above the upper cave.

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Canyon above Upper Bear Gulch Cave

Don’t put away your headlamp yet, however, as there is another dark passage to come. After spending about 125 yards in the open, the trail descends again into a second cave, this one not as dark or long but perhaps equally scintillating. The trail passes over the creek again, with huge chockstones barely suspended above the ground.

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Passing under a huge chockstone

At 6/10 mile, the path emerges back into the sun, climbing a staircase through a gully lush with vegetation. The man-made wall above acts as the dam for the Bear Gulch Reservoir, situated at the top of the steps.

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Exiting the second cave, up to the reservoir

While man-made lakes are usually nothing to write home about, the striking setting of Bear Gulch Reservoir—rimmed by hefty boulders and walls of natural stone—makes for a picturesque sight. Frogs, fish, and dragonflies frequent the area (as well as a troupe of rather aggressive squirrels, accustomed to human interaction), and the reservoir is a popular lunch spot for families visiting the park.

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Bear Gulch Reservoir

Once ready, either head back the way you came, down through the two caves, or take the fork heading to the right, following the Rim Trail back toward the Bear Gulch Day Use Area. This scenic route ascends a rocky slope, passing two large monoliths on the right. As views of the reservoir dissipate, vistas down Bear Gulch to the northeast open up.

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Towering monoliths along Rim Trail

After passing a vertical drop into a chute on the right, the trail levels off and heads north toward a set of rock outcrops; the big thumb-shaped stone on the right is called Teaching Rock and has excellent views east to Bear Valley. Up to the west are the towering precipices of the High Peaks.

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Teaching Rock along the Rim Trail, with Bear Valley beyond

Beyond is a downhill section that hugs the rim of Bear Gulch Canyon, followed by a spur right to the top of the Discovery Wall pitch at the one-mile mark. Stay left, descending further and passing a toadstool-shaped rock on the right. At 1.05 miles, hikers will reach a trail junction that is easy to miss; take a hard right on the High Peaks Trail, heading downhill into a side gulch. The decline picks up as hikers pass another spur on the left, this one leading back toward the cave and the base of the Discovery Wall climbing area.

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Peering down into Bear Gulch from Rim Trail

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Looking down into Bear Gulch

Round a sharp, right-hand bend into the ravine at 1.2 miles, then stay on the main trail as a spur on the left leads to the “Tourist Trap” climbers’ area. Finally, after a series of switchbacks, the High Peaks Trail enters the main gully again and connects with the initial turn on the Moses Spring Trail. Stay left and follow the well-worn path back down through the oak woodlands to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area.

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Descending to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area

Hikers should allot around 1.5-2 hours for this moderately difficult hike.

Extra credit

More ambitious hikers can combine the Bear Gulch Cave hike with the more strenuous Condor Gulch – High Peaks Trail Loop, which offers the park’s best panoramic views of the namesake pinnacles. See here for a full trail description.

Posted in California, Moderate Hikes, Pinnacles National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top 10 Hikes in 2019

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Crabtree Falls Trail, George Washington National Forest, April 2019

2019 has come and gone, and it was an excellent year for hiking. Over the course of the year, I added 43 posts to Live and Let Hike and notched nearly 150,000 site visits (81,000 visitors). As always, the travel was diverse, spanning hikes and scenic drives from 13 states (plus the District of Columbia), including California, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Due to a cross-country move, the primary focus of the blog shifted from the Washington, DC area to northern California. The move itself allowed me to visit several neat spots in western Virginia; traverse Abraham Lincoln’s old stomping grounds in Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky; hike in stunning Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming; and meander through Idaho and Nevada to the west coast. Other highlights include a Memorial Day trip through western Maryland and Pennsylvania, several great jaunts in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, day trips in the San Francisco Bay Area, and overnight visits to Pinnacles and Yosemite National Parks in California.

The top five most visited posts on Live and Let Hike in 2019 were, as usual, holdovers from previous years, mostly from hikes in Utah: (1) Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park’s “Frontcountry”; (2) Top 10 Hikes in Capitol Reef National Park’s “Backcountry”; (3) Appalachian Trail to Annapolis Rocks and Black Rock (South Mountain State Park, MD); (4) Chesler Park Loop Trail, including Joint Trail (Canyonlands National Park, UT); and (5) Capitol Reef Hiking Guide.

Of the top-viewed trails posted in 2019, however, all were concentrated in the mid-Atlantic: (1) Sharp Top Trail (Jefferson National Forest, VA); (2) Crabtree Falls and The Priest (George Washington National Forest, VA); (3) Marys Rock via Panorama (Shenandoah National Park, VA); (4) Hogback Mountain Loop (Shenandoah National Park, VA); and (5) Jonathan Run Trail and Sugar Run Falls (Ohiopyle State Park, PA).

Following the tradition of previous years, see below for a list of the top ten best hikes I completed in 2019. It was exceedingly difficult to pick this year, but the below list aims to capture a diverse set of hikes with epic views, stunning waterfalls, sharp canyons, alpine lakes, and serene woodland groves.

  1. Jonathan Run Trail and Sugar Run Falls (Ohiopyle State Park, PA)

In spring, the twin waterfalls along Jonathan Run in Pennsylvania’s Ohiopyle State Park are spectacular, forming high-volume cascades through a dense thicket of rhododendrons and deciduous woodlands. Venturing further into the Youghiogheny River Gorge, hikers can visit the secluded Sugar Run Falls, capping off a 1.8-mile one-way hike.

See my post on July 7, 2019 for a full trail description.

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Jonathan Run Trail, Ohiopyle State Park, May 2019

  1. Purisima Creek Redwoods Loop (Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, CA)

Although paling in size compared to the much-larger redwoods in California’s Muir Woods National Monument or Redwood National Park, the second-growth trees at Purisima Creek Redwoods are so dense and ubiquitous that hikers will feel enchanted nearly the whole length of this 10.5-mile circuit. Climbing above the trees also offers splendid views across the Santa Cruz Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. Easily accessible from the Bay Area.

See my post on October 12, 2019 for a full trail description.

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Purisima Creek Trail, Purisima Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, August 2019

  1. The Channels via Brumley Mountain Trail (Jefferson National Forest, VA)

Defying conventional wisdom that slot canyons exist only in the American Southwest, the area known as The Channels (or “Great Channels”) in southwest Virginia features a labyrinth of sandstone sluices tucked away near the summit of Brumley Mountain. Along the 3.25-mile journey to the slots, enjoy panoramic views of the middle Appalachians, dotted with green pastures and lush forest.

See my post on August 5, 2019 for a full trail description.

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The Channels, Jefferson National Forest, July 2019

  1. Mount Diablo via Eagle Peak and Mitchell Canyon (Mount Diablo State Park, CA)

This scenic but arduous summit hike in California’s East Bay is not for the faint of heart: the route climbs more than 3,200 feet in elevation over the course of six miles. Once atop Mount Diablo, one of the Bay Area’s highest peaks, follow a series of winding paths back down through the area’s characteristic chaparral into Mitchell Canyon, completing a 13.2-mile loop.

See my post on January 1, 2020 for a full trail description.

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Deer Flat Road, Mount Diablo State Park, September 2019

  1. Lamoille Lake via Ruby Crest Trail (Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, NV)

The Ruby Mountains in northeast Nevada may be unknown to all but residents of the Silver State, but the spectacular array of ragged peaks, alpine lakes, and glacial-carved canyons rivals the scenery of the Sierras or Rocky Mountains. This 4.4-mile out-and-back hike to Lamoille Lake offers a teaser of this amazing area, featuring high moraines and sweeping views down Lamoille Canyon.

See my post on October 12, 2019 for a full trail description.

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Ruby Crest Trail, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, August 2019

  1. Condor Gulch – High Peaks Trail Loop (Pinnacles National Park, CA)

The High Peaks Trail climbs through the heart of Pinnacles National Park in central California, exploring the maze of towering spires that serves as the habitat for a group of endangered California condors. Connecting with the Condor Gulch Trail forms a 5.1-mile loop, the best of Pinnacles, the closest national park to the San Francisco Bay Area.

See my post on January 5, 2020 for a full trail description.

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Condor Gulch Trail, Pinnacles National Park, August 2019

  1. North Dome Trail, including Indian Rock (Yosemite National Park, CA)

The North Dome Trail in Yosemite National Park offers perhaps the area’s best views of iconic Half Dome, plus a spectacular look down Yosemite Valley and Tenaya Canyon. This 10-mile out-and-back hike traverses pine woodlands and granite ridges, and a short spur leads to the park’s only named natural arch at Indian Rock.

See my post on December 31, 2019 for a full trail description.

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North Dome Trail, Yosemite National Park, September 2019

  1. Bradley Lake, Taggart Lake, and Beaver Creek Trail Loop (Grand Teton National Park, WY)

This moderately difficult, 5.8-mile circuit in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park traverses the glacial moraine at the base of some of the world’s most precipitous mountains. Bradley and Taggart Lakes offer chances to dip your feet in chilly alpine waters, while the hillsides are dotted with diverse flora and fauna.

See my post on September 2, 2019 for a full trail description.

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Bradley Lake, Grand Teton National Park, August 2019

  1. Death Canyon Trail to Patrol Cabin (Grand Teton National Park, CA)

The inviting meadows and charming cascades of the Death Canyon Trail belie this hike’s foreboding name, although the steep climb into the Teton Range makes for a strenuous outing. Features include terrific views of Phelps Lake, seasonal waterfalls, the rushing waters of Death Canyon Creek, and an old patrol cabin that serves as a turnaround point for this 7.8-mile out-and-back hike.

See my post on August 28, 2019 for a full trail description.

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Death Canyon Trail, Grand Teton National Park, August 2019

  1. Crabtree Falls and The Priest (George Washington National Forest, VA)

It often takes something unusually special on the eastern seaboard to match the beauty of hiking in California or the Mountain West. Virginia’s Crabtree Falls, however, which is the highest set of cascades east of the Mississippi, is that special. This 9.6-mile out-and-back hike follows the seemingly endless flow of high-volume falls for nearly two miles before climbing to an excellent vista of the Blue Ridge Mountains at The Priest.

See my post on May 29, 2019 for a full trail description.

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The Priest, George Washington National Forest, April 2019

Honorable Mention:

Posted in California, East Bay, George Washington National Forest, Grand Teton National Park, Jefferson National Forest, Moderate Hikes, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Pinnacles National Park, Santa Cruz Mountains, Strenuous Hikes, Virginia, Wyoming, Yosemite National Park | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment