Balconies Cave and Cliffs Loop

A main attraction of Pinnacles National Park is the Balconies Cave––a cool passageway beneath giant boulders jumbled in a deep canyon.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
4.2 km
Ascent
108 m
Descent
108 m
Duration
1-2 hrs
Low Point
371 m
High Point
448 m
Gradient
Balconies Cave and Cliffs Loop Map

The Balconies Cave is a special kind of cavern called a talus cave, which is formed when huge rocks tumble and fill in a canyon. The spaces inside are actually the gaps between resting boulders, and the passages have been further shaped by water and sediment flowing through. While exploring the caves, you’ll notice stones of all shapes and sizes, some of which have dislodged from cliffs above while others have been washed in by floods. For this hike you’ll need sturdy shoes, a flashlight or headlamp, and ample water plus sun protection for hiking in the heat. During the warmer months it’s best to get an early start.

Description

The trail to Balconies Cave starts by following a sandy trail up a dry valley. There are some trees but most of the way is exposed to the sun. Soon enough you’ll see the pointed tops of rock pinnacles ahead, then the trail takes you right into them, through a steep-sided canyon where trees and brush thicken. You’ll continue on, ducking under branches and weaving among boulders, until reaching a trail junction. Here you’ll choose how you want to make the loop––with the cliffs trail or cave trail first.

The cliffs trail climbs above the boulder-choked gorge for views of vertical rock walls above. From this high vantage you’ll also appreciate the lushness of the canyon compared to the surrounding desert. On a hot day, however, it may be best to skip the sunny cliffs trail and stay in the cool air of the cave instead.

The cave is an end-to-end passage with a trail constructed through it, but it’s rough in places and requires some scrambling. A headlamp is recommended over a flashlight so your hands can be free. Inside you’ll find a playground of boulders in a theater of light and shadow. You’ll crawl into shadowy corridors and squeeze through twisting narrows, but also walk through skylit chambers where sunlight filters through. Though the distance is short, you may want to linger and enjoy the humid coolness of the cave. There are nooks and crannies which are tempting to explorer, but it’s important to stay on the path so as not to disturb bats and other creatures that live here. Note also that the cave is gated at either end, and the park will close it when there’s risk of flash floods or other dangers. You can check the status on the park’s website or at the visitor center before you go.

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/pinn/planyourvisit/trails.htm https://www.hikespeak.com/trails/balconies-cave-pinnacles-national-park/

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly
  • Forestry or heavy vegetation

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area