Tag Archives: waterfall

Golden Gate Park San Francisco

~K~

After a decidedly wet winter here in the California Bay Area, we decided to take advantage of a nice sunny day by going to Golden Gate Park. While we’d been to San Francisco several times previously, we had never actually been to GGP.

One reason that we had not been to the park before, was because of parking. Parking in San Francisco is not cheap, and it can be an absolute pain to find a spot. Many parking spots can range from $10 – $20 an hour and as such we make a point to not do that – we’ll take BART or find some free way to do it if we can.

On this outing, we elected to park in one of the few free places that we’re aware of – Land’s End. The Land’s End area is on the west side of the Peninsula with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin across the bay. It is a little removed from the Presidio which is connected directly south of the GGB. Land’s End is also a great access to the Sutro Baths, Sutro Heights, and Ocean Beach.

Lands End from the Parking Lot
Sutro Baths

By parking at Land’s End, we got a great view of the ocean and cliffs as we walked down Point Lobos Ave, along Ocean Beach, finally arriving at the west entrance to Golden Gate Park after about a mile.

Rock Outcropping

The wind that whipped up from the beach was pretty substantial and occasionally blew a little sand in our face, but it wasn’t a big deal. In all honesty, the beach looked pretty nice, with large flat expanses of sand for whatever you would want – playing sports, playing with pets, laying out, cycling, swimming, surfing – it was all there.

Ocean Beach

But that was not our destination. We turned into the park at John F Kennedy Dr with our first waypoint being the Dutch windmill. It’s pretty iconic, and difficult miss as it stands above the surrounding trees.

Windmill from the Beach
Kyle near the Dutch Windmill

At this point, we needed to use the bathroom, and thankfully, there are public restrooms throughout the park. We chose to go to the closest to us, which were at the Chalet Soccer Fields.

View of Windmill from soccer fields

Golden Gate Park is a large park developed in 1871, organized in a similar manner to New York’s Central Park – a long rectangular park. In comparison to Central Park, Golden Gate Park is 20% bigger at a measurement of 0.5 miles by 3 miles.

Purple flowers

After our quick restroom break, we continued on to our next destination which was the Bison Paddock. Golden Gate Park has kept Bison in the park since 1891, and at one point housed over 100 Bison. Today, the number is far lower at 5, but that makes the animals and their size no less magnificient. It stands as a testemant to the beauty of the west and American heritage.

Bison in Golden Gate Park

After a relaxed photo shoot of the bison, we proceeded on towards Strawberry Hill, where we planned to ultimately end our day’s excursion. But that was actually quite a ways away from our current position. As such we made multiple stops along the way.

Horse Tours
Dog Park in Golden Gate Park

The first of these stops was at Spreckles Lake. The lake was quite lively, with plenty of people and wildlife enjoying the lake. We even got to see a few impromptu boat (miniature) races. It was very reminsent of Lumphini Park in Bangkok.

Bri at Spreckles Lake
Seagull with a Muffin

Continuing on from Spreckles Lake, we walked along John F Kennedy Dr coming upon Lindley Meadow. It appeared that there was some sort of a Yoga event that was being set up for here. We could see some people practicing AcroYoga in various areas, booths selling natural products, and other such items.

Wanderlust Yoga Festival
Aerial Yoga set up

We didn’t make a stop at Lindley Meadow, but did take a break upon arriving at East Meadow. By this point, we’d walked several miles and were needing a break. It would have seemed that a whole host of families had thought the same thing, and the East Meadow was filled with families enjoying the day. It does make for a nice picnic spot.

Briana in the Forest Trail

After resting for roughly twenty minutes, we made the final push towards Strawberry Hill. Our (my) main interest here, was a waterfall. After passing under the Park Presidio Blvd, we made a quick cut through a forest path before arriving at the Stow Lake Boathouse. Here you can rent paddle boats for Stow Lake, which a small lake that surrounds Strawberry Hill. Strawberry Hill is by extension, an island. But that is no worry, because there is a bridge to get you across. Multiple trails meander around Strawberry hill, with a few culminating at the very top.

Stow Lake Boats
Bri on Strawberry Hill Bridge
Forest Trail Stairs

We were a little less interested in climbing the hill, so we put a focus on seeing the waterfall which is on the east side of the island. We enjoyed the falls for a few minutes before calling it a day and beginning our several mile walk back to the car.

Strawberry Hill Waterfall
Strawberry Hill Waterfall

Our trip was pretty simple, but it should be duly noted that there is a tremendous amount to see and do while at Golden Gate Park. The park offers multiple days worth of activities and ultimately can’t be seen in one day.

Conservatory

Carousel

Botanical Garden

Hippie Hill

National AIDS Memorial Grove

Shakespeare Garden

Kezar Stadium

Polo Field

Archery Range

Golden Gate Nursery

De Young Museum

Academy of Sciences

Japanese Tea Garden

Turtles in Stow Lake
Duck and ducklings near Strawberry Hill
Black Bird On A Log
Goose In Golden Gate Park
Robin with worms

Bear Gulch Reservoir Hidden behind Mountain at Pinnacles National Park California from the High Peaks Trail

Pinnacles National Park California

~K~

We’ve visited Pinnacles National Park previously about two years ago, but this time around we decided to take a slightly different route through Bear Gulch cave and then up to the High Peaks pass. Pinnacles is just under a two hours drive south of San Jose and makes for a great day trip, and we’d been itching to go since we arrived back in California.

Rock formation at Trailhead

The park itself offers more than 16,000 acres of dramatic spines of rock and and fallen boulders. And this time of year is a great time to visit because the weather compliments the location pretty well. In the summer it can get hot and the sun brutal. But spring is great because the recent rains have turned the landscape green and vibrant with wildflowers and the temperature allows for a comfortable climb.

Creek In Pinnacles National Park

We arrived at a seemingly inopportune time; as this is the best time of year to visit, the park can get crowded pretty quick, and with us arriving at noon we had to wait about fifteen minutes before we could get parking, but that was about our only set back.

We parked near the trailhead for Bear Gulch and began making our way towards our first destination – Bear Gulch caves. The path gently rose, through the well shaded riparian forest and rising monoliths of stone.

Rock Formation near trail head
Path to Bear Gulch

We could see numerous rock climbers taking advantage of the excellent climbing conditions here as we approached the cave. Just before entering the cave, we could feel a strong cool breeze blowing out from the entrance. The breeze was refreshing, but quite decidedly chilly.

Rock Climbers near Bear Gulch at Pinnacles National Park
Tunnel on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Passage on the way to Bear Gulch Cave
Entering Bear Gulch

The caves themselves are Talus caves, formed from rock falls in valleys and canyons, where the falling boulders would become wedged in the narrow spaces and form the roof and interior layout of the caves.

Talus Rock Roof Inside Bear Gulch Cave

Bear Gulch cave was a little bit larger than Balconies Cave (which we had previously visited) and was a little more challenging to get through as well. We enjoyed the challenge though. The primary obstacle was the water, as a small stream flowed through the cave and many times the stream crossed the path or even was the path.

flooded path in Bear Gulch Cave
Part of the path inside Bear Gulch is the River itself

Numerous waterfalls were inside the cave as we proceeded through the roughly half mile cave, and we steadily climbed up the rocks. The passages were quite narrow and ceilings low, so scrambling on rocks and wedging into tight spaces was a must. The most difficult part (for me at least) was getting through a small passage that could only have been maybe 3 feet high at the max and shimmying up a stepped waterfall.

Waterfall inside Bear Gulch Cave
Pool inside Bear Gulch Cave
Light from above in Bear Gulch Cave

After about thirty minutes we emerged from the cave, miraculously completely dry, although I suffered a few bumps on the head from the low ceilings. The caves are home to Townsend’s big-eared bats, and are closed throughout the year to allow them to raise pups in peace. Due to the narrow nature of the caves, they can also close due to rain.

Exiting Bear Gulch Cave

Upon exiting the cave, we came to Bear Gulch reservoir. The reservoir is a nice lake, home to the endangered red-legged frog. While we could have stayed here for a while, as others were, we knew that we still had a long hike to go and only so much daylight, so we proceeded on up the path towards High Peaks.

Bear Gulch Reservoir

The rocky trail winds its up way steadily up for several miles, passing through meadow, sparse woods, and ridge line. The floor falls away pretty quickly as you climb and you can begin to see the surrounding landscape.

Rising Above Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles National Park was originally established in 1908 by President Roosevelt as a National Monument and later converted into a national park in 2013 by President Obama. Pinnacles sits squarely atop the San Andreas fault, and as such the park and surrounding areas have been dramatically shaped by the seismic activities. The dramatic formations of the park are part of what remains of the Neenach Volcano, which erupted 23 million years ago, down near Lancaster. The fault has since moved the roughly half the rock 195 miles north to it’s present day location in the Salinas Valley.

Rock Stack on way to High Peaks

After an hour or so, we began to near the High Peaks area. The spires of stone stand with a dramatic hue of orange and red against the green hills. Within another thirty minutes or so, we finally made it to the “top”.

Approaching the High Peaks
Climbing towards High Peaks

This isn’t really the top of the mountain, rather it’s a convergence of several trails at a scenic overlook. Here, you can often see falcons and other birds going about their business. We had stopped here our previous time for lunch, but had to run down the canyon due to an abrupt lightning and hail storm. This time however, the skies were completely clear.

From this point, where you’ll also find a restroom if you should need it, you can proceed multiple ways. Our direction was through the High Peaks trail, which follows the ridge line of the mountain.

The hike through here is a lot of quick up and down, climbing very steep and narrow stairs. There are also several tight walkways to maneuver. Luckily, the park has installed railings to assist you through here.

More Stairs at Pinnacles National Park
Steep stairs at High Peaks Pass

You can also find tons of multi-colored lichen and slime molds on the rocks throughout the park.

Lichen at Pinnacles National Park

As we were finishing our way through the High Peaks area, we came a stunning view of the resident Californian Condor. Brought back from the brink of extinction, all the birds present are descended from the original 27 birds that were left on earth. The breeding program has been a huge success and brought their numbers up now to 435. Pinnacles serves as a release site for the Condors and if you look closely, you can even see the tag numbers and find out who they are.

Narrow Paths in the High Peaks Paths
California Condor

Most of the Condors were a little too far away from us to get a real good look at, but there was one in a tree near the trail that decided to pose well for us. The tag reads 00. This Condor was laid in the wild, and hatched (under care of researchers) in April 2015. You can find more information about the specific Condors here.

California Condor Landing on a Tree
California Condor No. 800 at Pinnacles National Park

After spending probably twenty minutes watching the Condors (if not more), we steadily made our way towards the Condor Gulch trail. By this time, the sun was starting to get low, being that it was already nearly 6, so we knew we needed to pick up the pace to get down the mountain and make it back to the car before sun down.

Along this route, we encountered the numerous wildflowers present along the trail. There are also numerous bees in the area, due to the flowers. In fact, Pinnacles hosts the highest density of bee species in the world with 400 different species. Most of them are solitary bees though, not hive-dwelling, so you don’t need to worry about being stung.

wild flowers at pinnacles national park
wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
Wild flowers at Pinnacles National Park
I call them Bee Bonnets

Condor gulch made for a nice walk down as the sun set and the temperature began to drop. The flowers, fresh air, and gurgling streams made for a nice end to a pretty strenuous walk. We were pretty happy for the route we chose as well, because I don’t think we would have been quite as up for traversing the caves at this late a point in the day.

Finally we got to the car, as the Condor Gulch trail put us out right at the parking lot that we had left roughly 6 hours previously. Tired, but happy, we started our long drive back to San Jose.

If you plan on visiting Pinnacles, you should keep in mind that there are two entrances to the park. SR 146 approaches from both the east and west, but it is not a through road, and takes about two hours to get drive from one entrance to the other, so make sure you enter where you want to. We entered from the eastern side, which is just a little south of Hollister; whereas the western entrance is just east of Salinas.

west parking lot viewed from High Peaks trail at Pinnacles National Park

Both entrances are good locations with full access to the park, though the western entrance will put you closer to Balconies cave, while the east entrance puts you nearer Bear Gulch cave. As well, you make sure you bring enough water, especially in the summer. If on a relatively cool day in spring such as our visit, we went through six bottles of water and could (should) have drunk more.

Regardless, Pinnacles National Park is an excellent spot to visit for hiking, camping, or even night hikes.

National Park Service Website

 

Sunset near Hollister California

If you want to camp at Pinnacles National Park, you absolutely can. There is a campground, but only on the eastern side of the park, so you must approach from Hollister, not Salinas. The campground has 134 sites, so you shouldn’t have too much difficulty getting a place, but it may fill up during the spring season which is the ideal time to go. You can camp all year, but you may want to be wary about the summer and early fall as it can be extremely hot. In any case, you’ll most likely want to get a shaded camping spot if possible. There is a camp store that is well stocked for what it is, but you should still pack carefully as the closest supermarket is in Hollister, 32 miles away. There are also showers and flush toilets on site for you to use.

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California USA Pinnacles National Park

View of Pinnacles National Park California