Self-Guided Hikes in and around Pinecrest

There are many beautiful routes right in our backyard! Check out some of our favorite half- and full-day hikes below, and plan your trip to the Lair and Pinecrest Chalet today. Pinecrest Chalet’s lobby also has a very detailed hiking guide that includes topographical maps, if you’d like more information.

Half-Day Hikes

Pinecrest Lake

4 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 5,600 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 5,700 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead: The lake is an easy walk down Meadowview Rd and through Pinecrest Campground. To drive, turn right onto Pinecrest Lake Dr and continue to the lake. Park in the large day use recreation area on the lake. Approx. 5-minute drive.

Trail Notes: This is a pleasant hike following the shore of Pinecrest Lake. It is suitable for most age groups and has many nice picnic spots and swimming areas. The trail is well marked and often crowded. A moderate hike—more difficult than it seems.

Cleo’s Bath

4–5 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 5,600 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 6,160 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead: Pinecrest Lake is an easy walk down Meadowview Rd through Pinecrest Campground. To drive, turn right onto Pinecrest Lake Dr and continue to the lake. Park at the end of the road near the Pinecrest Lake Trailhead. Approx. 5-minute drive.

Trail Notes: : Start by hiking counterclockwise around Pinecrest Lake. Before reaching the inlet, where the Pinecrest Lake Trail crosses the South Fork of the Stanislaus River on a large footbridge, take a right at a small iron trail marker pointing toward Cleo’s Bath. The trail follows the river through meadows and mixed conifer forest until it approaches a large falls. From here the route is sketchy and involves non-technical rock scrambling. Carefully follow trail ducks and painted orange arrows. The destination soon is on the left, after an ascent of about 300 ft. A series of pools formed by large granite formations provide a spectacular setting for swimming and relaxation. This is a classic Lair hike.

Camp and Bear Lakes

4–6 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 7,200 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 7,700 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead: Turn right onto Dodge Ridge Rd. Upon seeing the large sign for Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, take another right onto Dodge Ridge Loop. Turn left onto Crabtree Road. From Aspen Meadow Pack Station, the road continues unpaved for about 3 miles to a junction. Turn right, following signs for Crabtree Trailhead. Drive for one mile to the well-marked trailhead and parking area. Approx. 25-minute drive.

Trail Notes: From the trailhead, cross the footbridge and soon take a right, following the sign to Camp Lake. A mile down the trail, take a left at another marked fork. Scenic Camp Lake is one more mile down the trail; a quick climb up the ridge on the south shore of the lake provides a panoramic view of Pine Valley. Continue one mile further, taking a left fork soon after Camp Lake, to Bear Lake. These trails are well marked and well traveled by backpackers entering the Emigrant Wilderness.

Powell Lake

4 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 8,560 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 9,200 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead: Turn right onto Dodge Ridge Rd. Upon seeing the large sign for the Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, take another right onto Dodge Ridge Loop. Turn left onto Crabtree Road. Eventually the road becomes unpaved and rocky. Follow it all the way to the end, which is the Gianelli’s Cabin Trailhead. Approx. 35-minute drive.

Trail Notes: Follow the Burst Rock Trail 1 mile through red fir/lodge pole pine forest up a long switchback. Enjoy the spectacular view from Burst Rock. Hike 3/4 mile further. Powell Lake is hidden from view 200 yards to the left of the trail. Welcome to a special alpine playground.

Waterhouse and Adele Lakes

5 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 7,447 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 8,200 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Take a right onto Hwy 108 toward Strawberry. Go 2.5 miles past Strawberry and take a right onto Herring Creek Rd (Forest Service 4N12). Following signs for Pinecrest Peak, drive past the undeveloped Herring Creek Campground and 2 more miles to Forest Service 5N31. Turn right onto 5N31 and drive approximately 0.5 mile to a large meadow on the right side of the road. At the far end of the meadow is a junction where you can find parking and the trailhead to the left. Approx. 40-minute drive.

Trail Notes: Follow the path through splendid meadows and red fir forest. Soon the trail descends into the canyon of the South Fork of the Stanislaus River. The steep descent over large slabs of granite is tricky. Trail markings are scattered and sometimes hard to find. When in doubt, aim for the tributary creek near the bottom of the canyon. This is the outlet to Waterhouse Lake; follow it upstream and then walk around the lake to the right. Follow the inlet on the opposite side for less than half a mile and then take a right and climb up a granite hillside to find Adele Lake, a place of serene solitude.

Full-Day Hikes

Chewing Gum Lake

8 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 8,560 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 9,200 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead: Turn right onto Dodge Ridge Rd. Upon seeing the large sign for the Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, take another right onto Dodge Ridge Loop. Turn left onto Crabtree Road. Eventually the road becomes unpaved and rocky. Follow it all the way to the end, which is the Gianelli’s Cabin Trailhead. Approx. 35-minute drive.

Trail Notes: Follow the Burst Rock Trail about 1 mile through red fir/lodge pole pine forest and up a long switchback. Enjoy the spectacular view from Burst Rock. Continue hiking and pass Powell Lake (see Half Day Hikes). Another mile further is a fork in the trail. Turn off the Burst Rock Trail to the right and descend into the valley of Chewing Gum Lake. This hike affords the riches of high altitude scenery and great picnic spots.

Granite Lake

10 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 7,200 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 8,800 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Turn right onto Dodge Ridge Rd. Upon seeing the large sign for the Dodge Ridge Ski Resort, take another right onto Dodge Ridge Loop. Turn left onto Crabtree Road. From Aspen Meadow Pack Station, the road continues unpaved for about three miles to a junction. Turn right, following signs for Crabtree Trailhead. Drive for 1 mile to the well-marked trailhead and parking area. Approx. 25-minute drive.

Trail Notes: From the trailhead, cross the footbridge and soon take a right, following the sign to Camp Lake. A mile down the trail, take a left at another marked fork. Scenic Camp Lake is one more mile down the trail. A quick climb up the ridge on the south shore of the lake provides a panoramic view of Pine Valley. Continue one mile further, taking a left fork soon after Camp Lake, to Baer Lake. These trails are well marked and well traveled by backpackers entering the Emigrant Wilderness. Hike around Bear Lake to the left and leave well-marked, official trails. A compass, map, clever navigation, and about 1.5 miles of difficult off-trail hiking are required to find pristine Granite Lake. The lake is clear and deep with a dramatic granite shoreline that provides plenty of spots for jumping into the water or sitting back to relax. Leave by the same route or make a very difficult connection with the Chewing Gum Lake Trailhead to the northwest, which also leads back to Crabtree Trailhead. Both ways this hike is a long haul with challenging and exciting terrain. It is quite difficult but well worth the effort and will likely take longer than the average all-day hike.

Boulder Lake

8 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 6,400 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 8,200 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Take a right onto Hwy 108. 18 miles past Strawberry, take a left at Clark Fork. Cross two bridges and continue for a while to the Clark Fork Trailhead at the end of this road. Approx. 53-minute drive.

Trail Notes: Hike along the Clark Fork Trail for about 2.7 miles and then take a left onto the Boulder Lake Trail. Here the trail climbs steeply to swampy Boulder Lake. The last half-mile is sketchy, so navigate carefully.

Relief Reservoir

8 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 6,300 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 7,500 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Take a right onto Hwy 108. The Trailhead is at Kennedy Meadows Resort, which is on the right, past Dardanelle but before Chipmunk Flat campground. Park near the saloon. Approx. 50-minute drive.

Trail Notes: From the resort hike south on the dirt road, which follows the wide Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. After a mile the dirt road narrows into a primary trail—well-traveled by horses and pack animals. Unfortunately hikers are often swallowing dust on the popular route into the Emigrant Basin. Cross two bridges and enjoy the raging waters of the upper Stanislaus before going right where the Kennedy Creek Trail forks off to the left. Arrive at Relief Reservoir and choose a spot to relax in the cool water of this sizable dammed canyon. There is a very nice cove across the dam and a little way south along the western shore. It is ideal for having lunch, a refreshing swim, and taking in the view of snowy peaks to the southeast.

Leavitt Peak via Blue Canyon

7 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 8,960 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 11,571 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Drive east on Hwy 108 towards Sonora Pass. The Blue Canyon Trailhead is completely unmarked; there is no sign or parking lot. It is about two miles past the Chipmunk Flat campground. Drive past three close, sharp curves, and then look for the confluence of Blue Canyon Creek with Deadman Creek on the right side of the road. Park in a small flat area on the left side of the road. The obscure trail begins a little farther up on the right side of the road. Approx. 55-minute drive.

Trail Notes:Blue Canyon is fabulous. Wait until late July when the snow has subsided and flowers begin to avalanche. The beginning of the trail is rather obscure. Hike down a steep bank from the highway to Deadman Creek. Cross carefully and ascend the steep hillside on the opposite bank to a small grove of trees. Hike cautiously over loose rocks and stream crossings 2 miles up Blue Canyon to aptly named Blue Canyon Lake. Take in the pristine beauty of this deep blue pocket of water at the foot of a steep glacier-covered bowl. Bring a good map, compass, and experienced navigational skills to get from here to the top of Leavitt Peak, passing equally beautiful Deadman Lake along the way. Leavitt Peak is the highest peak in the Sonora Pass region and to reach its summit is a worthy feat. This hike is not intended for those with poor balance or inability to face the fear of heights.

Sword and Lost Lakes

6 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 6,800 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 7,600 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Take a right onto Hwy 108. 18 miles past Strawberry, take a left at Clark Fork. Cross two bridges and take an immediate left onto a windy, rough dirt road that ends at the County Line Trailhead. Approx. 55-minute drive.

Trail Notes:This is a primary trail, maintained and easy to follow. A landslide during the winter of 1997 wiped out a good portion of the trail, in spectacular evidence of the process of natural change. Sword Lake is visible first, and Lost Lake is just over the next ridge. A series of smaller ponds dot the landscape, providing wonderful wildlife viewing. This is a relatively easy all-day hike that emphasizes quality time at the beautiful destination.

The Dardanelles Scenic Loop

9 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 7,200 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 8,200 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Take a right onto Hwy 108. 18 miles past Strawberry take a left at Clark Fork. Cross two bridges and take an immediate left onto a winding, rough dirt road that ends at the County Line Trailhead. Approx. 55-minute drive.

Trail Notes:Start on the trail toward Sword Lake. Climb a hill then descend into a meadow of corn lilies. The obscure, unmaintained Dardanelles Scenic Loop trail forks off to the right in the middle of this meadow. The trail is hard to follow, but basically follows the contour of the hillside at the base of a volcanic rock formation called the Dardanelles. At the midpoint of this clockwise loop, the trail reaches its highest elevation crossing a saddle. This is an excellent spot for lunch, with a spectacular view of Dardanelles Cone. Continue on by descending to the McCormick trail, which leads back to the County Line Trailhead. This is a good hike off the beaten path.

Disaster Creek/Paradise Valley

8 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 6,480 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 9,000 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Take a right onto Hwy 108. 18 miles past Strawberry, take a left at Clark Fork. Cross two bridges and continue for a while to the Disaster Creek Trailhead near the end of this road. Approx. 55-minute drive.

Trail Notes:The well-built trail winds steeply uphill between Disaster Creek and an enormous rock called The Iceberg. It flattens out a bit through some flowery meadows. Adam’s Camp, a nice spot for lunch, is where two secondary trails fork off from the main trail and a tributary runs into Disaster Creek Take the second auxiliary trail to the right up into Paradise Valley. The rocky slopes of this valley provide excellent views of Disaster Peak to the southeast and Lightning Mountain to the southwest.

Leavitt Peak via Pacific Crest

10–11 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 8,960 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 11,571 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:See the directions above for Blue Canyon and park a shuttle vehicle near the Blue Canyon Trailhead. Drive to the very top of the Sonora Pass and park in the lot there. Approx. 60-minute drive.

Trail Notes:Hike the Pacific Crest Trail south from the pass for a few miles up switchbacks and over high ridges. As the trail crosses a distinct saddle a valley of lakes suddenly appears to the south. These include Latopie, Koenig, and Leavitt lakes. Continue to hike south and consult a good map and compass to find the ridgeline route up to the summit of Leavitt Peak. Enjoy spectacular panoramic views from the highest peak in the Sonora Pass region. See the trail notes above to complete this hike via Blue Canyon. This is a very difficult hike with long mileage and significant elevation gain. It involves scrambling up loose, rocky ridges, sometimes on the edge of nearly vertical slopes. More time than is allotted for most all day hikes is probably needed to complete this epic adventure.

Sonora Peak

9–10 mile hike
Minimum Elevation: 9,427 ft.
Maximum Elevation: 11,459 ft.

Directions to the Trailhead:Drive east on Hwy 108 about thirty miles to the Saint Mary’s Pass Trailhead, which is on the left—the Trailhead is less than a mile west of the Sonora Pass Summit. Approx. 60-minute drive.

Trail Notes:Start with a good climb, which increases in steepness until the saddle of Saint Mary’s Pass, which is 1000 ft. higher than the trailhead. From here leave the Saint Mary’s Pass Trail and head east on the faintly visible path towards Sonora Peak. Ascend the gradual hillside and head north across a relatively flat area dotted by snow and sparse vegetation. Aim for the northwestern ridge of Sonora Peak and then scale the mountain’s rocky back to the spectacular 11459 ft. peak. Be sure to sign the register and take in the bird’s eye view of the rugged eastern central Sierra Nevada. Stanislaus Peak is visible to the northwest and fabled Leavitt Peak is almost due south and only 110 ft. higher. Minding the contour lines on the topographic, head east down from the peak toward Wolf Creek Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail. This is the trickiest part of the hike and may involve glacier traversing and intermediate boot skiing. Late July and August are the best times to attempt this route. Hike the PCT south to Sonora Pass, reveling in the glory of majestic rock formations and colorful wildflower bouquets. It is possible to cut a shortcut and traverse cross-country back to the Saint Mary’s Pass Trailhead, although it is simpler to hike all the way down to Sonora Pass summit and then along 108 back to the car. A favorite among hiking directors, this is a magnificent loop hike meant for the serious hiker. Although it requires scrambling up steep rocky slopes and dangerous snow traversing, this hike is an easier route to fantastic panoramic views than the climb to Leavitt Peak. This is a long, demanding hike that may require more time than the average all day hike.


Health & Safety Tips

From the American Red Cross: If you have any medical conditions, discuss your plans with your health care provider and get approval before departing. Make sure you have the skills you need for your hiking adventure. You may need to know how to read a compass, erect a temporary shelter or give first aid. Practice your skills in advance. It’s safest to hike or camp with at least one companion. If you’ll be hiking in a remote area, your group should have a minimum of four people; this way, if one is hurt, another can stay with the victim while two go for help. If you’ll be hiking in an area that is unfamiliar to you, take along someone who knows the area or at least speak with those who do before you set out. Pack emergency signaling devices, and know ahead of time the location of the nearest telephone or ranger station in case an emergency does occur on your hike. Leave a copy of your itinerary with a responsible person. Include such details as the make, year, and license plate of your car, the equipment you’re bringing, and when you plan to return.

The Summit District Ranger Station is located at the comer of Pinecrest Lake Rd and Highway 108. Contact them at (209) 965-3434.