Amazing day hike to swimming holes in the Stanislaus National Forest featuring a lake, river, and waterfall.

This 6+ mile hike is located at Pinecrest Lake in the Stanislaus National Forest located in Tuolumne County and features a lake, river, forest, waterfall, and swimming hole. It is accessible year-round,  in winter there will be snow, and the hike is dog friendly except between May 15th-September 15th.

Start by parking at the Pinecrest Lake Marina (Pinecrest is a popular camping area and day trip for those wanting to escape the heat from the central valley so it's best to arrive early -camping is allowed April-October.) 

You will start on the Pinecrest Lake Trailhead which is a relatively easy hike that follows the lake and even passes a dam. The lake is known for the relatively easy to catch Rainbow Trout so if you don't mind hiking with a fishing pole ,you should bring it. The lake water isn't too cold and perfect for a quick swim if you start getting warm. You will cross a footbridge that takes you over the South Fork of the Stanislaus River that feeds the lake and after you will find the trail to Cleo's Bath. The trail head can be hard to spot so I recommend using GPS ( 38° 12' 27"N 119° 57' 08"W ) or the AllTrails app to follow their map for this hike. You will follow the river through forest and large granite slabs with the occasional blue spray painted arrow on rocks directing you until you literally hit a headwall of granite. At this point you must rock scramble your way to the top (.5 mile.) It is strenuous and some people are uncomfortable with the rock climbing but I have seen people of all ages and sizes make it to the top.  

Once you make it up you will see a waterfall and the first pool but you can follow the river up to other pools and even another lake (Waterhouse Lake). There are large granite slabs everywhere that are easy to access and perfect for sunbathing and views of the canyon below to the lake.

The water will be cold in spring and early summer since it will be snow melt and after all the winter rain storms the water may be rushing so BE SMART!  

You exit the way you came out and follow the Pinecrest Lake Trail back to the parking lot. If you aren't up for the climb to Cleo's Bath you can stay on the Pinecrest Lake Trail, it's a 4 mile loop.
The trial claims to be 6.5 miles round trip, but I have clocked it in at 9 and up to 11 depending how far you follow the river at Cleo's Bath. 

There is a convenient store near the parking lot wich I recommend you stop in to grab a beer from a local brewery  (Dust Bowl or Snowshoe Brew Co ) to enjoy when you get to the pools!

Pack List

  • Water (more than one bottle)
  • Daypack
  • Food
  • Swimsuit
  • Bug Spray
  • Sunblock
  • Hiking shoes
  • Camera
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RT Distance 6.5 Miles
Elevation Gain 1263 Feet
Activities Chillin, Camping, Fishing, Hiking
Skill Level Intermediate
Season Spring, Summer, Autumn
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Lake
River
Waterfall
Wildflowers
Swimming Hole

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Raging Spring Waters

The snowpack was good this year, so the stream was flowing hard and fast. It made for some epic waterfall photos. The trail itself is really fun to hike. It basically has three parts. The first was a nice walk around the lake past all the cabins I wish I lived in. The second followed the stream up the canyon. The last part was a scrambly finish to the bath. My Strava clocked it at 8 miles with a few little side trips off trail. Absolutely amazing hike. Will do again.

Conditionally great!

I've done this hike a couple of times! It should be especially great during the summer. The last couple of years it has been kind of lackluster because the lack of a snow pack due to the drought means that there is no water. Really great and refreshing in the summer. Not often a lot of shade, so bring sunscreen and plenty of water!


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