When the weather warms up, you and your family may be itching to spend lots of time outside. There are plenty of canyons, meadows, and ridges to explore in Pinecrest, California. This small, friendly community is only 30 miles east of the city of Sonora in Tuolomne County, which makes it a favorite getaway destination for families. Choose from one of the many gorgeous Pinecrest vacation rentals tucked away in the forest to truly connect with nature. That said, here are several phenomenal hikes for families with kids in Pinecrest, California.
1. Cleo’s Bath Trail
This 6.5 mile loop trail is our favorite for a few reasons. It’s accessible year-round, features a waterfall, and offers a number of outdoor activities. Start by winding through the forest with rocky switchbacks, then follow the blue arrows up the rocks to reach Cleo’s Bath. The last climb can be a bit tough, but it’s well worth reaching the river, wading pool, and waterfall area. Plus, the kids will love doing a little “rock climbing.”
2. Pinecrest Lake Loop Trail
Pinecrest Lake Loop Trail is a 3.7 mile loop trail around the lake that’s good for everyone in the family, including pups! The trail is slightly uneven with a few ups and downs but relatively easy meaning that young kids will have no problem navigating the terrain. The views are great and there’s a bathroom located about halfway down the trail which is perfect for mid-way pit stops. At a casual pace, you can expect the the trail to take 2-3 hours, but there are plenty of great places to stop for lunch or cool off with a swim.
3. Crabtree Trail
Another trail that’s dog-friendly! Crabtree is 8.7 miles and considered moderate, so it’s best for families with older children. It’s great for hiking, trail, running, and backpacking, and is the quickest way into the Emigrant Wilderness if you want to extend your hike into a camping trip. A word to the wise: don’t take the same trail back as you’ll be climbing nearly 500 feet in less than a mile. There’s a much easier route back if you keep heading towards the Pine Valley Horse Camp.
4. Emigrant Wilderness Loop Trail
This trail is difficult, but if you and your family (including Fido) love the great outdoors and are up for a challenge, this trail is definitely the one for you. There are plenty of opportunities to camp off the main path, so don’t let this 19.5 mile loop intimidate you. Lock up your vacation rental, bring your gear, and explore for the entire weekend! Gem and Jewelry Lakes are the most popular stops, but there are many other Lakes and unnamed ponds that are so beautiful you can’t help but jump right in.
5. Inyo Craters Trail
There are actually two trails from the parking area that connect you to three volcanic craters. These craters were formed by a series of violent steam-blast eruptions about six hundred years ago, and two out of the three are 200 feet deep with small, turquoise lakes glistening in the center. The short hike to the first two craters is great for the entire family, even young kids. Once you make it to the first crater, step down to the observation area to really soak in the views, then, continue the slight climb up to the second crater. Finally, retrace your steps back to the parking lot.
6. Pinecrest Peak Trail
Your family will love the views and fresh mountain air along Pinecrest Peak Trail. There are a couple of different options for hiking PCP. The short version is just over 4 miles and begins just off Herring Creek Road. We recommend spending the day exploring and hiking the 11 mile loops that begins near Pinecrest Lake. Wake up early, pack a few sandwiches, and don’t forget a camera too because the the trail offers some of the most incredible views outside of Yosemite! The trail is also popular for downhill mountain biking so be aware when hiking down.
7. Kennedy Lake Trail
Kennedy Lake Trail is great because it’s not only open to dogs but it’s also great for fishing and horseback riding making it a fun place to spend a night or two. Start off at Kennedy Meadows Resort. The first couple of miles can be a little tough but the rest of the trail is fairly easy going. There campsites along the way, but the perfect place to stop is halfway between the Sharon Lake cutoff and Kennedy lake.
8. Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir Trail
This hike is very scenic but a little challenging and steep in some areas so it’s best for older kids. It’s a definitely climb on the way up, but reaching the reservoir is well worth it. This trail is also great for nature trips and birding with tons of wildlife and wildflowers along the way. Tell your kids to keep an eye out for bald eagles! Once you reach the reservoir, do a little exploring. All kinds of machinery are scattered throughout the area and you can even venture into the old powder room dug into the mountain side.
9. Blue Canyon Lake
Definitely a local favorite, this trail takes you to a stunning aqua blue lake surrounded by wildflowers. It makes a great day hike, but can also be a fun overnight trip. The trail isn’t marked so it can be tricky to find. It’s west of the PCT trailhead at Sonora Pass. Park along the side of Hwy 108, scramble down an embankment, cross the creek at the bottom, and you’ll see the trail. You can swim, enjoy a nice lunch by the water and even camp in the area.
10. Gianelli Cabin Trailhead
This popular summer time trail is located just a few miles east of Dodge Ridge Ski Area and Lake Pinecrest. It’s perfect for a day hike, but campsites are also available. The main trail starts with a gentle hike up to Burst Rock where the entire upper reaches of the South Fork of the Stanislaus River open up. About a mile and a half away is Powell Lake for a quick dip, and Chewing Gum lake is also nearby if you want to extend your hike about three and a half more miles. Spend a little extra time exploring the remains of Gianelli Cabin built in the early 1900s. Originally, the trail started at the cabin, but it’s now a short distance away to the left of the parking lot. To reach the cabin, there’s a narrow trail starting at the right side of the far parking area. Walk through a small meadow until you reach a small stream. Once you cross the stream, you’ll sport the remnants of the cabin.