NorCal Roadtrips

An Explorer's Guide to Northern California

Exploring the Stanislaus National Forest


The Stanislaus National Forest was one of the earliest national forests, created in 1897. It was originally the home of the Me-Wuk people, many of whom still reside in the area. There are several attractions that highlight and honor their culture, including the Shadows of the Me-Wuk Trail and an interpretive trail at the Wa-Ka-Loo-Hep-Yoo Campground. The Spanish ranged through the area in the early 1800's but gold changed it all. After 1848 the loggers and miners claimed the area as their own and changed the landscape forever. Logging remains an important industry today.

The forest is bordered by the Eldorado National Forest to the north and the Toiyabe National Forest and Yosemite National Park to the west.

Note: In August 2013 a wildfire known as the Rim Fire consumed over 257,000 acres (400 plus square miles) here. It started near Groveland and was the third largest fire in California history and largest ever in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. So be aware that when traveling in this area you may well encounter wide swatches of devastation. Luckily, the most-visited sections of Yosemite National Park were spared.

Things To Do


There are three nationally recognized trails; the Pacific Crest Trail, the Pinecrest National Recreation Trail and the Column of the Giants Interpretive Trail. The former is well known; 4 miles pass totally within park boundaries and another 32 follow a shared border with the Toiyabe National Forest. The Pinecrest Trail is a 4 mile loop around Pinecrest Lake. The latter educates about the mysterious columns that poke into the sky, similar to those found at Devil's Postpile.

In addition there are 3 designated wilderness areas within forest boundaries:

Skiing & Snowmobiling

There are 2 ski areas on Hwy. 4 (Bear Valley Mountain Resort & Bear Valley Nordic) and another downhill resort (Dodge Ridge) on Hwy. 108. There are also three SNO-PARKS offering permit parking to snowmobilers and cross-county ski enthusiasts.


All National Forest trails are open to mountain bikers except those located in designated wilderness areas.

Equestrian Use

Riders have many opportunities to pursue their interests, and campgrounds catering to equestrians are scattered around the forest.

Water Recreation

There are numerous lakes and over 800 miles of rivers and streams offering water-based opportunities.

The Wild & Scenic Tuolumne River runs for 29 miles thru the forest and the Merced Wild & Scenic River 11 miles; whitewater rafting is popular. It is also popular on the North Fork of the Stanislaus River. Many of the trips involve Class IV and V rapids so do your homework before embarking on a rafting trip. Permits are generally required.

Flat water boating is available on most lakes, and several offer opportunities to rent boats of all types.

Fishing is hugely popular. DFG generally stocks trout in the following rivers & streams: Basin Creek, Beaver Creek, Deadman Creek, Moccasin Creek, Clark Fork, the Stanislaus and Tuolumne Rivers and many lakes and reservoirs. Private entities like campgrounds and resorts also stock fish.


Listed below are some of the attractions in the national forest. You may click on any that have "live" links for more information. Also listed below are several road trips that encourage you to select a road and follow it from west to east. We note all public campgrounds and other attractions that you will encounter as you drive.

Salt Springs Reservoir- a pretty 950 surface acre lake set at 4,000 feet with fishing for native trout; fish are not stocked. There is no camping on site but is available on the Mokelumne River.

Union & Utica Reservoirs- Neighboring lakes with camping and fishing for stocked trout in Union Reservoir.

Spicer Meadow Reservoir- a 2,000 surface acre lake set at 6,418 feet with camping and fishing for stocked rainbow trout.

Donnell Lake- a reservoir near Strawberry with no camping and fishing for native trout. Access to the lake is very challenging; difficult-to-impossible with what you need, a hand-carried boat.

Lake Alpine- a beautiful spot to camp, fish, kayak or canoe. Powerboats are plentiful too, waterskiing or trolling for stocked rainbow trout. A Sunset Magazine 2013 Best Place to Camp in the West.

Kinney Lakes & Reservoir- small lakes in a beautiful spot just east of Ebbetts Pass with access to the Pacific Crest Trail. DFG stocks rainbow trout in the reservoir. No camping or other facilities.

Mosquito Lake- a pristine high-elevation (8,260 feet) camping destination with a small 11 site campground and limited fishing for native trout.

Highland Lakes- two small alpine lakes set at 8,600 feet with camping and limited fishing for native trout. The access road is not suitable for trailers or large RV's.

Pinecrest Lake/Lyons Lake- a family camping destination set at 5,600 feet with hundreds of campsites, boating and fishing. Lyons Lake is a small PG&E facility with shoreline fishing only.

Beardsley Reservoir- a man-made lake near Strawberry with camping and fishing for native and stocked trout.

Cherry Lake- a man-made lake set at 4,700 feet on the way to Yosemite's Western entrance. There's camping, fishing for stocked rainbow trout and access to some hiking trails.

New Melones Reservoir- a very large (12,500 surface acres) lake set at 1,088 feet with 100 miles of shoreline with lots of camping, boating and fishing for stocked rainbow trout, kokanee salmon and largemouth bass.

Don Pedro Reservoir- a very large (12,960 surface acre) lake set at 800 feet with 160 miles of shoreline and hundreds of campsites, boating of all types and fishing for trout and warm weather species.

Columbia State Historic Park- a partially restored gold mining town with exhibits galore but no camping.

Calaveras Big Trees State Park- 6,500 acres devoted to showcasing two groves of giant sequoias with camping and lots of hiking.

South Fork Stanislaus River- camp at Frazer Flat and fish for native and stocked trout.

The Roadtrips

Ebbetts Pass Scenic Byway- Hwy. 4 Angels Camp to Ebbetts Pass

Sonora Pass- Hwy. 108 Twain Harte to Sonora Pass

Hwy. 120- Groveland to Yosemite National Park