Day Hikes on Sonora Pass Trails

Hiking in the Stanislaus National Forest and Toiyabe National Forest

Spend an hour or a day exploring the world of nature.

Sonora Pass Hiking

From Easy Walks to Day-long Adventures

Hikers on a trail

Sonora Pass hiking trails spread everywhere across the mountains. Many of the backpacking trips listed here also make good day hikes. The hiking trails shown below are among the best to be found in the Sonora Pass region, ranging from easy quarter mile nature trails to high elevation, day-long adventures. There's something for everyone on Sonora Pass.

Pinecrest Lake Loop

Total distance: 4 miles, moderate

Elevation gain: 100'

Hiking Trail around Pinecrest Lake

The Pinecrest Lake Trail (officially the Pinecrest Lake National Recreation Trail) is one of the most popular hikes in the area. Begin the 4-mile loop of the lake anywhere you please and set out in either direction.

Going counter-clockwise beginning at the Day Use Area, the trail skirts the southern edge of the lake, passing scattered summer homes. At the far end of the lake there are large, reasonably flat rocks worth venturing onto for great views back across the lake. A footbridge takes you over the South Fork of the Stanislaus, hardly more than a creek there. The section of the trail leading to the dam requires paying attention to your footing. Once across the dam follow the lakeshore back to the marina and around to the Day Use Area.

A restroom and day use area are now available at the east end of the lake.


Pinecrest EcoTrek

EcoTrek Trail at Pinecrest Lake

Total distance: 1 mile, easy

Elevation gain: 0

The Pinecrest EcoTrek takes you from the entrance to Pinecrest Campground on a paved trail up to the fishing pier at the side of the lake. Along the way are 8 marked nature points of interest. A map of the EcoTrek trail can be purchased at the entrance station to the Pinecrest Campground for $1. The map is well worth the price because it includes a full map of the Pinecrest vicinity, pictures of wildlife and trees found in the area, as well as information about each of the 8 stops on the EcoTrek.


Shadow of the Mi-Wok

Mi-Wok Indian bark shelter on the Shadow of the Mi-Wok Trail

Total distance: 1/2 mile, easy

Elevation gain: 50'

The Shadow of the Mi-Wok trail begins across the road from the Summit Ranger Station at the Pinecrest Y. Park in the Ranger Station parking lot, pick up a free flyer from the station, and then cross the road to the start of the trail.

The short trail winds through the trees offering examples of Mi-Wok Indian life, from grinding stones to bark shelters.


Pinecrest to Strawberry

Hiking Trail from Strawberry to Pinecrest

One Way: 1.8 miles, easy

Elevation loss: 300'

From Pinecrest Lake near the Marina follow the lake trail toward the dam. Cross over the dam and then turn left onto a trail descending along the side of the Stanislaus River. At first the trail may be difficult to follow, but simply watch for the orange blazes painted on the trees.

Soon the trail joins a dirt road. Follow it to the paved road (Herring Creek Road) which leads into Strawberry (about 1/4 mile of pavement). You could arrange to have someone pick you up there or, after getting a cold drink at the Strawberry Store, turn around and retrace your steps back to Pinecrest.


Herring Creek Reservoir

Total distance: .5 miles, easy

Elevation gain: 200'

Herring Creek Reservoir

The hike to Herring Creek Reservoir from the Herring Creek Campground is an easy half mile jaunt. Drive east from Strawberry on Highway 108, turn right onto Herring Creek Road and follow it 6.5 miles to the campground. Park nearby and hike down the dirt road to the reservoir. It makes a great picnic spot, swimming hole, and fishing destination.


Sugar Pine Railroad Trail

One way: 2.8 miles, moderate

Elevation gain: 500'

Hiking Trail to Strawberry

The Sugar Pine Railroad Trail follows the course of the old Sugar Pine Railroad that was used to deliver timber from remote regions of the forest to sawmills. Today its gentle grade makes it an excellent hiking and mountain biking route. Start at the Fraser Flat Road trailhead. To reach it take the Fraser Flat turnoff from Highway 108 located 6 miles east of Long Barn, just before reaching Cold Springs. Follow the Fraser Flat Road 2.5 miles down to the river.

Follow the trail upstream on the south side of the river. It goes about 2.8 miles up to where it connects with Old Strawberry Road. It's another 1.5 miles farther on the road to reach the Strawberry Store where you can buy an ice cream before heading back.


Hull Creek to Clavey River

This 9-mile trail traces the route of the old West Side Lumber Company's railroad line. Trails on old railroad routes guarantee an easy grade. This trail, however, is tricky to reach and at times difficult to follow. It is for the adventurous who have good directional skills and carry maps and compass or a GPS.

From Long Barn take the North Fork Road or the Merrill Springs Road (they soon meet). Follow the Merrill Springs Road toward Hull Creek and Clavey River. Cross the North Fork of the Tuolumne River and go 6 miles where you pick up Forest Service Road 3N07. Look for a sign marking the West Side Rail Tour.

For more information about this hike, see Trail Link
(Note: Trail Link asks that you register to use their free website)


Twain Harte to Lyons Reservoir - Railroad Grade

One way: 4.7 miles, moderate

Elevation gain: 200'

Hiking Trail at Confidence

This trail provides a gentle 4.7 mile climb to Lyons Reservoir following an old Sugar Pine Railroad grade. At an elevation of about 4,000' its usually open by late spring. To reach the trailhead, take the Confidence South Fork Road off Highway 108 at Confidence. The road meets the Middle Camp Road. Turn left onto Middle Camp, but then soon afterward right again back onto the Confidence South Fork Road as it descends. Watch on your right for an unmarked dirt road.

In places the trail may pass through private property, so be sure to stay on the trail to respect property owners' rights. You can hike along dirt roads around the reservoir or explore connecting roads to other places.


Gianelli Cabin to Powell Lake

One way: 2.1 miles, moderate

Elevation gain: 500'

Photo of Powell Lake, Emigrant Wilderness, CA

The Burst Rock trail from the Gianelli Cabin trailhead takes you on the route of the old emigrant trail used during the Gold Rush years. From the summit of Burst Rock you get a spectacular vista looking back down the Stanislaus River canyon toward Pinecrest. To reach the trailhead at Gianelli Cabin From Pinecrest drive 2.8 miles up the Dodge Ridge Road. Then turn right and soon afterward left onto the Bell Meadow/Crabtree/Gianelli Cabin road. Follow the road, which soon becomes a gravel road, 8 miles to Gianelli Cabin parking area. For anyone coming up Highway 108 from Twain Harte, turn 1.1 miles after Cold Springs onto Crabtree Road. Follow it 13 miles to Gianelli's Cabin parking area.

You can see remnants of the old cabin in the meadow. The trail leaves from the parking area and follows the contour of the ridge offering some great views of Burst Rock and then switch-backing up to the summit. The emigrants brought their wagons over the top of Burst Rock and down the slope toward Dodge Ridge and then Pinecrest. It's only a little more than a mile to the top of Burst Rock, elevation 9,100'.

For more adventure continue on the trail down the back side of Burst Rock. In less than a mile watch for the turn to the left leading you to Powell Lake. It's popular camping and swimming spot.


Leavitt Meadow to Roosevelt Lake

One way: 3 miles, moderate

Elevation gain: 500''

Roosevelt Lake

Roosevelt Lake and its sister Lane Lake make an enjoyable 3-mile day-hike destination on the east side of Sonora Pass. Begin at the parking lot next to the Leavitt Meadow Campground. Pass through the campground to the bridge across the West Walker River. Most of the hike follows the edge of Leavitt Meadow before climbing about 500' over a ridge and dropping down to the lakes. An alternative return route could take you past Secret Lake, adding only about a half mile to the hike.

Fishing is good in all the lakes. For those with a little extra time, visit the nearby beaver pond and follow the old, no-longer-maintained, hiking trail up to a gushing waterfall along a fork of the West Walker River.


Sonora Pass Pacific Crest Trail

One way: 5 miles, strenuous

Elevation gain: 1,500'

Hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail

Heading south from Sonora Pass on the Pacific Crest Trail you climb 1,500' in the first two miles, but once you reach the top of that stiff ascent, you can walk for miles along the contours of the Sierra crest enjoying vistas both east and west. The trail traverses the flank of Leavitt Peak (11,569'), the highest mountain in the vicinity, and then follows the crest south. To the east you can look down on Leavitt Lake while to the west lies Kennedy Lake. The trail is best done in late summer when snow has left the trail and wildflowers are in bloom. You could hike out just 3 miles or make it a full day trip, going 5 or more. Carry water.


Kennedy Meadows to Relief Reservoir

One way: 3 miles, moderate

Elevation gain: 1,000'

Bridge on the Relief Reservoir Trail

This 3-mile hike takes you to the shores of Relief Reservoir. The trail begins at Kennedy Meadow. The first mile is an easy stroll through a meadow where some episodes of Michael Landon's television series Little House on the Prairie were filmed. Then after crossing a bridge the route begins a steep climb on a wide trail carved out of the mountainside when the Relief Dam was being constructed in the early 1900s. You will see abandoned equipment along the side of the trail. Another bridge and another steep climb takes you past an old P G and E building. Not far beyond you come to the area around the dam. You'll see more rusting equipment and an old blasting powder storage room built into the rock. While the hiking trail continues along the hillside high above the reservoir, you can turn onto a use-trail and follow it out to the dam.


Iceberg Meadow to Boulder Creek

One way: 2.5 miles, moderate

Elevation gain: 500'

Boulder Lake

This shaded, forest hike takes you from Iceberg Meadow (the end of the Clark Fork Road) up the Clark Fork. It is a fairly easy hike with only a moderate elevation gain. Most of the way you are close to the Clark Fork, giving you many opportunities to stop and fish. Keep an eye out for hawks nesting in the trees. After 2.5 miles you reach the junction to the Boulder Creek trail. Boulder Lake is only 1.5 miles up the trail, but it is a steep 1,200' climb and the trail is not well maintained. Continuing up the Clark Fork Trail another 7.5 miles would deliver you to the top of Saint Mary's Pass.


Four Easy Natural Wonders Hikes

Columns of the Giants

One way: quarter mile

The Columns of the Giants Trail is located next to the Pigeon Flat Campground about 1.5 miles east of Dardanelles Resort. The trail provides an easy quarter mile walk to an unusual geologic formation with spectacular views of basalt columns, reminiscent of the Devil's Postpile.

For more information, see Geologic Wonders under Natural Wonders

Trail of the Gargoyles

One way: 1.5 miles

This 1.5-mile trail takes you to strangely shaped volcanic rock formations which the Stanislaus National Forest calls Trail of the Gargoyles. You can pick up a pamphlet describing the trail at the Summit Ranger Station at the Y near Pinecrest. To reach the Trail of the Gargoyles drive east from Strawberry to the Herring Creek Road turnoff on your right. Follow it 6 miles (the last mile is on dirt road) to the trailhead.

Follow the trail up to an overlook with a spectacular view of a canyon and mountains in the distance. The trail divides here, one going along the north rim, the other to the south. They do not form a loop. All along the cliff's edge are wondrous formations of volcanic rock that has eroded into strange shapes.

For more information, see Geologic Wonders under Natural Wonders

Trail of the Ancient Dwarfs

One way: .5 miles

The Trail of the Ancient Dwarfs is a half-mile walk through a forest of ancient dwarf trees. A visit to the Trail of the Ancient Dwarfs is best coupled with a view of the ancient Bennett Juniper as they are both near Eagle Meadow. Drive about 15 miles east of Pinecrest on Hwy. 108 to Eagle Meadow Road on your right. Stay left when Eagle Meadow Road forks to the right. Follow Forest Service Road 5N24 past Niagara Creek Campground and park in turnoff near road-blocked bridge. The parking area is seven-tenths of a mile from Highway 108. Brochures are available in the trail register box. At an elevation of 6,600 feet, the half-mile trail overlooks the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River Canyon and hikers even get glimpses of Highway 108 below. Part of the trail follows the historic Sonora and Mono Wagon Road.

For more information, see Ancient Trees under Natural Wonders

Trail of the Survivors

Trail of the Survivors is near Pinecrest. From the Pinecrest Road turn onto the Dodge Ridge Road and drive one-third mile to the road on your right leading to Camp Gold. Turn onto that road and look for the Trail of the Survivors soon on your left.

For more information, see Ancient Trees under Natural Wonders


Day Hikes on Ebbetts Pass and Carson Pass

Ebbetts Pass

Ebbetts Pass to the north offers even more interesting day hikes. Trails lead through the famous Calaveras Big Trees State Park, around scenic Lake Alpine, and along the Sierra crest from Ebbetts Pass. To learn more, visit our sister website
Ebbetts Pass Adventures.

Carson Pass

To the north on Carson Pass (Highway 88) are many more wonderful day hikes. From the top of the pass you can visit several lakes and climb to the top of peaks with spectacular views. To read about hiking ideas on Carson Pass, see Up and Over Carson Pass.

High Sierra Trails

A Backpacker's Guide to the
Most Spectacular Trails
in the Sierra Nevada