Exploring Stanislaus National Forest, Pinecrest Lake, and Sonora

Stanislaus National Forest

Time flies and it’s time for another update. I’ve had the best two weeks with my sister Rikke visiting in San Francisco. We spent 10 days doing what we always do; hiking in nature, strolling through the city, enjoying quality time in parks, at coffee shops or at a jazz club, or simply reading a book or painting (something I just started last week – thank you for the painting set mom).

Pinecrest Lake

We spent the first weekend being surrounded by northern California’s beautiful nature on a trip with our American friend Alex we met in Europe in 2015. This update is a peek into our lovely weekend memoir and maybe you can even use it as a guide for your next trip to California.

Friday – Leaving the city

After spending 8 weeks in San Francisco I was so excited to leave the city for a few days and breathe in some fresh mountain air.

Pinecrest Lake

Pinecrest lake is a 3-4 hour drive from San Francisco so leaving around noon meant that we arrived in time for an early evening hike. Before the hike we checked into our lovely Airbnb in Mi Wuk Village (I really recommend Wuki Me Inn) and grabbed a quick lunch at Zoe’s Coffee House.

Pinecrest Lake

There is a beautiful scenic drive from Mi Wuk Village to Pinecrest lake through Stanislaus National Forest and mountains. By the lake it’s easy to catch the loop trail going around the lake (I would recommend walking clockwise around the lake). We started our hike around 5 pm and made it back to the car just in time for a beautiful sunset (the hike is approximately 2 hours).

Pinecrest Lake at sunset

Saturday – Sonora and mountains

Forest by Pinecrest Lake

I had my morning coffee in the forest being entertained by the squirrels that are everywhere in the forest while the rest of the house was sleeping.

We started the day at Sonora Farmer’s Market where we bought amazing fruit, chips and salsa for a picnic. The market is only on Saturdays but really worth a visit. It’s such a nice way to experience the country life in California and everyone were incredibly kind and welcoming.

Duchess Mine Trail

The Duchess Mine Trail was our next stop and it was the most beautiful mountain hike even though it turned out to be a bit harder than expected and let’s just say that it was a warm and sunny day. We had a picnic half way up the mountain and the view was breathtaking.

Columbia State Historic Park

After the hike we stopped by Columbia State Historic Park to have a cold drink and a stroll through the old village where no cars are allowed. In Sonora we made a stop at the brewery for a well-deserved cold beer before driving back to Pinecrest Lake for an evening swim.

Pinecrest Lake at sunset

Sunday – Stars and sunrise

Mi Wuk Village

Early Sunday morning (5 am) we drove back to the lake with all the blankets we could find and watched the stars fade away in a stunning sunrise. This was a magical experience and I can’t believe I don’t wake up to see the sunrise more often.

Pinecrest Lake at sunrise

Later on Sunday (after breakfast, a nap, and lunch) we did the loop hike around the lake again but this time we added another two hours by walking to Cleo’s bath in the mountains. The hike turned out to involve climbing to reach the top. However, the view from Cleo’s bath was definitely worth a few days with sore muscles.

Cleo's bath

I hope you enjoyed our little weekend memoir. If you want to do this trip you can continue reading for a few tips.


Duchess Mine Trail

  • I recommend downloading a map of the trail (we used the AllTrails App) since it can be hard to find the trail in parts of the hike

  • Bring plenty of water and snacks

  • When you park the car the trail starts on the opposite side of the road (the app doesn’t tell you this)

Mi Wuk Village

  • Perfect place to stay and explore the area

  • I recommend the Airbnb called Wuki me Inn

  • If you’re staying here I recommend shopping food on the way (there’s a Safeway in Sonora 20 minutes away). There is a market in the village – but it mostly has canned food. We did make an acceptable spaghetti and tomato sauce, however, next time I would bring some vegetables to go with it.