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Pinecrest Lake

Catfish Lake

Hike Name: Catfish Lake via the Pinecrest Lake National Recreation Trail in the Stanislaus National Forest (Forest Service Trail Number 18E10 and 18E09)

Name of area/general location: Stanislaus National Forest, Pinecrest, CA

Land Acknowledgement:
This public land and trail are ancestral lands and traditional territories of the Washoe and Central Sierra Miwok. To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the lands, visit

Detailed Hike Link:

USFS National Recreational Trail-
National Recreational Trail Database-

Trail rating:
Moderate, primarily due to sun exposure on part of trail and rare but steep portions of trail; potential for slippery surfaces exist while crossing a dam and potential snow during the winter.

Trail mileage
(different options if available): Round trip is approximately 4.8 miles (2.4 miles one-way). One can add mileage by looping around all of Pinecrest Lake and/or taking an alternate route back from Catfish Lake. The suggested trail should take approximately 4 hours, round trip.

For more information:
Stanislaus National Forest, Summit Ranger District (209) 459-9236

Additional information to note:
Dogs are allowed on the trail but must be on a leash at all times, per Tuolumne County Leash Law. Please remember to #RecreateResponsibly.

Photo by Sonora Central

Description of area, sights, wildlife and any key markers on the trail:

Beginning at the shore of Pinecrest Lake, this approximately 2.4-mile hike to Catfish Lake may be considered a casual but moderately strenuous hike. The hike follows along on part of the Pinecrest Lake National Recreation Trail (NRT) before forking off and up from Pinecrest Lake. Pinecrest Lake (lake), which the NRT is clearly named after, is formed by a dam on the South Fork of the Stanislaus River.

The early parts of the trail receive medium to heavy usage due to the lake access and other popular hikes that meet with this trail. There are many pines and manzanitas along the trail that you’ll see throughout the hike. Bathrooms are available in the trailhead parking area.

The trail can be hiked any time of year, but due to the fact that the main access road, Highway 108, receives snow during the winter, you may require snow chains to get to the area and may encounter snow on the trail. Additionally, because the trail lacks shade in some areas, one might not want to hike this in the middle of the day during the hotter summer months.

Beginning at the parking lot, the trail is fairly visible as it leads down to the shore of the lake. Once at the shore, you will want to keep to the left side of the lake and continue wrapping around. As you work your way around the shore, you’ll see several cabins lined just above that are part of the tourism attraction for the lake. Once past these structures, you’ll come across a bit of a rocky section that the trail goes through. Shortly after the rocky section, you’ll come across a dirt road that you will walk on for a brief period. This section of the path will eventually bring you to Strawberry Dam, the dam that helps form Pinecrest Lake.

Make your way across the dam and you’ll eventually come to a trail junction. Keep right at the fork and continue making your way around the lake until you reach another trail junction. This is where the hike diverges from the NRT, which would otherwise loop you around the lake. Keep left at this second trail junction. You’ll begin to hike away from the lake and more into the forest. You will eventually come across the final trail junction of the hike. The junction to the left will take you to Catfish Lake proper, while the right will take you to an unnamed lake. Once at Catfish lake, you’ll be able to view of a small but very picturesque lake that you can carefully make your way around.

Catfish Lake is located in the Waterhouse Roadless Area, which is a potential addition to the popular Emigrant Wilderness. The Waterhouse area was administratively allocated to “Near Natural” management in the 1991 Stanislaus Forest Plan, to protect its semi-primitive non-motorized recreation opportunities and its high visual quality. Unfortunately, the Forest Service can eliminate this administrative protection at any time, which is why legislative designation as wilderness by Congress is desirable.



Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.