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Surrounded by the stately pines of Stanislaus National Forest and rocky terrain of California's High Sierras, Pinecrest Lake attracts well over 600,000 visitors to its shores each year. With Yosemite National Park found 20 miles to the southeast, Lake Tahoe 70 miles to the north and San Francisco 180 miles to the west, Pinecrest Lake provides all the ingredients for a perfect family vacation.
An impoundment of the South Fork of the Stanislaus River, Pinecrest Lake has grown in size and changed names several times over the decades. In the 1850s miners created a lake that became known as Lake Edna, or Edna Lake. Around the same time, Tuolumne Water Company was preparing a plan to create a chain of dams and reservoirs in the same area. In 1856 the first dam, named Upper or Big Dam, was built. It was followed by Middle Dam and finally Lower Dam which enlarged Lake Edna to form the new Strawberry Flat or Strawberry Lake. By 1912 Lower Dam was replaced by Main Strawberry Dam, a larger concrete dam designed to meet a growing need for hydropower. The new dam was completed in 1916 creating the larger 300-acre reservoir eventually named Pinecrest Lake. Attempts are made to try to balance water demands for recreational use and energy use. Visitors can expect to see Pinecrest Lake's capacity vary from over 18,000 acre-feet in the summer to approximately 6,400 acre-feet in the winter. Today, Main Strawberry Dam and Pinecrest Lake are owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
Pinecrest Reservoir and Pinecrest Recreation Area sit within Tuolumne County and the Summit Ranger District of Stanislaus National Forest. As early as the 1920s Stanislaus National Forest was a popular summer resort attraction. During those years construction of private cabins and recreational residences was permitted within the forest forming the small communities and subdivisions of Pinecrest, Strawberry, Cold Springs, Dymond's Strawberry Ridge and Leland Meadows. The demand for vacation real estate properties grew until the policy was reversed in the 1950s. Today over 600 cabins remain within Stanislaus National Forest with approximately 450 year-round residents. Although numbers are small, vacation rentals can be found among the cabins near Pinecrest Lake.
Visitors desiring a close encounter with the great outdoors will enjoy camping in the Pinecrest Recreation Area. Developed campgrounds found at the southwestern end of Pinecrest Lake include running water, camp stoves and dump station. Campgrounds cannot accommodate large RVs. Electricity and sewer hook-ups are not available. The more adventuresome won't want to miss backpacking into Emigrant, Carson-Iceberg and Mokelumne Wilderness areas.
Boating is one of the more popular pastimes at former Strawberry Lake. A marina and boat launch can be found at the south end of Pinecrest Lake. Motorboats are allowed although personal watercraft are prohibited. A 20 MPH speed limit has been set for boats on the open water with a 5 MPH limit near the marina and swim area. Canoes and kayaks give paddlers a closeup view of Pinecrest Reservoir's 4-mile shore where ospreys, willow flycatchers, wood ducks, mergansers and mallards may be found.
Anglers will find a variety of fish in Pinecrest Lake. The reservoir is stocked with rainbow trout but anglers may also catch channel catfish, white bass and sunfish. There are 811 miles of rivers and streams within Stanislaus National Forest offering up rainbow trout, eastern brook trout, German brown trout and salmon.
Pinecrest Lake is located in California's High Sierra Tourism Region. Within this region visitors will find some of the country's most spectacular scenery. Yosemite National Park, a World Heritage Site, meets the southeastern border of Stanislaus National Forest. Over 800 miles of hiking trails take visitors past massive granite mountains and cliffs, roaring waterfalls, giant sequoias and two Wild & Scenic Rivers - Tuolumne and Merced. Almost 95% of the park's 761,000 acres remain spectacular and unspoiled wilderness areas waiting to be explored.
Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest meets the eastern border of Stanislaus National Forest. The forest's 6.3 million acres spread from eastern California across Nevada making it the largest forest in the lower 48 states. Much like the forest surrounding Pinecrest Lake, recreational activities within Toiyabe Forest include hiking the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail; backpacking and camping in the high desert wilderness; fishing mountain streams and glacial lakes; hunting local wildlife, horseback riding, bird watching and photography.
Eldorado National Forest meets the northern boundary of Stanislaus National Forest and continues the spectacular mountain scenery found around Pinecrest Lake. Within the forest visitors will find 25 reservoirs, lakes, rivers and streams guaranteed to provide a trout or two. Well over 900 private recreation residences are found within Eldorado providing easy access to former Strawberry Flat to the south or Lake Tahoe to the northeast.
Pinecrest Lake and the High Sierras attract year-round visitors. When the mountain landscapes become draped in winter's white, visitors arrive to enjoy alpine skiing at nearby resorts or planned winter activities within the national forests. Whether you snowmobile, snowshoe or cross-country ski, you will find endless opportunities to enjoy the outdoors.
Follow highway 108 west of Pinecrest Lake and you will find a touch of urban life within the historic city of Sonora. Quaint shops, a selection of wonderful restaurants and interesting museums provide a change of pace for Pinecrest Lake visitors. Along the 30-mile drive to Sonora you will find numerous small communities including Twain Harte, Mi Wuk Village, Long Barn, Dodge Ridge and Pinecrest itself. Close to Pinecrest Lake, the area offers an excellent choice of vacation rentals and real estate properties. Select a view of rivers, streams, lakes or forests and come prepared to enjoy the thrilling adventures and awe-inspiring scenery of the High Sierras.
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