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Cleo's Bath Hike & Bennett's Juniper Tree

Updated: Mar 23

Over Labor Day Weekend, we took another road trip down to Sonora Pass and headed into Pinecrest, CA, for a 7.7-mile loop hike called Cleo's Bath Trail. The rating on All Trails was 4.7 stars with the hike categorized as hard, but it only advertised 839 ft. of elevation gain. So, we kind of wondered why this trail would be in the "hard" category.

We started at Pinecrest Lake. Seeing that it was a holiday weekend, the beaches, lake, and greenspaces were very busy with families barbecuing, boating, and swimming, but once we got on the trail and started to make our way counterclockwise around the lake, the dense crowds faded behind us.

Pinecrest Lake
Pinecrest Lake

Although, we did see numerous people on various parts of the trail, one of whom stood out on this trek. A young boy, maybe 10 years old, was "hiking" back to the beach by himself on this trail. It was obvious the trek was working him hard and he looked slightly overheated.

As we approached him, we greeted him and he kind of huffed and puffed and then breathlessly asked us if we had any water he could have. I was impressed with his unabashed lack of inhibition, asking two strangers on a trail for some water. If I had to compare him with someone, I would say he was like the young son "Manny" from earlier seasons of Modern Family.

My husband offered him a pull from his Camelbak, showing the perplexed boy how to drain water from the bite.

"...this is water?"

When the boy had gotten enough, he thanked us and continued on. It was a humorous encounter to us and we kind of felt bad for the kid. Though we didn't know how far he'd hiked up until that point, he didn't have much farther to go to reach the beach, but it seemed as though he had gotten in a little over his head.

A major portion of the trail follows the perimeter of Pinecrest Lake. It's a mostly paved route that meanders between people's quaint waterfront cabin properties and private docks with small boats tied up, requiring us to dodge roots, rocks, and navigate otherwise uneven terrain, so we had to pay attention to where we stepped.

We continued the route until the paved section ended and we began ascending up and over rocky terrain before reaching a forested area with more forgiving terrain.

After the forested section, the trail opened up and we began some serious climbing that required bouldering and agility.

I saw a smirking monkey's face in this rocky ridgeline.

Just before reaching the bouldering sections, we came to a jungly section where we had to balance across the creek using this makeshift log bridge.

On the other side of the creek we greeted a relatively youthful but weary grandpa with his two young grandsons, and I'm pretty sure this was the end of the trek for them. The older of the two boys was playing with a thick stick he found.

Me: "Hey. You know what you could do with that stick? I think that log bridge over the creek could use another stick. Why don't you find a good place to add it?"

The kid's face lit up and out came an exuberant exclamation of "Yeah!"

I'm not so sure Grandpa appreciated the new idea from random Auntie on the trail quite as much as his grandson did, but it made me chuckle.

After this creek crossing, the multiple sections of vertical bouldering and scrambling began and it quickly became clear to me why this trail had a "hard" rating on All Trails.

Making the climb up to Cleo's Bath.

Let's just say that having grippy tread on our shoes was essential on this hike.

After the final section of climbing, we arrived at Cleo's Bath, which is basically a series of waterfalls and swimming holes along the South Fork Stanislaus River before it dumps into Pinecrest Lake.

Waterfall at Cleo's Bath.

Cleo's Bath
Cleo's Bath with Pinecrest Lake behind in the distance.

While we were exploring the falls, a group of three young women arrived with their golden retriever... and their cat. They'd completed the strenuous and sketchy climb up here with a dog and a cat. I can't imagine. Granted, they also had a see-through backpack in which the cat could catch a free ride, but still. 🤔

That's a cat inside that backpack.

Feeling fully pruned, we climbed back up and out of the bathtub and carefully began the bouldering descent to continue the remaining stretch of trail along the other side of Pinecrest Lake.

View from dam at Pinecrest Lake.
The forested view from standing upon the dam at Pinecrest Lake.

Pinecrest Lake
Pinecrest Lake

The return route of this loop hike seemed to go on for a long time with numerous short, steep climbs and descents to contend with along the way. It actually started to feel quite laborious, so we were happy to finish this one.

But first, another giant tree pic.

All in all, this 7.7-mile loop hike around the perimeter of Pinecrest Lake with a venture up and over a bunch of boulders to Cleo's Bath for some waterfalls, a swimming hole, and expansive views was a decent way to spend this beautiful day off of work.

But our adventure didn't end there.

Speaking of giant trees...

When we got back to the Jeep, we headed to a forest road to find the Bennett Juniper Tree, which is "the oldest, tallest, most massive juniper tree alive today."

While the average western juniper is 15-30 feet tall, the Bennett Juniper Tree is 78 feet tall and 12 feet wide.

Typically, a juniper tree will live to be 80-100 years old. The Bennett Juniper Tree is 3,000-4,000 years old.

It truly was a magnificent sight to behold.

A great way to end our day's adventure.

Cleo's Bath/Pinecrest Lake

Total Distance

7.70 mi

Total Time


Total Ascent

978 ft

Max Elevation

6,079 ft


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Mary Jo Schrader
Mary Jo Schrader
Nov 29, 2023

That tree is amazing! Again, beautiful photography. I enjoy your stories of the people you encounter on your hikes. Hope the young boy remembers to bring water in his next hike.


Hi, thanks for dropping by!

I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures and checking out the photos I take along the way!

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