Stanislaus National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest, established in 1897 (making it one of the oldest national forests in the country), comprises 898,099 acres of breathtaking California wilderness. The land ranges across four counties in both northern California and Nevada. Most of the forest is in Tuolumne County, placing it very close to Yosemite National Park. 139,000 acres of the forest is virgin forest: old-growth pines and firs that have remained undisturbed by human activity for hundreds of years. The Forest Service preserves these areas. Please treat them with extra care when you visit. Remember, for the health of the forest, pack out any trash you pack in!

Rapids in a river - Stanislaus National Forest is a topnotch whitewater destination.
Stanislaus National Forest features some world-class whitewater – Photo by Gary Yost on Unsplash

About Stanislaus National Forest

Stanislaus National Forest, a boater’s dream, contains 78 lakes, as well as 811 miles of rivers and raftable streams. In fact, whitewater rafting is very popular in Stanislaus, especially along Tuolumne River and Cherry Creek. Here, kayakers enjoy exploring the crystal clear waterways of this magnificent volcanic forest. The Tuolumne is 16-18 miles of feisty rapids at class 4-5. Only experienced rafters should attempt these rapids. Spring is the most dangerous season to attempt the Tuolumne, as the rains swell the rivers, turning the rapids into class 5 for the season.

The peaks that make up the mountains of Stanislaus, ranging from 1,500 to 11,000 feet, are products of ice and fire over millions of years. Glacial and volcanic activity shaped this unusual topography, making it an ever-present fascination in the minds of hikers looking for interesting terrain to climb.

History of the Forest

Stanislaus has supported human life since 9000 BC, and in more recent history, supported the California Gold Rush with its plentiful pockets of gold and silver. Homesteaders, ranchers, builders, and loggers, along with miners, established towns centered around this forest and its eden-like beauty and bounty. It is named after the Stanislaus River, which is named after a Native American Man born on the banks of that river in the early 1800s. Spanish missionaries named him Estanislaosionaries. In the early 1800s. Estanislao was a Yokut man of the Lakisamni tribe who was taken to live at a Spanish mission as a young child. His real name was Cucunuchi.

After growing up in the church and even gaining some status there as an alcalde, Cucunuchi eventually went to visit his tribe and never came back to the mission, along with several other runaways who were being mistreated at the church. After this, Cucunuchi became the leader of many rebellions and battles against the Spanish throughout Central California.

Some battles were won, some were lost, and eventually, the Mexican government sent in military power that Cucunuchi could not overcome. This forced him to return to the mission where he ultimately died of disease brought in by the Spanish.

A ski slope among pine trees - Stanislaus National Forest has two great ski resorts.
Stanislaus National Forest features two fantastic ski resorts – Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Recreation in Stanislaus National Forest

Dodge Ridge Ski Resort and Bear Valley Ski Resort both operate within Stanislaus. These fun vacation destinations are more than just a hub for skiing and snowboarding, they also offer special events. Often featuring live music, Bear Valley can be booked to host special occasions such as weddings, not to mention their beautiful glamping sites with luxurious tents provided by the resort.  Dodge Ridge, established in 1950, offers ski lessons and team events.  

You don’t have to be a fisherman or a whitewater adrenaline junkie to enjoy recreation in Stanislaus. There are many, many more activities to choose from! Hiking, of course, is most people’s number one priority in this forest, and for good reason. Stanislaus, like other Sierra Nevada forests, contains many different kinds of ecosystems within its ever-changing landscape.

These ecosystems will change as one climbs in elevation. A warm, dry climate in the lower elevations transforms into cooler, wetter terrain of mountain meadows and streams at higher elevations. Not feeling the need to explore the woods on foot? Horseback riding is also common in the forest, along with mountain biking on designated trails.

For a complete list of campgrounds, trails, and their statuses, visit this Site List maintained by the USDA.

A view of the forest from the inside of a tent - Stanislaus National Forest has many great campgrounds.
Stanislaus National Forest has dozens of fantastic places to camp – Photo by Scott Goodwill on Unsplash

Wilderness Areas

Stanislaus manages three wilderness areas: Emigrant, Carson-Iceberg, and Mokelumne. Day use of these areas does not require any special permits. However, if you plan to stay the night, you will need to register with a free wilderness permit. You can obtain these over the phone, by walk-in, or online.

Walk-ins may obtain the permit the day of or the day before their trip, but online applications must be submitted a minimum of 5 days in advance. To apply online, scroll to the bottom of this Permits Page and select the wilderness area you wish to visit. You must carry a paper copy of your permit during your overnight stays. In addition, your stay cannot exceed 7 nights without renewal of your permit. (Just give the office of your chosen area a quick call, its easy.) Backpacking and horseback riding are welcome as well.

For more information on the wilderness areas themselves, read the following descriptions provided by the Forest Service. Keep your eyes peeled for rare wildlife encounters with animals such as bald eagles, peregrin falcons, and even wolverines! For the best backpacking trails, see this page on Here you can see which trails are easy, difficult, run by the lakes, or take you by scenic overlooks.  

Visit Stanislaus National Forest

Whether you’re planning your first trip or your fiftieth, this Alerts and Notices Page by the USDA will keep you informed on trail closures, conditions, and requirements. Likewise, The National will keep you connected to all of America’s national forests!

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-Heaven Morrow

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