Top 10 Ideas for an Excellent Family Break at Pine Mountain Lake

Pine Mountain Lake is a perfect relaxing getaway destination with things to do for the whole family. Though in a private gated community in Groveland, gateway to Yosemite National Park, visitors are welcome for a day trip or to book one of many vacation rentals.

My parents owned property here, but I only visited a couple of times as a little kid before this year. Then this summer, John got a bit obsessed with the idea of a lake house vacation (thanks, HGTV!). In his quest to find a laid-back forested lake getaway in northern California, he wondered if my Dad might have any recommendations. I instantly replied that he would say Pine Mountain Lake. John’s ears perked up, and we got to planning.

On our usual family trips, I tend to keep us on the go. But Pine Mountain Lake is a different type of getaway. This is a place you go to slow down and get away from it all. It’s a laid-back area with natural beauty at every turn. From floating on the lake to a day trip to nearby Yosemite National Park, this is a gorgeous place for families to relax and unwind.

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WHAT TO DO NEAR PINE MOUNTAIN LAKE WITH KIDS?

If you’re thinking about visiting Pine Mountain Lake, read on for the best family-friendly activities plus some great places to stay and eat. I’ve also included a sample four-day itinerary to help you imagine how all these places and activities can blend into one amazing family getaway!

All the places and activities mentioned can be found here on the post map.

TOP 10 FAMILY-FRIENDLY THINGS TO DO NEAR PINE MOUNTAIN LAKE

1. HEAD TO THE BEACH

The first thing to do at Pine Mountain Lake is pretty obvious: head to the beach. Pine Mountain Lake has three beaches: Marina Beach, Lake Lodge, and Dunn Court Beach. Each has a protected swim area and clear water that’s easy to wade into.

Marina Beach

Enjoying Ice Cream on Marina Beach, Pine Mountain Lake
Enjoying Ice Cream at Marina Beach

Marina Beach is the largest beach with the most amenities. Head over, set up your EZ Up, and relax on a stretch of grass while the kids make friends playing in the sand and water. There are picnic tables, grills, and a lakeside cafe that sells ice cream and cold beer.

We stopped here first on our first trip to Pine Mountain Lake. The plan was to enjoy a quick picnic lunch, but we ended up staying for hours. The boys didn’t have their swimsuits on, but that didn’t stop them from playing in the lake water.

On weekends and holidays, only property owners are allowed to park here. Visitors can park on the street or at one of the other beaches and then take the free Water Taxi over.

Lake Lodge Beach

Playground at Lake Lodge Beach, Pine Mountain Lake near sunset
Time to Play at Lake Lodge Beach

One of the two smaller beaches in Pine Mountain Lake, Lake Lodge is a wonderful destination for families. There’s a playground behind the sand, making for an easy day of fun for the kids.

As with Marina Beach, there is a protected swim area. Though the beach and swimming area are smaller, there’s still plenty of room to relax for a few hours or the whole day.

The Water Taxi stops at the dock to take passengers to the other beaches and Fisherman’s Cove.

Dunn Court Beach

Splashing at Dunn Court Beach
A Perfect Day Playing at Dunn Court Beach

Dunn Court Beach is located off Pleasantview Drive closer to the Golf Course. It’s similar in size to Lake Lodge Beach, but it wraps around the land that juts slightly into the lake. One side is sandy and faces Marina Beach across the water. The other side is grassy with picnic tables and grills.

We spent a full day at Dunn Court Beach in June. Though it’s a no-frills kind of place, it had everything we needed for a full day of fun. When the sun got too hot, we sat in the shallow waters while the kids splashed around us. It was the perfect pace for our low-key getaway.

2. GET ON THE LAKE

On the Family Pedal Cruiser, Pine Mountain Lake
Bug Taking in the Views from our Family Pedal Cruiser

At some point during your vacation, you’re going to want to get on the water. Pine Mountain Lake is not a big lake. It has 210 acres of surface water and about 6 miles of shoreline. We’ve watched people ski there, but I think it’s a better fit for motorless watercraft or a pontoon boat.

Because the lake isn’t large, only property owners can take out their personal watercraft to keep it from getting too crowded. If you want to join them on the water, the following are options for getting on the water beyond the beach.

Kayak

This is a perfect lake to explore by kayak. It’s calm, not too cold, and not too big. Simply take off and explore at your leisure. Unfortunately, you can’t use your own kayak unless you own property. Most visitors rent kayaks on Marina Beach.

Some vacation rentals also come with kayaks as part of their amenities. We rented a lakefront house on our last trip that came with a kayak and a paddleboat. It was amazing to wake up, have a cup of coffee, then hop in a kayak to explore in the morning. The perfect way to start the day!

Pedal Boats

Another popular option is the Marina Store’s deluxe Family Pedal Cruiser. I had no idea these things existed. They have the look and feel of a pontoon boat, but they are powered by your legs!

We usually rent these for an hour and head down one of the lake coves to gawk at some of the gorgeous lake houses and admire the swans. But you can also rent them for a day and tie them up on one of the buoys near Dunn Court Beach for a day playing on the lake. 

The lakefront house we rented also came with a traditional-style paddleboat, which the kids loved.

Other Boat Rentals

The Marina Store also rents sailboats and fishing boats if you want to give your arms and legs a break!

You can also book a private lake cruise in the evening hours, from 6:30 pm – 7:30 pm. This is a beautiful time on the lake, with the sun setting and much of the boat traffic docked for the evening. Call (209) 962-8631 to book or for more information.

The Water Taxi

If none of the other options work out for you, the Water Taxi is a free and easy way to explore the lake from the water. This little pontoon boat circles the lake hourly with stops at each of the beaches and Fisherman’s Cove.

You can use it to get to another beach or stay on for the full route to get a lay of the land from the water.

3. GO FISHING

Sunset at Fisherman's Cove in Pine Mountain Lake
Sunset at Fisherman’s Cove

If you like fishing, Pine Mountain Lake’s Fisherman’s Cove is a lovely place to sit and wait for a bite. This is a non-swimming area with docks, a picnic grove, and a new playground where the kids can play.

The lake is stocked at least once per year with trout. There is also a healthy population of largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and red ear perch.

There are two free fishing days per year when you can fish without a license. Otherwise, the state of California requires a license for everyone ages 16 and up. Buy your license and get all the information you need at the Marina Store or Main Gate.

If you’re feeling confident, sign up for the annual Fishing Derby at the Marina Store. A prize is given to the heaviest fish caught from May through October, but you have to sign up before catching your fish to qualify. All ages are welcome to take part.

4. PLAY BALL

Pine Mountain Lake Golf Course
Taking in Sunset Golf Course Views from The Grill

When you’re ready to get away from the water for a bit, the Pine Mountain Lake community offers plenty of other sporty activities.

The Golf Course

The community is home to an 18-Hole championship golf course that is open to the public for play year-round. Though we didn’t play during our visit, we enjoyed exploring the course’s park-like setting. The deer also enjoy the course in the evening. One night we saw what must have been an entire herd of deer crossing the driving range at sunset!

The course offers golf lessons, clinics, golf carts, pull carts, club rentals, and storage. Pretty much anything you’d need for a round of golf on vacation.

Tennis and Pickleball

Pine Mountain Lake has 4 tennis courts and 6 pickleball courts. Both are open to visitors who don’t own property in the community with a few restrictions.

You’ll need a pass to play and can buy daily passes at the Main Gate. If you’re staying in a vacation rental, ask for information on passes before you arrive to make sure you have the most up-to-date information.

The tennis courts are near Fisherman’s Cove and the pickleball courts are near the golf course.

5. VISIT THE EQUESTRIAN CENTER

If you’re curious to explore the area by horse, check out the Pine Mountain Lake Equestrian Center. This is a boarding facility that also offers family horseback rides and lessons. Depending on when you visit, you can even sign your kiddos up for Wrangler Camp. This 4-hour session includes riding lessons, crafts, and some playtime where kids can get to know each other.

The Center is set on 10 acres with a beautiful picnic and BBQ area. With a stage and dance floor, it’s also the place where you’ll find many community events. During our last visit, the site hosted a classic car meetup and a big community BBQ event. You can usually find flyers for local events by the Marina Store.

6. ENJOY THE PLAYGROUNDS

Playground at Fisherman's Cove
The Playground at Fisherman’s Cove

The first house we rented at Pine Mountain Lake didn’t have a lot of outdoor space, so we made good use of the community’s playgrounds in the evenings.

Fisherman’s Cove has brand new equipment that the kids loved! It’s set in a wooded location, which is home to quite a few deer in addition to playing children. There’s also a large picnic area nearby with grills, and a nice and easy walk down to the fishing dock, which is gorgeous at sunset.

The Lake Lodge Beach also has a small playground area for kids to enjoy when they need a break from splashing in the water. We also had fun playing here on a quiet June evening. Though we didn’t get back in the water after a long lake day, it was fun for the boys to run back and forth between the playsets and the sand.

Outside of the community, Groveland’s Mary Laveroni Community Park has a popular skate park. Teens and tweens might want to pass by to skate with the locals. The park also has a small playground, basketball courts, and a large shaded grassy area perfect for picnics.

7. TAKE A HIKE

There are some great options for family hiking near Pine Mountain Lake.

The community itself has three trails that are open to everyone. The Rock Canyon hiking trail is a 1.5-mile loop that starts near Fisherman’s Cove. The trail includes over 20 interpretive nature signs along the way.

Being situated near the Stanislaus National Forest also opens plenty of opportunities for family hikes outside the lake community. The trailhead to Diana Falls in Coulterville is about half an hour away and makes for a scenic and easy hike in the spring months when the water is flowing. For more of a challenge, the 7.5-mile trail to Preston Falls is a popular hike in early summer.

Located in the Yosemite Wilderness, but outside the gates of the park, Carlon Falls is a popular 3-mile trail. Hikers reach a lovely waterfall and spots to swim before the turnaround point. Some rock scrambling is required as you near the falls.

8. RAFT THE MERCED OR TUOLUMNE RIVERS

If you’re looking for an adventure, consider rafting down the Merced or Tuolumne Rivers.

The Merced is more my speed. I’ve done a couple of class IV rafting trips, and I much prefer rapids that are class III and under these days! Zephyr Whitewater Expeditions offers a ½ day late season excursion with class II and III rapids plus some scenic floating sections. This trip is great for family fun and includes a calm area for swimming and jumping off “Jump Rock.” The minimum age for this trip is 7-9 depending on swimming ability and water levels.

In Yosemite, you can raft through some of the Valley’s most amazing scenery during the 3-mile float down the Merced. Depending on the year’s snowmelt, the season can last to mid-summer. This is high on my list of things to do once my kiddos are both over the required 50 pounds!

For adventurous families with teenagers, the Tuolumne offers world-class whitewater rafting nearby. The Tuolumne is the region’s most advanced river. First-timers are welcome, but your day will be full of pretty intense rapids!

9. YOSEMITE DAY TRIP

Yosemite Cathedral Beach
A gorgeous Cathedral Beach morning!

One thing I love about visiting Pine Mountain Lake is its easy access to Yosemite National Park.

On our last visit, we decided to head over for a half-day trip. We splashed in the Merced at Cathedral Beach and wandered around the Meadow before heading back to the lake for more floating and relaxing at the lake house.

Yosemite’s Big Oak Flat entrance is a little over 30 minutes from Pine Mountain Lake. Know that it’ll take another 30-45 minutes to get down to the Valley from there.

Wondering how to spend a day in Yosemite? Check out our favorite year-round Yosemite adventures here.

10. EXPLORE GOLD COUNTRY TOWNS

Railtown's Famous Locomotive 3
Visiting Famous Locomotives at Railtown 1897

Pine Mountain Lake is situated right at the edge of California Gold Country. Visitors enjoy the majestic scenery of the Sierra Nevada and opportunities to explore California history at the same time.

Jamestown

Historic Jamestown is less than 30 miles away. This marks the spot where gold was first discovered in Tuolumne County. There is a small historic downtown, and one of our favorite California State Parks: Railtown 1897.

Railtown 1897 is known as “The Movie Railroad.” There’s a good chance that you’ve seen the park’s locomotives and railroad cars on screen, as they’ve been in over 200 films, TV shows, and commercials. John was most excited to see the train from Back to the Future III, while the boys were happy to take the scenic six-mile train ride.

Columbia

About 15 minutes northeast of Jamestown, Columbia’s entire downtown area was designated as a state historic park back in 1945. Visiting the town today is like stepping into a living history exhibit of a thriving 1850s California city frozen in time.

Costumed volunteers and staff lead tours, run shops, and serve sarsaparilla at restaurants and saloons. You can try your hand at gold panning and even take a ride on a stagecoach.

If you’re in the area in December, you’ll also be able to participate in holiday festivities while Nelson’s Candy Kitchen makes fresh candy canes for all to see. Read why Columbia is one of our top places to visit in California in December here.

WHERE TO STAY IN PINE MOUNTAIN LAKE WITH KIDS

Other than camping or staying in a hotel in Groveland, vacation rentals are where it’s at in Pine Mountain Lake.

There are plenty of unique options throughout the community including horse lots near the Equestrian Center, taxiway lots near the community airport, and, of course, lovely lakefront properties. If you prefer booking direct, Yosemite Region Resorts has many good vacation rentals.

Some of our favorites are below:

Little House on the Lake

We stayed at Little House on the Lake over Labor Day weekend and had the best time. There are gorgeous views of the lake from most of the rooms, plenty of space for everyone, and a perfectly located stretch of private lakefront. We were outside from sun up to sun down…and then some.

We enjoyed every meal on the expansive deck and it was an easy walk next door to Lakefront Lodge beach if we wanted a change of scene.

The only downside was that the water levels were lower during our visit. This meant wading into some muck instead of the sandy areas where the water would be earlier in the season. That being said, I wouldn’t hesitate to stay here again on a future trip, muck and all!

Little House on the Lake

Dock Holiday

This home is on Fisherman’s Cove. It comes with a large dock to hang out on, where you can easily jump in the lake and float around with some inner tubes. You’ll also have three kayaks to use when you’re ready to explore the lake, so no need to rent. 

When you want to head to another part of the lake, walk over to Fisherman’s Cove to catch the free Water Taxi to the more crowded beaches.

Dock Holiday Vacation Rental

Hart Lake House

This is a large lakefront home on a wooded lot with an awesome location 500 feet from popular Marina Beach. No need to worry about parking on weekends in this popular area. 

This house is a great option for families. It comes with a private dock, a paddleboat, canoe, and a 2-person kayak. Two of the rooms have three twin beds (bunk beds plus a twin), and you can bring the family dogs.

This one is definitely on my list for our next visit!

Hart Lake House

KID-FRIENDLY EATS NEAR PINE MOUNTAIN LAKE

The Grill at PML

In the community of Pine Mountain Lake, there are two restaurant options and both are family-friendly.

Lakeside Cafe

The Lakeside Cafe is at Marina Beach. You can get your standard beach shack food here: hot dogs, sandwiches, soft serve. Eat on the outdoor patio or bring your food back to your picnic table in the grassy area.

The Grill at Pine Mountain Lake

The Grill at Pine Mountain Lake is at the golf course. We usually bring groceries and make our main meals at home, but we try to find time to come here at least once during a trip for desserts and margaritas. We’ve never had a problem finding a spot to enjoy on the outdoor patio and enjoy watching the deer play in the twilight.

Mountain Sage

Outside of Pine Mountain Lake, Groveland has more options for kid-friendly bites. Mountain Sage stands out as a unique place to grab a great cup of coffee and some baked treats in town. Besides the cafe, there’s a photography gallery, and an outdoor garden and nursery to enjoy.

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

Pine Mountain Lake is a resort community that was developed in the 1970s. There are a lot of rules in place to keep the crowds down and property owners happy. 

When you arrive, you’ll stop at the entrance gate and pay $40 for a pass that will last the duration of your stay. This pass is required to park anywhere other than the golf course and Grill.

The pass won’t get you into the Marina Beach parking lot on weekends and holidays. On these more crowded days, parking is reserved for property owners. Visitors can park along the main drive and walk in or take the Water Taxi instead.

Because the lake is on the smaller side, visitors can’t bring their own boats or kayaks. Watercraft is available for rent from the Marina Store, or you can use one that comes with a vacation rental.

When you rent a home here, the owner should provide all the details about the latest visitor do’s and don’ts. Though there are quite a few rules, we’ve found them easy enough to follow once we’re there.

ITINERARY: FOUR DAYS IN PINE MOUNTAIN LAKE WITH KIDS

The following is an itinerary for a long weekend at Pine Mountain Lake with kids that features many of the suggestions above. Of course, you should do as much or as little as you’d like. There’s something for every family and every pace around here.

Day 1: Get Settled and Unwind

Pretty much all my itineraries start this way. You’ve likely booked a vacation rental, so unpack and settle in.

If you have waterfront access, head to your beach or dock to float for a while. Otherwise, head to one of the smaller beaches to dip your toes in.

Kids love a stop at the Lake Lodge Beach for a little splashing and playground time. A stop here doesn’t require hauling out all of the beach gear!

Fire up the grill for dinner and get into vacation mode.

Day 2: Beach Day

Spend Day 2 relaxing by the lake in whichever way sounds good to you. If you have lake access at your house, you might not even leave the property today. Float on the water or take the house’s kayak for a spin.

If you feel like being a little more active, hop on the Water Taxi and head over to Marina Beach. Spend the day people-watching and relaxing on the beach. Consider renting one of the Marina Store’s Deluxe Family Cruisers to check out the coves, or hook up to a buoy and play on the lake for a few hours.

If the kids are still full of energy later in the day, head over to the playground at Fisherman’s Cove. Walk down to the dock to catch a glimpse of the glittering water as the sun sets.

Day 3: Adventure Time

Consider heading further afield on Day 3. You’ll never be disappointed by a few hours in Yosemite National Park!

Ride bikes around the Valley, splash in the Merced at Cathedral Beach, or get in an awesome hike on the Mist Trail. The drive to the Valley is a little over an hour from the lake.

After your day in one of the country’s most spectacular parks, head over to The Grill where you can indulge in delicious desserts and toast to an amazing getaway.

Day 4: Head Back in Time

Start your last day on the lake with one more float or spin on the kayak before packing up and heading home.

On your way back to reality, consider a time-traveling stop at one of the nearby Gold Rush towns. Enjoy a picnic and ride a famous locomotive at Railtown 1897 or tour Columbia by stagecoach.

Either town is a great way to experience more of this scenic and historic region. They are also sure to have plenty of souvenirs to help you remember your beautiful weekend in the Sierras.

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