Summer Retreat at Pinecrest Lake
July 13 - 20, Camp Sylvester
Our 4th annual Summer Retreat takes place at beautiful Camp Sylvester near Pinecrest Lake in the mountains of Central California. Continuing the tradition of the French Meadows Macrobiotic Summer Camp for the 50th year in a row.
Nestled between Pinecrest Lake and the slopes of Dodge Ridge ski resort, Camp Sylvester is an ideal setting for family vacations. With updated cabins and recreation halls sprawling over nearly ten acres of the Stanislaus National Forest. Camp Sylvester provides the fresh air, green pines and excitement of an outdoor adventure with all of the comforts of a rustic resort.
The picturesque, natural surroundings are an ideal setting to go "on retreat" and provide a unique environment in which to relax, study, and play.
Can't make it for the whole week - we have a two day deal - check it out!
For more information click a quick link...
Restrooms and showers with hot and cold running water
Commercial grade kitchen and dining hall
Team sports areas
Lighted BBQ & picnic area
Organic VEGAN Food Services
Organic, VEGAN Meals
For many campers, the unforgettable meals are what keep them coming back - delicious and healing in quality.
Organic, 100% plant based, VEGAN, seasonal whole foods prepared fresh daily - from scratch - meals, snacks, desserts and more. Prepared in our fully equipped commercial kitchen.
Our Executive Chef for Summer Retreat is Patrick Grosset of Vibe Tribe Foods in San Diego. Patrick is a professionally trained French Chef with a strong background in macrobiotics and vegan cooking. He will be educating staff in our retreat kitchen, sharing his extensive knowledge of truly healthy food. Our kitchen features work/study opportunities if you would like to join our staff and learn more hands on.
Our full menu is gluten free and we offer nut free, oil free and low salt options.
We filter all water used in production of the vegan meals and purchase vegetables and staples from reputable sources including Lundberg Family Farms, Gold Mine Natural Food Company and Veritable Vegetable.
Since we are unable to cook separate meals for specific needs, we recommend that you bring any special foods you might need.
Empowerment Through Education & Community
Classes & Workshops
The major emphasis of our Summer Retreat is education for better health and longevity through the natural practices.
The daily schedule includes lectures, cooking classes, workshops, movement sessions and meditation groups. All sessions encourage participation, dialogue and questions.
We feature daily cooking classes, at least two everyday for the length of camp. And we have daily cooking classes for the Kid's Camp too!
Want to learn more about seasonal, vegan cooking hands on? Want to learn more about the macrobiotic principles to create naturally healthy dishes and take your cooking to a whole new level?
Our big, beautiful, commercial kitchen is a TEACHING kitchen!
Check out our work/study program. Get empowered, only work part-time AND get a big discount on your camp registration, save $500.
Our Executive Chef Patrick Grosset is a professional French Chef and a Teacher of macrobiotics and natural health balance. He will be educating staff while creating in season, healthy dishes for all to enjoy. And he specialized in gluten free cooking.
Daily Cooking Classes & Hands-on Workshops
Learn macrobiotic cooking from basic to advanced in our new cooking class program. World-class chefs will instruct you on everything from selecting quality ingredients to preparing meals that are both delicious and healthy. Each class is ninety minutes and tasty samples are offered to all who attend the entire class.
Daily movement classes and hike excursions keep everyone active and in good shape. Classes range from Chi Gong and Yoga in the early morning to Dance, Yoga, and Pilates in the afternoon. All of the classes are non-sequential, allowing you to drop in on any of them without prior experience or knowledge.
Private Sessions & Counseling
The accessibility of Health Counselors and Alternative Health Practitioners is one of our traditions. There are ample opportunities to schedule an in-depth health consultation, treatments or other private sessions while at camp. Private sessions are scheduled after arrival at camp with each instructor directly.
The natural setting of Camp Sylvester, away from the distractions of normal life, encourages total focus on health.
Pinecrest Lake Activities
Come spend time with us down at the lake, we have our own space on the beach with all kinds of water toys to choose from. Paddle boards, kayaks, water floats, life preservers and more. We like to share our toys and have lifeguards on duty to help you get set up.
Relax and renew on the beach, take a hike, go for a swim, breath in the fresh air and enjoy!
Kid's Camp Activities
Our Kids Camp is available for children three to twelve years old during adult lecture times. We keep our young campers quite busy with cooking classes, arts and crafts, archery, swimming and lake activities. Happy kids learning and having fun with new friends.
Daily snacks are also a yummy part of the Kids Camp morning cooking classes and afternoon activities. You are welcome to bring your own snacks, but we ask that your children eat those privately. Also, we ask that you check with parents of other children first before sharing any snacks.
Please note - State law requires helmets to be worn by bike riders age 16 and under. This is strictly enforced. If you bring a bike for your child, please bring a helmet too.
Cooking with Kids
We love teaching kids about food! We have a daily cooking class for our young campers that is hands-on. Children get to make their own dishes and eat their own delicious creations.
Pinecrest Lake Activities
Kid's Camp will include scheduled afternoon trips to the lake. Play on the beach, splash around in the water, get some sun and enjoy all the toys we brought along to share. We have paddle boards, kayak, water floats, life preservers and more.
We are also planning at least one excursion to the lake for an extra-cost boating activity. Parents will be able to reserve this activity in advance and are welcome to attend with the kids for a fun-filled time on Pinecrest Lake.
Tweens & Teens
Teens are welcome to attend classes, hang out with friends, join our work/study program in the kitchen/camp, head to the lake on an excursion (with parental permission), and/or work on a skit for the variety show.
We have a large indoor hall for our legendary dance party with lots of lights and music. You will not want to miss this once in a lifetime event!
The evening campfires feature an opening circle during which campers share their stories. We also host one of the best variety shows anywhere, and have a lighted ampitheater stage!
Many people attend daytime classes and participate in swimming, volleyball, walking in the woods, and relaxing by the lake. Whatever you decide, there are many like-minded folks who will join you if you like.
Guided Hikes Near Camp
Hikes range from easy to advanced, are guided with experienced leaders and we supply snacks and a to-go lunch for your trip.
- Hike Around Pinecrest Lake -
This nine-mile mostly-level loop hike offers beautiful views of Pinecrest Lake and its deep granite basin. The narrow, sometimes paved trail passes through forested areas between the water and privately-owned cabins. We cross a boardwalk above an area overgrown with reeds, and climb a sturdy metal stairway up a large granite shelf. Undulating with easy contours, we make our way on the trail to the eastern end of the lake. Rising slightly, the trail crosses massive granite slabs marked by National Recreation Trail signs—small metal guides with directional arrows.
Note the escaping water when we cross the dam: If the lake is high, the water volume is impressive. During drought conditions, there might be no water releases but the incredible views remain.
Our walk is moderately challenging and in partial sun. Prepare to walk at a steady pace, wearing sturdy closed-toe shoes, sunscreen and suitable clothing including a protective hat. Overcast or not, we’re at 5,500-foot elevation and you will burn if you wear shorts and short sleeves. The walking surface varies from completely smooth to rocky and uneven. View the video posted above for examples of the hike.You should be at least 9-years old to join us.
This adventure is about three hours walking round-trip from the campground. Our stroll to the lake passes numerous modern homes and older mountain cabins. Note the land under the buildings is leased and not owned by individuals. Interested in buying one? Visit the local real estate office and ask for details. Most homes around the lake are accessed by small boat because there are no roads.
Though the hike is considered “easy” by athletic twenty-somethings, it requires some focus and attention to terrain. If you require a slower, easier pace, ask which hike is best for you. These hikes are typically done in groups of 10-12 and advance reservations are recommended. We leave Camp Sylvester early to beat the heat of the day. Bring your own water and we’ll have snacks for you to carry in your small backpack, if you remember to bring one from home. We will be back in time for lunch.
TWO Pinecrest Lake hikes are planned, one Monday and the other Thursday. Chuck Lowery will guide both. We will gather at the entry doors to the Dining Hall at 8:00AM.
- Hike to Cleo’s Bath & Take a Swim -
This hike includes all of the elements found in the Hike Around Pinecrest Lake PLUS a 1/2 mile strenuous climb up to the historic Cleo’s Bath. Check out the video at the link below for the scene that awaits you.
Intrepid Hike Leader Dan Lennox will guide this group there and back. If interested, you must signup in advance.
TWO Cleo’s Bath hikes are offered, one Tuesday and the other Friday. You might not return in time for lunch so be sure to request a plated meal be saved for you. We will gather at the entry doors to the Dining Hall at 8:00AM.
MORE HIKING OPTIONS!
You’re welcome to light out on your own if you wish. Other guided hikes may be offered on a less structured schedule. If interested, ask at the Front Desk for more details about departure times and length of hike.
Camping & Housing
There are eighteen sleeping cabins available. Each private cabin sleeps 8 to 13 guests in twin-size bunk beds. Each unit includes access to bathroom, dining, and recreation facilities. The cabins have full power and lighting and are gas heated if the weather turns unusually cold.
No linens are provided. You need to provide all bedding (sheets, blankets, sleeping bag and/or pillow), hygiene products, and bathing towel.
Participants are required to keep their assigned space in cabins clean.
Private Tent Space: Bring Your Own
There is room for about fifty tents between the cabins and other buildings. Most of these spots have ample afternoon shade with a reasonable amount of open space.
Notify us if you prefer to tent and we will save a place near your cabin. There is no change in fees for choosing to stay in a tent. Every registration includes bunk space.
RV's, Campers and Motor Homes
Camp Sylvester has limited parking for motor homes. The better option may be to camp in a nearby campground and walk to our campus if you have a large vehicle.
Bathrooms & Showers
Camp Sylvester features running water with flush toilets, sinks, and showers with hot and cold running water conveniently located near all cabins and tent spaces.
We use filtered water for all of our kitchen needs and is available to all campers. Feel free to bring your own water bottle to fill.
Verizon and Sprint phones have the best reception at this camp location. Cell phones are not to be seen or heard; you can have them and use them privately but we ask that you do not disturb any other campers when using your devices.
We do have limited wifi access for our administrative purposes. You are welcome to purchase your own hot spot to make it available for your personal needs.
28770 Dodge Ridge Road
Pinecrest Lake, CA 95364
Just click on the red locator on the map below for Google maps to make your travel plans today.
We are very happy to have Michael Clennan as our transportation coordinator!
We know it can be difficult to plan a vacation far from home and we want this to be an enjoyable experience from the time you leave your house. So Michael will be your main man making sure it is a hassel-free time!
We now offer van service for those flying into the San Francisco/Oakland airports and ride-share coordination. If you are flying into one of these airports please note you need to arrive on Friday before lunchtime, to use our van service to get you to camp. Ride sharing also coordinated, just let Mike know what you have available. Please contact Mike for more details before making your plane reservations. Call Mike at 713-864-1204 or email: MGClennan@gmail.com
If you need a ride, or have room in your car to offer a ride, please email Michael. He will help coordinate transportation for those who are driving if needed.
Please contact Michael directly with your transportation needs or availability to share your ride.
In addition to our excellent program and delicious meals, Pinecrest Lake offers many unique opportunities from horseback riding and water activities to hikes in the gorgeous mountains.
There is an easy hike around the lake and the more challenging climb to Cleo's Bath.
We have a convenient bike path leading down to the lake area for easy access. Bicycle rentals are also available there.
Bring your clubs if you play golf because there is a course just 20 miles down the road to hit some balls.
What to Bring to Camp
Come prepared for hot days, cool nights and the rare occasion of rain by bringing the following:
For cabin stay: bedding, sheets (twin size), blankets or sleeping bag, pillow
For tenting: sleeping bag, tent, ground cover, air mattress or pad
Toiletries, bath towel, washcloth
Sweater, jacket, and cap for cold nights and mornings
Summer clothing, hat, sun glasses
Sunscreen, bug spray
Bathing suit, beach towel
Exercise clothes, yoga mat
Water bottle, thermos for day outings
Hiking gear, hiking shoes, day pack
Flashlight, lantern, batteries
Special food if desired or needed
Notebook, pencil, or pen
Folding chair or pad for sitting; seating for classes is provided, but some campers prefer their own for added comfort
Cash or checkbook for client services, craft fair, etc. (not all practitioners accept credit cards).
Cell phone charger
Summer camp takes place in the mountains. Be prepared to deal with cold nights, chilly mornings, and hot afternoons.
When is check-in?
Check-in begins Saturday morning 9 am.
If a camper requests move in on Friday evening we will make accommodations available, for a fee to be determined.
When is checkout?
Campers must check out by Saturday morning 10 am.
Do I clean my own cabin?
Yes, you are expected to keep your own space clean.
Do I clean the bathroom and showers I use?
We have staff to clean the bathrooms. But please pick up after yourself.
What is the weather like in the mountains?
Chilly nights, cool mornings, warm to hot days.
Where can I park?
We have limited parking spaces available. We recommend carpooling. RV spaces are available but must be reserved ahead of time and are only available on a first- come, first-serve basis.
Can you accommodate special dietary needs?
Our menu is vegan and organic. We offer gluten-free options. Special dietary needs cannot be accommodated; please bring any personal items needed.
Is there wi-fi? Cell phone reception?
Yes, we have cell phone reception (Verizon). Wi-fi is available if you purchase your own hot spot.
Do I have the option to change cabins?
We will do our best to accommodate changes but cannot promise there will be space available.
Do I have the option to sleep in a tent?
Yes, tent placement is first-come, first-serve.
Are the bathrooms and showers single sex or co-ed?
If I forget to bring something, is there a store?
There is a “general store” near Pinecrest Lake that sells supplies and snacks.
Is there a First Aid Station?
There is a First Aid Station at Thieman Hall in our Camp Director Office. We also have a camp nurse within camp, on-call.
The closest hospital is approximately 35 minutes away in Sonora.
Sonora Regional Medical Center
1000 Greenley Rd, Sonora, CA 95370
Kids’ Camp Questions:
What activities are there for my children?
Games, sports, cooking classes, camp and lake activities (swimming, boating), arts and crafts.
What is the minimum age for a child to be in Kids Camp?
The child must be fully potty trained to be participating in kids’ camp.
May I visit Kids’ Camp or help out?
You are welcome to visit and help out, but please be respectful of the staff’s schedule and directions for the children.
Do kids need to be accompanied by an adult to attend camp?
Yes, kids must come to camp with an assigned adult.
How do I apply for Work/Study?
click here for work study application and information
How do I apply for a Scholarship?
click here for scholarship application and information
Payment Plan Questions:
What kind of payment forms do you accept?
Credit/Debit card, check or cash.
Do you have auto-pay?
Vegetarian Educational Institute Questions:
What is VEI's affiliation with the George Ohsawa Macrobiotic Foundation?
GOMF has worked hand in hand with us in our creation and transition to carry forward the tradition of French Meadows Macrobiotic Summer Camp.
Are donations to VEI tax-deductible?
Yes, VEI is a nonprofit organization. Any donations made since the filing of our 501c3 application in July of 2016 are tax-deductible.
Can I earn CEUs?
CEU’s are currently not available but may be available in the future.
Are there ‘hands-on’ cooking classes?
Do I need to bring my own vegetable knife?
Kitchen Staff Questions:
What type of clothing should I wear?
Casual, comfortable pants and a t-shirt, non-slip, closed-toe shoes. No jewelry should be worn on your hands/wrists, except a simple wedding band (per CA Health Department).
Do I need to wear a hairnet?
Your head needs to be covered unless your head is shaved. A hairnet, scarf or hat is appropriate. Facial hair must be covered with a beard cover.
What are my hours? My days off? My breaks?
Kitchen staff will work every other day. Schedules are posted at camp.
May I bring my own knife?
Yes; please put your name on it.
Will I have an opportunity to learn more about vegetarian cooking?
Yes, this will be an educational kitchen experience. There will also be other cooking classes available during camp.
Campgrounds Work Staff:
What type of clothing should I wear?
Casual camp wear, closed-toe shoes.
What are my hours? My days off? My breaks?
Schedule to be posted at camp.
The following camp rules are listed to assure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone. These rules are requested by the camp staff, in addition to those listed in the Waiver, Release and Indemnity Agreement.
Drive 5 mph within camp boundaries. There are children playing and people walking leisurely in the campground. Drive slowly for their safety and yours.
Stay in your assigned cabin or tent only within camp boundaries as approved by the Retreat Director. This assures everyone's enjoyment of the natural beauty.
Pets, including dogs, are not permitted within the camp boundaries. If you show up with a dog (other than a registered service animal) or other pet, you will be asked to leave.
Also prohibited within camp boundaries: smoking, underage drinking, illegal drugs, firearms, and alcohol at scheduled events. Picking wildflowers is not allowed in the National Forest.
Quiet time is 10:00 pm to 6:00 am. This includes radios and CD players in cabins and at personal campsites as well as the use of bright lanterns.
Personal Responsibility: The camp staff does not provide individual care for participants. If you need care, you need to bring your own caregiver. Camp reserves the right to limit participation based on individual condition.
All engines should be off during camp—check with the Camp Director for reasonable use of RV generators. It is strictly prohibited to cut live or standing trees and or operate chain saws.
Due to extreme fire danger only one open, supervised fire area is allowed at the amphitheater. Individual camp stoves and lanterns are permitted with advance registration of devices.
Although bear sightings are rare, keep bear bait (food and anything aromatic) out of sight and smell and away from tents. Space in your assigned cabin is available for these items. The bears generally avoid humans but do like to snack on people food, for which they have been known to rip tents, break car windows, pull doors off camper shells, and claw car exteriors. Careless attitudes by humans have resulted in the euthanizing of bears. Please be proactive, handle food properly and keep wild animals (and people) safe. Food is not secure in your vehicle.
Keep your cell phone in airplane mode within camp boundaries. Take care not to disturb others when you make your calls. Please see our cell phone policy below.
Photo/Video—Any commercial use of photographs or videos taken at Summer Retreat is prohibited without written permission by the Vegetarian Educational Institute. Please let the folks at the registration table KNOW if you object to your image being used by VEI for promotional purposes.
Drink plenty of water. Filtered water is available from the kitchen. Avoid drinking water from the lake or stream. Bring your own bottle or cup for personal use and leave camp utensils and bowls for dining hall use.
Ask before arriving. If you have any questions about these policies, or any other questions, it is best to ask before driving all the way to camp.
or Call: (415) 226-9677
Please abide by the rules! Having to ask someone to leave is no fun for anyone.
Cell Phone Policy
Cell phones have become pervasive in our environment and are considered by many to be an essential tool. Nevertheless, there is irrefutable scientific evidence that the radio frequencies cell phones receive and emit -- even while they are off -- are harmful to human health, causing cancer and neurological damage.
Attending a Happy Healthy Retreat is your chance to get away from many of the vibes of civilization, enjoy nature, and absorb the healing energy of the forest.
In consideration of this, we request that you acknowledge Camp Sylvester as a "Cell Phone-Free Zone." We highly recommend that you leave your cell phone in your cabin. If you must keep it with you, then please turn it off or on vibrate. If you need to use your phone, please do so far away from others.
There is no cell phone use allowed in common areas: the dining hall and surrounding area, the campfire ring, outside picnic table area, and restrooms. You may use your cell phone in your cabin if it does not disturb others.
Thank you for your cooperation, and have a Happy, Healthy Retreat.