The most gorgeous lakes in California dazzle with breathtaking natural attractions among the state’s numerous stunning outdoor places. From Northern California lakes like Lake Shasta and Lake Tahoe to Southern California lakes like Silverhead and Big Bear Lake that beat the summer heat, a wonderful body of water is easily accessible from all of California’s main towns.
California’s extensive reservoirs and freshwater lakes provide a variety of recreational opportunities. At resort spots such as Lake Berryessa or Lake Almanor, boating lakes, swimming lakes, and the greatest lakes for a holiday all merge into one.
While many lakes in California encourage a healthy fishing habit, Cachuma Lake in the Santa Ynez Valley is widely recognised as one of the greatest lakes to fish due to its prize-winning bass.
Other lakes, like as Mono Lake, have interesting geological features, while sites like Folsom Lake are popular for Jet Skiing and other water activities.
Many of California’s most beautiful lakes provide land-based activities as well, such as the hundreds of miles of hiking trails that encircle Bass Lake just north of Fresno. Don’t have a boat? Boat rentals are also available at several of California’s top lakes.
The sparkling blue water of Lake Tahoe is bordered by the granite Sierra Nevada Mountains, making it one of the most stunning lakes in California. Lake Tahoe, which spans state lines between California and Nevada, is also distinguished by a north and south section.
Campgrounds, cottages, and opulent resorts line the beaches of North and South Lake Tahoe, and the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail encircle the whole lake basin.
Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for both motorised and non-powered boating. Boat rentals and other activities such as picturesque lake excursions are available at a number of outfitters and marinas located around the lake.
Lake Tahoe is also home to one of the greatest state parks in California, Emerald Bay State Park, with a vista that entices visitors to return. The Rubicon Trail, one of the greatest walks in Lake Tahoe, connects Emerald Bay to the nearby D.L. Bliss State Park, which also has campgrounds and lakefront amenities.
While summer is the finest time to appreciate Lake Tahoe’s water, the shoulder seasons and winter also provide breathtaking views of the aquatic environment.
The lake’s shoreline are surrounded by nightlife and entertainment, notably in tourist destinations on the southeast side, such as the resort villages of Stateline and South Lake Tahoe.
Shasta Lake, located less than 15 miles north of Redding in Northern California, is the state’s biggest reservoir. The 30,000-plus acres of Shasta Lake, which is made up of spreading fingers and riverways that aggregate below the huge Shasta Dam, welcome all forms of exploration. Motorized boating is one of the most popular watersports, with vessels ranging from Jet Skis to houseboats.
At Shasta Lake, several local marinas and resorts provide boat rentals and boat ramps, and numerous secluded coves around the lake offer great sites to anchor and swim. Shasta Lake is accessible from a variety of locations due to its vast size. The Sacramento Arm and the McCloud Arm are two of the most developed expanses of water.
The subterranean Lake Shasta Caverns are accessible by boat across the water and offer a one-of-a-kind excursion at Shasta Lake. The caverns can only be seen on a guided tour, which begins with a 10-minute boat journey across Lake McCloud’s McCloud Arm.
There is no crawling or climbing involved in the guided tours of the caves, although a large number of stairs are walked along the route.
Big Bear Lake, located in the San Bernardino National Forest, less than 100 miles from Los Angeles, defies Southern California landscape standards. Big Bear Lake, located at an elevation of nearly 6,700 feet and close to the same-named city, is a snow-fed leisure area that is popular with all forms of watercraft during the summer.
Big Bear Lake is one of the nicest boating lakes in Southern California, with various marinas such as Pleasure Point Marina lining its seven-mile length. Stand up paddleboards and pontoon boats are available for rent at these marinas.
A unique way to see Big Bear Lake’s water and history is to board the historic Miss Liberty Skipperliner for a 90-minute guided trip offered by Pine Knot Marina.
Big Bear Lake is also a popular swimming destination, with multiple public beaches bordering its shores. Boulder Bay Park, located on the southwest coast, is one of the largest swimming beaches. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails around Big Bear Lake, including the Cougar Crest Track, which offers views of the lake and links to the country’s longest trail, the Pacific Crest Trail.
Mono Lake, located just beyond the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park near Lee Vining, has remarkable old tufa towers springing from the lake. Freshwater springs that shoot up through the alkaline lake force sediments to mix, resulting in these unusual geological structures. The South Tufa Area offers some of the greatest vistas of this fascinating geological history.
The lake’s alkaline levels provide a distinct sensation of buoyancy to activities such as swimming and boating. Mono Lake’s aquatic species is particularly distinctive, with brine shrimp surviving on the natural green algae. The abundance of brine shrimp in Mono Lake draws a large number of migratory birds, making Mono Lake a popular bird-watching site.
This popular body of water, which straddles the Arizona-California border in the far southeast corner of the state, is a 19,000-acre impoundment of the Colorado River. Lake Havasu, surrounded by desert scenery, is famous for motorised boating, bass fishing, and swimming from the shore.
Numerous campgrounds and boat-access campsites along Lake Havasu’s eastern shoreline, and the nearby settlement of Lake Havasu City offers contemporary amenities as well as the historic London Bridge that spans the water.
Lake Berryessa, located less than two hours north of San Francisco, is a vast freshwater reservoir and the biggest lake in Napa County. Lake Berryessa is popular for boating, jet skiing, and water sports, but its numerous hidden coves and sandy beaches also make it a playground for non-motorized boating, fishing, and swimming. Lake Berryessa is a nice spot to cool down in the summer because of the scorching summer temperatures in Napa Valley.
The 2.6-mile Smittle Creek Trail connects the Oak Shores and Smittle Creek Day Use Areas on the southwest side. These day-use locations are popular with families since they provide public beaches and shoreline fishing. Boat rentals are offered at Pleasure Cove Marina on the lake’s far southern end, and various campsites dot the 165 miles of shoreline.
Just standing on the coast of Lake Berryessa, surrounded by golden hills of oak and manzanita, is worth the visit. The Morning Glory Spillway at Lake Berryessa is another must-see site. When the reservoir becomes overly full, this one-of-a-kind water management system operates like a gigantic drain stopper, creating a vortex in the centre of the water.
The impoundment of the American River formed this huge reservoir in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, behind the backdoor of the once-thriving gold town of Folsom.
Folsom Lake State Recreation Area encompasses the lake and offers hiking paths, camping, and multiple access points to the coastline. It’s one of the better boating lakes in the area, and you’ll often see motorboats and Jet Skis skimming across the water.
Those wishing for non-motorized boating activities should visit adjacent Lake Natoma inside the state recreation area. The speed limit on Lake Natoma’s 500-square-acres is five miles per hour, which discourages motorised boats from using the lake. Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, located less than 30 miles from Sacramento, is a favourite weekend retreat.
Bass Lake, located in the Sierra National Forest about an hour north of Fresno, is a popular venue for all forms of water activities. Bass Lake’s five-mile length attracts motorised boats, and numerous protected coves provide excellent sites for swimming, fishing, and paddling a boat. Boat rentals and pleasant lodging are available at lakeside establishments such as the Forks Resort and Millers Landing on Bass Lake.
Bass Lake is warmer throughout the season due to its lower elevation when compared to other Sierra Nevada bodies of water. Day hiking is a common pastime around Bass Lake, and the forest contains hundreds of kilometres of hiking routes. The US Forest Service also runs five campsites near the beach for tent and RV camping.
The Mammoth Lakes Basin is located five minutes from the Sierra Nevada Mountain town of Mammoth Lakes, which is home to the Mammoth Mountain ski and snowboard resort. Lakes such as Lake Mary and Horseshoe Lake may be reached by car, whereas smaller lakes in the basin can only be reached by hiking paths. There are around a dozen lakes dispersed throughout the region.
Hiking, fishing, and brief dips in the lake are all popular activities in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. There are both primitive and established campsites in the region. A popular area to stay is on the beaches of Twin Lakes in Mammoth Lakes Basin.
Silverwood Lake, located in the San Bernardino Mountains and less than 90 miles from Los Angeles, is one of the most popular lakes in Southern California. Silverwood Lake, like Big Bear Lake in the same mountainous region, is a popular boating, fishing, and swimming destination.
The lake is so popular that the adjacent state recreation area frequently fills up during the busiest season, which runs from April to October.
The Mesa Campground, located near the southern end of Silverwood Lake, features approximately 130 tent and RV spots close to the water.
Two day-use areas are also found on the southern end of the lake and feature public swimming beaches with lifeguards on duty. In the summer, it’s a popular attraction, while in the winter, a small audience gathers at Silverwood Lake to view bald eagles.