10 Best Lakes in California You Must See

10 Best Lakes in California You Must See

California may be best known for its beautiful National Parks, award-winning wine, and gorgeous beaches, but California’s nature has so much to offer as well–and that includes some of the best lakes in California.

Whatever time you visit, these California lakes offer spectacular views as well as numerous recreational opportunities like swimming, boating, fishing, and kayaking. You can enjoy a leisurely stroll, pitch a tent, enjoy a picnic, or just relax by the banks.

Whether you are looking for the best lake camping in California or wondering for an alternative to beaches that easily get crowded, here is our list of the top 10 most beautiful lakes in California for a perfect weekend getaway.

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10 Most Beautiful Lakes in California

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Best Lakes in California: LAKE TAHOE

At a height of 625 ft, Lake Tahoe is one of the highest elevation lakes in the USA. This Alpine lake is located at the border of California and Nevada and is surrounded by green pine forest and pristine beaches.

Although, maximum people visit Lake Tahoe in the summer months, however, winter is also famous for the stunning ski resorts. It is a popular destination among people looking for romantic getaways in California.

Please note that the road can be fully covered with ice and snow that make Lake Tahoe pretty hard to access by road.

Being the most famous lake in California, Lake Tahoe remains heavily crowded during summer weekends. With the clear blue water and green forest in the background, the lake turns into heaven for photography enthusiasts.

Best Lakes in California | Lake Tahoe
LAKE TAHOE

Things to do in Lake Tahoe

  • There are several beaches for swimming and sunbathing in Lake Tahoe.
  • Lake Tahoe offers numerous water sports activities such as water skiing, parasailing, paddleboarding, jet skiing, and kayaking.
  • Fishing is also popular in summer. You can rent fishing equipment at a reasonable rate. The nearby hills are ideal for hiking and bike riding.
  • You will find some of the best California ski resorts in Lake Tahoe. In winter, enjoy skiing, snowboarding, and sledding around the Lake Tahoe area.

BIG BEAR LAKE

Located in the San Bernardino National Forest at an altitude of 2060 meters, Big Bear Lake is one of the best lakes in southern California where one can spend lovely moments with friends or family.

Surrounded by Ponderosa pine forests, the shimmering lake does not only provide an impressive sight in winter, but it also has an enormous range of activities like paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, or waterskiing.

Best swimming Lakes in California | Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake in Winter

Things to do in Big Bear Lake

  • You can go walking around the lake and spend a relaxing time.
  • Boat rentals are available in the marinas that include standup paddleboard and pontoon boats.
  • It is a popular swimming lake in California. The clear water is ideal for swimming in the summer months.
  • There are some wonderful hikes to do in the surrounding area of Big Bear Lake. One of them is the Cougar Crest Trail, which overlooks the lake and connects to the country-spanning Pacific Crest Trail.
  • Go for skiing and snowboarding in winter.
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SHASTA LAKE

The astonishing Shasta Lake which is the largest reservoir of California is located in the Whiskeytown–Shasta–Trinity National Recreation Area. The lake features a mesmerizing view of Mount Shasta as a backdrop.

Visitors can rent motorized boats for fishing and water skiing from the Digger Bay Marina. With year-round sunshine and beautiful weather, Shasta Lake is one of the best lakes in northern California.

Best lake camping in California | Shasta Dam and Lake Shasta
Shasta Dam and Lake Shasta

Things to do in Shasta Lake

  • Summer is pretty popular in Shasta Lake. You can enjoy fishing, boating, camping, and waterskiing in summer.
  • Visit Shasta Dam and Lake Shasta Caverns by a boat ride.
  • Take a guided tour to see the caves.
  • There are ski resorts nearby the lake. Winter activities include skiing, sledding, snowboarding.

LAKE HAVASU

This is another beautiful lake in California that shares the border with Arizona and California in the extreme southeast part of the Golden State. Lake Havasu and the surrounding area feature a beautiful combination of palm trees, barren mountains, and bluish water.

The long stunning coastline offers various watersports, including fishing, kayaking, and house boating, or you can explore the beautiful beaches and hiking trails.

With ideal fishing conditions almost all year-round, the lake is considered possibly one of the best lakes in California for fishing. Visitors can stay in modern accommodation in Lake Havasu City or can enjoy camping in the eastern shoreline of Lake Havasu.

London Bridge and Boating in Lake Havasu
London Bridge and Boating in Lake Havasu

Things to do in Lake Havasu

  • Visitors can swim in Lake Havasu.
  • Visit the historic London Bridge over the Colorado River.
  • Lake Havasu State Park is ideal for camping, hiking, swimming, and fishing.
  • Lake Havasu offers different types of boat rides – family boat, sport boat, the sightseeing boat, houseboat.

MONO LAKE: Best California Lake

Mono Lake is located near Lee Vining, just outside the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park. You will find unique geological formations in Mono Lake which is known as tufa towers, a perfect place for photographers. The high salt rate in the lake and constant evaporation of surface water are the main reason for creating such jagged crystalline formations.

It is not a place for world-class water activities, but the stunning scenery of the lake and the surrounding area is the reason for keeping this lake in the list of top 10 lakes in California. This 18,000-hectare lake is home to brine shrimp and alkali flies that attract numerous migratory birds to this area and makes it a perfect destination for bird watching.

most beautiful lakes in California
Mono Lake

Things to do in Mono Lake

  • Pay a visit to Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center and see the special exhibits presenting the ecology, geology, anthropology, and management of the Mono Lake Basin.
  • Explore the lake by canoeing and enjoy an up-close view of tufa towers rising from the lake.
  • Keep your camera ready and enjoy bird watching.
  • Don’t miss the shimmering sunset at Mono Lake.
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LAKE OROVILLE

Located 70 miles north of Sacramento it is a manmade reservoir that was created when the Oroville Dam construction was completed in 1969. It is one of the most visited lakes in California that offers camping, hiking, picnicking, horseback riding, boating, water-skiing, fishing, and swimming.

At the North Forebay, there is a sandy swimming beach of two hundred yards with dressing rooms and flush toilets. Visitors can rent sailboats, canoes and non-motorized boats at the North Forebay for fishing.

Lake Oroville
Lake Oroville

Things to do in Lake Oroville

  • Discover the visitor center and enjoy the panoramic view of the surrounding countryside from the top of the viewing tower.
  • Catch salmon, smallmouth and largemouth bass, crappie, brown trout, and catfish from one of California’s best fishing spots.
  • See the Oroville Dam and Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridge.
  • Rent kayak, canoe, or paddleboat and explore the lake.

CLEAR LAKE

Looking for the best lake in California for vacation? Visit Clear Lake, the largest natural water lake in California that is situated in the north of San Francisco. The water in Clear Lake is warm and perfect for swimming, windsurfing, sailing, and rowing.

Being an affordable place in California, many people prefer to live in Clear Lake. You can rent a paddleboat or kayak with its own waterslide. If you like fishing, you can try to catch rainbow trout, crappie, largemouth bass. It is also known as ‘Bass Capital of West’. The beaches are family-friendly. You can set up your lakeside camp although no electric or water hookups are available.

Clear Lake at Dusk
Clear Lake at Dusk

Things to do in Clear Lake

  • Go for a leisure stroll along the shore and enjoy the ambiance and dramatic view of the lake and surrounding areas.
  • It is a heaven for people who love fishing. You can rent fishing gear at a reasonable rate.
  • The water in the lake is warm and clear. One of the best lakes in California for swimming.
  • Rent a kayak or motorized boat and explore the Clear Lake.
  • There is a bike riding and hiking trail in Cole Creek.
  • Don’t miss a tasting tour of the various wineries around the lake.

MAMMOTH LAKES

This fine lake is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain and known for its Mammoth Mountain ski and snowboard resort. With a mixture of stunning mountains, lakes, and pine forest, Mammoth Lakes offers magnificent scenery. The lake is accessible year-round, however, autumn is the best time to visit Mammoth Lake when you can get all sightseeings, spectacular fall color, and the fewer crowd.

Top 10 lakes in California | Ski Slopes in Mammoth Lake
Ski Slopes in Mammoth Lake

Things to do in Mammoth Lake

  • There are many hiking trails in the Mammoth Lakes area. You must go for Crystal Clear hike. Get a clear view of Lake Mary and Lake George from the top.
  • Enjoy mountain or road biking in Mammoth Lakes.
  • Observe waterfowl, fish, and other wildlife while kayaking or riding a boat.
  • Skiing in Mammoth Lakes can be an incredible experience in winter. Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort offers ski runs for all level skiers.
  • Primitive and developed campgrounds are found throughout the lake area.
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LAKE CACHUMA

Often regarded as one of the most beautiful lakes in California, Lake Cachuma was artificially created as part of the Bradbury Dam and covers an area of 3100 acres.

If you love lake camping and wondering for the best lakes in California for camping, look no further and come to Lake Cachuma. Situated in the beautiful Santa Ynez Valley of Santa Barbara County, Lake Cachuma is a spectacular getaway destination for adventure seekers. There are over 550 campsites where you can tent or park your RV. Each of the campsites contains a permanent fire ring and picnic table.

Best Campsites: 299-313

Please note: Being a domestic water supply swimming and windsurfing are not allowed in Lake Cachuma.

Top 10 lakes in California
Lake Cachuma

Things to do in Lake Cachuma

  • Enjoy the pontoon boat ride and see the wildlife.
  • Cachuma Lake Recreational Area offers Wildlife Cruise and Eagle Cruise in summer and winter. Rangers are very friendly and knowledgable. Learn and witness the Bald Eagles and other wildlife, birds, fish, flora, and geology.
  • Enjoy an easy-paced half-mile nature walk through the Oak Canyon trail.
  • Lake Cachuma is one of the best fishing lakes in southern California. You can expect to catch bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, and rainbow trout.
  • Rent a boat, explore the lake, and have a spectacular 360 view of the Lake Cachuma with a splendid mountain backdrop.

FOLSOM LAKE

Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Folsom Lake has countless activities for outdoor fun. The beautiful beaches, hiking trails, and campgrounds come together to form Folsom Lake State Recreational Area. Folsom and Natoma are two pristine reservoirs in the recreational area that attract 2 million visitors annually.

During peak season, visitors can take a refreshing dip in the waters of Folsom Lake. Stay in a camp and enjoy nature while having the great views of Folsom Lake and surrounding areas. There are four campgrounds at Folsom Lake and each campsite has basic amenities including electricity, water, a picnic table, and a fire ring.

best lakes in southern california | Rowing at Natoma Lake
Rowing at Natoma Lake

Things to do in Folsom Lake

  • Granite Bay Swim area is ideal for swimming in the summer months. The park offers boat, jetski, kayak, and paddleboard rentals. If you want a relaxing atmosphere, visit Lake Natoma where you find mainly non-motorized water recreation.
  • Lake Natoma Fishing Pier at Nimbus Flat is great for fishing. Rent a watercraft from one of Folsom Lake’s boat rentals and spend a relaxing afternoon.
  • Explore the 95 miles of hiking and biking trails of the Folsom Lake Recreational Area.
  • Bring your camera, keep your eyes open and spot the wildlife in the park. You can find blue oaks, gray foxes, raccoons, black-tailed deer, and wetland birds.

This is our ultimate list of the top 10 lakes in California. A holiday visit to California might not be perfect without a trip to any of its awesome lakes. Ensure you add to your California itinerary a visit to at least a lake. Lakes of California offer lots of beautiful scenics, do not miss out. 

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10 best lakes in california

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