You may be wondering if there are any decent lakes in California. I’ll be honest with you; the answer is yes and no. Yes, because California is home to some of the best lakes in the world. No, because many of these lakes are man-made reservoirs that don’t really compare to the natural beauty of other lakes. That being said, there are still plenty of beautiful lakes to visit in California. In this article, I’ll share my top picks for the 12 Best Lakes in California with you. Read on!
Best Lakes in California
1. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful lakes in California. It’s also one of the largest, deepest, and most pristine lakes in North America. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Lake Tahoe is a popular destination for both locals and tourists alike.
The lake is known for its clear blue waters and stunning scenery. There are plenty of activities to enjoy here, such as hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and more. There are also a number of small towns and villages located around the lake that are worth exploring.
There are scenic lake cruises available that offer tours of the lake and its surrounding area. Hiking is also a popular activity in the area. And there are many trails of varying difficulty that wind through the forests and offer stunning views of the lake.
Finally, partygoers will be happy to know that this lake is home to some of the best nightlife in California. There are plenty of bars and clubs to keep you entertained into the early hours of the morning. I recommend checking the lake’s southeast shore if you’re looking for fun nighttime.
2. Mono Lake
This is one lake that stood out to me during my research on the best lakes in California. Mono Lake is a large, shallow saline soda lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, northeast of Yosemite National Park. The lake is one of the oldest in North America, having formed over a million years ago.
The pH level of the lake is very alkaline, and as a result, it is home to a unique ecosystem. The saline water of Mono Lake supports an abundant population of brine shrimp, which in turn provide food for migratory birds such as grebes, pelicans, and shorebirds.
The tufa towers of Mono Lake are one of the popular attractions in California. Tufa is a type of limestone formed by deposits of calcium-rich springs. The otherworldly spires formed underwater and then became exposed as the lake’s water level dropped over the years.
And if you’re not a good swimmer, don’t worry. Due to the water’s high alkalinity, you can’t sink in this lake. I’m not sure I would want to take a dip, but it’s certainly an interesting place to visit.
3. June Lake
I did not expect to find a place like June Lake nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, about 30 minutes drive from Mammoth Lakes. This is one of the California lakes that is best for serious anglers and boaters, as well as people who just want to enjoy the scenic mountain views.
My trip here was in early September, and the weather was still warm enough to enjoy boating and swimming. I rented a canoe and paddled around the lake, enjoying the views of the rugged mountains that surround it. There are also motorized boats for rent if you don’t want to paddle yourself.
Trout fishing is a big attraction here, and you can fish from the shore, a boat, or even a float tube. I’m not much of a fisherman, but I enjoyed just watching the anglers in their boats.
There are several campgrounds around June Lake if you want to spend a few days in the area. I stayed at Double Eagle Resort, which is right on the shore of the lake. The resort has its own marina and rents out motorboats, canoes, and kayaks.
4. Big Bear Lake
Planning my trip to Big Bear Lake was a bit of a last-minute decision. I had originally planned to go camping in Joshua Tree National Park, but a friend of mine recommended Big Bear and said it was only a few hours drives from LA.
The drive up to Big Bear was pretty uneventful, but as soon as I got into the Town of Big Bear Lake, I could tell it was going to be a special place. The whole town has a really cozy, small-town feel.
The lake itself is gorgeous. It’s surrounded by mountains, and there are plenty of hiking trails if you want to explore the area. I didn’t do any hiking on this trip, but I did spend a lot of time swimming, kayaking, and just relaxing at Boulder Bay Park. This is the largest swimming beach on the lake, and it also has a great playground for kids.
I also took a ride on the historic Miss Liberty Skipper-liner. This boat has been taking visitors on guided tours of the lake for over 20 years, and it was a really fun way to see the area.
All in all, Big Bear Lake was a great trip. I loved the small-town feel of the town and the beauty of the lake. This is a great place to visit if you’re looking for a relaxing lakeside vacation.
5. Shasta Lake
The road trip to Shasta Lake was one of the best trips I’ve ever been on. The drive up through northern California is absolutely breathtaking. I started my trip in the Bay Area and made my way north on Highway 5.
The first thing I noticed about Shasta Lake was how huge it is. It’s actually the largest lake in California, and it’s just absolutely massive. The second thing I noticed was the amazing views. You can see the mountains and the lake from almost anywhere in the area.
Motorized boating is one of the best ways to explore Shasta Lake. There are tons of different rental companies that will set you up with a boat, and there are even companies that offer guided tours. I would definitely recommend taking the guided tour if you’re new to the area.
Due to its massive size, Shasta Lake is home to a ton of secret coves and beaches. These are the best places to relax and soak up the California sun. There are also a ton of fishing spots if you’re looking to catch your dinner.
The highlight of my trip was visiting the underground Lake Shasta Caverns. These are a series of caves that were formed by underground flowing water. The best part is that you take a boat to get there. It’s a really cool experience, and I would highly recommend it.
Overall, I was really impressed with Shasta Lake. It’s definitely one of the best lakes in California, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a great place to visit.
6. Mammoth Lakes Basin
Mammoth Lakes Basin is another one of California’s great lakes. It is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it’s known for its scenic beauty. The area is popular for hiking, fishing, and camping. There are more than 100 lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, as well as several waterfalls and streams. And since you cannot tour all of them in one day, I recommend that you pick one or two lakes to explore.
I chose to visit Lake Mary because it is the largest lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. I was not disappointed. The views from the lakeshore were simply breathtaking. I spent a couple of hours walking around the lake, taking in the scenery and enjoying the fresh mountain air. Popular activities at Lake Mary include fishing, canoeing, boating, and sailing.
For those who want to hike, the Mammoth Lakes Basin has many trails of varying difficulty levels. One of the most popular trails in the Mammoth Rock Trail, which takes you to the top of a large rock for panoramic views of the lakes below. I did not have time to hike the Mammoth Rock Trail on this trip, but I have added it to my list for next time.
After a day at the lake, I was exhausted but satisfied. I had seen some of the most beautiful scenery in California and gotten a taste of what the Sierra Nevada Mountains have to offer.
7. Bass Lake
I guess you could say that Bass Lake is the hidden gem of the Sierra Nevada. Just 10 miles from the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park, this man-made reservoir is a top spot for watersports and fishing in central California.
The lake is also a great place to escape the heat in the summertime. Lakeside institutions like Forks Resort provide a welcome respite from the sun with their outdoor seating and full-service dining.
Nature lovers will find plenty to do at Bass Lake as well. The Sierra National Forest that surrounds the lake is perfect for hiking, camping, and bird-watching. So come prepared with your hiking boots and binoculars!
8. Lake Berryessa
Next on my list of the best lakes in California is Lake Berryessa. This massive man-made lake in Napa County is one of the largest in the state, and it’s a popular recreation spot for boating, fishing, swimming, and picnicking.
The 20,700-acre lake was created in 1957 when the Monticello Dam was built on Putah Creek. Visitors can take a short drive across the top of the dam to view the spillway that releases excess water from the lake. When the spillway is active, which usually happens in late spring, it’s a spectacular sight.
Fishing is popular at the lake, and common catches include bass, catfish, and trout. The best time to fish is in the early morning or evening when the sun isn’t as strong. Boats can be rented at several marinas on the lake, and there are also a few public beaches where swimming is allowed.
When picnicking, I suggest packing plenty of food and drinks because there are no restaurants or stores in the immediate area. There are some public restrooms near the marinas and beaches.
9. Silverwood Lake
If you’re a nature lover like me, Silverwood Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in California that you shouldn’t miss. The lake, which is actually a reservoir, is located in the San Bernardino National Forest in the mountains east of Los Angeles.
The scenery is spectacular, with rolling hills and mountains all around and the lake’s clear blue waters reflecting the sky. There are more than 60 miles of hiking trails in the area, and you can also go fishing, boating, and camping. In winter, the lake is a popular spot for ice-skating. And in spring, the wildflowers in the area are simply beautiful.
There are several campgrounds in the park, as well as RV hookups and cabins for rent. I suggest making reservations in advance, especially if you’re visiting during the peak season from May through September.
10. Lake Havasu
Everybody knows about Lake Havasu. It’s one of the most popular lakes in California, and for a good reason. The lake is situated in a stunning desert landscape, and the water is warm and clear.
Lake Havasu is a man-made reservoir created in 1938 when the Parker Dam was built. The lake itself is quite large, with a surface area of over 19,000 acres. It’s a popular destination for all sorts of water activities, like swimming, wakeboarding, and jet skiing.
The lake is best known for its party scene, and there are plenty of bars and clubs located right on the water. In addition, the lake is also known for being the home of London Bridge, which was brought over from England in 1968.
So if you’re looking for a party atmosphere and beautiful scenery, Lake Havasu is the place for you. Just be prepared for the crowds, as the lake can get pretty busy on weekends.
11. Folsom Lake
Unfortunately, I was not able to visit Folsom Lake during my recent trip to California due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, I have included it on my list of the best lakes in California as it has already re-opened to the public.
Folsom Lake is a man-made lake created by the Folsom Dam on the American River in Northern California. The lake is located just northeast of Sacramento, the state capital. It is a popular destination for boating, fishing, swimming, and water skiing. There are also many hiking and biking trails in the area.
The Folsom Lake Visitor Center is a great place to learn about the history of the lake and the dam. The center has exhibits on the Gold Rush, the history of water in California, and the construction of the Folsom Dam.
There is one marina at Folsom Lake, which is located in Browns Ravine. There are also many campgrounds in the area, making Folsom Lake a great destination for a family vacation.
12. Lake Oroville
Located in the Sierra Nevada foothills about 75 miles north of Sacramento, Lake Oroville is a top recreation destination in California. The lake is actually a man-made reservoir created by the construction of the Oroville Dam, which is the tallest dam in the U.S. at 770 feet.
The lake is a popular spot for boating, fishing, and swimming, and there are many hiking and biking trails in the area. The lake is also a top spot for bird-watching; more than 200 species of birds have been spotted here. And if you’re looking for an adrenaline-pumping activity, you can go whitewater rafting on the Class III+ rapids of the South Fork of the Feather River. There are several rafting companies that offer guided tours.
I should mention that Lake Oroville is a popular spot for camping. There are several campgrounds in the area, as well as RV parks. Some of the campgrounds even have cabins for rent.
I have come to the conclusion of my article about the best lakes in California. All of these lakes offer something unique and special. I would recommend visiting all of them if you have the chance. But if you can only visit one, I would recommend Lake Tahoe. It is the largest and most beautiful lake in California, and there is so much to do in the area. Thanks for reading!