California has a temperate climate and even though there are some very large forests, a good part of the state is made of dessert which is why California’s lakes are so attractive and important. Many of them are in fact man-made reservoirs and dams that help with the water supply.
However, lakes also bring a lot of recreational activities and beautiful scenery. California’s lakes offer you an experience full of nature, beauty, and splendor that will leave your senses ecstatic due to the immensity of its landscapes. So, if you are in California or you plan to travel to it and look for places to visit, you cannot miss the best lakes in California.
Interactive Map of 25 Best Lakes in California
1. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest in the US. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the lake sits on the border between California and Nevada and is mostly known for its beaches and ski resorts.
The water is crystal-clear with snow-capped peaks in the background offering some of the best scenic views in the area. The lake itself is huge, so you might have to choose between North and South Tahoe, which is where the famous Emerald Bay with its Fannette Island and Vikingsholm can be found.
2. Mono Lake
Mono Lake is next to Lee Vinning, a small town, next to the Tioga Pass which is the entrance to Yosemite on this side of California. This lake has had its formation for more than 760 thousand years, has no outlet to the sea and its waters are salty. There are no fish, but there are shrimps that feed thousands of seagulls that come to breed in this place. This lake has limestone formations, called tufa, that look like spirals coming out of the water, it is surreal!
Overall, this is a lake that attracts more tourists every day due to its strange rock formations and crystal clear water, while offering a view like no other.
3. Lake Berryessa
Located half an hour from Sacramento, Lake Berryessa is a reservoir offering water sports, swimming, fishing, campsites, and a marina with boat rentals. This place is nice to see during the rainy time or when the water level is high so you can enjoy and see the water falling in the Glory Hole dam drain.
The west shore is a special delight, you can explore different areas and challenge yourself with a hike. Also, Lake Berryessa is quite popular amongst fishers. There, you might catch large crappie, catfish of two varieties, brim, three varieties of bass, salmon of two varieties, and trouts.
4. Shasta Lake
Shasta Lake has an imposing, 602-feet-high, curved gravity dam featuring views, free tours, and more. This lake is located in Shasta County and is more than just a lake. This is the largest reservoir in California! The lake is especially welcoming for those who seek nature, beauty, and tranquility since that is what you receive when visiting this heavenly place.
This lake also has caverns and a tourist complex called Sacramento Arm. When navigating along the arm, it offers images that you will never be able to forget due to its age and beauty with historical routes that will put your imagination to the test.
5. Big Bear Lake
Located in a small city with the same name, Big Bear Lake is an ideal tourist area to visit in winter and enjoy skiing because it has a ski resort called Bear Mountain. The resort is especially inviting for beginners who want to learn this sport. For its part, Big Bear Lake adorns the spaces with its beauty and immensity, not counting its variety of fish.
It is important to note that Big Bear Lake received this name due to its climate which used to favor the sighting of bears in its vicinity. Today, it is an extensive tourist and recreation space, bathed in natural beauty.
6. Silverwood Lake
Located half an hour from the San Bernardino area, Silverwood Lake is a reservoir on a Mojave River tributary with sandy swimming beaches, fishing areas, and boat launches. The lake, which has crystal-clear waters, is located in the Silverwood Lake State Recreation Area, which sits along the Pacific Crest Trail.
Overall, this is a great place to have some family time or just get away from the city. Besides swimming and relaxing, you can also choose to go around the lake on a very easy trail. And during fall, you can see many yellow leaves resting on the lake’s surface.
7. Lake Oroville
Part of the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, this lake is a reservoir which is very famous due to the celebration of the 4th of July. On that day, the water reflects the fireworks of the party and the salmon festivals that take place there every year gathering hundreds of people who enjoy the majestic show.
This reservoir is ideal for fishermen, campers, and recreationists who enjoy its natural wealth and beautiful landscapes. Not to mention that it is an important source of water for the US as it is the second-highest reservoir in the country. The lake also features hiking trails, a museum, and a telescope.
8. Havasu Lake
Sitting on the border between California and Arizona, Havasu Lake is a reservoir formed by the Parker Dam in the Colorado River. The lake is a popular destination for those seeking water-skiing, boating, and other recreational water sports.
Both sides of the lake have small cities with a great community spirit as well as shopping and dining options. On the Arizona side, you can visit Lake Havasu State Park which is home to the original London Bridge with lake beaches, campsites, trails, and a garden with wildlife.
9. Mammoth Lakes Basin
The Mammoth Lakes Basin region is filled with blue lakes, which are surrounded by mountains and unforgettable corners. Some of the lakes you will find there include Twin Lakes, Lake Mamie, Horseshoe Lake, Lake Mary, and Lake George.
In fact, Mammoth Lakes is a city in California with incredible natural beauty and highly sought after by high-end ski resorts. While in summer it is also possible to go climbing, canoeing, hiking, fishing, or simply stop to contemplate its beautiful natural scenery. As a bonus, the Mammoth Lakes gondola leads to two points on the mountain. At the top, there is a cafeteria and a museum, as well as a place to warm up while admiring the breathtaking view.
10. Whiskeytown Lake
The Whiskeytown Recreation Area features boating, fishing, and swimming on Whiskeytown Lake surrounded by mountains with trails, creeks, and waterfalls. It is so peaceful there and hard to take your eyes off of every inch of the area. The lookout point by the Visitor Center is yet another great place to admire the lake.
Also, be sure to walk around the lake as the path is very easy and accessible. The lake itself has just enough shallow waters for the younger kids and warm enough for the bigger swimmers to go out further. Overall, the beautiful and serene Whiskeytown Lake has crystal-clear and refreshing water, also perfect for a sailing adventure.
11. Convict Lake
Mountains surround the scenic Convict Lake known for its turquoise water, trout fishing, and storied past. Nestled in the eastern Sierra Nevada, there is an easy 2.5-mile path around the lake with a nice boardwalk on the eastern edge. You can also rent boats and kayaks there.
Overall, Convict Lake is clean and beautiful with a mountain view that makes it a perfect spot for photography. And during winter, the lake becomes even more magical with snow capping mountains surrounding it. Curiously, the lake got its name after several Convicts escaped from jail and hid in the mountains. There was eventually a shootout and the sheriff died.
12. Folsom Lake
Folsom Lake is a reservoir on the American River with swimming beaches, boat launches, picnic areas, and campgrounds. The lake itself is very calm and warm, perfect for an outing with the entire family.
This is one of the few spots where it is a legit recreational area and is kind of a free for all. The lake is urrounded by epic views and you can drive vehicles all over the beaches and wherever you want. There is a great space for dogs to walk around and boat launch ramps. Beware of the snake holes all around and watch out for all the rocks at the bottom of the lake.
13. Donner Lake
The tranquil Donner Lake is used for fishing, hiking, and recreation in the area where the ill-fated Donner Party stayed. Located in the Sierras mountains of Nevada in the city of Truckee, this spectacular lake offers a wide range of activities and adventure sports for tourists and locals. These include skiing, mountaineering, and mountain biking. On the eastern shoreline of the lake, you can camp at the Donner Memorial State Park. The park features the Emigrant Trail Museum and a historic monument.
Interestingly, a moraine acts as a natural dam for the lake. And on the northern shoreline, you can drive on the first automobile road to cross the country, the historic Lincoln Highway.
14. Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake is a glacial lake in Yosemite National Park featuring fishing, swimming, and non-motorized boating. It is recommended to visit Tenaya Lake between the months of May to October, which is the ideal climate to fully enjoy its beauty and carry out various activities.
Likewise, in winter times, the frozen mountains are reflected in the lake creating a mirror effect. Its transparent water and the mountains around it undoubtedly create a dream space. The lake is so calm and reflects all the mountains as you circle around it. And if you are in good shape, check out the hike from Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest. It is definitely worth the effort.
15. Bass Lake
Located close to Sierra National Forest and Yosemite National Park, Bass Lake has nice picnic areas and beautiful views all around. The east shore of the lake features resorts, stores, and cabins. While the west shore has parking, toilets, and a nice area to spend the day. There are many campsites available around the lake and the water can be quite chilly even during summer.
There are usually lots of people swimming, floating on rafts, boating, kayaking, and water skiing. You can also choose to hike up to the peak of the Mono Trail. The view from up there is definitely worth the walk.
16. June Lake
On the way to Mammoth Lakes, a scenic and winding road running through mountains and around three lakes leads you to June Lake, a popular fishing area. Whether you take the loop coming from the north or south on 395, just stop by for a visit. The road is easy to drive, and you will see an astounding area with mountains, lakes, forests, deserts, wildlife, birds, and vegetation.
Besides beautiful scenery, June Lake is an incredible place for camping. In fact, most people who visit it are seeking a good place to rest in between fishing sessions.
17. Lake Cachuma
The 3,100-acre Lake Cachuma is a man-made lake for camping, boating, and fishing in a tranquil setting with yurt rentals. This beautiful lake offers visitors the opportunity to explore its immensity by cruise or smaller boats to enjoy the tranquility, its paradisiacal beaches, and its nature. Lake Cachuma is ideal for those who want to get away from the noise of the city.
Also, in the guided tours of the lake, you can observe wildlife, which due to its abundance and variety is the main attraction provided.
18. Lake Almanor
Lake Almanor is a large man-made reservoir popular for fishing and sports such as jet skiing, sailing, and canoeing. With views of Lassen Peak in the distance and other wonderful mountain scenery, this is actually a very beautiful and big lake. This is a great place to make family memories and fish bass, trout, salmon, and catfish.
The forest that borders this lake is amazing as well, with a paved hiking trail. Besides restaurants and a gas station, there is a grocery store on the peninsula and a small town nearby Chester.
19. Lake Casitas
Established in 1959, Lake Casitas is another man-made lake popular for bass fishing, rowing, boating, and camping. The area also counts with a few hikes you can adventure yourself and observe the wildlife, including Bald Eagle, Turkey Vulture, and Roadrunner.
There is no body contact with the water so that means no water sport of any kind, nor swimming. However, the campground has a nice water park perfect for the entire family. During the summer take a couple of nights to camp and spend the day in the lazy river at the waterpark.
20. Clear Lake
Featuring boating, hiking, bird watching, and fishing, Clear Lake is a 70 square mile lake surrounded by mountains and recreational parks. The lake itself is quite cold, clear, and beautiful. There is a view of Mt Washington from the lake. Be sure to check out the falls just below the lake.
The pace of life there is slow, but the area is a mecca of things to do. The wine tasting industry is quickly catching up to Napa and Sonoma. And even though the choice of good restaurants is narrow around the lake, there are a few really great options if you know where to go.
21. Castaic Lake
Featuring boating, fishing, and swimming, Castaic Lake is yet another reservoir in California offering picnic facilities, playgrounds, and multi-use trails. Birds can be seen flying overhead and pretty much aside from nature, this is a very quiet and peaceful lake. Overall, it has nice views of the mountains and just a nice place to clear your head.
This is a great lake for loading a boat and heading out safely for a great time. The waters are filled with trout, stripper bass, and even some large catfish. All the employees at the lake are very courteous and nice, and they recommend arriving early to rent a boat.
22. Lake Hemet
Lake Hemet is an artificial mountain lake and venue for outdoor activities like boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. The area is very beautiful and scenic, especially during winter when the surrounding mountains become covered in snow.
It is quite impressive to see such a beautiful lake so close to Palm Springs in the desert. The lake is generally nothing special, per se, but it is a nice respite, and the drive to and from there has wonderful views. However, due to algae blooms, it is not recommended to swim in Lake Hemet.
23. Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake is a water body ringed by rugged peaks, popular for fishing, boating, and camping. The area also counts with an education center. With mountains all around, the parking area, this is a great place to relax by the water, chill, and enjoy the sunshine. While there, enjoy a lunch break at Vaquero Beach.
This is a great spot to take a rest while going or coming from Bakersfield as the views of the lake are stunning when looking down from Highway 5. The downside of Pyramid Lake is that quite often there is an algae blue which makes the water toxic.
24. Lake Sonoma
Surrounded by vineyards, Lake Sonoma is a reservoir that offers boat and jet ski rentals as well as camping opportunities. Besides the lake and its recreational activities, the park also features an archery range and a disc golf course.
This is a suitable place for picnics due to its beautiful landscapes and exuberant nature, it is also ideal for boating, visiting its vineyards, and hiking. Its pleasant atmosphere, tranquility, and beauty give visitors an experience similar to being inside a paradise, which is why it is very popular with tourists and nature lovers.
25. San Luis Reservoir
Surrounded by rolling hills and right off Highway 152, San Luis Reservoir is great for fishing and hiking. During the spring, a visit to San Luis is even more special with all the colorful flowers covering the hills that become green in those months. You can even spot a wide range of wild animals in the area including elks, deer, and bobcats.
However, the adjacent Oniell Forebay is where you would want to go for a day out with the family. It is kid-friendly with lots of good places to fish.