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A lake getaway offers the chance to be immersed in nature, perhaps enjoying a weekend or a week-long escape filled with fun on and in the water. They can be a great opportunity to have a good time with the whole family, or enjoy some romantic time alone. California is home to many lakes, some providing a long list of activities and amenities, and others where you can look forward to plenty of serenity and quiet contemplation. No matter what type youre looking for, one of these options is sure to be ideal.
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Second in size only to Lake Tahoe, Shasta Lake boasts 370 miles of shoreline with lots of opportunities to get out and enjoy the water while the 14,000-foot peak of Mt. Shasta looms above. It offers typical lake activities, like swimming and water-skiing, along with fishing for trophy-size bass and 10-pound trout as well as salmon, catfish, bluegill, crappie and sturgeon. Boat rentals are available at many of the lakeside marinas, and visitors can even spend the night on the lake by renting a houseboat.
Big Bear Lake
One of the top lake destinations in Southern California, the opportunities for outdoor adventures at Big Bear Lake are practically endless. If you like to fish, test your skills and luck at hooking trout, bass and catfish. Enjoy everything from pontoon boating, sailing and powerboating to windsurfing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, jet skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and canoeing too. Smaller vessels like canoes, paddleboards and kayaks are ideal for getting into and exploring hidden coves, inlets and bays those larger vessels can’t reach. You can rent your preferred option at any one of the marinas around the 23 miles of shoreline. On land, zip-lining, mountain biking and hiking are just a few of the options for recreational activities. When you’re ready to retire, check out the top Airbnbs near Big Bear Lake.
Straddling the California and Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is one of the country’s favorite lake retreats. While it’s popular for skiing and boarding in the winter, summer (and often well into fall) is ideal for cruises, kayaking, jet-skiing, paddle boarding and just about every other water sport imaginable. In addition to playing out on the water, enjoy hikes like the trek to the top of Mount Tallac, which brings a view of Fallen Leaf Lake, Cascade Lake, Desolation Wilderness and South Lake Tahoe. You’ll also find a range of luxury resorts.
Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park
Tenaya Lake is a stunning High Sierra Lake surrounded by granite domes, lodgepole forests and vast wilderness areas, tucked within a lesser-known area of Yosemite between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. Sometimes referred to as the “Jewel of the High Country,” it’s a popular place for kayaking, boating, and sunbathing in the summer. Swimming is possible too, although the water is a bit chilly, while the white sandy beaches are ideal for picnics and relaxing.
New Melones Lake
This 12,600-acre reservoir is tucked into the foothills of the central Sierra Nevada mountains just outside of Sonora, a charming gold rush town. Its surroundings are especially picturesque, and it offers a variety of water sports like wakeboarding, water-skiing and jet-skiing, as well as kayaking, rafting, canoeing and fishing, particularly for trout, catfish and crappie. At the New Melones Visitor Center and Museum, visitors can learn about the local culture and history.
Pinecrest Lake is located between Yosemite National Park and Lake Tahoe in the Stanislaus National Forest. A beautiful clear blue lake surrounded by forested mountains, it’s great for boating, fishing for trout and swimming. It includes a fishing dock, sandy beaches and roped off area for swimmers, and with restrictions against water skiing and jet skiing, it helps maintain a more tranquil atmosphere. Just below the lake is the Pinecrest Fine Art Gallery, well worth a visit to see the works of various artists including the impressive works of landscape painter Dale Laitinen.
The largest natural freshwater lake that’s entirely within the state, and the oldest lake on the continent, Clear Lake lies northwest of Sacramento. In the summer it’s a popular destination for boating, water-skiing, windsurfing and swimming. The fertile environment sustains more fish per acre than any other lake in the country, making it famous as the Bass Capital of the West, offering outstanding year-round fishing for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, catfish, crappie, and bluegill. Visitors can also enjoy wine tasting and touring, with many wineries located along the lake’s shores.
Beautiful Donner Lake is located in Truckee, nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountain range just 30 minutes from Lake Tahoe. It’s home to some of the largest lake trout in the state and offers numerous public docks for swimming, while Donner Lake Marina rents boats for enjoying fun out on the water. The forest that surrounds the lake offers mountain biking and hiking trails, while the Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center hosts a museum that tells the tragic story of the pioneer family the lake is named after, as well as chronicling the history of the area.
The second-largest reservoir in California, Lake Oroville is just a few miles northeast of the city of Oroville, situated at the edge of the Sierra Nevada. There are two marinas, one on the south side and the other on the north, offering boats for fishing and water sports, while Forebay Aquatic Center at North Forebay rents paddle boats, canoes, kayaks, and more. The lake is popular for fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, brown trout, sturgeon, and other species, and at the North Forebay, you’ll find a sandy swimming beach. A visitor center overlooks the dam and lake and houses a museum and a 47-foot tower that boasts a gorgeous panoramic vista of the lake and beyond, along with high-powered telescopes.
Located in the heart of Lassen National Forest in northeastern California, from the North Shore Campground Marina, visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities like wakeboarding, water-skiing, boating and fishing. The forest that surrounds the lake is popular for hiking, biking and horseback riding. Along the north shore, the wetlands offer a great spot to watch for bald eagles, osprey, herons and Canadian geese.
Located in the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area just west of Redding, Whiskeytown Lake is often overshadowed by its more popular neighbor, Lake Shasta, but it offers plenty of striking natural beauty of its own along with the chance to enjoy more peace and tranquility. There are four magnificent waterfalls to visit, nearly 80 miles of scenic trails to hike and old mining sites to explore dating from the gold rush days. Kayaking, sailing, fishing, swimming and water-skiing are just a few of the activities that can be enjoyed on and in the cool, clear water.
Just 30 minutes east of Yosemite, June Lake is a high elevation lake popular among trout fishermen while offering magnificent scenery year-round. The June Lake Loop is the ideal destination for water lovers, while spring offers hiking through high alpine meadows scattered with brilliant wildflowers. In the winter, take a dip in natural hot springs after a day of snow fun in the High Sierra. Fall is especially wonderful here with the vibrant, colorful aspens blanketing the Eastern Sierra around the lake, bringing opportunities for some of the best leaf-peeping, with shades of golden, yellow and red.
In a state filled with gorgeous lakes, Mammoth Lakes is a standout. It boasts an enchanting mix of towering mountains, pine forests and pristine water. Enjoy outstanding fly fishing and boating as well as hiking and mountain biking. The Mammoth Lakes Basin area offers some especially scenic treks that include wildflower-filled meadows in late spring and summer, while the popular Mammoth Bike Park hosts more than 80 miles of singletrack. Backpacking is a great way to explore the Ansel Adams and John Muir wilderness areas.
Located on the eastern side of the Sierras via Tioga Pass from Yosemite, Mono Lake is one of the oldest in the western hemisphere, estimated to be 760,000 years old. It’s one of the top spots for sightseeing in California’s High Sierra, thanks to Los Angeles’s water diversion efforts which started in 1941. By the 1980s, a little more than half the lake’s surface area had disappeared, revealing once-submerged limestone referred to as tufa. They can be seen rising across the water, creating a hauntingly beautiful look with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada reflected in the calm, deep blue waters. The saltwater makes swimmers float like a cork and sustains trillions of brine shrimp that attract millions of migratory birds, ideal for bird watching. Kayaking and canoeing are popular too with many islands to explore, outside of the period between April 1st and August 1st when they’re closed to protect nesting migratory birds.