The state of California is known for its sunny weather, laid-back atmosphere and awesome recreational activities. We often think of the beach when we think of California, and surfing has definitely made a name for itself here. But, there’s more to California than the coast.
There’s barren mountain ranges and desert landscapes with jaw-dropping lakes nestled in their depths. Wherever you are in California, there’ll be a cool lake you can visit nearby. From fishing and boating to water skiing and hiking in the hills, there’s something new for everyone to try out at California’s lakes.
Some, like Mono Lake, have incredible rock formations, and many, like Lake Tahoe, sit in the Sierra Nevada mountains. If you can, come for the whole weekend and camp along the shores of some of the most beautiful lakes in California.
The Best 10 Lakes in California
Framed by the stunning and imposing Sierra Nevada Mountain range and found along the border between California and Nevada, this lake is picture-perfect to say the least. The sun penetrates the pristine water and dazzles visitors with gorgeous vistas and scenery.
One of the most popular hikes around Lake Tahoe is the Tahoe Rim Trail that loops around the lake. It’s not the easiest of trails though, so only experienced hikers and mountain bikers should give this one a go.
Gorgeous in every season and conveniently close to towns like South Lake Tahoe, Stateline and camping grounds in the D.L. Bliss State Park, Lake Tahoe is an easy and accessible escape into the wilderness.
This breath-taking lake on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park has a few surprises in store. It’s known for the tufa towers that stick out of the water and were formed over the years as freshwater springs fed into the lake and pushed floating sediments together, causing them to stick out in jagged geological formations. It’s one of the most beautiful lakes in California!
The funky tufa towers (which you can see best from the South Tufa Area) aren’t the only thing that will dazzle you at Mono Lake. The alkaline waters of the lake make it the perfect environment for brine shrimp, which in turn attract migrating birds from all over. It’s a fantastic bird watching spot.
If you dive in for a swim you’ll notice that it is more buoyant than most lakes, that’s thanks to the alkaline quality of the Mono Lake. Flip onto your back and float for a bit as you watch the world go by.
Sitting at 2,390 metres above sea level in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada mountains, this spectacular lake was naturally carved out by glaciers. It’s quaint and small, with stunning panoramic views of the dark and barren mountains that contain it.
It has a fascinating history too and was renamed Convict Lake after the 1871 shootout of Carson City convicts who escaped from prison and fled into the surrounding area.
Convict Lake is something of a TV hero too, making it into Star Trek: Insurrection and How the West Won! See if you can find where your favourite scenes were shot and take pictures of your Hollywood moment. This Californian lake suits TV fans, history buffs, and nature lovers all at once.
If you’re racking your brains trying to think of fun things to do in California, then a weekend at Pyramid Lake is a great option to consider. Found in the Angeles and Los Padres National Forest, the lake is huge, and it reaches impressive depths! It was man made back in 1973 and named after a pyramid-shaped rock along US Route 99.
It’s a popular spot because of how many things you can do on the lake and in the surrounding landscape. From horseback riding through dense forest, swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, boating, hiking, and camping. You’ll never get bored or run out of cool things to do at Pyramid Lake.
There are loads of camping spots nearby, like the Los Alamos Campground. The stargazing in this wild and wonderful spot is extraordinary. As it’s just off Interstate 5, Pyramid Lake is easy to get to and not at all hard to find!
When you arrive at Lake Havasu, you’ll quickly notice that the surrounding area is very desert-like. There’s not much in the way of greenery so it’s hard to imagine how the lake formed in such dry conditions. Well, Lake Havasu is the result of the Parker Dam that was built across the Colorado River in 1938.
There are expansive mountain ranges in every direction and beautiful palm trees along the shore of Lake Havasu. You’ll find it hard to resist jumping into the tantalisingly blue water, especially when the midday heat hits.
It’s a popular destination in the winter months when other parts of the US get cold and snowy and holiday makers come looking for the Californian sun. Sunbathe, read your book, and enjoy some downtime at Lake Havasu.
Blue skies, barren and snow-capped mountains, and crystal-clear blue waters are just some of the things that make Shasta Lake one of the most popular lakes in California. It’s the state’s largest reservoir and boasts 370 miles of shoreline.
Situated along California’s Interstate 5, it boasts recreational activities that range from fishing, camping, boating and water skiing on the lake to skiing in nearby resorts.
Take pictures of the lake with Mount Shasta (that rises 4,267 metres into the air) in the background before hopping on a boat and going off on an adventure to explore the Lake Shasta Caverns.
Nestled between lush forests and rolling mountains this lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is a great summer holiday destination. Row your kayak through the water at 1,830 metres above sea level and take in the jaw-dropping surroundings.
If you want to do something a little more adrenaline inducing, then rent a jet sky and test your limits zooming back and forth. Hikers can head straight to the Lakeside Interpretive Trail. Don’t forget to bring a picnic as there’s lots of picnic areas along the way with mesmerising views.
From swimming and sunbathing in summer to skiing and snowshoeing in winter, the landscape of Donner Lake will keep you coming back time and time again.
Though Lake Oroville is a manmade reservoir, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a wild and natural feel to it. Built in 1969, this gorgeous lake in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is dotted with fishing boats and cute views.
Bring your fishing rod and try your luck catching a bass, which you can cook up on the BBQ later on. Stroll around the lake and scout out the best viewpoints, then visit the Bidwell Bar Suspension Bridge.
New Melones Lake
Just off Highway 49 there’s a lake that appeals to those who want to stroll and stargaze, as well as full-time-adventure seekers. Start off at the Visitor Centre and museum where you can find out about the trails and surrounding area before beginning your trip.
New Melones is the fourth largest manmade lake in California, and it’s a popular spot to come boating, fishing and camping. I’d recommend you pack your car and come for a weekend.
Spend the morning hiking in the Glory Hole Recreation Area or water skiing, then see if you can catch any bass, trout, perch and catfish in the afternoon to cook up for dinner. The lake is a short drive from the Yosemite National Park too, so you could head there on a day trip.
Big Bear Lake
Another of California’s stunning man made lakes, the Big Bear Lake is nestled high up in the San Bernardino Mountains in the San Bernardino National Forests. It’s surrounded by lush greenery and intriguing rock formations that jut out of the water and line the shoreline.
Check out the Boulder Bay Park to see some of the largest boulders around the lake. Then put your hiking shoes on and trek through the Ponderosa pine forests or follow the Cougar Crest Trail for great views overlooking the lake.
Fancy getting on the water? Then kayak to the lake’s furthest corners, water ski, paddleboard or fish from the shore if you don’t fancy getting wet. Big Bear Lake is just two hours away from Los Angeles and it gets a hefty amount of snow in the winter, which gives it an icy charm.
There you have it, 10 amazing lakes in California to visit
Plan Your Itinerary
Looking for more things to do in California? Check out some of these posts to help plan your US itinerary.
- Cat Cafes in California
- Best Waterfalls in California
- Anchor Brewery Tour – San Francisco
- Secret Food Tour in San Francisco
- Taking A VW Tour Around San Francisco
- Waters Edge Hotel in San Francisco Bay
- Best Restaurants in Las Vegas
- Drag Brunch in Las Vegas
- Dining at Hell’s Kitchen in Las Vegas
- The Sex And The City Tour, NYC
- 40 Books Set in New York
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