TOP 12 best lakes in California. Good places to swim, fish and enjoy the beauty

By Anna Veselova-SolovoniukJun 8, 2023 10:55 AMCalifornia
TOP 12 best lakes in California. Good places to swim, fish and enjoy the beauty
The surface of the lake water. Source: Image Josh Hild Pexels

A separate attraction of the state of California is its lakes - freshwater springs connected by a web of flowing rivers, both on the surface and underground. There are always interesting things to do and spectacular sights to see on their shores and smooth, mirror-like water. But each one has something special. Something that will attract and interest you. Some people go to Lake Tahoe to admire the diversity of beauty at any time of the year. Others choose Big Bear, with its sophisticated resorts and activities. Others like pristine waters with authentic camping. Whichever part of the state you're in, don't miss the opportunity to take a look at California's cool lakes and embrace all the many gifts they so graciously offer.

Our list includes California's famous lakes, with the best fishing options; a variety of photography content, with the most beautiful lakes in California in the state; and beautiful lake spaces for sailing, boating, kayaking, jet skiing and scuba diving. Book lakeside resorts for organised and authentic holidays or day trips. California's lakes successfully compete with Pacific holidays, not inferior in variety, comfort and attractions. And some variants of reservoirs more than beat seaside resorts. We are in a hurry to expand your choice of holidays in the state of California.

1. Lake Tahoe

The expanses of Lake Tahoe, California. Source: Image Manu Pexels

Perhaps this giant is rightfully at the top of all ratings and tops. Photos of its beauty at any time of the year are familiar to you from postcards and media. It is the most famous alpine lake in California. Its vast expanse touches the borders of California and Nevada, the attractive blue of its mirror-like surface is enclosed in the picture frame of the granite mountains of the Sierra Nevada. And the sights and unique natural resources both on the surface and underground are under the control and protection of the National Parks of California.

Emerald Bay Park is famous for its panoramic camping sites, a variety of trails, including the most famous trail in Lake Tahoe - the Rubicon Trail. It is the gateway to the nearby D.L. Bliss Park, which also offers fun activities, overnight accommodations and a host of attractions. Tours of Lake Tahoe can be made both by water (by boat, boat, kayak) and land (the Tahoe Rim Trail circles the entire reservoir), and by air - helicopter tours will take in the landscape, curves and colours of Lake Tahoe.

On the southeast coast, you can visit the resort towns of South Lake Tahoe and Stateline, where you will find the most luxurious facilities and services. Just take a look at Edgewood Tahoe Resort and you will understand the scale and beauty.

Attractions along the Lake Tahoe coast are such as:

  • Tallac Museum
  • Kings Beach, Lester Beach, Kalawi Cove beaches
  • Rubicon Trail, Eagle Rock Trail, South Shore Trail
  • Emerald Bay, Sand Harbour, Donner State Parks
  • Shakespeare Festival
  • ski resorts
  • boat cruises

Lake Tahoe is not a one-day trip, but a yearly experience of new places and discoveries. It will take decades to explore and see all the sights of the winner of the lake ratings. But these will be the most memorable years of your life. Choose one of the most beautiful lakes in California - Lake Tahoe - to diversify your holiday and impressions.

2. Lake Shasta

A view of Lake Shasta, California. Source: Image

Residents of Redding, in northern California, can boast of a close location (15 miles) to the state's largest reservoir, covering 30,000 acres of scenic territory. Rivers, rivulets and streams flow like veins to Shasta Dam and form a huge freshwater reservoir.

On Lake Shasta, you can take advantage of a unique offer - renting a houseboat and taking a fascinating cruise around the area and its attractions. You can also make the rounds on a motorboat, with rentals scattered along the entire coast of Lake Shasta.

Another highlight of the reservoir is the underground caves, which you can explore with an experienced guide. For water sports enthusiasts, this is a paradise. Water skiing, wakeboarding, kiting, motor boats and, in fact, everything you can put on the water will be a reason for you to come back here again and again. It is one of the most popular lakes in California for water-based activities.

Everything you need to know about Lake Shasta.

3. Big Bear Lake

Fishing on Big Bear Lake in California. Source: Image

Where the sky merges with the snow-capped mountain peaks and the greenery falls into the dark blue of the water, you might think you're dreaming. At an altitude of 6,700 feet, Big Bear Lake offers its visitors a full range of recreational activities, from ski resorts to coastal summer beaches. One of the best lakes near California will surprise you with the number of marinas with all possible water sports options. Whether it's a motorboat, sailboat, kayak, jet ski or even a yacht, you can have fun while exploring the nearby attractions. You can also take a cruise on the lake aboard the Miss Liberty. The pleasure and amount of information from a knowledgeable guide in 90 minutes will give you a first impression of the beautiful lake and help you to plan your next route to the desired places to explore.

Numerous mountain trails around the reservoir lead to campsites and resorts, and the beaches are great for swimming. Visit Boulder Bay State Park and take a dip on Big Bear Lake's largest beach. There's fun for kids, fishing, hundreds of miles of biking trails, and plenty of lookouts.

Take a look at the best resorts and comfortable campsites in Big Bear Lake, California.

4. Mono Lake

Canoeing on Mono Lake, California. Source: Image

Do you want to see the purest mirror image of the sky? You will find such a place outside the eastern gate of Yosemite National Park. The surface of Lake Moab is cut through by lonely tuff castles and, looking at the overall picture, it seems that they are sailing like ships between the clouds of heaven. You can't even tell what colour the lake water is because its colour is as variable as the weather in this region.

Just imagine that by renting a boat or kayak, or any floating craft, you can go on a journey with the clouds, between the stone fences of tuff, accompanied by various species of birds both above and below the boat, thanks to the clear mirror-like reflection of the water.

It is truly a paradise for photographers and lovers of unique nature. The latter will be pleased with the sprouting of artemia and the variety of wild birds.

Be aware of the rise in the water level in the most beautiful lake in California MONO.

5. Lake Berryessa

The landscape of Lake Berryessa, California. Source: Image

If you're in the San Francisco area and have only one day to spare for an experience, you should head to Lake Berryessa. Artificially formed by the overlapping of two creeks, the northern California lake has become a popular and picturesque place for short walks and small experiences.

The fastest way to explore Lake Berryessa is, of course, by motorboat. It's a convenient and fast way to get around, allowing you to admire the curves of the shore, see the Glory Hole and find a campsite to come back and stay longer to explore the sights in the hills that frame the lake.

You can also rent a houseboat and take a romantic drift on the water for a few nights.

You can choose a stopover option and plan a family hike around Lake Berryessa, one of the top 5 lakes in California, here.

6. Lake Havasu

Lake Havasu, California. Source: Image

This place can be divided into two distinctly opposite zones in terms of the type of recreation. The eastern shore of the reservoir offers a more aboriginal way to spend your holidays: campsites, desert hill trails, hiking and solitude on the wide, sprawling coastal zone of Lake Havasu. Traditional fishing, kayaking, canoeing and swimming are the mainstays of Lake Havasu's eastern shore.

And quite the opposite attractions await you in the Lake Havasu City area. Resort accommodation, modern entertainment and a beautiful landscape of civilisation in harmony with nature that is no longer so wild in appearance. A popular attraction on this side of the reservoir is the London Bridge, which connects the two opposite banks.

Choose a place to stay on one of the best lakes in California - Havasu Lake.

7. Lake Folsom

A view of Folsom Lake, California. Source: Image

Once flooded by the American River, the back of Folsom (dammed in 1955) is a great example of how man, by adjusting nature, was able to create a "miracle" rather than a disaster. Located near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this area has a wide-ranging hilly landscape with views of mountain ranges. Like other beautiful lakes in California, Folsom Lake is attractive to tourists and travellers. Offering a wide variety of services and attractions, from a variety of campsites to jet skiing, Folsom Lake is deservedly ranked among the top 10 lakes in California.

Spanning a vast expanse of water, Folsom Lake State Recreation Area offers numerous trails, stopping at viewpoints, to explore the unique nature of the area and observe wildlife in their natural habitat.

Interesting facts about Folsom Lake.

8. Lake June

The surface of June Lake, California. Source: Image

Scenic June Lake is one of the best lakes in California to go to for stunning views for glossy magazines and media videos. With its backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, the diversity of fauna colours and crystal clear water, it's sure to make your holiday very inspiring and relaxing.

June Lake is one of the four that you can visit in these places, but it offers a unique set of all the benefits of a freshwater holiday.

Campsites around the reservoir will help you enjoy and fill up for the time you want, trails create a wonderful loop with viewpoints to get a good look at the scenic corners, and June Lake's swimming beaches allow you to practice water sports, relax on the shore and cool off in the hot summer season. Fishing is a separate kind of pleasure, and a separate kind of art on June Lake. Anglers from all over the state dream of casting a spinning rod into the waters of this crystal-clear mirror and catching a "Grand Slam of the Sierra" (4 trout in one catch).

Take a look at the winter classes at JUNE LAKE.

9. Bass Lake

Lake after a thunderstorm. Source: Image Julia Volk Pexels

Being at a relatively low level compared to other lakes, Bass Lake offers warmer water temperatures, making its beaches quite popular. The woodlands that envelop the waters hide many options for staying on Bass Lake as long as possible to explore all the trails and paths of the green landscape.

The waters of the lake's five-mile promenade are a great place for active water sports. Swimming and fishing, water skiing and jet skiing, hiking and campfires are all possible at Bass Lake. Modern resorts are just a decoration of the reservoir. Berths with rental of all kinds of equipment, cosy restaurants and cafes, and entertaining resort programmes will make your holiday comfortable and full of adventure.

Check out 25 things to do at Bass Lake.

10. Mammoth Lakes

The idyll of Mammoth Lakes, California. Source: Image

Containing more than 10 bodies of water, Mammoth Lakes combine alpine beauty with the comfort of a tropical resort.

Travellers come here to take the legendary gondola ride, which takes you up to 11,053 feet and offers a stunning panorama of snow-capped peaks, green blankets and scattered mirrors of various shades and shapes.

In addition to all the traditional lake activities, Mammoth Lakes can impress with flying fish, a unique canyon with small lakes and flowers blooming in all the wildflower colours.

The famous Sierra Star and Snowcreek high-altitude golf courses will amaze players with their views and opportunities.

Both in winter and summer, you can have fun and comfort at Mammoth Lakes.

11. Silverwood Lake

Silverwood Lake, California. Source: Image

Southern California is rich in warm natural bodies of water, such as Silverwood Lake. This area is very popular during the season. When planning a holiday in the state parks on Silverwood Lake, you need to think about booking a place in advance.

The San Bernadino Mountains are great for long hikes, with their gradual ascents creating viewpoints at different heights, which adds variety and impresses with new horizons every time.

Campsites are a popular type of accommodation in this area. You will find a campsite to suit any needs and any budget.

Traditional water activities can be found on the shores of Silverwood Lake, and many beach areas are guarded by lifeguards, making for a pleasant family summer holiday. During the cold season, you can watch bald eagles on the beaches in their natural habitat.

Find all the details and necessary documents for renting a boat on the most popular lake in Southern California here.

12. Lake Cachuma

Lake Cachuma, California. Source: Image

This scenic lake is a domestic water supply and swimming in its waters is prohibited. What attracts travellers to this area, a half-hour drive from Santa Barbara? The answer is on the surface, or rather on the surface of the Earth. The picturesque mountains and hills that border Lake Cachuma offer a wide range of hikes, tours and attractions in their crests.

And even if you can't go in the water, relaxing on the water gives you wonderful memories. Right on the shore, you can find a marina and rent a boat, as well as replenish your supplies if your hike is long.

Local fishing is also a highlight of the lake. You can even buy a one-day permit to experience the beauty of fishing in the rich, diverse fish species of Lake Cachuma.

Find out more about camping at Cachuma Lake.

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