If you’re looking for the best lakes in California for boating, fishing, and swimming, look no further. We’ll give you the rundown on the top five lakes in the Golden State. Grab your swimsuit, put on some sunblock, and let’s go!
Continue all the way through to catch our honorable mention.
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1. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is a nature lover’s paradise and one of the most popular summer spots in the state.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, it is nearly 122,616 acres of glistening blue waters surrounded by stunning mountain scenery. It straddles the line between California and Nevada, conveniently between Sacramento and Reno. Did we mention it’s 1,645 feet deep, making it the second-deepest lake in the entire nation!
Boating on its scenic shores is a popular pastime and an unforgettable experience – you can feel the fresh mountain air as your boat cuts through the lake’s crystal-clear water, whether you’re taking a pontoon for a lazy afternoon cruise around the lake or participating in organized boating activities like fishing, sailing, water skiing, wakeboarding, or tubing.
Lake Tahoe is the ultimate California getaway that you and your family are sure to talk about for years and years.
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2. Lake Shasta (Shasta Lake)
If you’re looking for an adventure in northern California, look no further than Shasta Lake. It is home to many activities that can help create a fantastic day or weekend outing. Shasta is about three hours east of the Redwood Forest and a cool ten-minute drive north of Redding, California.
The 30,000-acre lake is the largest man-made lake in the state and provides plenty of opportunities for recreational fun. Whether you prefer boating, fishing, or swimming (or all three!), this spot offers something special for everyone.
Fishing is good year-round; you’ll find a plethora of rainbow trout, brown trout, bass, crappie, catfish, and salmon. You’ll likely be more successful from a boat, but shore fishing is also an option. Be sure to read the Shasta Lake fishing report from the USDA and Forest Service. This lake is popular for fishing because the edges are filled with private coves and nooks that are quiet and safe from speed boaters.
Water sports are hot on Lake Shasta because it’s so open and wide, perfect for all kinds of zipping around, splashing, and riding the waves of other boats and that strong California wind. The water is a pleasant eighty to ninety degrees Fahrenheit all summer, it’s clean and clear, and there are about 365 miles of shoreline.
With its stunning views and beautiful landscape all around the area, it’s no wonder why going to Shasta Lake is becoming increasingly popular.
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3. Oroville Lake (Lake Oroville)
Oroville Lake sits right between Lake Tahoe and Lake Shasta, 90 minutes north of Sacramento.
This 15,500-acre man-made lake thrives with a variety of fish, including bass, catfish, and trout, which ensures ample opportunities for anglers of any skill level. Even in the midst of droughts, it maintains a minimum depth of 645 feet or more. The deepest point is usually 722 feet.
Just when you think it can’t get better, Lake Oroville shows you it does! Lake Oroville has many floating campsites. Each site has a table, and propane BBQ, with propane provided, a restroom, covered living space, a sleeping area, a sun deck, and a spot to pitch a tent. Make sure to bring your own drinking water.
Pro Tip: These are only accessible by boat, so make sure you reserve yours right away. Each floating camp accommodates fifteen people and three boats.
4. Big Bear Lake
Sitting in the San Bernardino Mountains, at an elevation of around 6,750 feet, Big Bear Lake is two hours east of Los Angeles and three and a half hours southwest of Las Vegas.
It’s perfect for outdoor adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. Surrounded by astonishing views of the San Bernadino mountains (which can include occasional glimpses of snow) and plenty of activities available throughout the year, like fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming, water skiing, and much more.
Pro Tip: Swimming is only permitted within 50 feet of the shoreline or within 20 feet of a private dock. If you swim because of water sports, you must always wear an appropriately fitted life jacket.
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5. Castaic Lake
If Big Bear Lake is the most beautiful lake in Southern California for water sports, then Castaic Lake is the most beautiful fishing lake in the SoCal region.
It’s a haven for bass lovers, loaded with largemouth, smallmouth, and striped bass. Rainbow trout, bullhead, and bluegill are also suitable species to cast for.
There is an ADA-compliant fishing pier, plus it’s an excellent lake for fishing from a boat. There are designed swim areas monitored by the Castaic Lake Junior Lifeguards. While there’s only one marina on the lake, it’s nice and well-designed.
The adjacent Castaic Lake Lagoon is perfect for row boating, so bring your kayaks, canoes, rafts, and paddleboards.
Pro Tip: To protect Los Angeles regulars who frequent this popular spot for Los Angeles residents, the number of boaters on the lake is limited, and there is also a speed limit of 35 mph in the center of the lake, while a 5 mph cap covers the coves, shorelines, and boat launch area.
After the perfect day on the water, settle down in a cozy campsite that lines the lake. There are about sixty, and they each feature uniquely beautiful views.
Lake Havasu on the California and Arizona border is where the desert meets the lake, and thousands of boaters and adventurers come for fun on the water. This dynamic destination has so much to offer, such as the Bridgewater Channel, lake beaches, top-fishing, and more.
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