12 Best Lakes To Visit In California

California is the land of many wonders! Spread over 163,696 miles; the state has nearly 39.2 million residents. It is a state full of diverse landscapes from towering mountains that will take your breath away. 

The state attracted more than 259.8 million tourists with its sunbaked deserts and snowy mountains. And the ratio is continuously increasing every passing year.  

This must-visit state never lets you get bored with hitting hundreds of lakes. In this article, we will explore the twelve best lakes in California to visit. Each lake has its attractions and features that will leave you in awe.

So, get ready to plan your next adventure!

1) Lake Tahoe

Tahoe is a big lake at the border between California and Nevada, west of Carson City. It is one of the most popular lakes in the U.S. 

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is unique for its stunning alpine scenery, year-round outdoor recreational activities, and the clarity of its deep blue waters, unmatched by most lakes worldwide. 

The place is popular for offering both motorized and non-motorized boating. Besides this, it offers a variety of outdoor activities, including Hiking, skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding.

In the winter, the area transforms into a skiing and snowboarding haven with several world-class ski resorts. Come summer; visitors can bask in the sun while enjoying swimming, boating, and fishing in the lake.

2) Mono Lake

Located at Highway 395, 13 miles east of Yosemite National Park, near Lee Vining, California, Mono Lake is a pretty old lake that covers over 69 miles and is surrounded by some bizarre rocks called tufa towers. 

Mono Lake

These otherworldly tufa towers and saline, alkaline waters support a diverse ecosystem of brine shrimp and alkali flies and have geological significance as a terminal lake.

You can go hiking around the Tufa towers, birdwatching (which is way cooler than it sounds), kayaking, and even stargazing! You can also take a dip in the lake’s mineral-rich waters. 

3) Big Bear Lake

The lake is in the western United States, in the San Bernardino Mountains in San Bernardino County, California. It is one of the best boasting spots in Southern California. 

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake is unique for its picturesque mountain setting, year-round recreational activities, including skiing and snowboarding, and charming alpine village with a quaint, small-town atmosphere.

Several marinas, including Pleasure Point Marina, with miles-long hiking trails like Cougar Crest Trail line it.  

In Bear Lake, you can hike, bike, fish, & boat. In winter, go skiing at Snow Summit or Bear Mountain. In summer, swim, kayak, or try stand-up paddleboarding in the lake’s crystal-clear waters.

4) Lake Shasta

Shasta Lake is more or less 15 miles north of Redding in the Shasta Colony, California, US.

 Lake Shasta

Lake Shasta is a colossal 30,000-acre reservoir encompassed by breathtaking mountainous scenery. The lake is an outdoor paradise with a sanctuary for wildlife, including our majestic bald eagles, ospreys, and black bears.

Lake Shasta boasts diverse outdoor activities, including water sports, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. And it leisurely hikes along the shoreline or nearby trails, such as the well-loved Shasta Lake National Recreation Trail.

It features the most developed water stretches, including McCloud Arm and Sacramento Arm.

5) Lake Arrowhead

Lake is located in Southern California’s scenic San Bernardino Mountains, where man-made marvel meets breathtaking natural splendor. It’s been around since the early 20th century, surrounded by towering peaks and lush forests.

Lake Arrowhead

Lake Arrowhead is unique for its pristine, natural San Bernardino National Forest setting, year-round recreational activities, and exclusive lakefront homes and resorts.

Here, you can hike through scenic trails, bike through rugged terrain, fish for delicious trout, and even go boating. 

And in the winter, Snow Valley and Snowdrift ski resorts are just a jump away, offering you the chance to carve up the slopes to your heart’s content.

6) Donner Lake

The lake is in northern California’s stunning Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Donner Lake

Lake Donner is unique for its scenic location in the Sierra Nevada mountains, historic significance as the major Donner Party tragedy camping site, and diverse outdoor recreational activities.

Fisherman can try their luck with trout, bass, and other freshwater fish, while the more adventurous types can rent a boat or kayak and paddle around the lake. 

For hikers, the surrounding mountains offer trails with stunning views and nearby ski resorts like Sugar Bowl and Squaw Valley. You can reach the shoreline through Lakeside Interpretive Trail with stunning views of Sierra Nevada. 

7) June Lake

This alpine lake is nestled against the southern rim of the Mono Basin, California. This natural freshwater lake was formed during the last ice age and is considered the ‘Switzerland of California.’’

June Lake

June Lake is unique for its breathtaking alpine scenery, crystal-clear waters, and peaceful atmosphere that offers a relaxing getaway for outdoor enthusiasts.

Fishing enthusiasts can cast their lines into the lake and reel in trout and other species. Lake offers kayaking, canoeing, and stand-up paddleboarding. The surrounding mountains offer many hiking and biking trails like June Lake Loop.

8) Lake Cuyamaca

This lake, considered the jewel of San Deigo, is located at 15027 CA-79, Julian, CA 92036. 

Lake Cuyamaca

The glorious Cuyamaca Mountains surround this aquatic oasis. Lake Cuyamaca is home to an array of majestic creatures, including bald eagles, mountain lions, and black bears.

Fishing is all the rage at Lake Cuyamaca, with plenty of opportunities to reel in trout, bass, and catfish. Rentals are also available for kayaks, canoes, and motorboats. And you can also stroll or hike on the trails of the Cuyamaca Mountains.

9) Convict Lake

It is located in the Eastern Sierra region of California, about 10 miles south of Mammoth Lakes. It is nestled in a beautiful valley surrounded by towering mountain peaks and features crystal-clear waters.

Convict Lake

Convict Lake is unique for its dramatic alpine scenery, crystal-clear waters that reflect the surrounding mountains, and world-class trout fishery that draws anglers worldwide.

Outdoor activities at Convict Lake include fishing for rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout and hiking on scenic trails that offer stunning views of the surrounding landscape. 

And camping in one of the park’s well-equipped campsites. Visitors can enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing on the frozen lake in winter.

10) Lake Almanor

Almanor Lake is tucked away in the Northeastern region of California, a wondrous body of water surrounded by the majestic Lassen and Plumas National Forests.

Lake Almanor

Lake Almanor is unique for its scenic location in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, ample recreational opportunities, including boating and fishing, and stunning sunsets over Lassen Peak.

Fishing enthusiasts can expect to find trout, bass, and salmon swimming in the lake, waiting to be caught. Lake is also a gateway to Lassen Volcanic National Park. 

Lake also offers water sports such as boating and waterskiing are available, with plenty of marinas and boat rental facilities on offer. 

11) Lake Gregory

It’s a small yet breathtaking man-made lake in Southern California’s San Bernardino Mountains. Towering pine trees and majestic mountains with stunning lake views surround Lake.

Lake Gregory

Lake Gregory is unique for its location in the San Bernardino Mountains, clear blue waters that reflect the surrounding forest, and wide range of recreational activities.

Lake Gregory’s crystal-clear waters are perfect for swimming, fishing, and paddle boating. There are hiking and biking trails of varying difficulties. 

If you visit during the winter, you’ll witness a winter wonderland. During this season, you can indulge in ice skating, sledding, and snowshoeing.

12) Bass Lake

This lake is a southern Sierra Nevada Mountains reservoir. It is just a drive away from Yosemite National Park.

Bass Lake

Lake Gregory is unique for its location in the San Bernardino Mountains, clear blue waters reflecting the surrounding forest, and wide range of activities.

You can go fishing, boating, swimming, or kayaking in its crystal clear waters. The lake is surrounded by countless hiking and mountain biking trails that wind through its lush, verdant forests and mountains.

Lake offers boat rentals and places to stay, like Forks Resort and Millers Landing.


California has loads of lakes for you to enjoy. There’s plenty of stuff to do, like hiking and fishing, or you can even go boating and camping.

But keeping the fun aside, these lakes are strict in their policies. Make sure to keep in mind the thing that is prohibited from the lake’s management. It will prevent you from unnecessary hassle.  

And each lake has its own thing that makes it special, so you can choose the one that suits you the best! It’s a great way to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the city and just relax for a bit.