The Golden State is a bonanza for lovers of nature and the great outdoors, and in addition to natural beauty, its most stunning freshwater reservoir lakes usually offer a plethora of activities and amenities - swimming, boating, fishing, and various other pursuits on the lands surrounding them. And here's a round-up of some of the state's most popular with visitors from near and far:
Located at an altitude of more than 6,700 feet In the 824,000-acre San Bernardino National Forest, about two hours east of Los Angeles, snow- and rain-fed Big Bear (top) is seven miles long, about 2½ miles at its widest, and reaches up to 72 feet in depth. In warm weather it's popular - especially with Angelenos looking for a cool mountain escape - for fishing, boating, kayaking, and water skiing, though because of obstacles near shore as well as the water's coldness (it can drop as low as the 30s Fahrenheit), swimming isn't encouraged. The surrounding pine forests are also popular for hiking, biking, quad riding, ziplining, and other adventure activities, as well as skiing and snowboarding in winter.
In the northern California town of Truckee, close to the Nevada border (just a half hour from Reno, in fact) and a three-hour drive from San Francisco, it's named after the ill-fated Donner Party, wagon-train pioneers who were stranded near here in 1846 and became notorious for resorting to cannibalism to survive. These days the lake - just over 2½ miles long and up to a half mile wide - provides a much happier experience, with swimming, fishing (its trout are among Cali's largest), boating, waterskiing, windsurfing, and picnicking along its shores. In nearby Donner Memorial State Park, folks like to hike, mountain bike, and camp, and in wintertime go snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
About an hour and a half south of Donner Lake and a half hour from state capital Sacramento, in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this lake - 18,450 acres in size, with 75 miles of shoreline - is the result of the damming of the American River, and the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area is one of the most popular in the California state park system. All the usual fun activities are on offer - swimming, boating, kayaking. canoeing, Jetskiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and fishing - and land options include camping, hiking, mountain biking, and a bit more unusually, horseback riding.There are also a bevy of nearby attractions, including the charming town of Folsom, with a historic district dating back to the time of its mid-19th-century gold-rush-era founding; and the city of Sacramento with its own considerable array of attractions.
Here's a lake-and-wine-country two-fer! The largest in Napa County (16 miles long and three wide), about two hours north of San Francisco, this one (above) was formed in the 1950s by the damming of Putah Creek. known for boating, water sports, and jet skiing. Various sandy beaches and marinas also provide great swimming and fishing as well all kinds of boating - from kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and canoeing to sailing and motorboating - along with waterskiing and Jetskiing. And the area around the lake is popular for picknicking, hiking, biking, motorbiking, birding, and wildlife spotting.
Covering 3,100 acres of SoCal's Santa Ynez Valley near the charming town of Solvang, here swimming and other "body-contact" aquatic fun are a no-no because it's used for drinking water (though this doesn't obviously isn't considered an issue with most other Cali reservoir lakes). But kayaking, canoeing, and boating are fine, and visitors can also enjoy the scenic beach as well as the nearby oak forests, filled with hiking tracks, picnic spots, and options for tent camping, RVs, and cabin and yurt rentals. There's also bar and grill as well as a clubhouse with a pool and other activities.
In the state's southeast corner and shared with Arizona, this 19,000-acre reservoir, 45 miles long and created from the Colorado River, is bordered by desert landscapes and is famous for fishing (especially bass), boating, houseboating, sailing, water- and Jetskiing, and like pursuits. Swimming is mostly off watercraft because the rugged shoreline is largely inaccessible by land; there are, however, some tent and RV campsites nearby
Nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains an hour southwest of Palm Springs and two east of Los Angeles, this 470-acre reservoir with 12 miles of shoreline is one of the state's oldest, created in 1895 Besides swimming, folks like to come here to fish for bass, crappie, bluegill, trout, and catfish. You can rent pontoon boats, outboard motorboats, kayaks, and canoes, and camping options include regular tents, "glamping" tents, RVs, and cabins. There's also a café and a store stocking food and souvenirs. And if you're lucky, you might even spot an eagle soaring overhead!
Up north and also shared with another state, this time Nevada, at up to 22 miles long and 12 mi. wide Cali's most famous lake is also its largest in terms of volume as well as the entire USA's largest after the Great Lakes. It attracts people especially because of its scenic beauty - including its cobalt-colored water and gorgeous views of the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains - as well as its huge array of fun options on both water and land. In addition to the usual array mentioned at all the preceding lakes, the Tahoe area also offers a huge raft of facilities and amenities include good golfing; relaxing spas; a vairiety of shops and galleries; several casinos; a great dining scene; several family-oriented attractions; and in winter a raft of skiing and other winter sports options. (And by the way, Lake Tahoe made rare good environmental news this past month due to a scientific report stating that its clarity is now the best in 40 years thanks to the natural recovery of zooplankton which cleanse the water.)
This relatively small lake (13 mi. long by just over nine wide) two hours south of Tahoe is rather different from the rest on this list because it's both natural and saline rather than freshwater.Plus along its shores you'll find jagged tufa towers created by fresh water bubbling up through the alkaline waters of the lake - which also sustain billions of brine shrimp, which in turn attract scores of migratory birds. Swimming here is a special experience because you have the feeling of floating like a cork, and boating and kayaking are also popular pastimes.
Farther south in the region known as the Inland Empire, a half hour southeast of the city of Riverside and an hour and a half from L.A., this 40-year-old reservoir offers the usual swimming, boating/kayaking, and fishing, while in the surrounding rocky scrubland of the state recreation area folks come to go picknicking, camping, rock climbing, horseback riding, hiking, and biking. There's also an interesting museum of local Native American culture.
Pyramid Dam and Pyramid Lake, California, USA
On the other side of L.A., just over an hour north and surrounded by the Angeles and Los Padres National Forests, this 1,360-acre reservoir built in 1972 is named for a nearby pyramid-shaped rock carved out during the building of the nearby highway. There are a number of sandy stretches, the most popular of which is Vaquero Beach near the Vista del Lago Visitor Center, with swimming, picnicking, and rentals of kayaks, paddleboards, and pedal boats.
Up north just outside the town of Redding and some 3½ hours north of San Francisco, this is the state's largest reservioir - at nearly 47 square miles in size, with 370 miles of shoreline - created by the enormous Shasta Dam, the USA's second largest (of which you can take a free tour), with Mount Shasta looming more than 14,000 feet above. In addition to the usual menu of swimming, boating, and fishing (bass, catfish, crappie, and sturgeon), one of the main allures here is houseboating, with a variety of models from basic to luxurious available for rent. Another cool local attraction is a guided tour of Lake Shasta Caverns, accessible only by water.
A bit more modest in size (976 acres, 13 miles of shoreline), here's another Southern California Inland Empire favorite - nestled in the San Bernardino National Forest about an hour from L.A. - for swimming (with two beaches), boating (various classes of watercraft available for rent), stand-up paddleboarding, waterskiing, windsurfing, and fishing (bass, bluegill, catfish, crappie, and trout). You can buy food and other stuff at the marina; at the lake's southern end you can find a concentration of lakeside tent and RV sites; and in the surrounding 2,400 acres of ancient Douglas firs and black oaks there's plenty of great hiking on 13 miles of trails.
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