Whether you’re looking for a peaceful getaway or a thrilling adventure, the best lakes in Central California have something to offer for everyone, so check them out!
Have you been dreaming of a pleasant place to visit to get away from the hustle and bustle of life? With plenty of sunshine and fresh air, the lakes in Central California, provide the perfect getaway.
From fishing spots to hiking trails, you’ll find plenty of outdoor activities that will let you connect with nature and rekindle your soul. So check out our best coastal, mountain, and valley lakes in Central California!
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Lakes in Central California
Before we start exploring several beautiful lakes, let’s get on the same wavelength.
Seems like there are many interpretations of what area and/or counties comprise Central California. For this article’s purpose, we are highlighting lakes between San Luis Obispo/Bakersfield and San Francisco.
Having explained that, it is time to take a look at the best lakes in Central California.
Bass Lake is a stunning destination, especially for outdoor adventure lovers. The lake is a fantastic spot for catching bass, catfish, carp, and kokanee salmon.
You can also enjoy water sports like jet skiing, and if you’re looking to challenge yourself, you can hike the trail heading to the top of Goat Mountain (trail length is 7 to 10 miles depending on the trailhead or how you connect to the trail).
The lake also provides plenty of solitude where you can enjoy views of turquoise waters or pink and orange sunset shades.
The lake is located a couple of miles away from Yosemite Forks and close enough to popular attractions like The Pines Resort.
So whether you plan for a short stay or a long trip, make sure not to miss out on the beauty Bass Lake has to offer.
Mono Lake is one of the most incredible spots in Central California. The lake formed over 760,000 years ago, and it’s known for its astounding tufa formations, which are hills of calcium carbonate that form in the water.
The lake offers landscapes like no other, from rolling hills to granite surfaces. It also hosts several bird species, from grebes and pelicans to sandhill cranes and gulls, so it’s a wonderful spot for bird watching.
You can also rent a kayak or go on a hike to explore the area closely.
Mono Lake is definitely one of Central California’s best-kept secrets, so make sure to grab your camera to capture its striking scenery!
Located in Kern County, Isabella Lake is one of the best spots to visit for a day filled with family-friendly fun activities. You can swim, fish, hike, and more! You can also try paddleboarding and canoeing for a chill day or make it more adventurous by wakeboarding or kneeboarding.
If you’re looking to stay for an extended period, you can stay on any nearby campgrounds or even rent one of the cabins that are available all year round!
For eating, drinking, and supply stocking, head to Kernville. The city has nice restaurants and a great brewery.
Overall, Isabella Lake is the go-to destination for an action-packed day full of stunning scenery and exciting adventures that won’t be forgotten anytime soon!
Huntington Lake is a popular spot for a day filled with relaxation. The lake offers miles of shoreline surrounded by clear mountain air and spectacular scenery as far as the eye can see.
If you’re a fishing enthusiast, you’ll surely enjoy catching rainbow trout, kokanee salmon, and brown trout.
As night falls, you can expect fantastic sunsets that aren’t only captivating but also extremely romantic for a newlywed couple. Lastly, the lake has steady winds, which makes it a favorite spot for sailors.
Shaver Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake located in Fresno County. This stunning lake is surrounded by pine trees, granite cliffs, and natural scenery.
Shaver Lake offers a variety of activities for visitors, including fishing, boating, and hiking. Fishing is a popular activity at the lake, as it is home to a variety of fish species, including rainbow trout, brown trout, kokanee salmon, and smallmouth bass.
Boating is also a popular activity, and visitors can rent boats or bring their own to explore the lake’s clear blue waters.
In addition to fishing and boating, visitors can also enjoy hiking around the lake’s shoreline and nearby trails. The Dinkey Creek Trail is a popular hiking destination, offering stunning views of the surrounding mountains and wildlife.
The Shaver Lake Village is a charming town with a variety of shops and restaurants to explore, while the Sierra Marina offers boat rentals and other water activities.
For those looking for a more relaxed experience, there are plenty of picnic areas and campsites around the lake for visitors to enjoy. The lake also has several beaches, including the popular Dorabelle Cove Beach, which is perfect for swimming and sunbathing.
Don Pedro Lake or Reservoir
Don Pedro Lake is a picturesque reservoir situated in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tuolumne and Mariposa Counties of Central California. The lake covers more than 13,000 acres and is surrounded by rolling hills, and oak trees.
Don Pedro Lake offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy, including boating, fishing, and water sports. Visitors can rent boats or launch their own vessels from a ramp.
Water sports such as jet skiing, water skiing, and wakeboarding are also popular on the lake.
The Moccasin Point Marina offers a range of services, including boat rentals, fuel, and boat repairs. The lake also has several campgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails, making it a perfect destination for a day trip or weekend getaway.
Don Pedro Lake is also located near several attractions, including Yosemite National Park and the historic town of Columbia State Historic Park.
Located deep in the Sierra mountains, Mammoth Lakes is well-known for its various recreational activities and stunning natural beauty. You can easily access Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, Lake Mamie, and Horseshoe Lake by car. Many other lakes can be visited through hiking trails (several trails are rated easy).
At nearby Mammoth Mountain, you can also enjoy skiing and snowboarding (seasonal).
Lastly, camping, fishing, and kayaking are other popular activities you can try at Mammoth Lakes.
Keep in mind this is an entire resort area. There are activities to keep you busy for days (if not weeks).
Read More: Things to do in the Mammoth Lakes Basin
Located in Mono County, June Lake is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Central California. It offers numerous recreational activities, such as sailing, kayaking, canoeing, camping, horseback riding, and hiking.
The lake is fed by an aquifer that maintains its freshwater all year round, so it’s ideal for anglers who seek a spot that has an abundance of fish species.
Also, there are plenty of campgrounds located along the lake, so you’ll enjoy your stay if you’re a camper.
June Lake is located within a loop where other lakes can be accessed by car (Silver Lake, Gull Lake, Grant Lake). Other lakes can be accessed from trails.
Lastly, you can expect to spot sightings of bald eagles soaring over the lake— definitely an unforgettable experience!
Read More: June Lake Loop
Located in Mono County, Convict Lake is a popular spot among anglers and campers. The lake is named after the convicts who escaped from the Nevada State Prison in 1871.
It’s surrounded by ample campgrounds and hiking trails, including Convict Lake Loop, which makes it the perfect destination for nature enthusiasts. It also has a large population of rainbow trout, but you can find brown trout and brook trout too.
If you’re looking for more adventure, you can rent a boat or dive into the water from the rocky outcrops.
And if you’re in the mood for some tranquility, you can bring your lunch for a picnic in the southeastern area of the lake and enjoy the picturesque scenery.
Created as part of the Friant Dam, this man-made lake is crucial for generating hydroelectric power and flood control. The lake plays host to a variety of fish species, including bass, trouts, catfish, and crappies. So if you’re looking for fishing lakes in Central California, Millerton Lake is a must-try!
There are other exciting activities to pack your day with outdoor adventures, including swimming, camping, boating, and hiking. Also, make sure not to miss out on the bald eagle bout tours that happen from January to March.
Pine Flat Lake
Pine Flat Lake is a stunning freshwater reservoir located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, east of Fresno. The lake spans over 20 miles and is surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges.
Pine Flat Lake offers a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy, including fishing, boating, and water sports (jet skiing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and others).
The Kings River is also nearby, providing visitors with the opportunity to go rafting or kayaking.
For those looking for a more relaxed experience, there are several beaches around the lake, including the popular Sandy Cove Beach, which is perfect for swimming and sunbathing. The lake also has several restaurants and shops located nearby, offering visitors a variety of options for food and shopping.
Lake McClure is a reservoir, spanning over 7,000 acres, located in the Sierra Nevada foothills in Mariposa County. Popular activities offered at the lake include boating, fishing, and camping.
The lake is located near several historic gold mining towns, including Coulterville and Mariposa, offering visitors a glimpse into California’s rich history. Visitors can paddle kayaks (you can rent if you do not have your own) or book rafting excursions in the Merced River.
The surrounding natural scenery is also a highlight of Lake McClure, with the lake nestled in the rolling foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The area is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, mountain lions, and bald eagles, making it a perfect destination for nature lovers.
Lake Kaweah is a reservoir located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Tulare County. The lake spans over 1,700 acres where visitors can boat, fish, and hike.
The surrounding natural landscape of Lake Kaweah is breathtaking, with the lake nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The area is home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, black bears, and mountain lions. Visitors can also enjoy the stunning views of nearby peaks, such as Mount Whitney, which is the highest peak in the contiguous United States.
The Sequoia National Park is located nearby, offering visitors the opportunity to see the famous giant sequoia trees and explore the park’s many hiking trails. The city of Visalia is also located nearby, providing visitors with a variety of options for eating, drinking, shopping, and lodging.
Lake Nacimiento is a picturesque reservoir, located in San Luis Obispo County, offering a variety of activities for visitors to enjoy, including boating, fishing, and camping.
The surrounding hills and natural beauty of Lake Nacimiento are truly stunning, with the lake nestled in the foothills of the Santa Lucia Mountains.
Aside from outdoor activities, there are also many nearby attractions and amenities to enjoy. Paso Robles, a popular wine region, is located nearby, providing visitors with the opportunity to go wine tasting and enjoy the area’s many restaurants and shops. Hearst Castle, a historic mansion, cultural center, and popular tourist attraction, is also located nearby.
Lake San Antonio
With its beautiful scenery and plentiful activities, visiting Lake San Antonio is a worthwhile experience if you’re looking for your next adventure. It’s located near California’s Central Coast and is a popular destination for water activities, including boating, skiing, and fishing.
Once you explore the lake, you have a chance to spot some of the wildlife it attracts, including deer and bald eagles. And if you’re in the mood for lake camping in Central California, you’ll enjoy Lake San Antonio’s picturesque shoreline and stunning hills.
The lake also has nearby trails for biking and horseback riding if you’re craving an adrenaline rush.
Lakes in Central California Gear
As I spend a lot of time near the water, I have my gear packed and ready to throw in the car. Here is an idea of what I take to the beach, lake, or river.
- Easy Set Up Beach Tent – This is essential since most lake beaches in California do not have shaded areas. >Check out this great tent option here
- Big Portable Umbrella – Sometimes, we prefer to use an umbrella since we want to sit on a chair verse lying on the floor. Plus, I find it easier to adjust/move the umbrella to block the sun. >Buy a beach umbrella
- Walking Shoes – Comfortable walking shoes are a must. My go-to brands are Clarks, Tevas, and Sketchers.
- Flip Flops – Flip flops are a must on any beach trip. I am partial to the Tevas brand. >>Take a look at these beautiful flip flops
- Water Sandals – If you want a more polished look, check out these leather-made salt water sandals.
- Sweatshirt – A sweatshirt is a must to keep me warm during chilly mornings and nights. >Click to see this California appropriate option here
- Sun Block – Do not leave the house (or the car) without applying sunblock. I repeat, always wear sunblock when outdoors. >Buy sunblock here
- Lip Balm with Sunscreen – Protect your lips by applying a balm with sunscreen. >Get one of the best lip balms here
- Wide Brim Hat – A wide brim hat is a great way to protect your scalp, face, and neck. The ones manufactured by FURTALK come with an anti-UV function. >Buy this amazing hat here
- Sunglasses – These are another must when it comes to protecting from the sun. A polarized, sporty pair works better outdoors. >Take a look at this wonderful pair
- Towels – This is the accessory I always forget about. WETCAT’s Turkish Towels take minimum space and dry fast. >Buy a Turkish towel here
- Foldable Chairs – Portable chairs allow you to set camp at the beach, park, winery, and even a parking lot. A classic Coleman portable chair is a solid choice. >>Buy portable camping chair
- Beach Blanket – For laying on the sand, a beach blanket is necessary. Good ones are waterproof, sandproof, and light. The blankets manufactured by Wekapo fit several adults and are durable. >Buy this nice beach blanket here
- Soft Cooler Bag – A soft cooler bag with enough capacity is great for having drinks and some food items at hand. I love my CleverMade collapsible cooler bag. >Take a look at my cooler here
- Water Bottle – Do not forget to bring water! Keep yours cold by taking a beautiful Hydro Flask water bottle. >Check out the insane options here
- THERMOS Tumblers – I have been a fan of the THERMOS brand since I received a tumbler as a gift. The tumblers keep drinks hot for hours. >>Buy THERMOS insulated tumblers here
- Dry Bag – Keep your valuables (and electronics) protected by bringing a dry bag. >These dry bag is awesome
- Beach Bag or Large Tote – Carry all your gear on an amazing beach bag. Get one with tons of pockets (I love pockets). >>>Check out my beach bag top pick
- Camera – I have never gotten used to taking pictures exclusively with my phone. I prefer to use the Sony Alpha a6000. It is compact and takes gorgeous pictures. >Buy Sony Camera here
- Tripod – A compact tripod to take your photos and videos to a different level. >>Check out this popular option here
- Portable Power Bank – It is a pain to keep phones charged on beach trips. Having a power bank is a lifesaver. The Anker portable charger can charge a phone 5 times. >Buy this incredible power bank here
Wow! This is quite the list. Hope you have the opportunity to visit all these lakes in Central California.
More Lakes in California
If you are a fan of lakes like me, here are other articles with details about other lakes in California.
More of California
What are your favorite lakes in Central California?