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7 Best Lakes in California (and Awesome Nearby Campsites)

7 Best Lakes in California (and Awesome Nearby Campsites)

California is well known for lots of sunshine, warm sandy beaches, and year-round outdoor activities.

But, don’t let the arid climate fool you! There are plenty of picturesque lakes to be found throughout the golden state. Plan your next vacation to one of these 7 best lakes in California. 

Let’s dive in!

Lake Tahoe

Split down the California and Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is widely considered the largest alpine lake by volume in the state. It is also the second deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,645 feet deep. Lake Tahoe is so big that if you poured all the water onto a surface the size of California, it would still be 14 inches deep! That’s a lot of water! 

Crystal-clear blue waters and a horizon of sharp Sierra Nevada peaks make Lake Tahoe the perfect mountain retreat to escape hustle-and-bustle. If you’re looking for a little more excitement, Tahoe is also home to 12 glittering casinos and 15 popular ski resorts. Break out those skis, hit the slopes, and enjoy the view!

Location: Less than 40 miles from Reno, Nevada and just over 100 miles from the state capitol in Sacramento, California

GPS: 39°02’26.8″N 120°04’48.6″W

Great Nearby Campsite: Meeks Bay Resort is a waterfront resort with something for everyone. You’ll find traditional lodging and cabins on one side with RV sites and tent camping on the other. Adventure or relaxation, you decide!

California Lake Vibes Score: 10/10

Shasta Lake

Shasta Lake is the biggest human-made reservoir in California. This tranquil destination is best known for houseboating and trout fishing. Get lost exploring one of Shasta’s many fingers that reach far into the densely-forested mountainsides. Be sure to take a tour of the impressive Shasta Caverns before you leave!

Location: On I-5 just 15 minutes north of Redding, CA

GPS: 40°45’43.8″N 122°18’52.0″W

Great Nearby Campsite: Mountain Gate RV Park is just 5 miles from Bridge Bay at Lake Shasta and under an hour from Lassen Volcanic National Park. Nearby biking and hiking trails offer impressive views of the lake. Also, wide paved roads make it easy for even big rigs to stay and play in one of their 108 full-hookup sites. It’s also dog friendly!

California Lake Vibes Score: 10/10

Lake Oroville

Made famous for the most amazing bass fishing in the west, Lake Oroville is similar to Shasta in it’s long, twisting channels created by branches of tributary rivers. Oroville Dam is well known for its size. So large, in fact, it’s actually bigger than the Hoover Dam!

An unusual feature at this state recreation area is Floating Campsites. A collection of moored pontoon boats big enough for you and 14 of your friends, Floating Campsites are sure to change your perspective on lake camping!

Location: Easy access from Highways 70 and 99 in Northern California, just 5 miles from the town of Oroville. 

GPS: 39°32’31.7″N 121°26’50.5″W

Great Nearby Campsite: With a hot tub and sauna, year-round pool, dog park, and paved sites big enough for 65’ camp setups, Oroville KOA is one of the top resort-style camping destinations in the area. Hit the slots or blackjack tables at Feather Falls Casino just a short walk away. 

California Lake Vibes Score: 8.8/10

Castaic Lake

Like many lakes in the golden state, Castaic is a reservoir created by the construction of a dam.  Located in the Sierra Pelona Mountains, it is home to world-class fishing of largemouth bass, striped bass, bluegill, channel catfish, and rainbow trout. 

Castaic Lake actually has two bodies of water. The lower lake is for non-power boats like kayaks and canoes, with a swimming season running from mid-May to mid-September. The upper lake is dedicated to sailing, powerboating, wakeboarding, jet skiing, and fishing. 29 miles of shoreline also make this park a fantastic destination for hiking, horseback riding, camping, picnicking, or simply enjoying the great outdoors!

Location: Off I-5, seven miles north of Six Flags Magic Mountain. 

GPS: 34°31’47.1″N 118°35’40.8″W

Great Nearby Campsite: Castaic Lake RV Park is just half a mile from the lake. Choose from one of their 103 RV spaces, 75 of which are pull-thru accessible. All sites include full hook-ups including water, sewer, and 50 amp electric. You’ll also find plenty of trees offering shade throughout the property. 

California Lake Vibes Score: 8/10

Lake Piru

Created in 1955 by the Santa Felicia Dam on Piru Creek, Lake Piru is the smallest lake on this list at just 1,240 acres. It hosts the area’s best fishing tournaments with an abundance of trout, bass, crappie, and catfish. Spend a day kayaking, boating, fishing, or even playing volleyball on the sandy shores. 

Location: In the Los Padres National Forest and Topatopa Mountains, just 6 miles off highway 126 near Fillmore, CA 

GPS: 34°28’51.8″N 118°45’17.3″W

Great Nearby Campsite: Lake Piru Recreation Area is just over 50 miles from downtown Los Angeles. It is open for day-use or overnight stays and offers clean public restrooms, fire rings, coin-operated hot showers, and a store to meet most camping and boating needs. All types of campers, from motorhomes and trailers to truck campers and tents, will enjoy a stay in one of their level tree-shaded campsites. 

California Lake Vibes Score: 8.5/10

Mono Lake

Mono Lake is famous for the unique calcium-carbonate formations towering from the shoreline. Known as tufa, many of these limestone spires and knobs were exposed as the lake level dropped dramatically over the last century. 

Mono Lake is an impressive body of water spanning 65 square miles and serving as an oasis for hundreds of birds species. The lake itself is over 1 million years old, making it one of the oldest lakes in North America! Over 200,000 birds stop here on their migration path to Argentina each year to feed on native brine shrimp and alkali flies. Science lovers will find this lake well worth a visit!

Location: Highway 395, 13 miles from Yosemite National Park, near the town of Lee Vining. 

GPS Coordinates: 37°58’00.6″N 119°07’12.2″W

Great Nearby CampsiteMono Vista RV Park is a family-owned camping destination in the town of Lee Vining, just a few miles from Mono Lake and Tioga Pass Road. Open April 1st to November 1st, Mono Vista RV park is squeaky clean and very green! They offer a range of site types from full hook-up, pull-through RV sites, to tent-only options. 

California Lake Vibes Score: 8.8/10

Pyramid Lake

Pyramid Lake is a reservoir formed by Pyramid Dam on Piru Creek, near Castaic, California. Named for the Pyramid-shaped section of earth carved out by engineers building the Old Highway 99, this popular spot for outdoor recreation is well-known by Los Angeles locals. It’s the second smallest lake on our list at just 1360 square feet and with 21 miles of shoreline. Enjoy Pyramid by motorized boat or any other type of watercraft!

Soak up the California sun on Vaquero Beach or have a picnic in one of the shaded picnic areas. Kayaks, paddle boards, and even pedal boats are available to rent by the hour. 

Location: On I-5 just 17 miles north of Castaic, CA

GPS Coordinates: 34°40’48.2″N 118°47’01.6″W

Great Nearby Campsite: Pyramid Lake RV Resort is a great place to slow down and enjoy a relaxing outdoor getaway. The resort offers mini-golf, ping pong, and pool tables to keep you entertained. Also, they have a playground, outdoor pool and hot tub, and a dog park. With full-hook up pull-through sites large enough for 45 ft RVs, there’s something for everyone at this resort. 

California Lake Vibes Score: 7.5/10

Plan Your Next Trip to One of These Lakes in California

With so many incredible spots to choose from, it’s no wonder California’s lakes are a top-destination for travelers seeking to cool off and chill out. This list should give you a jump-start on picking your next place for a trip down to the water. 

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

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  1. Allison says:

    Great list and I vote Tahoe and #1 too! It’s so beautiful there!

    Not top 7 but a pretty good one is Folsom Lake near Sacramento. Good boating there (during the week since weekends get crazy), hiking, fishing, mountain biking and hanging out on the shoreline. There are campgrounds around the lake too. It was my go to hiking place for a year while I lived nearby. It’s a state park near a very populated urban area but still pretty and easy to access.