Beautiful Lakes in California

Beautiful lakes in California are just about everywhere in this gorgeous state! They range from pretty to stunningly awesome and breathtaking on the beauty scale. We'll take you to a bunch of them. Where are they?

Which area do you want to start from? Or you can just scroll on down to view them all!

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Beautiful lake in forested California mountains

Beautiful Lakes in California's Northland

Map showing approximate location of Northern California in relation to the rest of the state.

Just the environment of Northern California lends itself to some stunning scenery. Insert some lakes for that ultimate lakeside beauty.

Where should we even begin? From the coastal sequoias to the riverside forests, to the unique California-style volcanic region.

It just turns our head from one turn of the road to another!

Dry Lake - Some misnomer! Not dry, but small among these mentioned beautiful lakes in California! Its size and place adds to its artistry.

But please be wary & careful, as devastating fires in this area have occurred.

Only 3-1/4 surface acres. A gorgeous Six Rivers National Forest environment of bay myrtle, willow, oak, alder & fir trees. 

At only nearly 1500' elevation, it's open all year for fishing & dispersed camping. 

And when tolerable, because of its silty lake bottom, good for swimming.5

From the 101/199 out of Crescent City, follow 199, make right onto 427. After Flat Camp & the bridge over Hurdy Gurdy Creek, turn left onto 405/French Hill Rd. After hairpin turn watch for left onto Dry Lake Rd./15N52 to parking.

Lake Alpine - An invigorating, eclectic lake of all kinds of water activities. From summer even over to winter! Huge enough for all, at 180 surface acres in Stanislaus National Forest.

To Note: busiest over holiday weekends. Plus it is gorgeously photogenic, so have your camera ready! Get your activities in:

Boat motors up to 10mph + all kinds of non-motorized, with trailer parking galore!

Lots of swimming areas

Fish from everywhere: shore, boat, pier, etc. (ADA here)

Get around via horseback trails, oodles of hiking trails, even Mountain Biking options.

Camping for all styles:

  • Backpacking, tenting, RVs (no hook-ups) 
  • All via reservation: 877-444-6777;  International: 518-885-3639. 
  • Federal Passes accepted.

Winter Fun & Beauty: Via Lake Alpine SNO-PARK for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, or put on your snowshoes!

Lake Pillsbury - Way-out get-away in Mendocino National Forest. 2,280 surface acres, lots of shoreline, but not everywhere publicly accessible.

All water activities available here, including swimming. Five campgrounds open May-Sept. (one open year-round at Oak Flat) + Day Use at Pine Point. 916-386-5164

Directions: From the 101 North of Ukiah, in Calpella Exit onto Hwy.20E. After 5 mi., left on Potter Valley Rd. to Eastside Potter Valley Rd./Hwy.240. Curves left as Main St., take quick right on Eel River Rd./240.

Continuing on Elk Mountain Rd./301. Crossing Soda Creek Bridge to intersection of 301/301D, make left onto 301D/Simmons Rd.

Approaching airport it's M6. Watch for right ahead onto 18N40 Rd. to Oak Flat campground & others.

Eagle Lake - Another Northern California beautiful lake stunner! Management includes Lassen Nation Forest & BLM. Averaging 26,000 surface acres.

Tons of room here, plus scenery you'll find awesome! 

It's unique in formation, as a Closed Basin. But so huge, every water activity continues. Don't miss it!

Beautiful Lakes in California - Centrally Located

Map showing approximate location of Central California in relation to the rest of the state.

Central California is a land of contrasts.

From among the highest mountains around, to the lowest places on earth. From central farmlands that were transformed from deserts, to coastal scenic treasures that should be on anyone's bucket list!

Yes, we'll find some of the most beautiful lakes in California right here.

Let's go see them!

Lake Kaweah2 - This beautiful California lake is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As a reservoir, with facilities managed by the Army Corps of Engineers, it's a delightful area.

Stay in the lake's adjacent Horse Creek campground (sites reservable on, a wonderful side trip!

From the town of Visalia, take Hwy.198E for 20 miles. 

  • More details: 559-597-2301
  • NOTE: If you continue on, you'd find your way to Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Park. 
lake surrounded by mounted, distant ones are snow-capped.Lake Kaweah in Central California

Free access areas: Cobble Knoll for hiking/bicycling/multi-purpose trails. Horse Creek Recreation & Day Use picnic area, + multi-purpose trails. There's also a Marina concession at Lemon Hill.

Fee Areas: Horse Creek CG has interpretive & multi-purpose trails. Kaweah Recreation Area has a boat ramp, picnicking & multi-purpose trails. Slick Rock Recreation Area has a boat ramp, picnicking & showers.

Oso Flaco Lake4 - A day use area delight! 

Take the 1 mile trail through Guadalupe Nipomo Dunes Complex riparian areas.

Nearing the lake the trail changes to a boardwalk & lake-bridge.

Go further on the boardwalk to reach the ocean beach! 

All in all, a fabulously gratifying trip to this valuable wildlife area. A gem among beautiful lakes in California!

Pre-visit Prep Idea - Download the free "Agents of Discovery App" on your phone, open the Oso Lake Mission, & preload the content.

  • Then on arrival you'll have Your Mission Ready! 
  • Discover info on plants or animals you could see on the trail. 
  • The App invites you to show your findings along the way! 
  • It helps you make the most of your visit.

Directions: Out of Santa Maria, take Hwy.166W, turn North on Hwy.1. Turn left at Oso Flaco Lake Road, to parking lot at the road's end.

May Lake - Within Yosemite National Park discover this lake that doesn't get so much attention.Because it's not very obvious, or very easily gotten to. But really not all that hard!

You can do it if you're really into getting to the most beautiful lakes in California!

Prepare to hike 1 mile in, you'll be glad you did!

Sighting pristine Snow Flat meadow on the way.

A campsite's at the lake, if you desire! The reward: stunning views of Mount Hoffmann. Just like in the photo right here, above.

Drive to it via Tioga Rd. (Hwy. 120) to the 2-mile spur for parking. 

Southern California's Most Beautiful Lakes

Map showing approximate location of Southern California in relation to the rest of the state.

In some ways similar contrast to Central California, but So-Cal overall has a much warmer California climate. The deserts cover a lot more area, and the forests don't reach as much into the alpine ranges.

Yet Southern California still has coastal mountains, it still has a bit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it still has central valley farmlands. And there are beautiful lakes in California's lesser-well-known areas here. So let's find them!

Lake Skinner - Experience it at the Riverside County Recreation Area near Winchester. So much to do, in this gorgeous setting. (951) 926-1541

Diamond Valley Lake - For this huge lake, take a look at the Southwestern Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve. They've set aside 14,000 acres adjacent to the lake to conserve eight different habitats. Such as needed for animals being crowded out by encroaching development.

  • For instance, Stephen’s Kangaroo Rat, San Diego Horned Lizard & the Orange Throated Whiptail Lizard. 
  • Birds like the California Gnatcatcher & Bell’s Sage Sparrow. 
  • And larger mammals like Mule Deer & Bobcats. 
  • Open sunrise to sunset.
Diamond Valley Lake with mountains surrounding its sides. A dedication plaque in the front.A Look at Diamond Valley Lake

Lake Hemet3 - Very popular on summer weekends especially. Why is that? It's a nice mountain cool-off near urban areas.

Nice Day Use spot at the Forest Service Picnic area with lakeside tables.

Fishing (trout & bass) & boating. 

Summer stays offer a swimming beach, marina with rentals, cafe and market.

San Bernardino Nation Forest Fee: Adventure Pass or Alternates>

OR stay over at the nearby campground.  Sites offer basic to full hook-ups, plus cabins and Glamping offers.

  • More details? Call 951-659-2680

From Temecula, take Hwy.79N, make right on Hwy.74 just over 28 miles, right turn to lake.

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