Man Made Lakes in California

Man made lakes in California have multiple purposes. But how did they begin?

Can you imagine being in a village in very early times, seeing a river overflowing its banks year after year. Then suddenly there's a shift, & it doesn't rain for months on end. The crops you planted start to suffer. Your family worries about getting water to drink.

All that water which flowed in years past - now you yearn to have!

This is why reservoirs were imagined as a solution. In fact the first reservoir was built in Jordan way back, approximately 3000 BC. Even then people saw the need, which was storing the water for crop irrigation.1 

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This is still a reservoir purpose today in California.

We have lots about these man made lakes. Next, we'll talk a bit about construction specifics. But you can get right to Our Contents Here>

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California reservoirs were created with that original reason: as water storage for future use. By impounding water from a river flow, particularly when it's flowing very well.

It's done by building a dam across a river. The construction method for a dam depends on the purpose the dam was created for, the geology of the area & other considerations.

Dam in a river with water flowing through it.Dams Are Constructed in a Variety of Ways

Other reservoir purposes are for drinking water, generating electricity, flood control, providing for animal habitat & of course for human recreation of many types. Sometimes recreational benefits are just an added perk of the main first three primary objectives.

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Man made lakes are always artificially made lakes.

But sometimes humans take a natural lake & refit it so that it can hold more water. Thus it becomes a sort of hybrid.

Keep in mind, the creation of reservoirs also makes for some problems. Such as the problem that occurs in drought conditions. When reserved water levels get extremely low, this affects the system's ability for Power Generation.

But that's not all. Can you think of other water problems because of drought?

A few FAQs for
Man Made Lakes in California

What are the most commonly asked questions about reservoirs in California?

How many man made lakes in California are there?

  • There are at least 324 reservoirs and other California fully man made lakes. There may be others out there, such as privately created ones we have yet to discover, but to the best of our current knowledge, that's what we have.3

What is the deepest man made lake in California?

  • Lake Oroville at 935 ft. of depth. Although not the deepest of all, which is Lake Tahoe, a natural Beautiful California Lake.2
Aerial view of a lake and the dam that made it.Lake Oroville View & its Dam From Way Up Above!

What is the largest man made lake in California?

  • Lake Shasta is the largest. The dam creating it is Shasta Dam, built from 1937 to 1945.2
Electricity generated from a dam with a lake and snow capped mountain background.The Dam's Purpose is Obvious Here - Electricity Generation
Mountain Shasta Snow-Capped in the Background

Are man made lakes dangerous?

  • There are drownings every year in lakes/reservoirs. Does that make them dangerous?
Swim at your Own Risk sign by a reservoir
  • Many, if not most are "swim at your own risk." Lifeguards aren't provided. Therefore, you're responsible for your own safety. That's a consideration for answering this question. 
  • Then ask yourself a question: Will your actions be responsible to manage possible dangers? 
lake safety poster for going on made made lakes and reservoirs
  • What are those dangers?4

Dangers at Lakes

Cold Shock - Temperatures can vary within a few feet, from just fine to near enough to freezing. Which can give sudden shock to the body. Stunning you.

Water Strength & Lake Waves - Is it a windy day? A large lake/reservoir sometimes have sizeable waves. Though generally a reservoir doesn't have much of a current. If you get near a dam, that can change, as water draws toward outlet channels.

Alcohol - Drinking affects judgment. Not a good idea to mix it with swimming out or inappropriate boating. Many drownings & boating accidents involve alcohol.

Stay Near Shore - Swimming out of range of suggested areas might lead to unexpected problems. You may get too tired to return & struggle. You may try to reach the nearest shore & find it's too steep to climb out.

Child Safety - Always be sure they're monitored at every moment. Be sure they're wearing a life jacket. That goes for anyone at all who's a weak swimmer. Teach Them Well>

Follow the Rules - Please obey any & all posted signs regarding places to swim or boat, or any other regulations. These are for your safety - for everyone's, at all these man made lakes in California!

Man Made Lakes in Southern California

Southern California is a great place to check out man made lakes. The weather is pretty much good to go for visiting them year-round. For all kinds of recreation.

What interests you? Do you favor camping, picnicking, fishing, or just taking a serene lakeside walk?

You probably have something in mind. There are lots of Things To Do At Lakes that you could be planning.

Let's see some of them you may like.

California map pointing out Southern California.


Bard Lake - If you're in Simi Valley, you may have heard this one, also called Wood Ranch Reservoir. It's east of Oxnard.

Either way, the best thing about this for most of us is the lakeside trail.

This man made lake is specifically set aside as a reservoir for drinking water. Even though it seems there's fish in it, there's no fishing allowed.

It's fenced & thus is private property. But the excellent trail gets you great lake views. Just under a total of 3-1/2 miles, Shuttle Style.

Lake Casitas - Enter the Recreation Area to enjoy this reservoir.

Excellent camping: 9 different campgrounds for all types of needs, from tents to RVs needing hook-ups.

Plus a shoreline hiking trail, playground, boating & fishing. 

East of Pacific Hwy.101, off Rt.150. It's halfway between Santa Barbara & Ventura. For details: 805-649-2233

Man Made Lakes in Central California

California map designating an area that shows central California

Central California, some may feel, has about the best of all worlds.

Nice forested areas, temperate climate, interesting valleys, farmlands on & on. But head west and you have the high mountain peaks of the Sierra Nevada.

Then amidst all that are the man made lakes in California with waters of some very pristine tributaries.

We love visiting this area, just haven't been often enough! Yet!! 

We'll show you some of the best man made lakes in Central California that we've found.

Camanche Reservoir - Yes, it's true. When creating this man made lake in California, the town of Lancha Plana was inundated. That was its end! In 1963 when the dam contained the waters of Mokelumne River.

Today you can probably still see remains of the old Lancha Plana Bridge, now lakeside, but then crossing the river.7 Its creation was primarily for flood control & local municipal usage.

Now the 12 sq. mile reservoir has lots of fun for all. A nice vacation spot, with 53 miles of shoreline. All recreation is accessed via Lake Camanche Recreation Company.8

Boating - The North (209-763-5166) & South (209-763-5915) shore each have a marina with cafe/grill. Boat & fishing gear rentals available. Launch ramps on each side. All types of craft can use the lake.

Fishing - Trout stocking from Oct.-June. What's the really popular catch? Large & Small Mouth Bass! You can also hook catfish, crappie, kokanee, bluegill & sunfish. There is a $7.25/day fee fishing access fee (supports fish stocking), plus have your California fishing license if 16/+ years old.

Camping/Lodging - Massive amounts of choices here! 300 tenting sites, 200 RV sites with full hook-ups, plus an Equestrian Campground. It's about a 20 minute drive from the North to the South shore.

  • The North Shore is nearer to Ione, California. The South Shore is closer to Valley Springs. Camping Reservation inquiries: 866-763-5121 or 209-763-5121
  • Glamping - Lake view tent cabins with queen bed & 2 cots. Deck with 2 rocking chairs (for enjoying that lakeside view!), linens & table/chairs. Outside picnic table & firepit/grill.
  • Lakeside Cabins - North shore are duplex units, South are single units. Each have kitchens & 1-bedroom + a 2-bedroom ADA (must reserve: Ext.3) accessible & decks. 5 pet-friendly units available. Call to book: 209-763-5121
  • Resort Homes - Like your own vacay home on the lake! At least temporarily. On the North Shore. All the comforts, even dishwasher & W/D. To reserve: 866-763-5121

Courtright Reservoir - A sparkling gem at 8200' in the midst of the Sierra National Forest. At lakeside near your campsite, or while boating across the blue ripples you'll look up to see impressive Mt. Goddard, over 13,500' up.

In 1958 Pacific Gas & Electric formed this man made lake in California to generate electricity. Waters from Wishon Reservoir can be pumped back uphill to Courtright providing more generating water power.

What recreation is there?

  • Trapper Springs - Near lake, but no lakeside views. Picnic tables, toilets, drinking water. Accessible for 35' RVs, no utilities.
  • Marmot Rock - On South shore. Walk-in sites with tables & fire-ring. Available water & toilets. 
  • Voyager Rock - On east shore, for off-road vehicles only. Free. Picnic tables, toilets, no water.

Open late May through November, when roads are accessible.

Campgrounds managed by PG&E (916-386-5164). 1st-come/1st-served sites.

Man Made Lakes in Northern California

Northern California, the place of forests, big trees, rugged coastal access not far from pristine lakes. Just about everywhere you turn up this way, you'll find one of the gorgeous man made lakes in California!

Remember, it's the flowing rivers that give rise to these man made lakes in California's North. Add in some volcanic areas, and this area is quite wonderfully diverse.

A highly recommended area you won't forget!

The first time we came up this way, our plane had to circle the small airport for 1/2 hour before the spring-time fog lifted. Oh my! Once finally on the ground, we were awed at every turn.

For us "desert creatures" - it was another world!

Bullards Bar Reservoir - Accessed from Rt. 49, then onto Marysville Rd. & also North of Grass Valley California. You'll be out in the "wilds." Nice!

All kinds of activities here, including swimming, hiking & fishing. What else:

Houseboats - Think you will love Renting These, from the Emerald Cove Marina. You can also rent other types of craft, if you don't have your own boat. If you do plan on boating, it's a good idea to see the camping link to get a heads-up on some boating rules.

Camping - Open from April 15 to October 15. 

  • No utility hook-ups, but RVs are allowed in most of the campgrounds. 
  • Please check for Your Desired Area>

Black Butte Lake - Stony Creek was dammed forming this man made lake in California in 1963. Its primary purpose was flood control & local farming irrigation needs.

With a shoreline of approximately 40 miles it also has many recreational uses. Public areas managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers.5

Two Campgrounds - Many gorgeous sites, but no utilities. All have picnic tables & fire pits & can accommodate up to 35' RVs. Drinking water, dump station, rest room/showers available. 

  • Reserve at or call 877-444-6777.

Boating is popular for all types of craft. Use caution as water level is changeable.  Unexpected shallow areas or submerged rock/tree hazards may suddenly appear.

Fishing is excellent, best as spring is turning to summer. People love hooking crappie, large/small-mouth bass & channel cats.

Other Stuff: Try the Disc Golf, bring your horse, or hike the trails, picnicking, playground & exercise area. What kinds of things To Do at a Lake attract you the most?

DIRECTIONS: West of Chico California to Orland CA. From Orland I-5 Exit 619, travel West on Hwy. 200 for 8 miles. Watch for signs.

One Dam Lake Problem

In Man Made Lakes in California

Iron Gate Reservoir - Public access is provided by the power company, PacifiCorp. They also manage another nearby man made lake in California: Copco Reservoir. Yes, their needs are for power. And there have been recreation areas provided by them:10

  • Camping - 4 different areas with 41 sites.
  • Day Use Picnicking/Fishing/Boating - 5 different areas with ramps, piers, a boat trailer parking area. Plus rest-rooms & a total of 19 picnic tables. Plus a scenic overlook.
  • And there's some lakeside homes in areas provided by the damming of reservoirs in this area.

However there's an Anticipated Change About to Happen Here.

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