Aerial view of Lake Shasta in Northern California. 

10 Most Beautiful Lakes In California

California is home to many pretty lakes that come with year-round scenery and recreational pursuits. Calling for an imminent visit, these lakes offer swimming and relaxation in the sun's last rays within the immense views of the state's most beautiful nature.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake as seen from Grey's Peak, Big Bear, California
Big Bear Lake as seen from Grey's Peak, Big Bear, California. 

The Big Bear Lake is one of Southern California's favorite watering holes set in complete natural solitude within the wild San Bernardino National Forest. Perched at 2,060 meters above sea level, it offers unforgettable high-altitude vistas and several recreational activities. Located only two hours out of downtown Los Angeles, the lake comprises a popular day trip, with Big Bear Alpine Zoo on the way thoroughly enjoyed by families. 

A view of the snow-covered ski slopes and the Big Bear Lake at sunset
A view of the snow-covered ski slopes and the Big Bear Lake at sunset. 

On locale, one will find plenty of hiking and biking trails through the Ponderosa pine forests, along with countless great fishing spots. Suitable for all hikers, the wonderful Cougar Crest Trail overlooks the lake and connects to the country-spanning Pacific Crest Trail. There are half a dozen marinas for diversified fun and different vistas from the lake, including paddle-boarding, kayaking, fishing, and waterskiing. The clear waters are ideal for summertime swimming, while winter brings excellent skiing and snowboarding into the area. 

Clear Lake

Clear Lake, California
Clear Lake, California. Editorial credit: Aneta Waberska /

Set proudly in the heart of the Wine Country, Clear Lake is the state's largest clear-water lake, featuring over 100 miles of shoreline. This SoCal fishing locale boasts schools of bluegill, catfish, carp, and crappie, among other species. Set epically surrounded by over 10,000 acres of vineyards, there are endless opportunities for meandering hikes and scenic picnics. The vast shoreline offers relaxation, swimming, and other water-bound activities.

The vast crystal-clear waters that make one feel at the edge of Earth or amid a calm ocean are thoroughly enjoyed by boaters and kayakers. Together with the countless wineries in the vicinity, such as the Brassfield Estate Winery and the Gregory Graham Winery, the lake is a dream destination for a whole vacation. The Clear Lake State Park comes with four campgrounds to spend the last days of summer or early fall immersed in wild solitude.

Convict Lake

Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California
Convict Lake in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains, California. 

Set spectacularly in the Sherwin Range of the Sierra Nevada, the lake is perched at 2,390 meters above sea level with 360 degrees vistas. Located about 11 miles southwest of Mammoth Lakes, off U.S. Highway 395, the natural lake was carved out by glaciers up to 140 feet deep. Covering only 1.4 by 0.6 km, Convict Lake was featured in How the West was WonStar Trek: Insurrection, as well as Nature Valley granola bars advertisements. The mountains and the lake were renamed after the 1871 shootout of escaped Carson City convicts in the area.

Rental boats in the water at Convict Lake, California
Rental boats in the water at Convict Lake, California. Editorial credit: Thomas Trompeter /

Known as one of California's clearest lakes, it beckons the swimmers with turquoise waters surrounded by dramatic mountains for an escape into peaceful blue. Home to ample suckerfish and rainbow trout, the latter is stocked weekly from a local hatchery for recreational fishing. There is also a wonderful trail spanning around the lake for 5 km of unforgettable vistas. The Convict Lake Resort is equipped with 28 cabins and three lodges for a pet-friendly modern stay to make the lake fun last for days. 

Donner Lake

Donner Lake, California
Donner Lake, California

The gem in the crown of the Sierra Nevada range, Donner Lake is a popular summer destination among families. It is easily reachable from the atmospheric mountain town of Truckee, some 100 miles northeast of Sacramento, via Interstate 80. The freshwater lake offers a real "high" from its 6,000 feet above the sea level locale. The 35-mile-per-hour speed limit on water attracts recreational boaters, including kayakers, sailors, and jet skiers. The wonderful Lakeside Interpretive Trail speckled with picnicking areas leads to the shoreline for a breathtaking denouement of water-vistas back-dropped by the impressive Sierra Nevada Mountains.

Two kayakers paddling an orange boat in Donner Lake , California during the summer months
Two kayakers paddling an orange boat in Donner Lake , California during the summer months. Editorial credit: Chris Allan /

Aside from many vacation rentals, there's also the Tahoe Mountain Resorts Lodging Old Greenwood in Truckee. The Donner Memorial State Park to the west offers campgrounds, a vast network of trails, as well as several resorts and amenities along the west and north shores. Ample winter snow brings snow-shoeing and cross-country skiing into the area. Featuring a deep pioneering history, the area was the site of settlers crossing the mountains for better lives in California, where the famously ill-fated Donner Party was stranded during the winter of 1846-1847.

Lake Havasu

Power Boat on Lake Havasu
Power Boat on Lake Havasu. 

Known as one of the state's prettiest and best for fishing, Lake Havasu offers almost year-round ideal conditions for recreation abound with the scenery. Set in the extreme southeast part of the Golden State at the border with Arizona, the lake is a popular destination for vacationing boaters and fishermen from both states. There are camping sites along the lake's eastern shoreline, including RV-equipped, along with modern accommodation options all-around. Set within the Lake Havasu State Park with boundless hiking ops, summertime also brings scores of swimmers to the area.

The lake features miles of shoreline and sapphire waters as a popular locale for on-water recreation, including family, sport, sightseeing, and houseboats. The shores are lush with fantastic flora and palm trees set against barren mountains and bluish water that transport one right into coastal France. The beautiful wilderness around induces tranquility during peaceful walks along the shores and scenic relaxation on the banks. There is also the nearby scenically-historic London Bridge over the Colorado River.

Lake Hemet

View of a person fishing in a boat at Lake Hemet in California
View of a person fishing in a boat at Lake Hemet in California. 

Set at the feet of the scenic San Jacinto Mountains, Lake Hemet is part of the San Bernardino National Forest grounds abound with endless natural pursuits and sights. The friendly lake is deeply adored by anglers and small-boat owners, as well as frequented by bald eagles to the delight of many nature lovers. Committed outdoors enthusiasts set camp in the peaceful natural setting with several different types of sites, known as one of the most popular in Southern California.

During summer, campers get complimentary access to the renowned Splashing Eagle Swim Zone featuring a fabulous beach bounding, a vast swimming area, and life vests provided for a perfect family getaway. If staying at the lake without the camp, there is the mid-century modern Idyllwild Inn, just 9 miles north of the lake with wonderful rentable cabins, while Palm Springs is only 47 miles away for a night out on the big city.

Mono Lake

Tufa columns at Mono Lake, California
Tufa columns at Mono Lake, California. 

Set near the Nevada border and the eastern entrance of Yosemite National Park, Mono Lake is home to the spectacular geological wonders known as the tufa towers. Created from the high salt content and ongoing evaporation of surface water, the jagged crystalline formations are a real Mother Nature's work of art. Set stark against the sapphire waters, the scenic lake comprises an otherworldly environment that is a hotspot for professional photographers and Instagrammers alike. 

The scenically protruding eerie white fingers reaching skywards as if summoning higher powers are a must-see. Unlike anything else in the state, they make Mono Lake one of the prettiest in California and make up for the lack of other activities in the area. Part of the Lee Vining Highlands, the rarely-visited locale, is great for enjoying the second-to-none scenery in solitude. There is also a visitor's center to get acquainted with the natural region around.

Shasta Lake

Shasta Lake
Shasta Lake. 

Located in northern California, Shasta Lake spreads for 30,000 acres as the state's largest reservoir with 370 miles of shoreline. The lake serves as a favorite destination for fishing, boating, camping, and waterskiing in summer, as well as skiing, sledding, and snowboarding during winter. Part of the Central Valley Project, Shasta Dam, was built to the west of the lake during WWII. Renting a houseboat to explore the far edges of the lake comprises one of the most popular outings into the waters and one of the many more unique-to-the-area adventures. 

Shasta Dam
A picture of Shasta Dam surrounded by roads and trees with a lake and mountains on the background. 

Set comparatively low at 325 meters above the sea level, the lake is stunningly back-dropped by the 4,267-metre giant Mount Shasta. Featuring a year-round snow-capped top, it provides for wondrous Instagram shots and a picturesque setting during a myriad of activities in the area. The lake features numerous inlets to explore by boat and marinas to wander and attain romantic sights of vessels launching and mooring. There are also exciting explorations of the Shasta Dam and the spectacular Lake Shasta Caverns via boat. 

Silverwood Lake

A view of the Pacific Crest Trail as it winds around Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino County, California
A view of the Pacific Crest Trail as it winds around Silverwood Lake in San Bernardino County, California. 

The breathtaking Southern California lake is set along the West Fork Mojave River, just an hour and a half from Los Angeles. Located on the California Aqueduct's eastern branch at 1,023 meters above sea level, the lake spans five kilometers diagonally. It is a major water source for the surrounding area, while its 20+ kilometers of shoreline dotted with campgrounds also houses a marina. The beautiful locale is surrounded by barren peaks and wooded hillsides to enjoy all of the recreations at the backdrop of the stunning San Bernardino range.

The Pacific Crest Trail bounding the lake is a real hiker's dream-come-true, along with many more trails snaking through the area. It is also a well-known destination among beachgoers and water fans, offering great shores for swimming and designated boating areas. The bright blue Silverwood Lake offers stark contrast against the forest and a stunning granite backdrop for photo shoots and scenically-set activities in the area. 

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe is one of California's most beautiful and the country's most popular lakes offering dazzling blue waters framed by the granite Sierra Nevada Mountains. Spanning state borders between California and Nevada, the lake is part of the renowned Emerald Bay State Park with views that attract artists and anyone looking for inspiration within natural sights. Perfect for both motorized and non-motorized boating, the lake is also a paradise for summertime swimming. Split into south and north sections, both banks come dotted with campgrounds, cabins, and luxurious resorts, along with many gear shops and marinas offering boat rentals and scenic cruises.

The high-altitude 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail around the lake offers scenic heaven for the active trekkers and bikers, while the meandering Rubicon Trail is considered one of the area's best for leading to the Emerald Bay. The D.L. Bliss State Park is set on the other side of the lake, with more camping and other forms of recreation along the shores. One will find active nightlife and day entertainment right on Lake Tahoe, concentrated in the southeast part of the towns of Stateline and South Lake Tahoe. One must also visit the lake in wintertime for an aquatic environment that appears truly out of a fairy tale. 

Home to sapphire waters, unique flora, and other natural wonders, many of these lakes are surrounded by mountain ranges with endless recreational opportunities. There's camping, hiking, and visiting wineries in the area for a perfect vacation or some time in solitude at one of the most beautiful lakes in California.


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