Aerial view of Emerald Bay, on a sunny day in Lake Tahoe, California.

8 Most Beautiful Lakes In Northern California

Northern California is one of the most iconic parts of the United States. It is a region known for its stunning natural landscapes. It is a land of unique and diverse environments. The beauty and wonder of Yosemite National Park, the towering redwoods in Redwood National Park, and the deep, dark blue waters of Lake Tahoe conjure up an image of the rugged beauty of Northern California. Here, the wonders of nature take center stage. It is a place made for hiking, camping, and water sports. For watersports or the perfect lakeside camping spot, check out these most beautiful lakes in Northern California.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe Cove with aqua blue waters
Stunning snow-capped mountains surround Lake Tahoe, California.

The beautiful Lake Tahoe is one of the most famous lakes in the country. This magnificent lake rests on the border of California and Nevada, and at 6,225 feet above sea level, it is one of the highest lakes in the country. It is also the largest alpine lake in North America.

The majestic Sierra Nevada Mountains surround the lake and reflect in its crystal-clear waters. Lake Tahoe’s waters are also very deep. At their maximum, they reach a depth of 1,645 feet. These deep and dark waters are the perfect setting for kayaking, boating, stand-up paddleboarding, and swimming in the summer. The lake turns into a frozen winter wonderland, perfect for skiing and snowboarding in winter. Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes in Northern California.

Clear Lake

Dock in the water at Clear Lake in California.
Pier at Clear Lake in California. Image credit Aneta Waberska via Shutterstock

Clear Lake is the largest freshwater lake wholly within the borders of California. It is also one of the oldest lakes in North America. Samples of the lake’s sediment suggest that it is 480,000 years old. The lake sits in a hilly part of Northern California, and its gentle slopes are perfect for hiking or biking. The lake's proximity to Napa Valley makes it a perfect destination for wine and nature lovers alike.

One of the most beautiful features of Clear Lake is its volcanic origin. Surrounded by volcanic ash and lava, the lake offers several hot springs along its shores. Within the waters of the lake's south shore sits the volcano Mount Konocti. Although there have not been any eruptions for thousands of years, some indicators suggest there is potential for future eruptions. Nevertheless, this beautiful lake is a wonderful destination for anyone looking to connect with nature.

Shasta Lake

Aerial shot of Lake Shasta in Northern, California
Boats along the dock in Lake Shasta in Northern California.

Shasta Lake is one of the largest bodies of water in Northern California and the state’s largest reservoir. The lake was created with the damming of the Sacramento River and has a surface area of 30,000 acres. Mountains surround the lake, making it a beautiful destination for all kinds of outdoor activities.

Shasta Lake has three distinct arms, and these make it a particularly beautiful lake. The Sacramento arm is perfect for water sports; the McCloud's arm is known for having crystal clear waters; and the rugged Pit River arm is full of secluded and rugged coves, perfect for anyone looking to get away.

Donner Lake

Aerial view of Donner Lake, California with mountains in the background
Aerial view of Donner Lake, California.

Out of the many lakes located in California, Donner Lake is one of the clearest, sometimes called the "Jewel of the Sierra." Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Donner Lake is a stunning alpine lake that is perfect for anyone who loves outdoor activities. Surrounding the lake are many hiking trails, ski resorts, and quaint mountain towns. It is also a favorite fishing hotspot. Anglers arrive at Donner Lake with fishing poles in hand, trying to catch delicious trout or kokanee salmon.

The lake was christened Donner after a group of pioneers was trapped by a snowstorm in the nearby mountains in the winter of 1846. Conditions were so harsh that some of the party reportedly resorted to the cannibalism of deceased members. These days, Donner Lake is an idyllic country retreat and the perfect place to explore the wild outdoors.

Tioga Lake

The Kuna Crest and Mammoth reflections in Tioga Lake in Yosemite National Park.
The Kuna Crest and Mammoth reflections in Tioga Lake.

Tioga Lake sits picturesquely in Yosemite National Park. The word Tioga is an Iroquois word that means "where it forks" or "swift current". This rather secluded lake is particularly beloved by campers. With 13 campsites right on the lake, it is one of the less crowded areas of Yosemite. However, campers should beware that this is "bear country", and proper food storage is mandatory.

Human and animal interactions in the area are very common. Campers, photographers, and anglers who come to Tioga Lake to fish can expect to see birds, marmots, bighorn sheep, and even the occasional bobcat.

Lake Almanor

Sandy beaches at Lake Almanor scenic view from Rocky Point Campground, California
Lake Almanor at Rocky Point Campground, California.

Lake Almanor is a sometimes underrated but beautiful lake in the northeastern part of California, near Volcanic National Park. It offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and is one of the best-kept secrets of Northern California.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains surround the lake, offering spectacular views, and the river has many tributaries, including the Feather River. This lake is a reservoir created in 1914 when the Feather River was dammed by the Great Western Power Company. The name of the reservoir, Almanor, is a mashup of the names of the vice president’s three daughters: Alice, Martha, and Eleanore. One of the unique features of Lake Almanor is its clear water, which is perfect for swimming and boating. The lake is also home to several species of fish, including trout and bass, making it a popular destination for fishing enthusiasts.

Lake Siskiyou

Snow-capped Mount Shasta and Suspension Bridge standing above Lake Siskiyou
Mount Shasta and Suspension Bridge over Lake Siskiyou.

Lake Siskiyou is a gorgeous alpine lake with plenty of chances for outdoor activity. The lake lies close to Mount Shasta and is just one hour away from Redding. The lake offers stunning views of the mountain and easy sandy beaches for swimming and exploring.

The clear water of Lake Siskiyou is ideal for boating and fishing. The lake is a favorite fishing spot because it is home to a variety of fish species, including trout and bass. The lake is fed by five different mountain streams, making it an ideal location for travelers and locals looking to cool down in the summer.

Trinity Lake

Waters of Trinity Lake are perfectly calm allowing a mirror-image reflection of snow-capped mountains in the Trinity Alps range, Northern California
Calm waters of Trinity Lake, California.

Trinity Lake is in the northern part of California, surrounded by the Trinity Alps Wilderness, which offers plenty of opportunities for hiking and exploring. This lake is less busy than neighboring Shasta Lake and has one of the best inland beaches in Northern California. Fed by the Trinity River, the lake boasts clear water and abundant fish populations.

The lake was previously known as Claire Engel Lake, named after the former California governor. However, the name change was unpopular, and eventually, the lake returned to its original name. This beautiful lake has many glassy inlets and small arms. It is a very popular water skiing destination due to the great conditions for the sport.

Northern California offers stunning natural beauty, vast mountains, and truly amazing lakes. Whether you are looking for a sandy beach, a quiet camping spot, or a dazzling mountain reflection in crystal clear waters, you will certainly find all of this and more in Northern California's lakes.


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