From lakes surrounded by towering mountains to lakes surrounded by miles of lush forests, California is home to a wide variety of lakes that range from the best lakes for swimming and boating to lakes best known for fishing or other recreational activities.

The lakes listed below are divided into different regions in California. For anyone looking for a quick weekend getaway to a lake, there are plenty of options close to major metropolitan areas such as San Francisco and Sacramento. For those interested in longer vacations over multiple days, there are many lakes perfect for large groups so there’s never a shortage of people with whom you can share your vacation experiences.

If you’re planning on spending any time at the lakes listed below, be sure to bring along:

  • Fishing rod
  • Canoe or kayak
  • Sun block, sunglasses, and hat
  • Bug repellent if lakes are located in California’s’ Central Valley region where mosquitoes can be abundant during certain times of the year.

To help you plan the perfect California getaway, we’ve compiled the internet’s most comprehensive list of lakes in California. You can use them to plan your:

  • Boating vacation – on the best lakes for boating in California
  • Restful retreat on the best California lakes for swimming
  • Fishing adventure on the clearest lake in California for fishing
  • California lake vacation – the perfect family getaway

Find California Lakes Near You

California is a huge state and there are distinct attractions in each region. You have lakes near state parks, hiking trails, and popular swimming, fishing, and boating destinations near the California and Nevada border. There are almost too many options when you really think about it. But, we’ll do our best to give you our picks for the best California lakes.

The best lakes to visit in California by region

Northern California lakes – lakes perfect for large groups who want to spend time in nature in remote areas that are far from the bright lights of a city. Boating in remote lakes can be very peaceful but can also be dangerous if you’re not prepared with proper clothing and equipment since storms aren’t uncommon at some lakes in this region. For example, Donner Lake is one northern California lake people love to visit for boating, swimming, and fishing.

Central California lakes – lakes perfect for large groups who want to spend time close to metropolitan cities without having to deal with heavy city traffic once they get out of the city limits. For example, Lake Berryessa is located near Napa Valley wine country and is one central California lake people flock to for boating, swimming, and fishing.

Southern California lakes – lakes perfect for large groups who want to spend time by a beach or near mountains but don’t mind dealing with some city traffic once they get out of the city limits on their way to lakes located in southern California. For example, Castaic Lake is one southern California lake that draws people from all over the country.

California lakes are a great destination for people looking to spend time outdoors. From lakes perfect for boating, fishing, and swimming in the south to lakes best known for being quiet and secluded without having to deal with city traffic once you leave metropolitan areas such as Sacramento or San Francisco behind in the north, there’s something suitable for everyone. If you’re planning on spending some time at lakes across California this summer, here are a few things we recommend packing: plenty of water since lakes located in southern California can be very hot during summer months; sunblock and sunglasses if lakes near cities like Los Angeles where they tend to get cloudy; bug spray if lakes are located at higher elevations where mosquitoes swarm around your boat or tent early morning hours when it’s most likely you’ll be eating a lakeside picnic.