Lake Tahoe, California, boat, shore

Boating Vacation? Best 10 Lakes in California to Explore by Boat

California, one of the largest and the most populated states in the US, can be proud of many things. Great boating destinations are definitely among them. Boaters and yachters love cities along the 840 miles long pacific coast, such as San Fransisco and San Diego, and they are great, but what about lakes? Did you know there are 3,000 of them in the Golden State? And they are awesome for boating. In this article, we will look at best 10 lakes to explore by boat in California.

Lake Tahoe

It is the second-largest lake in California and the largest Alpine Lake in North America. And one of the best boating destinations, to be sure! It is on the border of California and Nevada and surrounded by Sierra Nevada Mountains, which makes for very scenic sights to observe from a boat. All kinds of boats are popular here: motor and sailboats, jet skis and yachts, kayaks, and paddle-boats. 

On the shores, you can find many hike trails. Lake Tahoe is in the Emerald Bay State Park, so nature sights here are really worth visiting. Nightlife enthusiasts will also not be bored: you can find great entertainment in Stateline and South Lake Tahoe cities.

Folsom Lake

This is another lake by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and another destination for boaters. Although this is not the only popular activity here: horseback riding, camping and hiking are too. It’s most popular with motorboats and jet skis, or at least it used to be so. In 2020, California State Parks lowered the speed limit to 5mph because of low water levels, so it’s just as safe for a non-motorized boat now too.

Lake Berryessa

This freshwater reservoir is two hours north of San Fransisco. All kinds of boats are welcome here, from houseboats to kayaks, although non-motorized boats are more popular. You can also easily rent out one; you do not have to be an owner! Explore the many coves and pretty beaches or try water various water activities. The mild temperature at the reservoir offers a retreat from the heat even in midsummer. Do not forget to check out the Morning Glory Spillway, which is basically a gigantic drain plug!

Lake Almanor 

Another one of the best lakes in Northern California is Lake Almanor, popular as an affordable family vacation destination. This large lake is good for all kinds of boating, as well as fishing and water activities. There are many marinas along the coast, even some free launch ramps. The nearest town is Chester, with 2,000 inhabitants, and it has everything you might need. Choose this spot if you are not looking for something fancy but a simple and affordable place to spend your boating vacation.

Shasta Lake

Lake Shasta is the largest artificial lake in California, with a shoreline of 370 miles. It is in Northern California, 15 miles from Redding. Motorboats are the most popular here. Besides jet skis, there are also really many houseboats. You can either bring your own or rent all types of boats here.

There is not much wind here, and the waters are smooth, so Lake Shasta is known for various water activities, such as wakeboarding, water skiing, and more. Also, consider booking a tour to Lake Shasta caverns. The caverns are impressive, and you might even see some bats! 

Big Bear Lake

This one is great to visit all year round. It is also unique scenery in California: a snow-fed lake at a 6,700 feet height and surrounded by pine trees. There are six marinas along the shores, where you can rent out a boat if you do not have one. You can also hop onto the Miss Liberty cruise for 90 minutes to hear the site’s history and see the most famous sights. The lake is not large, having a shoreline of 22 miles. The boat cannot be longer than 26 feet.

Silverwood Lake

Silverwood Lake is located in the same mountainous region in Southern California as Big Bear Lake and is only 90 minutes from Los Angeles. Besides enjoying boating and the rugged beauty of the scenery, one of the most popular activities here is bass fishing.  

However, there are only 125 boats allowed in the lake at once. So have a boat launch reservation before you come in the high season, from May to September. Boat launching costs $10; canoes and kayaks do not have a fee. 

Mono Lake

Mono lake is one of the oldest lakes in the US and three times saltier than the ocean. Because of this, there are unique tufa towers, sprouting from the water. This lake is popular among birdwatchers because millions of migrating birds stop here.

However, there are some restrictions on boating in Mono lake. The water is too salty and alkaline for speedboats and jet skis, and there are many underwater tufa towers. Also, to protect the birds, it is forbidden to go within one mile from the lake’s islands from April 1 to August 1 and to approach osprey nests and flocks of birds.

Lake Havasu 

This Colorado River impoundment is between California and Arizona, surrounded by deserts and only 24 miles from Las Vegas: you can see its lights here! The lake has mild temperatures and can be visited all year round. A famous tourist attraction is the London Bridge across the lake. The lake is especially popular among houseboaters and motorized boat owners, although you can also sail, fish, and do many other things here.

Cachuma lake

This picturesque lake is in the Santa Ynez Valley, half an hour from Santa Barbara. The surrounding oak woods are a marvelous sight. This lake is a domestic water supply, so you cannot swim, water ski, or jet ski, as no body-to-water contact is allowed. But you can enjoy canoes, kayaks, and bass fishing: it’s actually one of the best California lakes for fishing. Also, visit Cachuma Lake Recreation Area for hiking, picnicking, camping, and more.

We hope that you were able to choose the next lakes in California to explore by boat. You don’t have to be a boat owner to enjoy such vacations since you can usually rent boats at those places. Perhaps you are renting out boats yourself? Check out our article on how to make more money with boat rentals! Or, if you are planning to rent a boat for the first time yourself, check out our tips for renting a boat.

If you are traveling to California, be sure to also check out our guide on how to plan a trip to California!

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