Discover 10 of the Best California Lakes: Two Are Salt Lakes

Written by Sean Moore
Published: March 19, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/heyengel
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California is home to three thousand named lakes, reservoirs, and dry lakes ranging from a giant saline sea to one of the oldest lakes in the nation. The state is also home to popular lakes like Berryessa and Tahoe both action-packed outdoor recreational powerhouses.

If giant roaring boats and crowds aren’t your speed, California offers many other quaint and small lake experiences. Eagle Lake, for instance, is one of the smaller lakes in the state but lacks no wonder. The lake is home to a special native Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout that max out around eleven pounds.

This lake list favors a few less popular bodies of water to provide information that you might not find on other lake lists. Two lakes that aren’t destinations for anglers are explored for their other wildlife and very interesting stories. Get ready to learn about ten fascinating lakes carefully curated for your reading pleasure.

Enjoy!

1.   Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe boasts amazing skiing, a lake monster, and endless fishing options.

iStock.com/CelsoDiniz

Lake Tahoe
Surface Area122,624 acres
Max Depth1,644 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Winter & Spring Alpine Skiing, Largest Alpine Lake in North America

One of the deepest lakes in the US, Lake Tahoe is surrounded by beautiful mountains that provide world-class skiing when the season is right. The two million-year-old body of water is one of the world’s oldest.

Also one of the deeper lakes in the world at the deepest point, the Empire State building wouldn’t even breach the surface of the lake. Lake Tahoe is another lake that’s thought to house a massive lake monster with its own version of Nessie or the Loch Ness monster. Of the fifteen million visitors to the lake, none have been able to capture hard enough evidence to truly unravel the mystery.

Lake Tahoe is also an extremely great lake for anglers to potentially pull the next state record-breaking Mackinaw. There are plenty of other great species available to anglers including Largemouth & Smallmouth Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, Brown & Rainbow Trout, and Kokanee Salmon.

2.   Goose Lake

Goose Lake is home to the Goose Lake Redband Trout.

Jeffrey Yoshimi / Creative Commons – License

Goose Lake
Surface Area94,080 acres
Max Depth26 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Goose Lake Redband Trout, Lake Drying Up & Refilling

Goose Lake is an interesting body of water that is known to completely dry up at certain periods and then later refill. It’s also home to the Goose Lake Redband Trout, a native species to the area. The nearest city to Goose Lake in California is Alturas.

At one time, the lake housed so many Goose Lake Trout that were commercially harvested and provided a food source to nearby logging camps in California and Oregon.

Goose Lake isn’t a year-round massive family outdoor entertainment mega-plex like some of the others in the state. It’s a bit more out of the way and quaint, providing a perfect sanctuary for anyone looking for a secluded lake experience.

3.   Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa’s Morning Glory Spillway is an amazing facet.

iStock.com/Chris LaBasco

Lake Berryessa
Surface Area20,697 acres
Max Depth275 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Morning Glory Spillway, Fishing & Camping, Zodiac Murder Site

Lake Berryessa is an extremely popular destination for Cali locals and visitors alike. The lake sports an amazing bell-mouth spillway that assists the dam in managing the lake’s water levels. The Glory Hole hasn’t been often since its creation in the fifties but it’s a pretty amazing sight when it does transpire.

The lake wasn’t originally created to be the outdoor recreational facility that it is today. People persisted in visiting the lake even though it wasn’t managed or open to the public. Today it is enjoyed by many locals and tourists for the wide range of activities that the lake offers.

Camping, fishing, swimming and water skiing are all very popular attractions. The lake gets its name from the first European settlers in the Berryessa Valley in the 1800s. Anglers can expect to catch Large & Smallmouth Bass, Trout, and many other fish species.

4.   Honey Lake

Honey Lake is a self-contained body of water in the Honey Lake Valley and is home to thousands of beautiful ducks.

iStock.com/comenoch

Honey Lake
Surface Area46,720 acres
Max Depth10 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Largemouth bass & Channel Catfish, Honey Lake Wildlife Area

Honey Lake is a self-contained body of water created by runoff from the surrounding Honey Lake Valley. The area is abundant in wildlife, especially birds. The Honey Lake Wildlife Area is home to tens of thousands of ducks, geese, and cranes. This makes the area a top-notch destination for wildlife observation and photography.

The lake also offers decent fishing opportunities with the most common species being Bass and Catfish. Popular activities at Honey Lake include bird watching, picnicking, hiking, camping, and waterfowl hunting.

5.   Shasta Lake

Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and landlocked Steelhead bring anglers out to Shasta Lake in droves.

iStock.com/ChrisBoswell

Shasta Lake
Surface Area:30,000 acres
Max Depth517 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Water Skiing, Largest Manufactured Lake in California

At the time of its completion in 1945, Shasta Dam, originally called the Kennett Dam, was the second-tallest in the world; today it’s the ninth tallest dam in the United States. Shasta Dam is responsible for containing the roughly four and a half million acre-feet body of water that creates Shasta Lake.

Anglers visiting Shasta Lake can fish for Rainbow Trout, Brown Trout, and landlocked Steelhead. Guides are available and knowing the right spots and time of year to fish is crucial for an exceptional Lake Shasta experience.

First-time visitors might want to do a bit of research and plan their trip before heading out. There are so many amazing things to do across the lakes three hundred and seventy miles of shoreline. A few top attractions are Shasta Caverns, Mount Shasta, and Castle Crags.

6.   Lake Oroville

The main attraction at Lake Oroville is generally fishing.

iStock.com/OwensImaging

Lake Oroville
Surface Area16,000 acres
Max Depth722 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Tournament Bass Fishing, Second Largest Reservoir in California, Floating Campsites

Residents of Oroville and tourists alike enjoy the wide range of outdoor recreational outdoor activities offered at Lake Oroville. The 167 miles of scenic shoreline offer ample opportunities for fishing and a range of other water sports.

Lake Oroville is known as “The Bass Lake” and hosts regular bass fishing tournaments. Other fish anglers have a chance hooking include Catfish, Chinook Salmon, Sturgeon, Crappie, Bluegill, and Mackinaw.

7.   Eagle Lake

Anglers head out to Eagle Lake in hopes of landing the next eleven-pound, native Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout.

Micheal Lee/Shutterstock.com

Eagle Lake
Surface Area24,000 acres
Max Depth85 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout, Second Largest Lake Entirely In California

Eagle Lake is home to the native Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout. Strangely, anglers are not interested in anything else asides from the Trout. The lake has abnormally high alkaline levels, which prevent most other fish species from surviving.

Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout have been recorded up to eleven pounds. They’re the primary species in the lake and therefore quite ferocious. The size, tenacity, and abundance of the Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout make for exemplary fishing.

The lake offers five campgrounds for overnight stays. Swimming is popular but beware! – there are leeches in the lake when the temperatures are right. That doesn’t stop the droves of people that enjoy the outdoor paradise presented by Eagle Lake.

Two Salt Lakes In California

8.   Mono Lake

Mono Lake is a lake with very high salinity levels providing a unique type of lake experience.

iStock.com/XIN WANG

Mono Lake
Surface Area44,480 acres
Max Depth157 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes, No Watersports
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: No Fish Live in Lake
  • Best For: Unique Lake Experience, Saline Water

The water at Mono Lake is more saline than what’s found in an actual sea. The reason this strange mini land-locked ocean exists is that the lake doesn’t have any outlet. The water has nowhere to go other than to evaporate leaving behind all of the salts and minerals that were washed into the lake.

The super high salt levels in Mono Lake prevent much of anything from living in its waters. It does provide a home to tiny brine shrimp though and they serve as food for a wide range of amazing birds. Some of the birds you might spot at Mono Lake include California Gulls, Snowy Plovers, American Avocets, Eared Grebes, Red-necked Phalaropes, and Wilson’s Phalaropes.

Take a dip in the water and experience the strange feeling the saline-rich water provides – some describe it as ethereal. Canoe tours are also available to explore the lake in greater detail. Take along a camera and snap some unbelievable photos of the many birds at the lake.

9.   Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is a very unique, high saline body of water.

iStock.com/James Griffiths Photography

Salton Sea
Surface Area219,648 acres
Max Depth52 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: No
  • Boating/Docks Available: No
  • Swimming Permitted: No
  • Fishing Permitted: No
  • Best For: Large Bird Population

The Salton Sea was born of accident in 1905 due to a poorly-constructed irrigation system dumping water into the Salton Basin. The area was a tourist hotspot in the 50s all the way into the 70s until issues with the lake began to take hold.

Since the 70s, things have increasingly gotten worse for the area. Today, it’s no longer a destination for the typical lake experience. There are other ways to enjoy this marvel though.

Birdwatching is very popular but please be respectful of the area. The Salton Sea has been termed a “crown jewel of avian biodiversity”, so pack a camera for some unbelievable photo opportunities.

The Largest Lake Entirely in California

    10. Clear Lake

Clear Lake is the oldest lake in the United States.

Nature Art/Shutterstock.com

Surface Area44,480 acres
Max Depth59 feet
  • Camping/Overnight Available: Yes
  • Boating/Docks Available: Yes
  • Swimming Permitted: Yes
  • Fishing Permitted: Yes
  • Best For: Oldest Lake in North America, Top 10 Bass Fishing Lake in the US

For lake goers looking for a large lake that isn’t one of the super lakes that stretch across state lines, Clear Lake is a great option. It’s one of the oldest lakes in the world and is considered a bass fishing hotspot by many.

Other attractions at the lake include kayaking, waterskiing, swimming, jet-skiing, and paddleboarding. Clear Lake State Park Campgrounds offers overnighters one hundred and thirty-six campsites to choose from.

Anglers can target Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, Carp, and Catfish. Clear Lake has a multitude of boating options for getting out deeper into the water.

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About the Author

Sean is a professionally published author, mostly in the tech space. He's worked as a writer, editor, and reviewer for O'Reilly Media, Adobe, Manning, Addison-Wesley, and many more. Sean is also a lifelong musician and writes about audio production. Recently he's been focused on web3 and music NFTs.

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