Northern California should be your go-to destination if you’re searching for a stunning lakeside retreat. With options ranging from pristine alpine lakes to man-made reservoirs, this region has it all. Here is a list of the 35 best lakes in Northern California to add to your bucket list. These lakes are ideal for a day trip or weekend escape. Lakeside retreats offer a refreshing change of pace from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Stunning natural scenery and fresh air provide the perfect setting for relaxation and rejuvenation.

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to add to Your Bucket List Click To Tweet

Map of 35 Best Lakes in Northern California

This map is incredibly useful for anyone looking to explore the best lakes in Northern California. You can also use this information to plan day trips or fishing trips. So start planning!

1. Mono Lake – One of the magical Lakes in Northern California

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Mono Lake
Beautiful Mono Lake – California’s Ancient Inland Sea

Mono Lake is a beautiful, ancient saline lake perched on the edge of California’s arid Great Basin and the snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. This lake has no fish but is home to trillions of brine shrimp, millions of birds, and impressive tufa towers. Tufa towers are tall columns of calcium carbonate (limestone) that form below lake level through the chemical reaction of spring water with saline lake water. With its stunning scenery and wide array of wildlife, Mono Lake is a must-see destination for anyone visiting or living in California.

Things to do – Join a free, naturalist-guided walk among strange tufa towers and go for a Lundy Canyon bird walk.

Visit Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area Visitor Center, the 1st U.S. National Scenic Area. View exhibits on Mono Lake history, wildlife, and geology, and explore the interpretive trail.

Explore the ghost town of Bodie (California’s official state ghost town).

Go for a scenic drive on the June Lake loop.

Nearby Town – Lee Vining.

2. June Lake in June Lake Loop – Plan your next getaway

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, June Lake, June Lake Loop
My daughter is enjoying at June Lake on a hot summer day!
June Lake adventure!

This idyllic alpine lake is in the Eastern Sierra, a few miles north of Mammoth Lakes. It is located on the June Lakes Loop and is breathtakingly beautiful during fall. The clear waters, beautiful scenery, and abundant activities make it a popular destination. There are several campgrounds and lodging options nearby.

Things to do – Visitors can enjoy fishing, swimming, boating, and hiking here.

Drive the scenic June Lake loop. Four gorgeous lakes in this loop are June Lake, Gull Lake, Silver Lake, and Grant Lake.

Walk along the lake shore, and explore the trails around the lake.

Nearby Town – June Lake, a rustic little mountain town.

3. Gull Lake – One of the most beautiful Lakes in Northern California

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Gull Lake
Beautiful Gull Lake!
35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Gull Lake
Gull Lake Marina!

Nestled in the Eastern Sierra of California, which is often referred to as the “Switzerland of California” for its jagged peaks and high-altitude attractions, the June Lake Loop is a favorite destination for tourists and nature lovers. Boasting four picturesque lakes – June, Gull, Silver, and Grant – and endless hiking trails, the area is a paradise for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life and enjoy some time surrounded by breathtaking scenery. 

Gull Lake, in particular, is a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and canoeing. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout, making it a perfect spot for those looking to reel in dinner. There are also several beach areas where visitors can relax in the sun or take a refreshing dip. Canoe and paddleboard rentals are available at the Gull Lake Marina, making it easy to explore the lake at your leisure. For those who prefer to stay on dry land, there are plenty of hiking trails in the area to explore. 

Things to do – Visitors can enjoy fishing, swimming, and canoeing.

Consider camping as the Gull Lake Campground is among the best in the region.

Hike the short relaxing hiking trail that surrounds the lake.

Enjoy a picnic in the Gull Lake Park adjacent to Gull Lake Marina.

Nearby Town – June Lake, a rustic little mountain town.

4. Silver Lake in the June Lake Loop

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Silver Lake
Beautiful reflection of the mighty mountains at Silver Lake!
35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Silver Lake
Relaxing at Silver Lake!


Silver Lake is one of the four lakes in the June Lake loop. Silver Lake is known for its clear water and stunning scenery. This hidden gem is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and hiking. The lake is also surrounded by picturesque mountain scenery, making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.

There are plenty of activities to entertain visitors of all ages at Silver Lake. The lake itself is a great spot for fishing, boating, and swimming. Hiking and biking trails abound in the area, offering stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. For those looking for a more relaxed experience, there are numerous picnic spots dotted around the lake.

Things to do –  Visit June Lake Village and browse through quaint shops, and grab a bite to eat.

For a great introduction to the beautiful eastern Sierra forests, take a ride on the Mammoth Scenic Loop.

Nearby Town – June Lake, a rustic little mountain town.

5. Grant Lake in the June Lake Loop

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Grant Lake
Beautiful Grant Lake – A picture-perfect postcard. Isn’t it?

Lying in the shadow of Mt. Ritter in a picturesque alpine basin Grant Lake is the second largest of four lakes in the June Lake loop in California. Grant Lake is home to an abundance of fish, including rainbow trout, brown trout, and brook trout. Whether you’re an experienced angler or just getting started, you will have a good time fishing at Grant Lake. There’s nothing quite like spending a peaceful day out on the water with a line in the water, waiting for that big catch. One of the most popular activities at Grant Lake is swimming. The water is refreshing and perfect for a summer’s day. There are also plenty of spots to relax on the shoreline and work on your tan. 

Things to do – Water activities, such as wakeboarding, waterskiing, and jet skiing, are all possible at Grant Lake. However, a stringent ten mph speed limit is in force before 10 a.m.

Nearby Town – June Lake, a rustic little mountain town

6. Convict Lake – One of the most pristine Lakes in the Eastern Sierra

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Convict Lake
Pristine Convict Lake!

Tucked away in a secluded corner of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Convict Lake is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Just a short drive from the popular Mammoth Lakes region, this serene lake is surrounded by towering peaks and pristine wilderness. Having experienced many beautiful lakes in Switzerland and Norway, Convict Lake is comparable in terms of its beauty and serenity!

In the summer, wildflowers add a splash of color to the landscape, and in the fall, the leaves of the Aspen trees turn a beautiful golden hue. Whether you’re enjoying a picnic on the shore or exploring one of the many hiking trails in the area, you’ll be surrounded by breathtaking scenery.

Things to do – Boating, Kayaking, Swimming, Hiking, and Fishing.

Hike the convict Lake Loop Trail.

Nearby Town – Mammoth Lakes.

7. Lake Mary – the largest lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Lake Mary
Gorgeous Lake Mary!

Nestled in the mighty Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Mary is the largest lake in the Mammoth Lakes Basin. This stunning lake is the perfect place to hike, go fishing, or just relax and enjoy the scenic views. Many trails wind around the lake, so you can explore at your own pace. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle out onto the water! 

Things to do – Lake Mary is the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors. hiking, fishing, and camping are just a few popular activities in the area.

Explore the charming downtown area of the nearby town Bishop.

Enjoy the walking Tour of Murals and Galleries at Bishop.

Nearby Town – Bishop.

8. Twin Lakes

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Twin Lakes
Twin Lakes – Surrounded by greenery!

Twin Lakes is two separate but connected lakes: Lower Twin Lake and Upper Twin Lake. Visitors can reach the lakes via a short hike from either trailhead or by taking the free shuttle between Mammoth Mountain and Twins Falls Trailhead during the summer months. 

Things to do – Besides swimming, canoeing, and fishing, there are plenty of other things you can do at Twin Lakes. The lakeside meadows are perfect for picnicking, and several easy hiking trails wind through the area.

If you want to explore beyond, visit Devil’s Postpile National Monument.

Also, visit Minaret Vista Point – the view from there is simply stunning.

9. Ellery Lake on Tioga Pass

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Ellery Lake
Beautiful Ellery Lake – surrounded by mountains!

Ellery lake is a beautiful alpine lake located on Tioga Pass, the highest highway pass in California. The views of the surrounding mountains and forests are simply stunning, making it a popular spot for hikers and nature lovers. This lake is not far from the eastern entrance of the Yosemite National Park.

Things to do – This is an ideal spot for fishing, whether you stay on land or go out in a boat. Don’t forget to see the Ellery Lake Falls.

Nearby Town – Lee Vining.

10. Saddlebag Lake

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Saddlebag Lake
Saddlebag Lake – A remote lake on Tioga Pass!

This serene lake is located in the Inyo National Forest near the Hoover Wilderness. It is a great spot for a weekend escape from the San Francisco Bay Area. At over 10,000 ft, Saddlebag is a little piece of heaven. The lake is surrounded by beautiful scenery, and there are plenty of hiking and biking trails to explore.

Things to do – I highly recommend the Twenty Lakes Loop hike. It is a stunning trail that begins at Saddlebag lake. See some of the most amazing alpine lakes along the way. Enjoy the views of the nearby peaks: North Peak and Mt. Conness.

Directions to Saddlebag Lake: Take Highway 120, Tioga Pass Road, about 12 miles from the junction of Highway 395 to Saddlebag Lake Road.

Nearby Town – Lee Vin.

11. Tioga Lake – One of the most gorgeous lakes in Northern California

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Tioga Lake
Gorgeous Tioga Lake!

If you’re looking for a breathtaking glacial lake to visit, look no further than Tioga Lake near Yosemite National Park. The views from here include the amazing Mt. Dana. This is one of the highest car-accessible lakes in the United States, with an elevation of 9,646 feet. This lake is frequented by anglers, trekkers, and those seeking a more remote camping experience.

Things to do – Camping (13 campsites are regularly maintained around the lake).

Fishing – This tranquil little lake is perfect for a day of fishing with the family. It’s regularly stocked with rainbow trout, some weighing up to 5 lbs.

Hiking – Tioga Tarns Nature Walk.

The Tioga Tarns Nature Walk is a great opportunity to learn about the area’s natural history and geography. This easy walk is well signed and offers a chance to see beautiful scenery.

Nearby Town – Lee Vining.

12. Tenaya Lake – One of the most awesome Lakes to check out when you are in Yosemite National Park

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park!
35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park – Just before the rain. A soothing treat for a pluviophile like me.

Tenaya Lake is a stunning stop on any Yosemite itinerary. Fed by the runoff of the high country’s glaciers, the clear blue waters are a beautiful contrast to the surrounding rocky cliffs and forests. This mountain lake is a popular spot for swimming (if you don’t mind cold water in the summer), fishing, and boating. A paved path around the lake makes for a pleasant stroll, and several backcountry trails lead into the surrounding wilderness. You can only access the lake from June through October because Tioga Pass Road closes in the winter.

Things to do – Go hiking. The Tenaya Lake trail is an easy 2.5 miles with no elevation gain.

Nearby Town – Wawona.

13. Clear Lake – The largest natural freshwater lake in California

Clear Lake is located in Lake County, California.  It is the largest natural freshwater lake in California. One of the most notable features of Clear Lake is Mount Konocti. This dormant volcano towers over the lake, reaching an elevation of 4,300 feet. Mount Konocti is a popular destination for hikers and climbers, and several trails wind their way to the summit. From the top of Mount Konocti, visitors can enjoy stunning views of Clear Lake and the surrounding countryside.

Things to do – Drive to Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument and feel how the dense press of civilization lifts and the open wilderness weaves itself into the landscape. 

Visit Clear Lake State Park and Anderson Marsh State Historic Park.

Experience the booming wine region powered by Mediterranean microclimates and volcanic ash-rich soil, allowing for bountiful grape harvests. Indulge in some wine tasting at Brassfield Estate Winery or Cache Creek Vineyards & Winery, close to Clear Lake.

Nearby Town – Lakeport.

14. Pinecrest Lake – A gorgeous lake inside a forest

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Pinecrest Lake
Finding symmetry at Pinecrest Lake in the Stanislaus National forest!
35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Pinecrest Lake
Towering pines along the lake at Pinecrest Lake recreational area

Pinecrest lake in the Stanislaus National Forest is one of my favorite alpine lakes, located not so far from the Bay Area. Pinecrest Recreation Area has well-maintained restrooms, picnic tables, campsites, and an accessible fishing pier.

Things to do – The lake is open to swimming, canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and electric motor boats. You can also go fishing for rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, and kokanee salmon if you don’t have your boat or equipment, no problem! Boat rentals are available at the marina.

There are also plenty of hiking and biking trails for those who want to explore the gorgeous scenery. And don’t forget to bring your camera! The views are simply breathtaking.

Nearby Town – Strawberry.

15. Lake Almanor – A must-see Lake near Lassen Volcanic National Park

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Lake Almanor
Lake Almanor – A hidden gem!

Lake Almanor is located in California’s northeast corner, near Lassen Volcanic National Park, and is one of the state’s hidden gems. If you visit here for once, you will certainly want to return. Whether you want to commune with nature or merely want to get away from the always-turbulent contemporary existence, this is the ideal location for you. Here you can find everything from tranquil hiking trails to exhilarating watersports. And after a long day of exploring, you can retire to one of the cozy lodges or campgrounds in the area. Whether spring, summer, or fall, Lake Almanor offers many outdoor recreation opportunities. When I visited Lake Almanor, away from crowds, I loved the tranquil atmosphere the most. A laid-back morning by the lake, watching birds, and a gorgeous sunset in the evening, followed by a delicious dinner at Plumas Pines Resort, gifted me an ideal leisure holiday.

Things to do Picnic areas and beaches allow great recreational activities with family and lake views.

Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park and Burney Falls. Indulge yourself in golfing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, and fishing.

Nearby Town –  Chester.

16. Manzanita Lake – A secluded spot in the Lassen Volcanic National Park

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Manzanita Lake
A dash of red at Manzanita Lake!

Manzanita Lake is a beautiful, secluded spot in the Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. The Lake is known for its clear waters and scenic views and is a popular spot for fishing, swimming, and canoeing. It is fly-fishing still water destination. The Lake is surrounded by a diverse variety of trees, including willow and pine. Several hiking trails lead from Manzanita Lake to other parts of the Park. Manzanita Lake offers a great view of Lassen Peak, the largest volcano peak in the area. Manzanita Lake is a great destination for a day trip or an overnight camping trip, and it is sure to provide visitors with a memorable experience.

Things to do – Hike Manzanita Lake Trail.

Nearby Town – Mineral.

17. Shasta Lake – California’s largest reservoir

Shasta Lake!

Nestled in Shasta County, Shasta Lake is California’s largest reservoir. The picturesque lake is framed by the towering Mt. Shasta and Klamath Mountains, making it a popular spot for locals and tourists. Visitors can enjoy various activities in the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area, including hiking, biking, boating, and fishing.

Things to do – For those looking for a unique experience, the Lake Shasta Caverns offer a fascinating look at a network of caves. Accessible via a short boat ride from the McCloud River area, the caverns are a must-see.

The Shasta-Trinity National Forest is the largest National Forest in California. This area provides plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, including horseback riding, backpacking, and mountain biking on numerous wilderness trails. People can also use these trails to cross-country ski and snowmobile in the winter.

Nearby Town – Redding.

18. Lake Siskiyou – A reservoir in Siskiyou County

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations,  Lake Siskiyou
Stunning blue hour at Lake Siskiyou with Mount Shasta by John Rodgers

Lake Siskiyou is a reservoir in California’s Siskiyou County, 2.3 miles from Mount Shasta. The area is also known for its stunning views of Mount Shasta, which can be enjoyed from various spots around the lake. The lake is a great spot for fishing, swimming, and boating.

Things to do – Hike Lake Siskiyou Trail. This is an incredibly beautiful walk around the lake. Enjoy a picnic with family in the wonderful picnic areas around the lake.

See Hedge Creeks Falls in Dunsmuir, a 20 min drive from Lake Siskiyou.

Nearby Town – City of Dunsmuir

19. Whiskeytown Lake

Whiskeytown Lake is a reservoir and one of the many hidden gems of Northern California. Nestled in the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, the lake is a popular spot for swimming, boating, and fishing. The lake got its name from the Gold Rush mining town that now lies beneath the lake. The real draw of Whiskeytown Lake is its stunning natural beauty. With its clear blue water and mountainous backdrop, the lake is a truly breathtaking sight. Visitors can explore the area on foot or by boat, and there are plenty of picnic areas and hiking trails to enjoy. Whiskeytown Lake is an excellent location for kokanee salmon and features great trout fishing for rainbow, brown, and brook trout. Whether you’re looking for an adventurous getaway or a relaxing weekend by the water, Whiskeytown Lake is the perfect place to visit.

Things to do – Hike and see beautiful waterfalls like Whiskeytown Falls, Boulder Creek Falls, Crystal Creek Falls.

Whiskeytown Lake is an excellent place to stargaze due to its dark skies and clear views.

Nearby Town – Redding.

20. Lewiston Lake

Located in Trinity County, California, Lewiston Lake is a reservoir created by Lewiston Dam on the Trinity River. Lewiston Lake is the perfect spot if you’re looking for a calm and beautiful landscape while fishing for trout. The area surrounding Lewiston Lake is filled with beautiful views. The variety of landscapes here, from dense forests to marshlands, provides a wide range of views. Lewiston Lake is a hidden gem in Trinity County, California.

Things to do – Go kayak fishing.

Hike the 3.1-mile out-and-back Lewiston Lake trail.

Explore Lewiston’s historic old town.

Nearby Town – Lewiston.

21. Trinity Lake

Trinity Lake is a lovely place to spend a few days if you want to escape the ever-busy city life. It’s located in Trinity County and is one of the largest reservoirs in California, with 145 miles of shoreline. People love exploring the wilderness surrounding this wonderful lake which is a part of the immense Shasta-Trinity National Forest. Visitors can also enjoy the Trinity Alps Wildlife Area, which offers opportunities to see wildlife such as deer, black bears, and eagles.

Things to do – The Trinity Lake area is perfect if you love bird-watching.

Go for any activities, including Kayaking, Rafting, Jet skiing, and Canoeing.

Trinity Lake is a great fishing location with plentiful chinook salmon, trout, Largemouth, and smallmouth bass.

How about floating on the lake in a luxurious houseboat?

Nearby Town – Weaverville.

22. Lake Helen – A lake with stunning views of Lassen Peak

Lake Helen is a deep blue lake in California that offers stunning views of Lassen Peak. The lake is over 100 feet deep and can hold snow and ice well into the summer months. The serene waters offer a near-perfect reflection of the snow-capped Lassen Peak on calm days. The park highway winds around the lake’s south and west shores, providing spectators with numerous volcanic peaks along the way. Lake Helen is a great place to enjoy a summer day.

Things to do – The small picnic area on the southeast corner of the lake is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic with family and friends.

You can go for a swim in the lake or relax on the beach and soak up the sun. The southern shore of the lake provides visitors with ample space for swimming.

Nearby Town – Susanville.

23. Emerald Lake – A colorful lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park

Emerald Lake is a beautiful and mesmerizing place inside the Lassen Volcanic National Park. The lake gets its unique Emerald green color from the vegetation that grows in its shallow waters. Wildflowers also thrive on its rocky shores, adding to the beauty of the Emerald Lake. Although parking is usually limited at Emerald Lake, there’s always a spot available for those who want to see the colorful scenery. You won’t regret making a trip to Emerald Lake at least once.

Things to do – The Emerald Lake is perfect for people who enjoy kayaking, paddle boarding, or swimming.

It is also great to stop and have a picnic lunch in the lake’s meadow.

Nearby Town – Redding.

24. Folsom Lake – The best lake near Sacramento

Folsom Lake is a man-made lake in the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, about 25 miles east of Sacramento. Folsom Lake was created in 1955 by the Folsom Dam, which impounds the American River. It is the primary reservoir of the Folsom Reservoir State Recreation Area. The lake is a popular destination for water activities like wakeboarding, water skiing, fishing, swimming, boating, and hiking. In addition, the recreation area offers several camping sites and picnic areas. Folsom Lake is also a popular spot for birdwatching. The lake is located just outside Sacramento, making it a convenient getaway for city dwellers.

Things to do – Explore the most beautiful bird-watching trails that Folsom Lake State Recreation Area offers!

Visit the charming antique shops, mouthwatering restaurants, and the Folsom History Museums to discover the ancient town area.

Nearby Town – Orangevale.

25. Lake Tahoe – The most beautiful lake in Northern California

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Lake Tahoe
Beautiful Lake Tahoe!

Standing at an impressive 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, with 72 miles of shoreline, Lake Tahoe is North America’s largest alpine lake. The lake sits nestled in the Sierra Nevada mountains, straddling the border between California and Nevada. Its clear blue waters and stunning mountain views make it a popular destination for both locals and visitors from all over the world. South Lake Tahoe is the most developed area around the lake, with many hotels, restaurants, and shops. The North Shore of Lake Tahoe is quieter and more scenic, offering visitors a chance to enjoy the area’s natural beauty. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Lake Tahoe has something to offer everyone. There’s something so magical about Lake Tahoe, the largest lake by volume in the US. It always seems to leave a lasting impression.

Things to do – Explore beautiful Lake Tahoe beaches. Sand Harbor Beach, dog-friendly Kiva Beach, and secret Cove Beach are among the best. Sand Harbor Beach features crystal-clear water and stunning mountain views. Dogs can swim off-leash at Kiva Beach, but they must be leashed on the beach. Secret Cove Beach is a hidden gem, offering a more secluded experience. 

It’s also a great spot for other water-related sports, such as water skiing, parasailing, wakeboarding, paddleboarding, kayaking, and scuba diving. You may fish from boats as well.

Donner Memorial State Park, D. L. Bliss State Park, and Emerald Bay State Park are all worth seeing.

Lake Tahoe offers a variety of panoramic hiking routes. Some paths meander through woodlands, around lakes, and up mountains. Mount Tallac Trail, Eagle Falls & Eagle Lake Trail, and Echo Lakes to Ralston Lake are just a few spectacular hiking trails here.

Nearby Town – Tahoe City.

26. Donner Lake

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Donner Lake
Donner Lake in Winter!

Donner Lake is a stunning body of water located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of northern California. The lake is named after the Donner Party, a group of settlers who famously resorted to cannibalism after becoming stranded in the area during a winter snowstorm. Today, Donner Lake is a popular destination for both tourists and locals alike. Visitors can enjoy hiking, biking, and camping in the summer and skiing and snowboarding in the winter. The lake is also home to various fish, including rainbow, brown, and lake trout. Regardless of the season, Donner Lake is an idyllic spot for anyone looking to escape the hustle and bustle of city life.

Things to do – Hike the Donner Pass Summit Tunnel.

Stop by and explore Historic Downtown Truckee.

Nearby Town – Truckee.

27. Fallen Leaf Lake

Fallen Leaf Lake is a stunningly beautiful spot to visit near Lake Tahoe. The lake is located in the El Dorado National Forest and is home to an ancient underwater forest. With its pristine, clear waters and picturesque surroundings, the lake is a perfect place to enjoy a peaceful hike or picnic lunch. The lake is also a great spot for fishing, swimming, water sports, and boating. One of the best ways to experience Fallen Leaf Lake is to camp overnight at the Fallen Leaf Campground.

Things to do – If you’re visiting the Fallen Leaf Lake campsite, Desolation Wilderness is a great place to go backpacking.—the incredible sights are steps away from the campsite.

Explore the Fallen Leaf Lake Waterfall.

Nearby Town –  South Lake Tahoe.

28. New Melones Lake

New Melones Lake is a reservoir in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Calaveras County. The lake is fed by the Stanislaus River. There are also several things nearby, including the Stanislaus River, the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, the Stanislaus National Forest, and New Melones Dam. The dam is particularly interesting as it is one of the tallest dams in the United States. New Melones Lake is a popular recreation spot for boating, fishing, camping, and hiking. New Melones Lake offers year-round camping at two locations: Glory Hole Recreation Area and Tuttletown Recreation Area. Both campgrounds offer camping for tents and recreational vehicles. Walk-in campsites are also available in both recreation areas. Whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy the scenery or an opportunity to get active, New Melones Lake is sure to please.

Things to do – Visit Moaning Caverns Adventure Park, Mercer Caverns, and Natural Bridges Trailhead (This hiking area is situated by a river and features a trail leading to natural pools and swimming caverns.)

Nearby Town – Gold rush towns Columbia and Angels City.

29. Lake Oroville

Located in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California, Lake Oroville is the second-largest reservoir in California. It is a popular spot for fishing, boating, and hiking. The lake is large and scenic, and there are plenty of things to see and do in the surrounding area. Some of the top sights in Lake Oroville include the Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park, Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, and Feather River Wildlife Area. In addition to being a great place to enjoy the outdoors, Lake Oroville also offers visitors a chance to learn about the area’s history and culture. The Lake Oroville Visitor Center is a great place to start. It has a museum, exhibits, videos, a store, and a 47-foot tower with two high-powered telescopes to enjoy the spectacular panoramic view of the lake, Sierra Nevadas, valley, foothills, and the Sutter Buttes mountain range (smallest in the world).

Things to do – Visit North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve, especially during the spring, when it is full of wildflowers.

Hike to the Phantom Falls and Feather Falls.

Nearby Town – Chico.

30. Lake Berryessa

Nestled in the heart of Napa Valley, Lake Berryessa is one of California’s hidden gems. The Monticello Dam on Putah Creek, built in the 1950s, formed this reservoir in the Vaca Mountains. One of the unique features of this large freshwater lake in Napa county is the Glory Hole, also known as Morning Glory Spillway. The hole is a unique spillway for the lake and Monticello Dam. When the water level rises above 440 feet, water begins pouring down the hole and into Putah Creek hundreds of feet below. It is a popular spot for fishing, swimming, bird-watching, and boating. Also, there are plenty of things to see and do nearby. Top sights in the area include the Napa Valley Wine Train, the Calistoga Hot Springs, and the Sonoma Raceway. There are also plenty of great hiking and biking trails in the area, making it the perfect place to explore the outdoors.

Things to do – Explore three marinas: Pleasure Cove, Markley Cove, and Lake Berryessa Boat & Jet Ski Rentals.

Visit Lake Solano County Park.

Nearby Town – Calistoga.

31. Lake Hennessey

Lake Hennessey is a reservoir located in the Vaca Mountains east of St. Helena and the Napa Valley. The reservoir was formed in 1948 when Conn Creek Dam was built across Conn Creek. You can enjoy hiking, fishing, and boating at Lake Hennessey.

Things to do – Take a walk along the lake.

Go for a scenic drive along the Silverado Trail.

Go wine Tasting. I highly recommend Rutherford Hill Winery, which offers visitors stunning panoramic views of Napa Valley. The estate sits atop a windswept hill, providing a perfect perch for taking in the picturesque vineyards and mountains that make up this famous wine region. 

Nearby Town – Rutherford.

32. Lake Sonoma

Lake Sonoma is situated in the coastal foothills of Sonoma County, California. This picturesque reservoir is surrounded by renowned vineyards and offers ample opportunities for outdoor recreation. Visitors can enjoy hiking, fishing, boating, and picnicking at this stunning locale. In addition, nearby attractions include the historic town of Healdsburg and the mesmerizing Napa Valley wine country.

Things to do – Visit Sugarloaf Ridge, State Park, home to Robert Ferguson Observatory, Northern California’s most active public observatory. If you are a night owl like me, how about stargazing? Sugarloaf Ridge is one of the best places in the Bay Area for stargazing. You might even catch a glimpse of a shooting star if lucky. Explore the historic Ranch at Lake Sonoma. It is ideal for horseback riding overlooking world-class Dry Creek Valley, Lake Sonoma, and the Rockpile AVA.

Visit Lake Sonoma Visitors Center & Fish Hatchery.

Nearby Town – Santa Rosa.

33. San Luis Reservoir

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, San Luis Reservoir
San Luis Reservoir – Close to the San Francisco Bay Area

Located in the San Joaquin Valley, near historic Pacheco Pass, California, San Luis Reservoir is a hidden gem near the San Francisco Bay Area. San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area is a popular destination for outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, board sailing, camping, and picnicking.

Things to do – Spend a few hours boating or fishing in the reservoir. There’s nothing quite like a day spent out on the water surrounded by natural beauty.

Take a hike in one of the nearby state parks.

Visit a nearby winery. The San Joaquin Valley is renowned for its wine production, and several wineries are located near the reservoir. Spend an afternoon touring a few of them and tasting some of the local wines. Cheers!

Nearby Town – Los Banos.

34. Bass Lake

35 Best Lakes in Northern California to Add to Your Bucket List, Travel Realizations, Bass Lake
Beautiful Bass Lake!

If you’re looking for a little slice of heaven, look no further than Bass Lake in Madera County, California. This beautiful lake is nestled in the Sierra National Forest.

Things to do – Spend a day relaxing on the beach. Bass Lake has multiple sandy beaches where you can sunbathe, read a book, or just take a nap. 

Go for a swim. The water is always refreshing and there’s nothing like a dip on a hot summer day. 

Go fishing.

Visit Yosemite National Park, one of the most popular attractions near Bass Lake.

Visit The Pines Village for shopping and dining. This quaint village offers several unique shops and restaurants. 

Take a scenic drive down Highway 41. This winding road takes you through some of California’s most beautiful scenery.  

Nearby Town – Oakhurst.

35. Paradise Lake

Paradise Lake, one of Butte County’s gems, is 244 acres in size and bordered by picturesque woodland with a 7.5-mile beach. It is one of Paradise’s two reservoirs, which store water for the town. Several activities are available on Paradise Lake, including paddling, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and other pursuits.

Things to do – If you love seeing stars, register for the interesting session – Astronomy on the Lake.

Explore Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, a lovely, three-story, 26-room Victorian House Museum named after John and Annie Bidwell, the founders of the City of Chico.

Nearby Town – Paradise.

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Northern California is home to many beautiful lakes, and if you’re looking to add some new destinations to your bucket list, these are worth checking out. Choose one (or all) of the above 35 best lakes in Northern California for a weekend getaway from the San Francisco Bay Area. Start planning your adventures!

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Chirasree Banerjee

Hello. My name is Chirasree. I have been traveling for almost 11 years to places all over the world. I enter into a separate reality during my travels and enjoy the allure of escape from the mundane. I seek beauty through nature and human-made creations. Because beauty is powerful. I seek knowledge. I observe, absorb, and write about the places I visit and the profound realizations and inspirations that each place has to offer.