In the midst of California’s vast and diverse landscape are multitudes of stunning lakes surrounded by lovely forests, hills, and mountains. These lakes vary in their elevation, depth, and scenery, but they are all wonderful destinations for a getaway. Situated close to most California vacation rentals are lakes that offer plentiful opportunities for swimming, boating, fishing, and water sports. That said, here are the best lakes in the state of California.

1. Lake Tahoe

Possibly the most famous of California’s lakes, beautiful Lake Tahoe sits in the midst of the magnificent Sierra Nevada mountain range on the northeastern border of the state. The towns of South Lake Tahoe on the southern shore and Lake Tahoe City on the lake’s west side offer excellent bases with vacation rentals for holiday-goers of all ages. The Lake Tahoe area has several beaches for swimming, sunbathing, and water play during the summer. North Tahoe Marina in Lake Tahoe City and Lakeside Marina in South Lake Tahoe rent watercraft for fishing, water skiing, wakeboarding, and other sports. The nearby forests and hills are ideal for hiking and mountain biking. In winter, the mountains around Lake Tahoe are renowned for the excellence of their downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snowshoeing.

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2. Clear Lake

Source: Flickr/TartanHearts

Clear Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the state, lies north of San Francisco and northwest of Sacramento in the Northern California portion of the Pacific Coast Range. The largest town in the area is Lakeport, which sits on the western side of the lake. In summer, Clear Lake is a popular destination for swimming, boating, wind surfing, and water skiing. Renowned as the Bass Capital of the West, the lake offers excellent year-round fishing for largemouth bass, rainbow trout, catfish, crappie, and bluegill. Join Bob Thein’s Fishing Guide Service to find the best places to angle around the lake. Don’t miss a tasting tour of the various wineries around the lake.

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3. Shasta Lake

Source: Flickr/Bhasker Hariharan

Shasta Lake, the largest reservoir in California, is on the north end of the town of Shasta Lake and less than 10 miles from vacation rentals in the city of Redding in north-central California. With magnificent Mount Shasta as a backdrop, the lake is in the midst of the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area. Digger Bay Marina on the lakeside provides rentals of power boats for fishing and water skiing. Don’t miss a tour of imposing Shasta Dam and a visit to the awe-inspiring Lake Shasta Caverns, which are accessible only by a boat ride across the lake followed by a bus ride to the cavern entrance.

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4. Lake Oroville

Source: Flickr/Pat Strosahl

Lake Oroville, the state’s second-largest reservoir, lies a few miles northeast of the city of Oroville at the western edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in north-central California. The Lake Oroville Visitor’s Center, which overlooks the dam and lake, features a museum with videos and exhibits as well as a 47-foot tower with high-powered telescopes and a magnificent panoramic view of the lake and surrounding countryside. At the North Forebay is a sandy swimming beach with dressing rooms. Lake Oroville Marina to the north and Bidwell Marina on the south side of the lake rent boats for fishing and water sports, and Forebay Aquatic Center at North Forebay rents canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, and other fun watercraft. Lake Oroville offers excellent fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, brown trout, sturgeon, and other species.

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5. Donner Lake

Donner Lake is a lovely freshwater lake that sits mainly within the Truckee town limits in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in northeastern California. The fishing is excellent, and some of the largest lake trout in California have been caught in Donner Lake. The lake’s north shore holds numerous public docks for swimming, and Donner Lake Marina rents the boats you need for fun on the water. In summer, the forests around the lake are ideal for hiking and mountain biking. The Donner Memorial State Park Visitor Center has a museum that tells the tragic story of the pioneer family for which the lake is named as well as other history of the area. Donner Lake is also surrounded by recreational areas that provide winter activities such as skiing and snowboarding.

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6. Lake Almanor

Source: Flickr/Don DeBold

Lake Almanor is a beautiful reservoir in the midst of Lassen National Forest in northeastern California. Vacation rentals in the town of Chester are on the north side of the lake. The North Shore Campground Marina offers a great launching site for activities such as boating, water skiing, wakeboarding, and fishing. The surrounding forest is ideal for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding. In the wetlands on the lake’s north shore, watch for Canadian geese, bald eagles, herons, and osprey. Popular winter activities around the lake include cross-country skiing, sledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing.

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7. Big Bear Lake

Lovely Big Bear Lake lies in the midst of the majestic San Bernardino Mountains in southern California. Vacation rentals in the city of Big Bear Lake, on the lake’s south shore, offer convenient access to marinas for renting boats and trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding in the surrounding forest. Big Bear Lake is renowned for its excellent fishing for species such as rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and channel catfish. Big Bear Charter Fishing out of Holloway’s Marina offers you expert guidance on the best places to fish.

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8. Lake Sonoma

Source: Flickr/JJG53

Lake Sonoma is a beautiful long narrow reservoir west of Healdsburg and north of Santa Rosa in northern California. The Milt Brandt Visitor Center provides exhibits highlighting the history of the area, while the Lake Sonoma Marina offers boat rentals for fishing and water sports. Over 40 miles of hiking and cycling trails surrounding the lake take you through breathtakingly beautiful groves of oak trees and redwoods. The Yorty Creek Recreation Area has a pleasant swimming beach and picnic area.

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9. Lake Cachuma

Source: Flickr/Brian

Beautiful Lake Cachuma lies in the Santa Ynez Valley just a few miles northwest of vacation rentals in the city of Santa Barbara. Cachuma Lake Marina and Boat Rentals at the lakeside offers boats and kayaks, and fishing for rainbow trout is great all year long. Although swimming is not allowed in the lake, there is a large swimming pool at the Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. Park naturalists offer nature programs such as walking tours and wildlife cruises.

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10. Pyramid Lake

Source: Flickr/Damian Gadal

Pyramid Lake is in the eastern San Emigdio Mountains a few miles northwest of the city of Santa Clarita in southern California. The Vista Del Lago Visitors Center overlooking the lake has a beautiful scenic overview and fascinating exhibits on the damming of the lake and water conservation in California. Activities on the lake include boating, jet skiing, and picnicking in areas accessible only by water. The lake also offers splendid fishing for largemouth and smallmouth bass, crappie, bluegill, and trout.

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