If you’re looking for a weekend getaway or a day on the water, one of Southern California’s beautiful lakes may be a perfect fit. Keep reading for your very own introduction to twelve beautiful lakes in Southern California.
» Looking for more inspiration along the route? Check out all our guides to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Diego. Find the best beaches in Monterey, waterfalls in Southern California, and national parks.
Lakes in Southern California
#1 Big Bear Lake
Big Bear Lake is found in the San Bernardino National Forest at an elevation of about 6,755 feet. The lake and surrounding town are known to be a year-round getaway for Southern Californians. In the Spring and Summer months, the lake is a popular destination for fishing, boating, and swimming, offering accessible sites for boat launching as well as rentals. Fall and Winter are when the area sees its peak in tourism as the slopes open for all types of snow sports.
There is no shortage of campgrounds or vacation rentals around the lake, making it easy to extend your stay and make the most of what Big Bear offers. If you are visiting in the Winter, always be prepared for icy roads.
#2 Lake Gregory
Lake Gregory is found in Crestline, California, and is known as one of the best places in the state to go trout fishing as it is frequently stocked with rainbow trout. The lake makes up about 84 acres in the San Bernardino mountains, making it relatively small compared to many others on this list.
Gas-powered motor boats are not permitted on the lake, but electric-powered boats are, as well as kayaks, canoes, row boats, paddle boards, and many other small boats. The local marina makes it simple to launch but does charge a small fee.
One of the most memorable features of Lake Gregory is in the Summer months when water off of one of the lake’s beaches is transformed into an inflatable water park which is great fun for children and adults alike.
#3 Lake Sherwood
Lake Sherwood is a reservoir found near the cities of Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village. The lake is fed naturally by watersheds from the area’s local mountains and natural springs. Swimming, fishing, paddle boarding, and boating are allowed on the lake. The surrounding green hills and moderate weather in the area make Lake Sherwood a beautiful destination to visit year-round.
#4 Lake Arrowhead
Lake Arrowhead is a small mountain resort town near Big Bear, also in the San Bernardino Mountains. Its lake is enjoyed year-round, although only residents can store boats on the lake in order to prevent overcrowding.
Like Big Bear Lake, Lake arrowhead is also great for fishing, boating, and water sports, despite being significantly smaller. If you prefer your mountain getaways a bit sleepier, you may prefer this Swiss Alp-styled town over its larger counterpart.
#5 Silverwood Lake
Silverwood Lake is a reservoir in the San Gabriel Mountains, attached to the Cedar Springs Dam, which generates energy for the surrounding areas through its turbines. The lake itself is a popular recreation area used for boating, fishing, and water sports like skiing and wakeboarding.
Four campgrounds on the lake, picnic areas, beaches, and a marina are accessible to the public. The area can be sweltering in the Summer months, so when visiting, be sure to remember umbrellas, sunscreen, and plenty of water.
#6 Castaic Lake
Castaic Lake covers over 11,200 acres of parkland and natural land, making it the largest state water project reservoir in Southern California.
The lake is split into two separate bodies of water, consisting of a lower lake and an upper lake. The lower lake is used for non-power boating and swimming from mid-May to mid-September. The upper lake is used for sailing, power boating, water sports, and fishing.
Upper Lake Castaic is actually relatively famous for its fishing, boasting state-wide and worldwide record-breaking catches. The lake is stocked with bass, trout, and catfish, and rental boats are available for those who prefer fishing from the water.
#7 Pyramid Lake
Pyramid Lake is located near Castaic Lake in the Tejon Pass and is also a state water project reservoir. The lake is named after a pyramid-shaped rock that was carved during the building of Route 99 and now juts out of the lake, creating a memorable landmark for those passing by.
Pyramid lake offers visitors various activities to participate in, including boating, fishing, swimming, and Jet skiing, as well as several picnic areas that are only accessible by boat. Alongside the lake, there are plenty of options for camping and hiking.
#8 Lake Perris
Lake Perris is an artificial lake situated between Moreno Valley and Perris in the Inland Empire. Because this lake is near several highly populated areas, it can get very crowded in the Summer months, so for a peaceful experience, off months are often a great time to visit.
Camping is available around the lake, as well as activities like picnicking, horseback riding, swimming, and rock climbing. The grounds also host the annual Big Rock Triathlon and a popular music festival that places concertgoers on the shores of the lake.
Allesandro Island is found in the middle of Lake Perris and is only accessible by boat. It offers picnic areas and public restrooms, making it a great option for escaping the crowds.
#9 Lake Piru
Lake Piru is a Ventura County reservoir found in the Lost Padres National forest. The lake is an escape for many Los Angeles residents as they flee the city to its shady campgrounds and beaches. Visitors enjoy boating, fishing, and a great environment for water sports like skiing and wakeboarding.
Lake Piru is notorious for its windy and rough conditions, so check weather forecasts before entering the water.
#10 Lake Elsinore
Lake Elsinore is a large natural freshwater lake found in Riverside County and is part of the San Jacinto River Watershed. Lake Elsinore is a haven for many in the Inland Empire when the Summer months come around, and temperatures soar well into the hundreds.
Any given day on the lake, you will see a great deal of boats towing skiers and wakeboarders behind them, as well as families picnicking on all of its beaches. Because Lake Elsinore is located in such a populated area, it can get crowded, but a bonus is a plethora of local restaurants and bars to enjoy at the end of a day in the sun.
#11 Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu is a portion of the Colorado River that sits right on both sides of the California-Arizona border. The Colorado River and Lake Havasu, in particular, are the scene of some of the wildest parties these states have to offer. Located near a college campus and attracting young people far and wide, Havasu has even been featured on MTV’s Spring Break. If you are looking for a weekend of quiet relaxation, this may not be the place for you.
The heat can be so extreme at the lake that most spend as much time as possible in and on the water by swimming, tubing, or taking part in water sports. If you are looking into a vacation rental in the area, be sure to double-check that AC is offered.
#12 Lake Hollywood
Lake Hollywood is a little-known reservoir situated in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. The hidden lake is surrounded by trails that are used for hiking, walking, and running by those who know about them. One exciting feature is an excellent view of the Hollywood sign as it sits on its hill above the lake. The Mulholland Dam, which keeps the lake at bay, is also eye-catching and holds a fascinating history.
Hiking Etiquette & Tips
It is essential to always be prepared for hiking by wearing the appropriate clothing, packing the right gear, and being aware of hiking etiquette whenever you’re out on the trail. Here are some of our tips for ensuring your hike is a good one:
- Park only in designated spots, not off-road or in unpermitted areas.
- Wear the appropriate clothing for the time of year – bringing a layer in case of sudden temperature changes. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes (flip flops are never a good idea).
- Do not feed or approach any wildlife. Be aware there might be bears mountain lions, bobcats, or rattlesnakes on the trail.
- Bring a good amount of water, some food, and sunscreen with you.
- Never leave trash behind.
- It’s best not to hike alone, but if you do tell a friend where you’re going and when to expect you back.
Laura has spent lots of time exploring California’s cities, beaches, and national parks.