Staff Writer Rachael Medina
Rachael Medina is the senior content writer and operations manager for California.com. She was born and raised just outside the Mojave Desert in Southern California and moved to the redwood forests o…See full bio
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Warm weather, exceptional landscapes, and the feeling of an endless summer make the Golden State the ideal place for lakeside camping. With around 3,000 lakes and reservoirs dotting the terrain—400-plus of which are open for recreational activities—there’s no end to the options available for lake camping in California. Whether you’re headed into Northern California or down south, your ideal camping spot awaits you.
From serene lake camping in Southern California to exciting vacation spots in the Shasta Cascade, the Golden State is brimming with excellent camping destinations. Since the state is scattered with a wide variety of options, choosing where to go camping can be the hardest part, so we’ve rounded up some of the best locales across the state to make your location scouting even easier. These are a few of our favorite places to head into the wilderness.
Big Bear is surrounded by SoCal’s San Bernardino National Forest and is best known as a ski destination thanks to its incredible ski resorts—but there is so much more to explore once the snowpack melts. Pine forests and sagebrush encircle the sparkling waters of Big Bear Lake, while the twinkle of novel outdoor adventures sparks curiosity. Hiking trails, mountain biking paths, boating ramps, and fishing spots stretch out in every direction, making this mountain hideaway the perfect place to spend a weekend.
Give RV camping by the lake a shot at Holloway’s Marina and RV Park. Or, go more remote with Holcomb Valley Campground and enjoy rock climbing, hiking, and picnicking (just remember to pack your own water supply). With plenty of campgrounds to choose from—including the Serrano campground nestled within walking distance of Big Bear Lake—you can pick a new excursion every time you visit.
Located east of Bakersfield, near Sequoia National Forest, Lake Isabella is home to one of the largest reservoirs in Southern California. Complete with 11,000-plus acres, this freshwater lake in Kern County is the ideal spot for fishing enthusiasts. From catfish and rainbow trout to largemouth and smallmouth bass, the two forks of Lake Isabella have a lot to offer.
Stay close to this high-desert reservoir at Camp 9—one of the many campgrounds nestled right on the water’s edge—to make the most of your getaway. After a rejuvenating weekend, visit Sequoia National Park to check a few items off your bucket list.
Tucked away in the Inyo National Forest of Mono County, June Lake is a family-friendly camping destination away from the beaten path. The subalpine lake resides southeast of Yosemite National Park—another great stop to add to your itinerary—and is part of the June Lake Loop, which encompasses four serene lakes. Camping at June Lake offers unique access to the eastern Sierra Nevada and the Ansel Adams Wilderness as well as opportunities for fishing, sailing, kayaking, biking, and swimming.
Camp at the June Lake Campground to enjoy close proximity to the lake, access to boat rentals, and eateries within walking distance. Make sure to use the campsite’s bear-proof lockers, and keep an eye out for the local wildlife—including mountain lions, mule deer, and an array of bird species.
Lake Nacimiento is an underrated locale in San Luis Obispo County. Settled near Paso Robles, this 5,000-acre lake combines the beauty of the coastal mountains with stunning river canyons and waterfalls. Unlike most lake camping spots, Lake Nacimiento comes complete with a seasonal eatery and a year-round general store, so you’ll always have access to the necessities while soaking in the untamed wilderness.
This lake is surrounded by campsites—more than 350 of them—making it a great place to run away to on any given weekend. Spend your days wandering around the massive lake, kayaking on the water, fishing for bluegill, or photographing your beautiful oasis.
Nestled in the Inyo National Forest, not too far from June Lake, Mammoth Lakes offers a tranquil escape into the mountains. Though it’s well-known as a winter wonderland, this getaway offers much more than you might think; covered with more than 800 campsites, the Mammoth Lakes area beckons to visitors season after season.
While Mammoth isn’t only a top wintertime destination, it’s safe to say the region wouldn’t be what it is today without the frozen glaciers that shaped the landscape. Mammoth Lakes aptly gets its name from the area’s plethora of pristine pools, which form the basin. The lower basin is comprised of five different lakes—Twin Lakes, Lake Mamie, Lake George, Lake Mary, and Horseshoe Lake—while the upper basin is made up of the Duck, Shelton, and Deer Lakes. Given the plentiful lakes and campgrounds, it’s hard to run out of new sights to see during the camping season.
Shasta Lake is situated north of Redding and is a coveted vacation spot, particularly during the summer months. With dozens of recreational opportunities to enjoy at the lake—such as water skiing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, and fishing—there are few better ways to fill your time than spending a week camping on the shores and a weekend on the water in a houseboat.
Home to over a dozen campgrounds, Shasta Lake is a must-visit, so block out your summer adventures, and leave plenty of time to explore this incredible locale. Go fishing in the morning, take a hike or horseback ride during the day, and relax by the shores in the evening to make the most of the sunlight hours in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
Since California has so many lake camping destinations, you’re sure to find the perfect one to quell your wanderlust for the time being. Look out for fields of wildflowers in the springtime, waterfalls after a rainy winter, and idyllic ski destinations in the winter—you’ll be amazed to find they all reside in the same regions of the Golden State.
If you’re looking for even more adventures, try camping by the lakes inside Lassen Volcanic National Park, visiting Lake Elsinore in Southern California, or making your way out to the coastline for some exquisite beach camping.
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