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8 California Lakes Too Beautiful To Ignore 🤯

“Oh my god!”

That’s what you’ll be saying when you see these lakes.

These are some of the most beautiful lakes in California that locals love, but tourists don’t know about…yet.

We’re not saying these are the ONLY beautiful lakes in California, but these are definitely some of the best.

And I guarantee there’s at least one lake here that you’ve never heard of.

Have YOU been to any of these lakes?

1. Manzanita Lake

Manzanita Lake is a family-friendly spot with easy hikes and stunning views of Lassen Peak.

Located at the northwest entrance of Lassen Volcanic National Park, Manzanita Lake is a hub for visitors seeking scenic beauty and outdoor activities. 

Lassen Volcanic is actually one of the least visited national parks in California, so you won’t be battling crowds like you would at Yosemite.

manzanita lake lassen volcanic park

The lake is well-loved for its easy access and stunning views of Lassen Peak.

It’s especially a favorite among photographers for the dramatic shots of the peak reflected in the lake’s crystal clear waters.

Activities at Manzanita Lake are plentiful too.

You can enjoy swimming, kayaking (with rentals available), and walking the 1.6-mile trail that loops around the lake. 

This trail is particularly suitable for families, offering easy exploration and engagement with nature. 

The area also provides a range of amenities, including a large campground, cabin rentals, and a camp store, ensuring comfort during your stay.

manzanita lake lassen volcanic vertical

For those interested in the area’s history and natural beauty, the nearby Loomis Museum houses photographs of Lassen Peak’s 1914 eruption and displays of Native American baskets. 

Educational ranger-led programs are also offered, providing insights into the park’s geology and ecology.

The climate around Manzanita Lake features warm summers and cool winters, with most precipitation falling in the winter months. 

This climate ensures that the lake area offers different experiences throughout the year, from snowy winter landscapes to lush summer views.

manzanita lake lassen volcanic sunset

With 179 campsite options, flush toilets, showers, and even a coin-operated laundry, the Manzanita Lake campground caters to all basic needs. 

If camping isn’t your style, there are cabins and bunkhouses available for a more comfortable stay.

More information:

2. Barney Lake

Nestled in the Hoover Wilderness, Barney Lake is a hiker’s delight with its sandy beaches and stunning mountain views.

Barney Lake sits quietly in the Hoover Wilderness, offering a tranquil escape for those willing to hike the 4 miles from the Twin Lakes trailhead. 

barney lake california 1

The path to Barney Lake winds through aspen forests, providing breathtaking views of the Sawtooth Range and Matterhorn Peak. 

The lake itself features a sandy beach on its northeastern side, perfect for a rest or picnic while soaking in the scenic beauty of snow-capped peaks.

Camping near Barney Lake requires a bit of extra effort, as sites must be at least ¼ mile from the lake, usually found among the trees beyond the head of the lake. 

This location makes Barney Lake an excellent base camp for day hikes or a stopover for adventures into eastern Yosemite National Park. 

For those interested in fishing, Barney Lake is home to brook trout, while the nearby Twin Lakes boast trophy-size rainbows and browns.

The best time to visit Barney Lake is from early to mid-summer through fall, with fall being particularly pleasant due to the absence of mosquitoes and less day-hiker traffic. 

It’s important to note that bears frequent the area, and bear canisters are required for overnight stays. 🐻

If you like it particularly quiet, consider visiting during the week or in the shoulder seasons when fewer hikers are on the trail. 

Remember to bring bug repellent in the spring and early summer to fend off the mosquitoes which can be annoying.

More information:

3. Twin Lakes (near Bridgeport)

A scenic marvel, nestled within the Californian Alps.

Twin Lakes, located just 10 miles from Bridgeport in Mono County, are large, breathtakingly beautiful bodies of water set against the backdrop of the Eastern Sierra.

This place is often referred to as the “Californian Alps” due to its rugged beauty. 

twin lakes bridgeport california

These lakes, Upper and Lower Twin, cover nearly 650 acres combined, offering not just legendary fishing but also a host of recreational activities.

You can enjoy things like boating, camping, and cabin rentals, all within a landscape dominated by the majestic Sawtooth Ridge and Sierra Crest​​.

The area is renowned for its outdoor activities, with opportunities for both relaxation and adventure. 

Visitors can enjoy pristine fishing conditions, boating, and hiking, with amenities such as picnic tables, food storage lockers, and fire rings to enhance the camping experience. 

lower twin lake near bridgeport california

Flush toilets, drinking water, and trash collection facilities ensure a comfortable stay, with firewood available for those chilly evenings by the campfire​​.

The Twin Lakes area serves as a gateway to the rugged and scenic Hoover Wilderness, offering additional trails for hiking and horseback riding. 

For those interested in exploring further, the vicinity offers more than just lakeside relaxation. 

twin lakes near bridgeport view from summer meadows trail
View of Twin Lakes from Summer Meadows Trail

The Horse Creek Trail, for instance, presents a four-mile hike that showcases the beauty of the Twin Lakes area, including the popular Horsetail Falls.

You’ll also see beautiful aspen groves that change colors in the fall, and vast patches of Indian paintbrush and yarrow flowers in spring and summer​​.

More information:

4. Saddlebag Lake

Perched high in the Sierra, Saddlebag Lake offers unmatched alpine beauty.

Saddlebag Lake, elevated over 10,080 feet, presents a unique high-altitude experience within the Eastern Sierra, near the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite National Park

Saddlebag Lake in the 20 Lakes Basin in California's Sierra Nevada mountains

Despite its seemingly barren landscape, the lake is a center for exceptional fishing, hiking, and the gateway to the renowned 20 Lakes Basin.

Created in 1919, Saddlebag is the highest drive-to lake in California.

It provides a shorter season for outdoor activities because of its elevation, but each visit is memorable with world-class fishing waters and trails​​.

The lake trail offers a loop around Saddlebag for fishing enthusiasts and hikers.

You can even get a water taxi from Saddlebag Lake Resort to the lake’s far end, enhancing access to the broader 20 Lakes Basin. 

Note: Some years the lake has been particularly low with water so check for the most up-to-date information before you plan to travel.

Trail alongside Saddlebag Lake in the Eastern Sierra

This area is popular for backpackers, who must venture beyond Saddlebag Lake to find suitable overnight spots, as camping is restricted to designated campgrounds near the resort​​.

For those interested in fishing, Saddlebag Lake and its surrounding waters are teeming with trout varieties.

They include Brown, Rainbow, and Brook Trout in the lake itself, and Golden Trout in nearby Conness Lake.

Streams in the area also offer great spots for catching Brook and Rainbow Trout​​.

Trail looking towards Saddlebag Lake, Mount Conness in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California in the summer

The area imposes specific restrictions to preserve its natural beauty, including no campfires in the 20 Lakes Basin or Hall Natural Area and bear-proof food storage requirements. 

These measures ensure that the delicate ecosystem remains undisturbed, providing a safe habitat for wildlife and a pristine environment for visitors​​.

More info:

5. Tioga Lake

A serene escape near Yosemite, perfect for anglers and nature lovers.

Tioga Lake sits just outside Yosemite National Park, perched at an elevation of 9,700 feet, offering a peaceful retreat with stunning vistas. 

tioga lake california

This lake is perfect for those looking to fish, as it’s regularly stocked with rainbow trout, some weighing up to 5 lbs.

The lake features 13 campsites that provide lake views and basic amenities, including potable water and vault toilets, for $26 per night. 

It’s important to remember that this area is bear country, so proper food storage is a must.

Tioga Lake Yosemite National Park California USA

Accessing Tioga Lake is straightforward from Lee Vining; just take CA-120 west off US 395, but keep in mind that the road closes in winter. 

The lake is a starting point for several hikes, including the scenic Glacier Canyon trail and the Tioga Tarns Nature Walk, offering insights into the region’s natural history.

While Tioga Lake does attract visitors, its seclusion means it rarely feels crowded, making it an ideal spot for those seeking tranquility. 

Tioga Lake in Yosemite National Park, California

For detailed information on visiting, the Inyo National Forest website or their contact center can provide the latest updates and tips for a memorable visit​​​​.

More Information:

6. Parker Lake

A tranquil gem amidst the Sierra, ideal for fishing and scenic hikes.

Parker Lake offers a serene setting for nature enthusiasts, located in the Eastern Sierra below towering peaks. 

parker lake california

The hike to Parker Lake is a rewarding journey, covering a distance of about 3.8 miles round-trip. 

This trail gains 645 feet in elevation, starting with a steep climb that soon rewards hikers with easier terrain through a picturesque aspen forest alongside Parker Creek​​​​.

This alpine lake is known for its stunning blue waters and is a lovely spot for anglers, with opportunities to catch Brook and Brown Trout in a less frequented spot. 

The trail’s end reveals the breathtaking beauty of Parker Lake, set against a backdrop of high Sierra peaks, with a loop around the lake for those wishing to explore further. 

parker lake california 2

The area around Parker Lake also boasts views of Mono Lake, adding to the scenic variety of the hike​​​​​​.

Seasonally accessible, the Parker Lake trail is most visited from spring through fall, with the June Lake Loop’s closure in winter months limiting access. 

Minimal amenities are available at the trailhead, emphasizing the area’s natural, undeveloped character​​​​.

parker lake california 3

More Information:

7. June Lake

A tranquil retreat amidst towering peaks, perfect for outdoor enthusiasts and families.

June Lake, cradled in the Eastern Sierra’s vast beauty, stands as a gem among California’s mountain lakes.

It offers a serene and picturesque setting for nature lovers and adventure seekers.

june lake california 4

At an elevation of 7,600 feet, it boasts clear, refreshing waters surrounded by the towering peaks of the Sierra Nevada, creating a perfect backdrop for a variety of outdoor activities.

Fishing enthusiasts find June Lake particularly appealing, as its waters are rich with trout, promising both a peaceful pastime and the thrill of the catch. 

The lake’s accessibility invites kayakers and swimmers to enjoy its cool, inviting waters during the warmer months, making it a favored spot for families looking to create lasting memories.

june lake california 2

The area around June Lake, including the famed June Lake Loop, gives you the opportunity to make use of scenic trails perfect for hiking and biking. 

Each path offers unique vistas and opportunities to explore the natural splendor of the Sierra, from lush meadows in spring to vibrant foliage in the fall.

Winter at June Lake transforms the landscape into a snowy paradise, ideal for skiing and snowboarding at the nearby June Mountain Ski Area, where families are particularly welcomed with offers like free access for children under 12. 

The colder months also open up unique experiences such as snowmobiling and snowshoeing, providing different perspectives of the lake’s enduring beauty.

june lake california 3

The community around June Lake preserves its rustic charm and history, dating back to its 1920s discovery by Hollywood.

Today, it balances this heritage with a warm hospitality that welcomes visitors to cozy lodges, local eateries, and community events that reflect the area’s rich culture and love for the outdoors.

More Information:

8. Thousand Island Lake

A backpacker’s paradise, Thousand Island Lake offers stunning scenery and a variety of trails.

Located within the Ansel Adams Wilderness in the Sierra Nevada, Thousand Island Lake is a breathtaking destination named for its numerous small rocky islands. 

thousand islands lake (1)

This alpine lake sits at an elevation of 9,833 feet and is surrounded by the majestic Ritter Range, with Banner Peak as its notable backdrop. 

It’s the starting point of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, presenting a glacial tarn landscape formed by retreating glaciers.

The lake can be accessed via multiple hiking routes, including the High Trail or River Trail from Agnew Meadows, the John Muir Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Sierra High Route. 

The journey to Thousand Island Lake offers diverse experiences, from walking through thigh-deep river crossings to navigating shaded pine forests and exposed sunlit paths. 

thoousand island lake banner peak california

The final approach to the lake unveils expansive views of Banner Peak reflected in the crystal-clear waters.

There are numerous spots along the shore for camping, although restrictions apply to protect this pristine environment.

Backpackers should prepare for a challenging yet rewarding trek, with the lake’s beauty well worth the effort. 

thousand island lake california

The area is popular among backpackers, and it’s no surprise why when you see how serene this place is.

For those seeking a multi-day backpacking adventure amidst some of the most spectacular scenery the Eastern Sierra has to offer, Thousand Island Lake is highly recommended. 

Remember to check permit requirements and prepare adequately for backcountry travel, including food storage and camping regulations to protect the wilderness and wildlife​​​​​​.

More information:

Now you know some of the most beautiful lakes in all of California, but what if you want to go camping by a lake?

You’re going to want to read this…

Related Reading: The BEST Lakeside Camping in California

Sophie Davis

Born and raised in the Bay area of California, Sophie is a California native. She joined our team in 2023 to create travel guides on California.

Learn more about the Traveller's Elixir Team.

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