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14 Best Places For LAKESIDE CAMPING In California πŸ•

Are you ready?

City lights and the sound of traffic are OUT ❌

Starry nights and gorgeous lake views are IN βœ…

Welcome to our ultimate guide to lakeside camping in California!

From iconic places like Lake Tahoe, to the undiscovered lakes that you might not have heard of, we’re diving into the top spots where the trees are your front porch, and the lakes of California are your backyard.

And we’ve got you covered no matter WHAT kind of camper you are.

Watersports, families, or those who like to fish…

Everyone is catered to on this list.

So grab your sunscreen, pack your camping gear, and let’s hit the road – unforgettable lake views await!

Make sure you stick around to the end where we outline the top picks for different categories!

🚨Campground facilities and regulations can change over time and closures can be enforced due to weather patterns like storms. Always check with the relevant organization for the most up-to-date information before you plan a trip.

1. Whiskeytown Lake, Shasta County

Whiskeytown Lake is a great spot for camping by the water in California. 

whiskeytown lake

It’s located near Redding, in the northern part of the state. 

The lake is part of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, which means there’s plenty to do, including swimming, kayaking, and fishing. 

Campers can choose from different places to stay, like the Oak Bottom Campground that’s open all year and offers sites for both RVs and tents.

Facilities at the campground include picnic tables, fire grates, bear-proof storage lockers, and flush toilets.

Pets are allowed at the campsite for an additional fee, and the site has specific rules for storing food to prevent attracting bears.

This area is really good for families or anyone who likes water sports.

More information:

2. Lake Almanor, Plumas County

Lake Almanor is another top choice for camping next to a lake in California. 

lake almanor

It’s up in the mountains of Northern California, halfway between Shasta Lake and Lake Tahoe. 

The water gets warm in the summer, making it perfect for swimming. 

There are a lot of campsites around the lake, like the North Shore Campground, which is very clean and close to the water.Β 

The North Shore Campground, as mentioned, offers a variety of camping options, including tent sites, RV sites, and cabin rentals, making it a versatile destination for all types of campers.

Additionally, it’s close to Lassen Volcanic National Park, offering further outdoor activities like hiking.

The campground’s cleanliness and proximity to the water add to its appeal for families or outdoor enthusiasts.

More information:

3. Gold Lake, Plumas County

Gold Lake is a hidden gem in California’s Sierra Mountains, perfect for those looking to get away from the crowd.

 The camping here is basic but beautiful, with options for both tent and RV campers. 

You can enjoy boating, fishing, and hiking in the area, exploring the scenic trails and clear waters of Gold Lake and its neighbors.

The campground accommodates RV and tent camping, providing standard non-electric sites equipped with a fire ring and picnic table.

Despite its rustic nature, lacking potable water, the campground’s layout and proximity to the lake attract many visitors.

For those interested in the surrounding natural beauty and recreational opportunities, the Lakes Basin Recreation Area does not disappoint.

It’s characterized by breathtaking mountain scenery, with over 20 natural glacial lakes accessible by well-maintained hiking trails.

Gold Lake itself, a glacially carved alpine lake, offers boating and fishing with a backdrop of the craggy peaks of the Sierra Buttes.

More information:

4. Donner Lake, Nevada County

Donner Lake carries a mix of beauty and history, sitting in the Sierra Nevada range near the town of Truckee. 

donner lake

It’s famous for the Donner Party, pioneers who spent a harsh winter near the lake.Β 

The area offers a peaceful setting for camping with facilities suitable for both tent and RV campers.

Donner Memorial State Park offers camping, picnicking, kayaking, paddle sports, fishing, and hiking during summer.

In winter, activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular.

The park features a visitor center with exhibits on the Emigrant Experience, the Donner Party, and more, making it a comprehensive destination for learning about local history and enjoying outdoor recreation.

Dogs are allowed in certain areas of the park, provided they remain on a leash.

The park is accessible year-round, with varying activities depending on the season.

More information:

Related Reading: Why Visit Truckee?

5. Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America, straddling the border of California and Nevada. 

Lake Tahoe

It’s a year-round vacation spot known for its clear blue waters and stunning mountain backdrop. 

You can find numerous campgrounds around the lake, offering a range of services from basic tent sites to full RV hookups. 

Activities include boating, swimming, hiking, and visiting the nearby ski resorts and beaches. 

Lake Tahoe is also home to several state parks and recreational areas, making it a versatile destination for outdoor enthusiasts.

Lake Tahoe’s campgrounds offer a range of amenities and experiences.

Camp Richardson, for example, is a historic resort offering beachside lodging, boat tours, and winter sports rentals.

Emerald Bay State Park includes the Boat-In Camp and Eagle Point Campground, offering access to the iconic Vikingsholm Castle and beautiful hiking trails.

Tahoe State Recreation Area provides lakeside and hillside camping with facilities suitable for tents and small RVs, though it’s best known for tent camping due to its urban location and lack of hook-ups or dump stations.

More information:

Related Reading: Jaw-Dropping Lake Tahoe Views You CANNOT Afford To Miss

6. Folsom Lake, Sierra-Nevada foothills near Sacramento

Folsom Lake is a great spot near Sacramento, making it easy to reach for a quick getaway. 

folsom lake california

It’s in the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, which has a lot of space for camping, including sites for both tents and RVs.Β 

Folsom Lake itself is popular for water activities including boating, water skiing, and fishing, with trout, catfish, largemouth and smallmouth bass available.

The park’s extensive trail network supports biking, hiking, and horseback riding, catering to outdoor enthusiasts of all levels.

The Beals Point and Peninsula Campgrounds are among the most popular, with Beals Point offering year-round camping and some sites with full hook-ups for RVs.

More information:

7. Lake Alpine, Alpine County

Lake Alpine is a beautiful spot up in the Sierra Nevada, not too far from Bear Valley. 

It’s quieter than some of the bigger lakes, giving campers a peaceful place to relax. 

The camping here is perfect for those who like tent camping, but there are spots for RVs too. 

The lake is great for fishing and kayaking, and there are lots of trails for hiking and mountain biking around the area.

Lake Alpine, situated at about 7,400 feet elevation, enjoys mild summer temperatures, adding to the comfort of camping, fishing, and boating activities.

Boats are limited to 10 MPH, ensuring a tranquil environment.

The area is rich in natural beauty, surrounded by the Stanislaus National Forest, and offers a variety of recreational activities throughout the year.

Campgrounds such as the Lake Alpine West Shore and Silver Valley offer a range of camping experiences, from sites with basic amenities to more developed ones, catering to different preferences.

They are typically open from mid-June until mid-October, providing a substantial window for visitors to enjoy the area.

More information:

8. Mammoth Lakes, Mono County

Mammoth Lakes is a dream spot for outdoor lovers, nestled in the Eastern Sierra. 

twin lakes mammoth lakes

It’s famous for its skiing in the winter, but when the snow melts, it becomes a camping paradise.Β 

The area is full of lakes and streams for fishing, trails for hiking and biking, and even hot springs to relax in after a long day of adventure.

There are over 800 campsites in the Mammoth Lakes area, catering to every type of camper, from those seeking basic tent sites to those requiring full RV hookups.

The diversity of camping options ensures that whether you’re looking to stay close to town amenities or immerse yourself in the wilderness, there’s a spot for you.

Campgrounds such as Coldwater, Lake Mary, Twin Lakes, and Lake George in the Mammoth Lakes Basin provide easy access to hiking trails and stunning alpine lakes.

For those wanting the convenience of town amenities along with their camping experience, the New Shady Rest and Old Shady Rest campgrounds, as well as the Mammoth Mountain RV Park, are ideal choices.

Reds Meadow offers a more secluded camping experience near hiking trails and natural attractions like Devils Postpile and Rainbow Falls.

The area is abundant with lakes and streams perfect for fishing, alongside trails for hiking and biking that cater to all skill levels.

For a unique way to unwind after a day of adventure, the hot springs in the area offer a relaxing retreat.

Campground availability and specific amenities can vary, so planning ahead and making reservations is recommended, especially during peak seasons

More information:

9. Bass Lake, Madera County

Bass Lake is a fun and family-friendly camping destination in the Sierra National Forest.

It’s a bit south of Yosemite National Park, making it a good spot to stay if you’re looking to visit the park too. 

The lake itself is perfect for swimming, boating, and water sports, and there are plenty of fish for anglers.Β 

Anglers can look forward to catching trout, catfish, and bass among others.

Campgrounds around Bass Lake provide a range of amenities to cater to various camping preferences, from basic tent sites to full-service RV spots.

For example, Lupine Campground, positioned on the west shore of Bass Lake, features over 50 campsites within a mature Ponderosa pine forest, accommodating both tents and RVs, with several sites specifically reserved for tent camping.

This campground, like others around Bass Lake, offers proximity to the lake for easy access to boating, waterskiing, and fishing activities, with day-use areas nearby.

For those interested in boat rentals, Miller’s Landing on the South Shore of Bass Lake offers a wide selection of watercraft, from pontoon boats to jet skis, making it easy to get out onto the lake.

More information:

10. Coyote Lake, Santa Clara County

Coyote Lake, in Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park, is a great spot for camping in Northern California.

Coyote Lake Harvey Bear Ranch County Park

It’s a great choice for those seeking an active retreat in nature, not far from the Bay Area.

The park, which spans nearly 7,000 acres, features a 450-acre lake that’s popular for both fishing and boating.

With a “world-class” population of black bass, as well as bluegill, crappie, and Eurasian carp, it’s a prime spot for anglers.

However, swimming in the lake is not permitted to maintain its cleanliness and tranquility.

The park is also a hotspot for outdoor activities beyond the lake, making it especially good for families who like to stay active.

It boasts miles of trails suitable for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, allowing visitors to explore the natural beauty of the area.

Wildlife sightings, including deer, turkeys, and a variety of birds, add to the appeal of these outdoor pursuits.

For those looking to stay overnight, the Lakeview Campground within the park has 73 sites available for both RVs and tents.

Eighteen of these sites offer water and electric hook-ups, catering to different camping preferences.

The campsites are set among oaks in open grassy areas beside the lake, though it’s noted that the sites lack privacy.

For watercraft users, it’s important to note that there are entry and launch reservation fees, along with inspection fees.

Additionally, the lake is closed to all boating from mid-October to mid-April each year.

More information:

11. Lake Nacimiento, San Luis Obispo County

Lake Nacimiento is located in San Luis Obispo County and is a fantastic choice for water lovers. 

It’s known for its unique “Dragon Lake” shape, offering over 250 miles of shoreline. 

The lake is a hotspot for water skiing, wakeboarding, swimming, and fishing, with a reputation for great bass and catfish catches.Β 

The camping options around Lake Nacimiento cater to a wide range of preferences, from basic tent sites to fully-equipped RV spots, along with rental cabins and cottages for those seeking more comfort.

This variety ensures that all types of campers can find suitable accommodations.

Specifically, the Lake Nacimiento Resort offers seven unique campgrounds, each providing different experiences, whether you’re looking to “rough it” or enjoy a more comfortable stay in an RV or rental cabin.

Activities at the lake are not limited to just water sports though.

Guests can also enjoy hiking, wildlife viewing, and exploring the surrounding oak and pine forests.

The resort itself is positioned as a family-friendly destination, offering various amenities and activities to keep everyone entertained.

More information:

12. Isabella Lake, Kern County

Isabella Lake is one of the largest reservoirs in Southern California, nestled in the Kern River Valley.

isabella lake

It’s a popular destination for both adventure and relaxation, offering activities like fishing, boating, windsurfing, and kiteboarding. 

With its stunning mountain backdrop and wide range of activities, Isabella Lake is perfect for a nature-filled getaway.

The lake is recognized for its strong and reliable afternoon winds, which create ideal conditions for windsurfing and kiteboarding.

This applies especially in the area around Old Isabella near the Auxiliary Dam.

These conditions make it one of the state’s most popular windsurfing areas.

For fishing enthusiasts, the lake offers opportunities to catch trout and bass, and its extensive shoreline supports a variety of water sports.

Camping facilities at Lake Isabella cater to all styles, from primitive tent sites to RV parks with full amenities.

So whether you’re looking for a basic or more comfortable camping experience, you’ll find suitable options.

Some of the campgrounds around the lake include:

  • Auxiliary Dam Campground
  • Boulder Gulch Campground
  • Paradise Cove Campground

More information:

13. Big Bear Lake, San Bernardino County

Big Bear Lake is a favorite all-season destination in the San Bernardino National Forest. 

Big Bear Solar Observatory at Big Bear Lake San Bernardino County, CA

During the summer, the lake becomes a vibrant hub for boating, fishing, and various water sports, making it an ideal destination for those looking to enjoy the outdoors.

The surrounding area complements these activities with opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and even zip-lining, providing a comprehensive outdoor recreation experience.

The town of Big Bear Lake adds to the appeal with its charming shops, restaurants, and family-friendly attractions.Β 

For those looking to stay overnight or longer, the area around Big Bear Lake offers diverse camping and RV park options, ranging from basic to luxurious facilities.

Many of these accommodations boast direct lake access or views, allowing guests to fully immerse themselves in the natural beauty of the region.

For example, the Serrano Family Campground, located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake, provides amenities like RV hookups, fire rings, picnic tables, showers, and restrooms.

It’s a popular spot for activities such as hiking, mountain biking, boating, and fishing, offering a comfortable stay amidst nature.

If you want a rustic experience, options like Yellow Post Sites offer remote, off-the-beaten-path camping at no fee, although accessibility might require a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Meanwhile, RV parks like Holloway’s Marina & RV Park provide full hookups and amenities, making them ideal for those preferring a more comfortable camping experience.

If you want to get out onto the water then know that Big Bear Lake’s marinas open from spring to late autumn.

They offer rental services for a variety of watercraft, from pontoon boats and kayaks to jet skis and stand-up paddleboards.

These services mean that visitors can enjoy the lake’s clear waters in whatever way they want, whether it’s a leisurely kayak trip or an adrenaline-fueled jet ski ride.

Whether you’re looking for a rustic retreat or a comfortable base to explore the area, Big Bear Lake has something for everyone.

More information:

14. Lake Jennings, San Diego County

Lake Jennings is a hidden gem in San Diego County, offering a serene escape for campers and anglers.

The lake is well-stocked with fish, making it a popular spot for fishing enthusiasts. 

The Bait and Tackle Shop, open on weekends, offers bait, tackle, camping supplies, and snacks.

Besides fishing, visitors can enjoy hiking around the lake on several trails, wildlife viewing, and boating. 

With its scenic views and quiet atmosphere, it’s also perfect for those looking to relax and enjoy nature.Β 

It’s a great spot for a family weekend or a peaceful retreat away from the city’s hustle and bustle.

The campground at Lake Jennings provides a wide range of facilities suitable for both RV and tent camping.

It includes sites with full hookups (water, electricity, and sewer), partial hookups (electricity and water), and non-hookup tent sites.

It also features amenities like clean restrooms, hot showers, a large pavilion for gatherings, a covered playground for children, and outdoor lounge areas.

For entertainment, visitors can engage in activities like ladder golf, horseshoe, ping pong, and more, with free Wi-Fi available throughout the campground.

The campground’s setting allows visitors to enjoy panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding mountain area, enhancing the camping experience.

More Information:


Now as promised, here are the top picks for some different categories.

Do you agree?

Top Picks

Best for Water Sports πŸ„πŸ»β€β™‚οΈ

  • Lake Tahoe – Its vastness and clarity make it unbeatable for all types of water sports.
  • Lake Nacimiento – Known for its “Dragon Lake” shape, provides an extensive shoreline for water activities.
  • Big Bear Lake – Offers a variety of water sports with the convenience of rental facilities right on the lake.

Best for Family Camping πŸ‘¨β€πŸ‘©β€πŸ‘§β€πŸ‘¦

  • Bass Lake – Close to Yosemite, offering a blend of recreational activities and family-friendly campgrounds.
  • Big Bear Lake – The nearby town’s amenities, along with a variety of camping options, make it ideal for families.
  • Lake Jennings – With well-equipped campgrounds and a focus on fishing and nature activities, it’s great for a family getaway.

Best for Fishing 🐟

  • Isabella Lake – Its large size and stock make it a top destination for anglers.
  • Lake Jennings – Praised for its fish stock and tranquil fishing spots.
  • Big Bear Lake – Offers rewarding fishing experiences with the backdrop of the San Bernardino National Forest.

Best for Quiet and Seclusion 🏞

  • Gold Lake – Its remote location in the Sierra Mountains offers peace and tranquility.
  • Lake Alpine – Less crowded, providing a serene setting perfect for a quiet retreat.
  • Coyote Lake – Offers secluded camping experiences, especially for those who enjoy staying active in nature.

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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