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This Magical California Road Trip Takes You To 12 Secret Lakes

Ready for an unforgettable adventure? 

Join us on a secret lakes road trip across California where we’ll take you to 12 of the most beautiful and lesser-known lakes in the state. 

Imagine crystal-clear waters, towering mountains and serene forests all waiting for you to explore. 

Whether you’re into fishing, hiking, kayaking or just relaxing by the water, these hidden gems offer something for everyone. 

So get ready to discover the best-kept secrets of California’s natural beauty!

1. Sky Blue Lake

Sky Blue Lake is a breathtaking hidden gem in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. 

Located in Sequoia National Park, this lake is a bit of a secret paradise for hikers or anyone who loves nature. 

The crystal-clear water reflects the stunning surrounding peaks which makes it a perfect spot for taking photos. 

Getting there does require a challenging hike but the views and tranquility are worth every step. 

At Sky Blue Lake, you can expect serene, untouched nature with wildflowers and possibly even some wildlife sightings. 

It’s a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle and enjoy the pure beauty of California’s wilderness.

2. Second Lake

Second Lake is a stunning alpine lake located in the Eastern Sierra region of California, near Big Pine. 

Part of the Big Pine Lakes chain, it’s known for its mesmerizing turquoise water which gets its color from the glacial melt. 

To reach Second Lake, you’ll need to hike along a scenic trail that offers incredible views of the surrounding mountains and forests. 

Jim Morefield / Flickr

This lake is a favorite spot for camping and fishing as it provides a peaceful escape from busy city life. 

Expect to be wowed by the clear, colorful water and the dramatic mountain backdrop. 

3. Shaver Lake

Shaver Lake is a hidden treasure in the Sierra National Forest, located about an hour northeast of Fresno. 

This picturesque lake was created in 1927 and is surrounded by tall pine trees, making it a perfect spot for a peaceful getaway. 

Shaver Lake is great for water activities like boating, fishing, water skiing and swimming, with clear waters that invite you to dive in. 

There’s also a quaint little town nearby with cozy cabins and local restaurants to explore. 

It’s an ideal spot for families and anyone who loves the great outdoors.

4. Lake Mary

Lake Mary is a beautiful and lesser-known freshwater lake located near the town of Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra region of California. 

Located at an elevation of 8,900 feet, this serene lake is surrounded by majestic mountains and lush forests. 

Lake Mary is perfect for fishing, with rainbow trout being a popular catch, and it’s also great for kayaking and paddleboarding. 

There are several hiking trails around the lake which offer stunning views and the chance to see local wildlife. 

The peaceful atmosphere makes it the perfect place for picnicking and relaxing by the water. 

5. Lundy Lake

Lundy Lake is a hidden gem tucked away in the Eastern Sierra, just northwest of Lee Vining. 

This peaceful lake was once a bustling mining area in the late 1800s and you can still see some old mining ruins nearby. 

Surrounded by rugged snow capped mountains and colorful aspen trees, Lundy Lake is perfect for fishing, especially for rainbow and brown trout. 

The easy hiking trails around the lake offer beautiful views and the chance to spot wildlife like deer and birds. 

In the fall, the changing leaves create a stunning display of vibrant colors.

6. Pinecrest Lake 

Pinecrest Lake is a beautiful and lesser-known gem located in the Stanislaus National Forest, about 30 miles northeast of Sonora. 

This charming lake is perfect for swimming, boating and fishing, with plenty of rainbow trout waiting to be caught. 

Pinecrest Lake also has a scenic 4-mile trail that circles the water, offering easy hiking with fantastic views. 

Additionally, the nearby Pinecrest Campground provides a great spot for camping under the stars. 

In the summer, you can even catch a movie at the outdoor amphitheater!

7. Tamarack Lake

Tamarack Lake is a hidden beauty tucked away near South Lake Tahoe in Northern California. 

This tranquil lake is surrounded by lush meadows and tall pines, creating the perfect spot for a peaceful retreat. 

To reach Tamarack Lake, you’ll need to hike along a scenic trail, which often features stunning wildflowers in the spring and summer as well as epic views of Lake Tahoe in the distance. 

The lake is perfect for a quiet picnic or simply relaxing by the water and listening to the sounds of nature. 

Tamarack Lake’s clear waters reflect the surrounding landscape, making it a great spot for photography. 

This serene and secluded lake is a true escape for those looking to connect with nature.

8. Independence Lake

Independence Lake is a pristine and lesser-known lake located in the Tahoe National Forest, about 20 miles northwest of Truckee. 

This beautiful lake is surrounded by lush forests and snow-capped peaks, making it one of California’s most breathtaking locations.

Independence Lake is special because it is actually one of the last homes for the native Lahontan cutthroat trout. 

You can enjoy kayaking, fishing and hiking around the lake, with no motorized boats allowed to keep the environment peaceful and clean. 

The lake’s crystal-clear waters and serene atmosphere offer a perfect escape from busy life. 

It’s an ideal destination for a quiet and refreshing day in the great outdoors.

9. Gold Lake

Gold Lake is a hidden gem located in the Lakes Basin Recreation Area in Northern California, not far from the town of Graeagle. 

This sparkling lake is surrounded by towering pine trees and rugged mountains, creating a picture-perfect setting. 

Gold Lake is great for fishing, with rainbow trout being a popular catch, and there are also plenty of spots for kayaking and paddleboarding. 

You can even camp right by the water at one of the many lakeside campsites to enjoy the starry night sky. 

The area offers several hiking trails with breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding wilderness. 

10. Lake Britton

Lake Britton is a scenic and lesser-known lake located in Shasta County, near Burney Falls. 

This beautiful lake is surrounded by dense forests and offers plenty of activities like boating, fishing and swimming. 

One interesting fact is that parts of the movie “Stand By Me” were actually filmed on the railroad bridge over Lake Britton. 

kennejima / Flickr

The lake is also close to the stunning Burney Falls, a must-see natural wonder. 

Whether you’re paddling on the lake or exploring nearby trails, this spot offers a peaceful escape into nature.

11. Castle Lake

Castle Lake is a stunning lake located in the Trinity Mountains near Mount Shasta in Northern California. 

Surrounded by dramatic rocky cliffs and lush forests, this glacial lake offers breathtaking views and a peaceful atmosphere. 

The lake was actually formed by glaciers which gives it crystal-clear water that’s perfect for swimming, fishing and kayaking. 

There are several hiking trails around Castle Lake that provide panoramic vistas and the chance to explore the beautiful landscape.

In the winter, the area is also popular for snowshoeing and ice fishing.

12. Trinity Lake

Trinity Lake is a beautiful and lesser-known spot located in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest in Northern California. 

This large, sparkling lake is perfect for boating, fishing and swimming, with plenty of quiet coves to explore. 

Trinity Lake is surrounded by dense forests and mountain peaks meaning it offers stunning scenery and peaceful vibes. 

Interestingly, the lake was actually created by the Trinity Dam and is one of the largest reservoirs in the whole of California. 

The area also features numerous campgrounds and hiking trails so it’s an ideal spot for a weekend getaway. 

Whether you’re paddling on the lake or hiking through the forest, Trinity Lake offers a refreshing escape into nature.

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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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