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  • Writer's pictureDerek Edwards

Experiencing the 3 Best Lakes in Southern California

Looking for an epic Southern California road trip experience? Check out our list of the three best lakes to visit in the area! From amazing boating and kayaking opportunities to pristine surroundings, these lakes will give travelers a unique and wonderful experience. Located only four hours from Las Vegas, these are great weekend getaway destinations.

Pristine white and sandy beaches are a major draw to the area, but these Southern California lakes will have you ready for adventure. With little waves and gorgeous, clear waters, these lakes are perfect for recreational boaters (both paddle boats and those with boat motors), kayakers, fishermen, and even divers. So pack your bags and get ready for some fun in the sun at these spectacular destinations!

Lake Elsinore

This beautiful lake is a great spot for boating and kayaking, with plenty of opportunities to explore the surroundings. The clear waters make it easy to spot fish and other aquatic life, making it a perfect destination for nature lovers. There are also plenty of picnic areas around the lake, so visitors can enjoy a meal outdoors while taking in the surroundings.

Lake Elsinore is California's fourth-largest lake, with a surface area of 3,000 acres. It's the largest freshwater lake in Southern California, and boaters, kayakers, and wakeboarders alike are likely to fall in love with it. The lake is also known for its excellent fishing and white-water kayaking, as well as scuba diving, sailing, water skiing, and windsurfing. As one of Southern California's most epic natural lakes, nonstop adventure awaits.

The background of Lake Elsinore is a major draw, as well. Views include the Ortega Mountains and Cleveland National Forest, making it an ideal place for visitors to camp and extend their visit just a little longer. Campers can backcountry camp, stay in a campsite, or bring their RV along to make the most of their trip. Whether you're solo camping or bringing the whole family along, Lake Elsinore has a little something for everyone.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear is one of the most popular lakes in Southern California for both visitors and locals. The lake is an optimal area to kayak, paddle board, sailboat, and windsurf. It's also a hotspot for fishing with bass, catfish, bluegill, trout, and crappie all swimming in its waters. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking and mountain biking in the area, as well. If you're looking to escape the city life for a weekend or just want to get out on the lake, Big Bear is your go-to spot.

Summer isn't the only season to visit this lake. With its snow-capped mountains in the backdrop, Big Bear makes for a perfect winter wonderland getaway. Every season has its own adventures in Big Bear Lake. The area is a snow-covered paradise in the winter, a peaceful haven in the spring, and a water activity destination in the summer. Another big draw to this Southern California gem are its amazing views of the San Bernardino National Forest—one of California's top lake camping spots.

Lake Perris

Lake Perris is one of the largest lakes in Southern California and provides ample room for boating, fishing, swimming, and kayaking. The lake was created by damming the San Jacinto River and offers a wide variety of recreation opportunities that are perfect for visitors of all ages. Surrounded by rocky cliffs and rolling hills covered with oaks and sycamores, Lake Perris is picturesque and provides a great backdrop for a day on the lake.

The best part about kayaking at Lake Perris is that you can paddle all the way up to the dam. Be sure to check out the fish ladder, which allows salmon and steelhead to swim upstream past the dam.

The ideal location for a fun excursion with the family and friends, Lake Perris is three miles long and two miles wide, giving its visitors plenty of room to spread out and ride speedboats, pontoons, and jet skis. A day at this lake isn't enough for many, so this SoCal location offers campsites and backcountry camping, as well as being RV friendly.

If your whole group isn't into water sports, hiking, cycling, horseback riding, and rock climbing are all available in the area.

What to Take on Your Southern California Lake Adventure

You'll want to make sure that you are adequately prepared for anything that comes your way if you're spending the day (or multiple days) on the water. Consider these must-have items before you start your trip.

  • Sunscreen

  • Bug spray

  • Lifejackets

  • First aid kit

  • Food and drinks (you'll want to avoid glass containers)

  • Extra clothes if the weather forecast calls for a chance of rain or colder temperatures at nightfall.

  • Dry bags

  • Sunglasses

  • Fishing equipment

  • Wide brim hat

  • Towels

  • Foldable chairs

  • Blankets

  • Camera

  • Portable power bank

Hop In Your Car (or RV!) and Get to Southern California

California is brimming with non-stop activities from coast to coast and there's no shortage of unique California adventures to take part in. But, SoCal has something special for water lovers—these three lakes offer a one-of-a-kind experience that is perfect for visitors looking for a vacation filled with outdoor activities.


My name is Derek Edwards and I am an outdoor enthusiast from Southern California. I've visited 100s of parks, trails, and lakes across America and even some overseas. While those are my absolute favorite things to do, my second favorite is writing about them to share my experiences.

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