Lake & River Vacations

Parent Q&A

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  • I am looking for updated recommendations for places we can vacation this summer where we can swim in a lake. We have a preschooler, so ideally, it would have a nice beach to play on, and easy hikes nearby. I'd love to standup paddle, but otherwise we don't need a lot of activities. We would like to rent a cabin (or house), though I'd welcome recommendations for charming hotels/lodges as well. 

    We are focusing our search on Northern CA and Oregon and would prefer not to go too far south to avoid really warm days. 

    Thanks for your help!

    I recommend Donner Lake, the West End Beach Park looks like it has what you are looking for, I haven't been there since my daughter was little; it was a great beach for little kids.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Questions Reviews of Lakes & Rivers on Other Pages

Looking for a great swimming lake in CA

Feb 2011

We have rented houses on lakes in MN. We could swim and boat and not be right on top of a neighbor. I would like to rent a similar house on a lake in Northern or Central CA for a week. Specifically I want to rent a house right on the lake with its own dock or beach. I want to be able to swim (comfortably) in the lake. I probably would not want any place in the High Sierras where the lakes are still very cold in July. For me, Lake Tahoe is a little cold to swim in. I would love to hear from anyone with suggestions of good swimming lakes with vacation houses for rent on its shore. Thanks so much!

Russian River - not a lake but sounds close to what you are looking for!
We have a cabin in a lake-centered community, Pine Mountain Lake, located 2 1/2 hours from the Bay Area. It is in the foothills of the Sierra about 1/2 hour west of the Hwy 120 gate to Yosemite. There are many cabins for rent, some right on the lake, many not. (Ours is not on the lake - nor for rent - work in progress!)

It isn't necessary to be on the lake as there are three beaches for access by any property owners or renters. The main beach (marina) has a nice slightly sloping grassy area with big trees before you get to the sandy beach. The swim area is roped off from the boating area and in the summer there are usually several large inflatable floats located in the swim area. There is a snack shack at this beach and a water taxi that takes you to the other two beaches which are smaller, less populated, and lower key. You can rent sail and pedal boats. There are some powerboats on the lake during limited hours and no jet skis allowed.

During the week it is usually pretty quiet and relatively uncrowded even at the main beach. Weekends are a bit busier and holiday weekends pretty crazy. It can be quite warm during the days (90s) but always cools off at night. We don't have AC and it doesn't bother us at all.

We have spent many a happy hour hanging out at the beach with our three boys (now 11,15, and 18). The water by late June/July is wonderfully cool but not too cold. Yosemite is nearby and during the summer the high country is the place to be to avoid crowds. There is also a modest pool and very nice golf course. Relatively nearby are caves for exploring and other Gold Country towns including Groveland, Sonora, and Columbia. The latter is a great visit back in time with wooden sidewalks and a wonderful old schoolhouse.

Google Pine Mountain Lake rentals for several realtors that handle vacation rentals. Happy Swimming

Not all of these have rentals right on the lake, but you could check them out and see what suits you: Lake Mendocino (Mend Co) Twain Harte (but there are only about 5 houses right on the shore) Lake Don Pedro (also has rentals of houseboats) Lake Shasta (houseboat rentals are possible) Lake Elsinore (southern Ca)
Pine Mountain Lake is nice. It's a gated community surrounding the lake of the same name. Just off Highway 120 toward Yosemite, next to the town of Groveland, about 3 hours from the East Bay. Although it is at 3000', the lake is fairly small so it warms up quickly and is quite nice by July. There are numerous houses right on the lake that can be rented. PML also has a common beach area, clubhouse, golf course, its own July 4th fireworks, and is about 40 minutes from the northern Yosemite entrance.
Lake Siskiyou, near Mt Shasta, is my favorite lake to swim in. The water is perfect, and there is a lovely view of the mountain. There is a campground and cabins as well. It feels cleaner than Sierra lakes-no muck or algae, very pristine. No motor boats. They do rent floatation devices, and have some floaties you can play on for money-but most of the lake is just for swimming, non motorized boats. i love it there.

Lakeside Cabin Rental?

Aug 2009

Hi all, I may be looking for the impossible: an affordable (low-to mid-100's or less) cabin rental by a beautiful, peaceful and swimmable (that is, not freezing) natural lake within several hours of Berkeley. Ideally, the cabin, while simple, would have some minimal separation of space between my spouse and I and our preschooler. Nearby walking/hiking or similar mellow and family-friendly activities would be great. I have looked at Pinecrest Lake and the Yosemite area so far but have not yet gathered much other information. BPN postings appear to be several years old. Also, someplace where one doesn't have to reserve a year ahead would be nice! Am I being unrealistic? I'd love to hear what others have discovered. Many thanks! -Dreamer

Dear Dreamer, Our family just returned from the Pine Mountain Lake in Groveland. Since it is near Yosemite maybe you already looked into it. It was our second time renting there, and we loved it again. You can find a house or a condo through or Re/Max rental and there are places that match your price tag. The water is clear and warm, and the entrance is gradual and sandy. Our 5 and 2 year-old loved it. They now have a blow-up structure for more mature swimmers with trampoline and beam, so it is fun for adults too. Late August and September should be fine weather wise. Good luck! yg

Soda Springs & Serene Lakes area

March 2009

I saw some postings regarding Soda Springs and Serene Lakes area for winter but I'd like to see if there are any recos of the area for summer. I am looking to rent house where I can walk to beach pleasant enough for crew of small kids, maybe some canoeing, not so crowded and perhaps a little less expensive than Tahoe. In Serene lakes I am drawn to sandy beach, maybe lunch at the Lodge I see is there, hiking in the Royal Gorge. I am also drawn to being a little bit closer drive from Bay Area. Thoughts? Specific Houses for 2 families would also be excellent. Dreaming of Summer

We have a place on Lake Drive in Serene Lakes (we don't rent it out, sorry) but if you time it right, you can go during Serene Lakes Days, where the beach is transformed into volley ball games and bar-b-ques. It is a great hidden gem.

HOWEVER, you may want to stay away from Royal Gorge and the Lodge which is owned by them. There is a lot of controversy with them and the residents for land misuse. Visit to see what you will find if you want to do those things. The locals will not like it if you go to those places.

The good news is that it is just a few minutes to Lake Donner, then a couple of minutes into Truckee, it is just a few miles south to get to Lake Tahoe, and less than an hour to Reno.

Serene Lakes has great walks around the Lake, and some hiking, but can be isolated in areas. The lake water is freezing. The kids don't mind it, but as adults, we don't go past our ankles. There is only one real estate office in Soda Springs, so I would check for a vacation agent in Truckee or Donner Lake area.

It is one of the most relaxing areas to get away from it all. Bring bikes and hiking shoes and roller skates. The streets are all in good to great shape. There are mosquitos - so bring your organic repellant!!! Ana

Mammoth Lakes with kids

Feb 2008

We will be going to Yosemite & Mammoth Lakes this June with our kids, ages 8 & 5. We know what to do at Yosemite -- any good ideas for things to do in and around Mammoth?? Thanks. Christine

Last summer we drove up over the Tioga pass and spent some time on the eastern side of the Sierra. Our boys were 8, 11, and 14 at the time. We did not get down to Mammoth but did go to June Lake - which was beautiful. So nice just to spend an afternoon on the beach. Mono Lake is also wonderful - both the lake area and the visitor's center. We took the drive out to Bodie - which is a bonafide ghost town. It is great fun to see plus it is often either the hottest or coldest place in California shown in the weather section of the newspaper - now my kids know about it! Mom

Clear Lake or Blue Lakes for Kids?

May 2007

We camp with several families with young children (0-5) every Labor Day and we did not make our reservations early this year. We were interested in a lake destination within 2 1/2 hours of the Bay Area that might still have campsites. Do you know anything about Clear Lake or the Blue Lakes? Both are still available. We're trying to avoid the loud, drinking, boater crowd. Are these areas and the campgrounds appropriate for young children? Are there other lake destination within 2 1/2 hours that would be better? thanks! Susan

my family has gone to the le trianon resort at blue lakes for 3 generations. it is a large, flat, shady campground, at the less windy NW end of the lakes. it has many long term campers (with fenced well amended sites), and most people are fairly quiet. but i haven't gone many times since my kids (5 and 2) were born, because the lake has a very steep slope. the water gets to 5 feet deep within 10 ft from shore. there is one gently sloped beach for small kids, but it is very small (?25ft across). and it can get very hot (a bit hot for camping), but the lake is on the cool side, not so comfortable for swimming if the temp is 90. there is a large barbecue/dance floor area for parties (?reservations). there is a 5mph speed limit on the entire lake, which is generally followed, so no waterskiers. signed: love blue lakes, but not so much for small kids

Campground near a warm river

April 2007

We're looking to find a campground near a warm river this summer. I've heard good things about Trinity and Yuba rivers, but would love specific campground recommendations. We just want to be inland, in warm weather, near water. Oh, and flush toilets are a must. Leaving summer fog behind

We've stayed at the Ripple Creek cabins (small trib to the Trinity)- they have a website, so it's not camping, but it has everything else you wanted. The place is owned by a Bay Area couple who are very friendly-- there is a local number to call if you want to get info that way-- 510-531-5315. They have a swimming hole adjacent to the cabins on the Trinity which is divine in the hot summer weather. They book up VERY EARLY as families tend to go year after year and stay in their favorite cabin, so I would advise inquiring early if you are interested. anon
I can recommend Wellspring Renewal Center for river camping. It is a beautiful place, with 50 acres along the Navarro River in Anderson Valley, about 2 1/2 hours north of the Bay Area. There is a great swimming hole on the property. They offer camping, tent cabins, rustic cabins, and houses for lodging, and can accommodate groups or individuals. They offer fresh, mostly organic food by arrangement for groups. See their website for more information: Sally

Car Camping in the Sierras on a Lake

March 2006

What is your favorite sierra campground on a lake? I'm looking for a car camping spot that is right on a beautiful Alpine lake and that allows swimming and doesn't have a lot of motorized boats or hoardes of people. Also, other suggestions of favorite camping spots with kids are welcome! Happy camper

Huntington Lake above Fresno is loveley. It seems more popular with sailboaters than motor boaters and according to an archived post water skiing and jet skis are banned. There are I think four different campgrounds around the lake, a swimming beach, a store, etc. It's not primitive or isolated, but I wouldn't descibe it as overrun, even during the big sailing event that brought me up there. Carrie
Pincrest Lake off of Hwy 108 is a nice place. You can book through the state park systems's website and it's reasonable (about $25/night). There's a small store in town and you can fish, boat, hike and at night you can watch movies under the stars! I've been there before and highly recommend Pinecrest. Laura
Pinecrest Lake is fabulous. 3 mile trail around lake (not stroller friendly); ice cream shack at the end of the hike for bribery; outdoor movie ampitheatre showing movies like Shrek; small grocery store; lake and swimming although no lifeguard; can rent small motor boats and paddle boats and sailboats; nice bike trails (although hilly in some areas). Our family loves it. Enjoy! Chanel
Wright's Lake! Used to be our family's best-kept secret, but in the last 10 years or so has become pretty popular. You'll need to get reservations in advance.

Just up Highway 50 about 45 minutes east of Placerville. Bring your canoe though, no motorized boats allowed.

Alternately, nearby is Silver Fork campground. NO reservations are taken and it's getting popular too but not nearly the magnitude that Wright's Lake is. It's off of the American River in the Sierras....not on a lake, but lots of hiking trails and slow parts of the river to play in. email me if you want more information. Happy Camping!

Rustic Cabin by lake or river

Feb 2006

I'm looking for one or two cabins to rent for a week or two in the spring or summer. When I say cabin - I mean like a log cabin. Rustic. Two room maybe (for 3 adults and 3 kids) with a fireplace or woodstove. Bar-b-que or grill or minimal cooking facilities. The kind you bring your own bedding to. No TV, no DVD. Just a step up from a tent-cabin. It must be near a lake or river for exploring and swimming, preferably somewhere we can take our kayaks or rent a canoe. I picture days of short hikes through the woods, exploring by the water, sitting back and hearing the wind rustle the leaves. No radios, no electronics. Doesn't even have to have electricity. Singing around the campfire kind of thing. But not in tents. It can even be part of a resort or lodge setup and even offer meals, but I really want the accomodations to feel like we've left home and we're roughing it. We don't need entertainment or places to go nearby. Just a cabin by a lake. anon

Take a look at Elwell Lakes Lodge in the Lakes Basin area. Very rustic cabins walking distance to the most beautiful alpine lakes you can imagine. I looked at them last summer and it sounds just like what you are looking for. I believe they have fishing boats for use by their guests. You don't have to bring your own linens, but it is very rustic otherwise - one or two rooms, minimal cooking facilities, old fashioned ''lodge'' with games, books, etc. Of course, no TV or anything like that. Have fun! jac
Have you tried any of the KOA's? We go the one in Manchester Beach up north every year. They have luxury camping cottages and the scaled down version of the cabins with just a bunk bed, a queen bed and a porch w/ swing, a fire pit that has a BBQ grill attached, they also have a community kitchen, playground, and swimming pool, the bathrooms have showers but it isn't in the cabins, more like a campground type restroom. We kayak the Navarro or depending on the time of year, the Gulala (a little bit of a drive). If you search the KOA database, you could find a location that fits your needs.
These cabins are along a creek, so may not offer the swimming you want, but they are rustic and wonderfully located. Bonanza King Resort is in the Trinity Alps-- about 6 hrs north. Phone (530)266.3305. The resort was recently sold so may have a new name, but the new owners sound nice on the phone and prices are about the same, reasonable! We spent a happy week there 2 summers ago. Blackberry vines growing near the creek enthralled my then 2-yr-old daughter. We played in the creek a lot. There are 7 cabins, not so close that you hear or see your neighbors, a main house near animals, sandbox, play area, swing set, volleyball. We stayed in the area the first few days just relaxing and taking walks. The cabin has a kitchen and outdoor grill--we cooked all our meals. Having rested some, we ventured out with the car--visited nearby Alpen Cellars, a homespun but topnotch vineyard in a gorgeous valley, and a few interesting old towns. Also drove to another location for swimming and fishing.
Regarding a rustic cabin, one place you might try is Lake Francis (, which is between Marysville and Grass Valley. It might be a bit too ''resorty'' for you, but they do have rustic cabins (no facilities in the cabin) as well as nicer cabins and an A-frame cabin with a loft. About a quarter mile from the camp area they have a little store, restaurant, pub, and gameroom, and a pool, but they also have canoe rentals on the lake. Might be a bit crowded for what you're looking for also, but it would be a nice place with kids. Bryan
We used to go to Trinity Alps Resort when I was a kid, and particularly enjoyed the rusticity. I think they've gotten rid of the iceboxes, though. Another cute place is Wellspring in Philo, which has rustic and not-so-rustic cabins.
Have you looked at the cabins at Upper Angora Lake? I think they will meet your needs. The lake is right there, with a shallow beach perfect for younger children. For older kids there are rowboats and kayaks to rent, and deeper swimming as well. The cabins are pretty basic (I've never stayed in one, however - I've only seen them from the outside and read about them) and very popular with families. Angora Lake is west of Tahoe, near Fallen Leaf Lake. Lisa

Rental cabin for fishing on a lake

July 2005

Am looking for a cabin to rent (big or small, simple or fancy) that is actually on the lakeshore of any pretty lake that is big enough for fishing. A lodge/rustic resort on a lake would also work. Ideally it's within a 3-4 hour drive from Bay Area, but please recommend any others farther away also. Timing is flexible, just sometime this summer/fall, for up to a week. Am from the Midwest, where this is not as hard to find.... Please help!
hopefully goin' fishing?

Try Lake Berryessa. Steele Cove Resort has great cabins with kitchens for rent. It is a bit expensive but worth it since you are right on the water...
happy camper

Warm lake for weekend trip

May 2005

I am looking for a warm lake to take my 4 year old for a three day weekend (camping or a cabin OK). Would love quiet beautiful setting. Has anyone been to Blue lakes near Clearlakes? Alternatively, any great suggestions for camping or a cabin on the beach south of Santa Cruz? Recommendation would be most welcome, many thanks, Eva Eva

Lake Siskiyou is a gorgeous setting. The shallower water is warm but the outer water is refreshingly cool. It has a roped-off area (LARGE) for swimming and the rest of the lake has a max MPH of 5 or 10, so it's quiet and wonderful, and has a sand beach. The campsites are set back from the lake a ways (so NO mosquitos!) but the distance is easily bikeable. They have nightly movies in an outdoor amphitheater. We've really enjoyed it! It's a private campground, but we have been very pleased. If you're interested, I'll dig out our list of ''well shaded, lots of level ground, near toilets/showers'' sites. Jennie

Camping near a lake

May 2005

We would like to take our 8-month old to a lake resort in the sierras, ideally to a location no more than a 3 hour drive from Berkeley. Alternatively, we might bite the bullet and truck up to Tuolumne Meadows. Any recommendations on decent lake resorts, or a solid campground near a lake we should try? We're hoping to go the second week in June. Thanks! sarah

Not sure how much of a hike-in you want to do, but Lake Margaret near Kirkwood is a hike-in of only a couple of miles, if I remember correctly, and has easy camping right by the lake. That said, most high-altitude places in the Sierra are still covered in snow right now, and even mid-June may not be completely melted out and dry. You may have to contend with wet, swampy shores/campgrounds. Tuolumne Meadows will likely not be accessible until July, as the road (Hwy 120) may not be plowed until then. Check the National Park Service website for updates on the Tioga Pass plowing schedule. You may need to opt for a lower-altitude lake resort, something like Lake Shasta, but I have never been there and really don't know how cold the water/air temps will be, that early in the summer. Good luck! Noreen
Check out Lake Alpine - it is just past Bear Valley at the foot of the Sierras. It's a 3 hour drive from Berkeley (we have a place near there) - BUT you have to be sure to time it right and not get stuck on 580 down near Stockton/Dublin, or it will add at least 1 hour. There is national forest near there and many places to stay in Arnold (about 30mins before Lake Alpine). The great thing about Lake Alpine is its a no-motor lake, so only canoes, kayaks, etc. - so you don't have to worry about getting run over and great for little ones. Good luck, and have fun. Anon
July 2001

We are heading off on our annual two-week camping excursion with our two kids, ages almost 8 and almost 6 - the kids are real pros when it comes to the wilderness and have been camping since before they could walk. This year, we have added into the mix a little family boat, as my husband has recently discovered the pleasures of lake fishing. So, I'd love recommendations from fellow campers for the following: a peaceful setting, where we could transport stuff from the car, via the boat, and camp lakeside (this would be the ideal), or just some special lakes, in lovely settings, that would provide the respite we need from noise, crowds, technology. We are open to which direction we will be traveling in, and are willing to do some serious driving to get far enough away to reach peace. I'd also love ideas for special camping sites that don't involve lake travel. Deborah

I recommend Huntington Lake. You go to Fresno, turn left and go east until you reach 7,000 ft. The lake is beautiful and allows no jet skiing or water skiing so the noise level is very quiet. We would take a little 6 man fishing boat with a small outboard motor. Here is more information. Julene
We just spent a week camping at Lassen National Park ... our campsite was near Summit Lake, which was like a lake out of a fairy tale ... (see Lassen National Park recommendations for the rest of this review.

Looking for recommendations for places to go camping w/lake swimming (relatively WARM water, i.e. not Lake Tahoe)within a 2 to 4-hour drive of the Bay Area. We prefer camping areas where there's some space between campsites -- looking for a little peace, quiet and privacy. And of course, a beautiful natural setting. I've looked on the Web site, not much there. Colleen

I fear you may be seeking the impossible. Having just planned a California camping summer vacation for our family I can recommend a really good book. It's Moon Publications, Northern California Handbook. It includes SF Bay Area, Sonoma, Redwood coast (further than 2-3 hours from SF). There's a long list of lakes in the index. I know you can get this book at the Travel Store on Rose and Shattuck in Berkeley. Lake Berryessa has camping (according to this book), Lake Pillsbury, near ClearLake has camping, swimming etc. Clear Lake itself may be a good camping area. There are many more lakes north of Tahoe, east of Redding, on the North Coast, but all of these are a longer drive. Have fun in your search, and happy camping. June
We go to Lake Melones in the gold country ... (see recommendation above)

Kid-friendly cabin near a lake

May 2003

I am due in October and must take a vacation this summer before baby number 2 pops out. I'm looking to rent a kid-friendly cabin for about a week (we'll be 4 adults and 2 kids). Ideally it would be somewhere warm with good swimming, and not more than 4 hours away (I know I'm not asking for much!). Any ideas? AW

Recommendations received:

  • Arnold
  • Bass Lake
  • Lake Tahoe
  • Sonora (2)

    Fallen Leaf Lake

    March 2004

    I wonder if anyone has any leads about possible cabin rentals for this summer at Fallen Leaf Lake, especially on the west side (where the road does not go through to the lodge)? I would be VERY GRATEFUL for any suggestions. Thanks, Rachel

    My in-laws own a vacation home at Fallen Leaf Lake, and though they don't rent their house out, I thought they might know someone who does. They gave me the following info:

    Eric Thaden is a local real estate agent specializing in FLL. Try him at the following numbers:
    530 541-7540 FL Properties
    530 573-2873 (more recent number?)
    800 322-6130 Chase International Tahoe

    Lake McSwain

    Re: Visiting Lake Comoanche (July 2002)
    I was just reading a comment posted by your organization about Lake Comanche, I am not sure how long ago the message was posted, but I just wanted to let you know of a a beautiful a fun lake to take your children to. It is Lake McSwain and it is located in Snelling it is a little further drive than Comanche but well worth the trip. We take our children there at least 5-10 times a summer. There are no Jet Skis allowed on the lake and although there are boats allowed they are only allowed in one area and they have a no wake policy so the only boats you will see are fishing boats slowly trolling on the lake. No where near the beach for swimming. The beach for swimming by the way is just beautiful the water is always clear and the children can walk out fairly close to the middle of the lake before it is even close to being too deep. It is just wonderful. There is a secret however, when camping the overflow camping area is the best spot (the only bad part is that part is on a first come first serve basis) however we have always gotten it when we go so it is not too crowded. It is very family oriented and close to the overflow area are the bathrooms a sand box with play equipment. Close enough for the parents to sit back and relax at the campsite and kids at the playground it is about 25 feet away from the first 5 sites. Anyway just thought I would let you in on one of my favorite family camping spots. I am not a member of your group but it sounds like a great organization. Andrea (Dec 2002)

    Lake Melones

    We go to Lake Melones in the gold country by Angles Camp in Calaveras County (home of the famous jumping frog). The lake is huge and winding, with over 100 miles of shore line. The weather in summer is sunny and HOT with air temp 100+ and lake water 80+. It's a heaven for fishing, boating and water skiing, but also a great place to just swim - the water is clear, still, and warm. Many people rent a house boat and stay for a week or more.> The perfect way to end a day on the lake is with a short drive into the town of Angles Camp for ice cream at the wonderful Bistro of Angles. The hike down slope to the lake can be steep, and the beach is gravel - so bring good tough water shoes like aqua-socks. Most sites will accommodate RVs, but there are no hookups. The two big camp grounds (on opposite sides of the road) are Big Oak and Iron Horse. There is also Tuttletown camp, not far away. The camp sites are relatively far apart, but most are exposed to the sun. Bugs are not a problem, but bring a canopy to cover up. They have flush toilets and showers. They don't take reservations, so come early for the best spots. Lots of boats and water craft are available for rent. The Marina can be reached at (209) 785-3300. PeterAndBrian (2001)

    Lakes Basin region in Sierra

    March 2003

    We spent a week at Gray Eagle Lodge last summer in the Lakes Basin Region of the Sierras and had a wonderful time. Thinking of going back this year and wondering if anyone has recommendations of other places to stay. Sardine Lake Resort? Buckhorn Lodge? Yuba River Inn? Gold Lake Lodge? Elwell Lakes Lodge? Gray Eagle would be perfect except that it's not right on a lake.... Ellen

    Our family goes to the Lakes Basin area every summer. We always stay at the Feather River Park Resort in Graeagle. It has housekeeping cabins around a 9 hole golf course with a pool and tennis courts. It's not far from the Feather River, so there are a number of trails nearby that lead to the river. The only catch is that families return year after year, so it's hard to make a reservation. You should call after April 1, which is the deadline for all of the ''regulars'' to send in their deposits for this summer. Good luck! Ann