11 Stunning Hidden Lakes In California That Are Off The Beaten Path

There’s no doubt California is one of the most beautiful states in the US.

From beaches and lakes to mountains and deserts, Cali offers a little bit of everything.

And while people flock to many of these locations to enjoy their natural beauty, there are still plenty of remote places within the state that don’t see so many visitors.

While California offers 11 Hidden Gem Beaches, in this guide we’ll focus on California’s hidden lakes, many of which you’ll rarely find a crowd at even during the summer months.

Here are the 11 best hidden gem lakes in the state of California, with photos of each.

Convict Lake

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Convict Lake, nestled in the Eastern Sierra just south of Mammoth Lakes, California, is a breathtaking hidden gem with a dramatic history. 

Surrounded by towering mountains, including Mount Morrison, its crystal-clear waters reflect the stunning landscape, making it a photographer’s paradise. 

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The lake offers a variety of activities, including hiking along its 3-mile loop trail, fishing for rainbow and brown trout, and kayaking in its serene waters. 

The name “Convict Lake” comes from an 1871 incident involving escaped prisoners, adding a layer of intriguing history to its natural beauty.

June Lake

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June Lake is a stunning, lesser-known retreat in the Eastern Sierra, known for its loop of four lakes, with June Lake itself as the centerpiece. 

This charming mountain lake offers clear, calm waters for swimming, kayaking, and trout fishing, surrounded by breathtaking alpine scenery. 

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The nearby village provides cozy accommodations and dining options, making it an ideal spot for a serene getaway.

In the fall, the area becomes a canvas of vibrant colors, with golden aspens encircling the water, creating a picturesque setting for visitors.

Lake Almanor

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Lake Almanor, located in Northern California’s Sierra Nevada, is a large man-made reservoir with a picturesque setting that offers a peaceful retreat for visitors. 

The lake’s expansive waters are ideal for boating, fishing, and water sports, while its surrounding landscapes provide ample opportunities for hiking and bird watching. 

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With views of Mount Lassen in the distance, Lake Almanor’s serene environment and beautiful sunsets make it a perfect hidden gem for those looking to enjoy nature’s tranquility and beauty.

Mono Lake

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Mono Lake, an ancient saline lake in California’s Eastern Sierra, is renowned for its otherworldly landscape. 

This ecological wonder features towering limestone formations known as tufa towers, which provide a surreal backdrop for photography and birdwatching, especially at sunrise and sunset. 

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The lake’s high salinity and alkaline waters attract millions of migratory birds annually, making it a prime location for nature enthusiasts. 

Despite its stark environment, Mono Lake offers kayaking tours that reveal its unique ecosystem and the importance of conservation efforts.

Pinecrest Lake

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Pinecrest Lake, nestled in the Stanislaus National Forest, offers a scenic escape with its clear, blue waters and family-friendly atmosphere. 

The lake is a hub for outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, and swimming, with a well-maintained trail circling the lake for hikers and joggers. 

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Its nearby campground and day-use areas make it perfect for picnics and overnight stays amidst the towering pines. 

In the summer, the lake’s outdoor amphitheater hosts movie nights under the stars, adding to the charm of this hidden gem.

Twin Lakes

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Twin Lakes, situated in the Eastern Sierra near Bridgeport, are two closely nestled lakes that boast unparalleled natural beauty and tranquility. 

These glacial lakes are a paradise for anglers, hikers, and photographers, offering stunning views of the surrounding Sierra peaks and abundant wildlife. 

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The area around Twin Lakes is dotted with rustic cabins and campgrounds, providing a perfect setting for a serene retreat. 

Whether you’re paddling on the clear waters, fishing for trout, or exploring the nearby trails, Twin Lakes encapsulate the serene beauty of California’s hidden gems.

Pyramid Lake

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Located just north of Los Angeles in the Sierra Pelona Mountains, Pyramid Lake offers an easily accessible yet surprisingly serene retreat. 

The lake, formed by the Pyramid Dam on the Piru Creek, is a favorite for boating, fishing, and jet skiing, with well-equipped day-use areas and campgrounds.

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Its distinctive name comes from the pyramid-like shape of the hills that are visible above the water near the dam, a pretty unique geological feature.

Saddlebag Lake

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Saddlebag Lake, perched high in the Eastern Sierra near Yosemite National Park’s eastern entrance, is a breathtaking high-altitude lake. 

Accessible via a seasonal road, it offers a tranquil setting for hiking, fishing, and kayaking amidst alpine scenery. 

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The lake is the starting point for several backcountry trails, including a loop around the lake that passes through diverse landscapes, offering stunning views of the Sierra Nevada and its lush meadows, rugged peaks, and clear, cold waters.

Silverwood Lake

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Situated in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains, Silverwood Lake is a reservoir designed for recreation, providing a cool oasis in Southern California. 

It’s known for its clear waters, ideal for swimming, fishing, and boating, with several picnic areas and hiking trails, including a portion of the famous Pacific Crest Trail. 

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The lake’s elevation offers a cooler climate and a refreshing break from the desert heat, with spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and forests.

Castle Lake

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Castle Lake, nestled in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest near Mount Shasta, is a pristine glacial lake known for its clear, cold water and scenic alpine setting. 

Ideal for kayaking, swimming, and fishing, the lake also serves as a gateway to a variety of hiking trails that offer breathtaking views of Mount Shasta and the surrounding wilderness. 

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The area around Castle Lake is rich in flora and fauna, providing a serene environment for nature observation and photography, making it a must-visit destination for those seeking solitude and natural beauty.

Gold Lake

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Gold Lake, located in the Lakes Basin area of the Northern Sierra Nevada, is a stunning example of California’s hidden natural treasures. 

Its large, shimmering surface is surrounded by dense forests and granite peaks, offering spectacular scenery and a quiet atmosphere for fishing, boating, and swimming. 

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The lake is part of a larger area that includes dozens of other small lakes, each with their own charm, accessible via hiking trails that showcase the beauty of this less-traveled region. 

Gold Lake’s remote location ensures a peaceful experience, away from the crowds found at more well-known destinations.