Top 6 Lakes to Kayak & Canoe in Northern California

by Sherri on July 27, 2012

Gold Lake Sunrise.

Got kayak or canoe? Looking for a great place to paddle this summer in Northern California? Well, I have a great line up for you. These are 6 of my personal favorites in random order. They all offer other great things, in addition to paddling and all but one of them are “Dog Friendly.”

Gold Lake – Dog Friendly

Camping/day use fees/other accommodations – Jeff & I have been camping and paddling (canoe & kayak) here for many years. You can camp at either end of the lake, but we prefer to camp at the Gold Lake 4×4 Campground at the back end of the lake, which requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle to get there. Another alternative is to paddle into camp. Some of our friends choose this method of getting there. Camping is free, has tables and fire rings in most of the sites and pit toilets nearby. Campsites are on a first come, first served basis. If you don’t have a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle, there is Gold Lake Campground near the entrance to Gold Lake. Camping fee is $10.00 per night. There is no fee for day use. NOTE: Make sure you have a valid fire permit. If camping is not your thing, there are lot’s of other really cool places to stay. Take a look at this list of accommodations near Graeagle. There are also lot’s of places to stay in the Sierra City/Downieville area. Many of these accommodations are “Dog Friendly” too!

Best time to visit/nearby stores – June -September. I recommend going during the week if possible. There are a couple of stores nearby. From the entrance to Gold Lake, travel 6-miles on Gold Lake Road to Bassetts Station in Sierra City. This is a really fun place to go for groceries, gas, propane, ice, fishing gear, liquor, gifts and more. You can also travel 12 miles in the other direction from the Gold Lake entrance, to the Historic Graeagle Store in Graeagle. .

Paddling level of difficulty – Paddling is relatively easy here, but with most mountain lakes the water is the best in the morning and in the evening. The winds tend to kick up usually in the early afternoon. Power boats are allowed on this lake, however I have never seen it crowded. There are plenty of little coves along the shoreline too, where you can get away from the power boats.

Jeff and Cocoa kayaking Gold Lake.

See our Kayaking Gold Lake video from our last camping trip! You might also be interested in this Sierra Buttes Adventure post from our last trip!

Other things to do at Gold Lake/surrounding area – Hiking, fishing, swimming (good swimming, but not warm), catching crawdads, off-road adventures and more. MUST DO – I highly recommend hiking to the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout. NOTE: If you would like to leave the planning up to someone else, I recommend contacting Nevada County Escapes. They can create the ideal package, tailored to fit your individual needs. Contact The Dog House, for your dog sitting needs in the Nevada City area.

Directions – Take Highway 89 southeast from Graeagle, California for 2 miles. Proceed south on Gold Lake Highway for 10 miles to Gold Lake. From Highway 49 go 17.5 miles past Downieville, turn left at Bassett’s Station on to Gold Lake Highway for 6.3 miles to Gold Lake.

Sherri kayaking Lake Almanor at Sunset, with Mount Lassen in the background.

Lake Almanor – Dog friendly

Camping/day use fees/other accommodations – We have only camped here once before, but let me tell you…what a gem it is. Lake Almanor is a very large lake, with a similar feel to Lake Tahoe minus all of the people. In fact, when we were there, we learned that many of the Lake Tahoe lovers have discovered it and it is now being referred to as the “New Lake Tahoe.” There are several campgrounds at Lake Almanor. I highly recommend Almanor Campground. It is located on the lake’s west shore. Typically open May-October, the campground has over 100 campsites arranged in two loops. After checking them all out we opted for this one, because of the location & the price. See the Campgrounds in Lake Almanor for more information. There is no day use fee. If you don’t feel like camping, my friends own Carson Chalets at Lake Almanor and I have heard good things about them. For more places to stay (including pet friendly), pet sitting, grocery stores and a whole lot more, visit the Lake Almanor Website.

Paddling level of difficulty – This is a wonderful & easy place to paddle, plus you get to stare at Mount Lassen while you are on the lake. There are power boats allowed here, so hugging the shore is the best way to paddle this lake. The best time to paddle is in the morning and the evening. It is a mountain lake and the winds usually kick up in the early afternoon.

Other things to do at Lake Almanor/surrounding area – MUST DOI highly recommend that you visit Lassen National Park. You are so close already. Just remember that you will be very limited on what you can see & do there, if you are traveling with your dog. You cannot take them on any of the trails, however you can take them to Lake Helen. They are also allowed in the campsites, as long as they are leashed. Visit Lassen Volcanic National Park for more information.

Directions – Take CA-99 N toward Chico, Turn right on CA-32 E for 52mi, Turn right on CA-36 for 10mi, Turn right on CA-89 S for 3.2 mi. Here is an alternate Route – Take CA-99 N to CA-70 N travel 60 mi, turn left on CA-89 N for 30 mi.

Peg Challender kayaking Sugar Pine Reservoir.

Sugar Pine Reservoir – Dog friendly

Camping/day use fees – Although there are a couple of campgrounds here, we have never camped at either of them. They are really nice, but a little too crowded and close together for our taste. For us, it is close enough that we make a day trip out of it. There is a day use fee of $3.00 and you can pay with cash or check. Visit Shirttail Creek Campground & Giant Gap Campground for information on camping.

Update 8/29/13 – We have now camped at Sugar Pine Reservoir. For a review of what it was like, please read “Camping at Sugar Pine Reservoir.”

Best time to visit/nearby stores – The best time to visit this lake is spring through fall. Worton’s Foresthill Grocery is not too far. You will see it as you head up to Sugar Pine. It is located at 23140 Foresthill Road. It is a full service grocery store & deli. They also have ice cream & pizza.

Paddling level of difficulty – Paddling here is easy. Fishing boats are allowed, but no water skiing. The speed limit is 10 MPH. There are a couple of coves and an island you can paddle to.

Other things to do at Sugar Pine Reservoir – Swim, hike, mountain bike, run, fish. Sugar Pine is a great swimming lake. The water is nice and warm. The more popular areas are the beach area by the boat launch and by the island. However, there are lot’s of nice spots on the shore between those two areas. Dogs love this place too. We bring our dog, Cocoa, every time we go there. She keeps herself entertained, by fishing along the shore for minnows. Hiking is great here too. There is beautiful trail that goes around the lake. No one seems to agree on the distance, but it is between 3.5 & 4.5 miles. I guess the only way to find out for sure is to bring a GPS, or a Pedometer. The prettiest part of the lake is between the boat launch and the campgrounds. Sometimes we just hike that part. During the spring this section is also loaded with wildflowers. The trail is great for hiking, biking, & running. When we visit in the spring, we hike. During the summer months, we like to hike & paddle.

Directions – From I-80 in Auburn take the Foresthill Rd. exit for 26 mi, Turn left on Sugar Pine Rd. for 7.5 mi.

Jeffrey Hartnett getting ready to paddle Lake Clementine.

Lake Clementine – No dogs allowed!

Camping/day use fees – Boat in camping is available here at Upper Lake Clementine. These campsites get snatched up really fast, so I recommend planning your trip a year in advance if possible. The campsites are right along the lake, have sandy beach areas and some of the warmest water around. Visit the California State Parks Website to make reservations. Day use fees are $10.00. NOTE: – Chemical toilets are provided. No dogs, glass containers, or alcohol are permitted on the lake.

Best time to visit/nearby stores This lake can be paddled year-round, however during the winter months you must launch your boat at the Lower Lake Clementine entrance. Our favorite time to paddle this lake is mid-week in September. You can have the lake pretty much to yourself. The day this photo was taken, we saw maybe a handful of other kayaks on the lake. Also, the water and weather were still very warm. The nearest Grocery Store is Raley’s. Is is right on the corner of Foresthill Road and Lincoln Avenue.

Paddling level of difficulty – Paddling is easy. The best part to paddle is Upper Lake Clementine. There are power boats allowed here, but there are plenty of places to get away from them!

Other things to do at Lake Clementine/surrounding area – Swimming is fantastic. The North Fork of the American River flows through here. The water is safe and as I mentioned above, it is very warm. There are lot’s of hiking trails in the Auburn State Recreation Area nearby. Contact me for recommendations on hiking trails and other things to do in the Auburn Area. There are far too many to mention here.

Directions to Lower Lake Clementine – From I-80 in Auburn, exit at Foresthill, drive 2.5 miles on Foresthill Road, turn left onto Lake Clementine Road, and then follow Lake Clementine Road 2 miles down to the boat dock. Lake Clementine Road is narrow, and you may encounter vehicles towing boats on trailers, and bicyclists on the road. Please use caution and observe the 15 mph speed limit.

Directions to Upper Lake Clementine

From I-80 in Auburn, exit at Foresthill, drive 5.6 miles on Foresthill Road, Turn left at the sign to the Upper Lake Clementine Day Use Area. The road turns to gravel after leaving the highway and is somewhat narrow and rough at times. This road is suitable for even small passenger vehicles. The road is narrow and you may encounter other vehicles.

Pet SittingIf you are visiting the Auburn area and you need a pet sitter while you paddle Lake Clementine, I recommend All Creatures Professional Pet Sitting.

Canoeing Utica Reservoir.

Utica Reservoir – Dog friendly

Camping/day use fees – Camping at Utica Reservoir is hard to beat. You have a choice of dispersed camping along the south end of the lake, or you can load up your kayak/canoe and paddle camp to one of many islands. There is no camping or day use fee to camp here. NOTE: Make sure you have a valid fire permit.

Best time to visit/nearby stores – The best time to camp here is June – October. It is a very popular place for camping and day use. I recommend going mid week, or after schools are back in session, if you plan to car camp. If you are planning to paddle camp, you can go pretty much any time. There are plenty of islands for everyone! If you need ice, food, groceries, snacks, fresh brewed coffee, fishing supplies, camping gear, beer or wine and more, visit the General Store at Lake Alpine Resort. There is also a General Store in Bear Valley.

Paddling level of difficulty – Paddling is easy here, but with most mountain lakes the water is the best in the morning and the evening. The winds tend to kick up in the early afternoon. There is no motorized boating allowed on this lake.

Other things to do at Utica Reservoir – Hiking, off-road adventures, swimming, fishing. You can hike the road from the campground to the 4×4 trail, to watch the brave soles navigate the huge boulders and ruts in their off road vehicles. This trail is the alternative route into Utica. The first time we went there (over 25 years ago), we went via this 4×4 trail. What a grand trip. It was also my first 4×4 trip. Swimming is excellent here. The water is warm, clear and safe.  Although lot’s of folks fish here, we have not personally tried it. If you love to fish, then by all means pack your pole. Here is an article I wrote about our adventure to Utica Reservoir. You can also search for Utica Reservoir on this blog, to see a lot more photos of this lake.

Directions – For directions and more information on Utica Reservoir, visit paddling Utica Reservoir. BONUS – Check out Utica Kayak Camping, an excellent video about a family of 4 and their dog kayak camping at Utica.

Peg Challender kayaking Lake Faucherie.

Lake Faucherie – Dog friendly

Camping/day use fees – NOTE: Make sure you have a valid fire permit. The Lake Faucherie Group Campsites are very popular and they get snatched up really fast. I recommend that you reserve a year in advance to get one of these. These campsites are very large and right near the lake. There are also a few 4×4 campsites sprinkled on the hillside near the dam. A high clearance 4×4 is necessary to get to these, however. I almost forgot about the island you can camp on. This is a popular spot too, so don’t count on getting it; at least not having it all to yourselves. Last, but not least, you can paddle camp to the far side of the lake. There are a few spots there, where you can have easy access to the water and more privacy. Another option is Canyon Creek Campground. It is about 1/2 mile before you get to the lake. The campsites here are fantastic. See my blog post on Canyon Creek Campground for more information. You can also do a search on this blog for Lake Faucherie or Canyon Creek and you will find lot’s more photos and information.

Best time to visit – Summer & Fall are the best times to visit this lake. I recommend going mid week, or after the schools are back in session, as this is a very popular lake…popular but not crowded. The nearest store is the Nyack Shell Convenience Store in Emigrant Gap.

Paddling level of difficulty – It is an easy paddle, but the winds do come up periodically. It is always a good idea to hug the shore, or paddle in the morning or evening, when the water is quiet. The one drawback to paddling on Lake Faucherie (unless it is a day trip), is the limited amount of places to camp. So, if you end up down at Canyon Creek, then you have to load/unload your boat every time you use it.

Other things to do at Lake Faucherie – MUST DO – Hike to the waterfalls along Canyon Creek. I believe there are 7 of them. If you are short on time, the first 2 are some of the best ones. You can have them all to yourselves if you time it right. The 2nd waterfall you come to is a fine place for swimming and a little skinny dipping too (or chunky dunking), if that is your thing. NOTE: The water in both the creek and the lake is cold but doable. This lake is also well known for it’s great fishing.

Directions – See this link for directions to the lake and for more information.

Please share this with all of your paddle pals. The more people that see this the better. Also feel free to ask questions, or add any information you have regarding this article, in the comments section below. I’m sure I will be updating this periodically, as some things do change.

Happy paddling!


To see more photos from these areas, please visit the following galleries:

Archive Galleries

Fine Art America Galleries

Sherri Meyer Photography

1 Erin August 1, 2012 at 8:40 am

Great write up, and as always, amazing photos. I just did a post on paddling on Lower Scotts Flat Lake, so that’s a nice one to try next time you’re in Nevada City.

2 April 8, 2014 at 7:59 am

Hi! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website
with us so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information.
I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
Great blog and excellent style and design.

3 Sherri May 26, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Thank you, Erin. I was just re-reading this and noticed I never responded.

Thank you for suggesting Lower Scotts Flat Lake. I have kayaked there a few times. It’s a beautiful little lake.


4 Paul August 26, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Lake Faucherie! My Dad would take me and my brothers and sisters camping there at least 2 times per summer back in the early 80’s! Love that place! I remember the water was like swimming in a glass of ice water! It was also pure and fresh.

5 Sherri August 27, 2014 at 10:36 am

Hi Paul,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story with me and my readers!


6 Tim February 13, 2015 at 12:08 pm

Exactly the post I was looking for, thanks. Do these places offer kayak rental or are they strictly bring your own?

7 wd6flg March 23, 2015 at 7:22 am

Tim, these lakes are all bring your own boats. Thank you for asking! Sherri

8 Wendy June 8, 2015 at 1:41 pm

What a gem of a blog entry! My husband usually plans our outdoor adventures, but I and some friends are hoping to plan a little dads getaway for our hardworking husbands who are such great dads. This is a wonderful start and I can at least put a suggested itinerary together for them. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and gorgeous photos!

9 Sherri June 9, 2015 at 6:47 am

Thank you very much Wendy. I’m happy to hear my article was helpful to you. Please let me know if you visit any of these lakes and what your experience was. :-)

10 Nancy Hull August 30, 2015 at 9:45 pm

There are places at Almanor that rent kayaks, North Shore Campground does.
Another “must do” I would add to the Almanor area is Burney Falls State Park.
We have been to several of these, but not all so I want to check them out, thanks.

11 Paul Harrar October 27, 2015 at 9:04 pm

Good info. A couple corrections: At Faucherie, you can only reserve the GROUP camp (20+ people) near the boat launch. (Reserve with Forest Service in Nevada City.) All other small campsites around the lake are available first-come. Knowing where all the best camp sites are takes a visit or two of scouting around. Also, the road to Faucherie is very poor, especially along Bowman Lake. Big ruts and loose rocks mean 4×4, high-clearance vehicles only.

Also, motor boats are not allowed in the Upper Lake Clementine area.

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