6 Amazing Lake Camping Spots in Northern California

Bring the kayaks, floats, and sunscreen to enjoy a peaceful camping getaway in the mountains. Lake camping is a great way to cool off in those hot Northern California summers and our favorite way to make unforgettable new adventures.

My husband and I reside in Sacramento, California, and camping in Northern California is our ultimate playground. We are drawn to lakeside camping spots because we have kayaks and enjoy paddling around to find our private swimming coves and rocks to jump off of. We bought our kayaks a few years ago and now it's hard for us to go camping without them!

We have dispersed camped in some of the locations below and also have reserved campsites so I hope you can use this article to spark your imagination for your future camping trips! I do want to mention that these are our personal experiences and I hope you take them into consideration but also do more research to make sure they fit your lifestyle and personal standards!

French Meadows Reservoir

Talk about hidden gem - this reservoir is tucked away in the Tahoe National Forest and is surrounded by a dense coniferous forest. A good portion of the camp sites have a lake view or are close walking distance to the water. Our campsite at French Meadows Campground had a view of the lake and when golden hour hit it was so beautiful to watch the sun set over the water and shine between the trees.

We took our kayaks out on the lake and found some nice areas to jump off rocks and chill out on the shore line. I will note that the beaches are on the rocky side so I would pack water shoes so your feet are comfortable! There was a hilly path from our campsite to launch our kayaks at the lake, and although we didn't mind this, it could be a hassle for others. There is a boat launch not far from the campgrounds so that is also a viable option if you prefer to not carry your kayaks down the hill.

Our campsite was surrounded by large trees so it was perfect to set up our hammock and have some shaded relaxation during the daytime.

If you are interested in what camping/kayaking gear we bring with us then head to the bottom of the page. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases and the small commission made from each purchase helps run my travel blog.

On our way back to Sacramento we stopped by the Placer County Big Trees Grove which is a true hidden gem I highly recommend checking out. There is a grove of giant Sequoia trees that are known as the most northern and isolated grove in California. If you are wanting to venture to Sequoia National Park but don't want to drive far then you'll love this more local wonder!

Why You Should Camp Here: Well spaced out and maintained campsites with clean bathrooms. Dense forest with awesome lake kayaking. Amazing and unique road trip views along the way!

Find Reservations Here

Loon Lake

This is our favorite spot to camp and it's funny how we found it actually. A few years ago we planned to find a first come, first serve campsite in the general Ice House Reservoir area. After hours of searching with no luck we decided to keep driving to see if we could find somewhere to pitch our tent. We kept driving down Ice House Rd. until eventually we ended up at what appeared to be a campground (Red Fir) - even though it was pitch black and only 1 other parked car (no tent) in the lot - we decided to pitch our tent as we didn't have much of an option. What felt like could be the start to a horror movie actually ended up being quite the story for years to come and a new found love for Loon Lake.

The next morning we woke up and met our "new neighbor" who instead of being a creepy murderer had actually a very similar story to us and found this end of the road spot by chance like ourselves. We headed out to the lake to do some kayaking and we were in awe of how crystal blue the water was - which was reminiscent of Lake Tahoe. We drove back to our campsite and realized we had been locked out - along with the people who had actually reserved the campground! We later found out that this was a group campground and those who reserve the site receive a lock code to unlock the grounds. Needless to say we had a great workout hiking all of our gear out! Although this silly mishap did not stop us from coming back to Loon Lake many times after that!

We have dispersed camped a few times near Loon Lake and we have also stayed on the opposite side of the lake at Loon Lake Campground. We went camping with another couple and although our particular campsite itself was pretty small, we still enjoyed being in close proximity to the lake. They've also rebuilt the campgrounds on the Northshore which I hear are very nice but more expensive.

We've had some of the most amazing sunsets here and the kayaking is unbeatable. We prefer to launch our kayaks near the Rubicon Trail head and explore that side of the lake for some spectacular swimming coves. There is even a cave to kayak in at your own risk! If you are feeling extra adventurous you should check out Spider Lake. If you look up the Loon Lake to Spider Lake hike on All Trails you can hike the full 9.4 miles or what we did was we kayaked on Loon Lake and met up with the trail so it ended up only being a 4 mile hike roundtrip.

Why You Should Camp Here: Amazing views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, pristine water for kayaking, next to the Rubicon Trail, islands and coves to paddle too.

Find Reservations Here

Union Valley Reservoir

There are many options for camping lake side at Union Valley Resovoir - some campgrounds include Camino Cove, Yellow Jacket, Wench Creek, and Sunset. You really can't go wrong at Union Valley - they have nice sandy beaches, great for water sports and fishing. We actually found a dispersed camping spot on the Southwest side of the lake and the views are incredible. We went in late May and although we didn't go in the water (brrr!) we enjoyed kayaking and waking up to the snow capped mountains from our site.

Why You Should Camp Here: Beautiful clean lake with sandy beaches, amazing mountain views, loads of campsites, fun for water sports.

Find Reservations Here

Bucks Lake

Bucks Lake is located at 5,200 feet elevation in Plumas County with 17 miles of sandy shore line to enjoy. We went years ago while we were going to school at Chico State and found a first come first serve site at Lower Bucks Lake - although you can reserve spots at campgrounds such as Bucks Lake Campground, Haskins Valley and Sundew. We had so much finding cliffs and rocks to jump from and enjoyed watching some of the river otters pass by as dusk began to fall.

Why You Should Camp Here: River otters, cliff jumping, sandy beaches, tall pines, fishing

Find Reservations Here

Ruth Lake

Ruth Lake is located in Six Rivers National Forest and is surrounded by the South Fork Mountain Range which measures at above 6,000 feet tall. The lake itself is at 2,654 feet elevation so you are engulfed by the large forested mountains. People come to this lake for impeccable fishing (bass, crappie and trout) and partaking in water activities such as boating, kayaking and paddle boarding.

While most campgrounds in Northern California seem to have sufficient information and photos on the internet or social media- this lake is more obscure than others. We stayed at "Boy Scout Cove Camp" which if you look up online has only 1 review with 1 star (yikes!). Although don't let that scare you off because we went for a group family trip (8 people) - and had an amazing time. Our campsite was tucked beneath the trees and looked out to the lake from our tent. We loved taking our kayaks and snaking through the Hobart Creek just ear shot from our site.

The other campgrounds around the lake include Bailey Canyon Campground, Ruth Rec Campground, Fir Cove Campground and more.

Why You Should Camp Here: Amazing fishing, spacious campsites, abundant wildlife.

Find Reservations Here + Here

Utica Reservoir

Utica Reservoir is a small picturesque reservoir in Calaveras county and connects to its sister lake Union Reservoir - which is not to be confused with Union Valley Reservoir listed above! Although we personally haven't camped here before - my husband has spent many years coming to this lake when his family owned a cabin in Bear Valley. Utica Reservoir was one of the first places we visited when we first started dating and this place holds a special place in our hearts.

There are large granite boulders that hug the shoreline which makes for a great place to jump into the water and splash the day away. Bring your kayaks and explore some of the islands and soak in the beautiful high alpine air.

We hope to come back soon and partake in some dispersed camping or reserving a site at Utica Reservoir Sandy Flat Campground or Rocky Point Campground. Don't forget to visit Calaveras Big Trees State Park on your way up!

Why You Should Camp Here: High Alpine beauty, explore the many Islands, big rocks to jump from, serene.

Find Reservations Here

Camping Gear List

Coleman Montana 6-Person Tent: https://amzn.to/3mkjgaZ

Favorland Camping Hammock :https://amzn.to/2Gcyjmx

Lodge Seasoned Cast Iron 3 Skillet Bundle :https://amzn.to/2ZISOy5

Coleman Even-Temp Propane Stove, 3-Burner: https://amzn.to/3kEgvQ7

Cone Coffee Maker: https://amzn.to/32Ubahl

Coleman 12 Cup Percolator: https://amzn.to/3mN1xco

Hydrophobic Sleeping Bag with Advanced Synthetic - https://amzn.to/3q0fIvk

Mr. Heater Buddy Grey Indoor-Safe Portable RV Radiant Heater (4,000-9,000-BTU) - https://amzn.to/3s4B3pl

Perception Kayaks Sound 10.5: https://amzn.to/3wAcMtq

Intex Explorer K2 Kayak, 2-Person Inflatable Kayak Set: https://amzn.to/3a5jiiz

Camera Gear List

Camera Bag - https://amzn.to/2JGVtTV

DJI Mavic Air 2 - https://amzn.to/3geMwxc

Drone Filters - https://amzn.to/2LexIDh

Seagate Portable 2TB External Hard Drive - https://amzn.to/35hCZkD

Nikon z7 - https://amzn.to/2JJxp2N

Please Save to Pinterest + Share on Social Media! :)


Welcome to the Brittsbellavita Blog, a California based travel and adventure community geared towards inspiring others to find their "Bella Vita." I am a Licensed Drone Pilot and Content Creator with a passion for exploring the outdoors, finding hidden gems, and getting off the beaten path. I live in Northern California, and love showcasing the Golden State, West Coast, and beyond!

  • TikTok
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram