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7 Fun Lakes near Modesto, CA for Swimming, Fishing, and Kayaking

Modesto has access to some of the best recreation lakes in the state. Most options have hardly any restrictions; you can swim, fish, camp, paddle, and ski year-round.

Modesto is luckier than many other cities in Central Valley. It has access to fantastic recreational lakes suitable for swimming, kayaking, fishing, and more.

And the best part is, these lakes are within an hour’s drive away. Some options are great for swimming and grilling with a family, while others are geared towards adventure travelers. If you’re renting an RV to go on a lake trip, you’d love these lakes.

No matter your hobbies, Modesto’s lakes have something special to offer. Read on to check out your options.

Lakes near Modesto:

  1. Modesto Reservoir
  2. Don Pedro Lake
  3. Lake McClure
  4. Lake McSwain
  5. Woodward Reservoir
  6. Lake Tulloch
  7. Turlock Lake
Lakes near Modesto California Comparison Table

1. Modesto Reservoir

Modesto Reservoir
  • Official Page: Modesto Reservoir
  • Distance from Modesto: 18 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Modesto Reservoir is a 2,800-acre lake just 18 miles east of Modesto. It’s a versatile and family-friendly destination within 30 minutes from downtown.

The reservoir is part of the regional parks system and offers a campground with RV hookups, boat ramps, a designated swimming area, and numerous picnic shelters.

Thanks to its size, the lake has very few limits on recreation. You can swim, sunbathe, kayak, paddleboard, and even waterski and wakeboard; it’s all possible here. The only drawback, however, is that it gets relatively shallow during droughts, so boating is at your own risk.

Fishing is average at Modesto Reservoir. It’s stocked with various species, including rainbow trout, catfish, and largemouth bass. And the bank access is excellent, too. However, the reported catches are modest.

Overall, the reservoir is set up for recreation and is family-friendly. And thanks to its proximity to Modesto, it’s a solid choice for day trips or even afternoon escapes.

Related: 11 Lakes and Rivers for Recreation near Fresno

2. Don Pedro Lake

  • Official Page: Don Pedro Lake
  • Distance from Modesto: 39 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Hiking, Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing, Sailing, Windsurfing

At 13,000 acres, Don Pedro Lake is the 5th largest reservoir in California. It’s the highest-rated and most versatile lake near Modesto.

The reservoir is managed by its own recreation agency that offers two main access areas – Lake Don Pedro Marina and Moccasin Point. Both locations are well-developed and provide boat ramps, boat rentals, campgrounds, swimming areas, and more.

Camping is fantastic at the reservoir. You can make use of the developed campgrounds with full hookups and Wi-Fi or camp along the banks. Don Pedro Lake is one of a few places where dispersed shoreline camping is still allowed. Renting an RV for a lake trip and traveling to Don Pedro is an excellent idea.

Boating is excellent here, too. The lake is large enough to allow for all sorts of boating activities, including wakeboarding and sailing. And the marinas provide support and rentals. Plus, a houseboat community on the lake adds to the charm.

Fishing is unique here, too. Thanks to its great depth, Don Pedro Reservoir has both cold and warm water species. From bass, crappie, and catfish to trout, kokanee, and Chinook, there are plenty of options. Check out this write-up on fishing. 

Naturally, swimming is allowed at Don Pedro Lake. It has fantastic beaches that get pretty busy in summer. Plus, there is a selection of hiking trails to warm up before cooling off.

Needless to say, the reservoir is extraordinarily versatile and well-managed. No wonder it gets some of the highest ratings in California. And luckily for Modesto, it’s less than an hour away.

Related: Guide to Henry W. Coe State Park

3. Lake McClure

Lake McClure
  • Official Page: Lake McClure
  • Distance from Modesto: 43 miles (1 hour)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Hiking, MTBs, Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Lake McClure is a 7,000-acre reservoir east of Modesto. It’s another prime location for lakeside recreation with hardly any limits.

Although McClure is half the size of Don Pedro Lake, it’s still massive and has plenty of space for everyone. Also, it’s just as developed and well-organized as Don Pedro.

It has two main recreation areas – Barrett Cove and McClure Point. Barrett Cove has a marina, houseboats, and modern campgrounds with hookups and cabins. In contrast, McClure Point is a simpler but quieter option.

The lake is a popular wakeboarding and skiing destination. Plus, you can kayak, paddleboard, and jet ski. The marina offers rentals for those without boats.

Swimming is allowed at McClure Lake. The water here is clear but nippy, perfect for hot summers. The access to the water is excellent, with designated swimming areas in places.

Where this location stands out is the nature and trails. The shores are teeming with wildlife like deer, wild turkeys, and donkeys. And the Barrett Cove area offers miles of MTB trails ready to be explored.

Lake McClure is the top destination for water sport enthusiasts, families, and nature fans. It’s definitely worth the one-hour drive.

4. Lake McSwain

  • Official Page: Lake McSwain
  • Distance from Modesto: 46 miles (1 hour)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Camping, RVs

Lake McSwain is a 300-acre reservoir downstream from Lake McClure. It’s a family-friendly lake known for fishing and swimming.

Although McSwain is managed by the same organization as Lake McClure, it is quite different from it. The biggest distinction is the size; it’s not as spacious as the bigger cousin. 

Also, Lake McSwain has a boating speed limit of 10 mph which restricts many water activities yet creates a more serene, family-oriented environment.

Another unique thing about the reservoir is its ever-expanding Splash-n-Dash park that operates during the warm season. It’s one of the best lakeside attractions for kids.

The marina has boat and kayak rentals, a launching ramp, and a store. Plus, the lake offers a large developed campground with hookups and cabins. 

Also, the reservoir is known for rainbow trout. Folks report large catches, and many reach the daily limit. Bank access for fishing is excellent, and boat trolling yields good results.

Overall, Lake McSwain is fantastic for families and fishing. But if you want to throttle up your jet ski, Don Pedro and McClure Lakes are better.

Related: 11 Lakes and Rivers for Recreation near Fresno

5. Woodward Reservoir

  • Official Page: Woodward Reservoir
  • Distance from Modesto: 22 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Woodward Reservoir is a 2,900-acre lake northeast of Modesto. It’s the second nearest recreation reservoir with a wide variety of activities.

The lake is surrounded by a regional park that offers numerous access points, including three boat ramps, picnic shelters, and swimming spots. 

Also, the park has five camping areas with over 160 campsites combined. Overall, campgrounds are well-kept and offer RV hookups, showers, tables, and grills. 

The reservoir allows all manner of boating activities like skiing and wakeboarding, as well as fishing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Although, there is no marina to rent out boats or aid the boaters.

Swimming is allowed at Woodward Reservoir, and it’s one of the most popular activities here. The sandy banks provide easy access to the water and unlimited sunbathing space.

However, the biggest disadvantage to Woodward Reservoir is that the fun only lasts throughout the summer. Between September and April, the lake authority prohibits all body-to-water contact, including activities like kayaking. This is to comply with the drinking water standards.

Overall, Woodward Reservoir is a popular family-oriented place that is buzzing in summer.

Related: Guide to Henry W. Coe State Park

6. Lake Tulloch

Lake Tulloch
  • Official Page: Lake Tulloch
  • Distance from Modesto: 34 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Lake Tulloch is a charming 1,260-acre reservoir northeast of Modesto. It’s one of a few lakes in California with private shoreline houses. Yet, it has a recreation area that offers public access. 

Lake Tulloch RV Campground and Marina provides over 130 lakeside campsites, cabins, a beach, and boat rentals; everything you may need for a fun time on the lake.

And when it comes to activities, there are practically no limits. You can swim, paddle, jet ski, and wakeboard all day long. 

Fishing is excellent at Lake Tulloch. It’s stocked multiple times a year with rainbow trout, which is a common catch in addition to smallmouth and largemouth bass.

If you are looking for a charming lake that offers a little bit of everything yet remains crowd-free, this is it.

7. Turlock Lake

  • Official Page: Turlock Lake
  • Distance from Modesto: 24 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, SUPs, Swimming, Camping, RVs, Skiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing

Turlock Lake is a 3,500-acre reservoir just 35 minutes east of Modesto. It’s another example of a family-friendly lake that offers a little bit of everything.

However, what makes this destination unique is the access to the Tuolumne River, so you really get two-in-one here.

The lake offers a campground with 60 sites by the water. But the facilities aren’t as modern as in some other lakes on the list. There are showers and tap water but no hookups, for example.

However, on the water, you can do pretty much whatever you like. The lake has two boat ramps and a swimming area but no rentals, so bring your own craft. 

Fishing is average at Turlock Lake. It gets stocked with rainbow trout in late fall, but the catches are moderate. Also, you can expect largemouth bass and carp.

Overall, the reservoir won’t win prizes for the best lakeside spot, but it’s close to home and can be ideal for day trips and evening fishing expeditions. Also, the management is changing in 2022, so it should get even better.

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