9 Fantastic Lakes near Palm Springs, CA

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Most lakes around Palm Springs came into existence as reservoirs to support agriculture and deliver water to urban areas. 

Yet, they also provide outstanding recreational opportunities with swimming, fishing, boating, and kayaking, just to mention a few.

Most of the lakes are about an hour away, making day trips easy, although quite a few have excellent campgrounds, too.

Check out what Palm Springs has to offer!

Lakes near Palm Springs:

  1. Lake Cahuilla
  2. Perris Reservoir
  3. Lake Fulmor
  4. Lake Hemet
  5. Diamond Valley Lake
  6. Skinner Reservoir
  7. The Salton Sea
  8. Big Bear Lake
  9. Lake Gregory
Lakes near Palm Springs California Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Lake Cahuilla

Lake Cahuilla California
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Website: Lake Cahuilla
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 32 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Horseback Riding

Located 32 miles southeast of Palm Springs, Lake Cahuilla occupies a mere fraction of its former footprint. Before recorded history, this lake had expanded and even disappeared numerous times. 

At one point, Lake Cahuilla covered more than 2,200 square miles, extending to Baja California in present-day Mexico.

The lake, currently 135 acres in size, sits alongside Riverside County’s 710-acre Lake Cahuilla Veterans Regional Park that offers visitors impressive views of mountains and the Coachella Valley. 

Due to environmental concerns, the Coachella Valley Water District may limit access or close the park in the future.

Enjoy the views, picnicking, and camping are the primary reasons to visit. Although visitors may fish from the shoreline, boating, swimming, and use of floatation devices are not permitted. 

Hiking and horseback trails and an adjacent campground with a swimming pool provide other recreational experiences in this beautiful location.

2. Perris Reservoir

Perris Reservoir California
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lake Perris
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 46 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

A drive north of San Jacinto Mountain and some 45 miles west of Palm Springs takes visitors to Perris Reservoir. The southernmost portion of the California State Water Project, this artificial lake began to fill in 1973. 

The Lake Perris State Recreation Area provides access and offers boat ramps, campgrounds, swimming areas, and trails.

Fish commonly spotted in the reservoir include bluegill, carp, catfish, crappie, and redear sunfish. The largemouth bass is a popular catch, and stocking of rainbow trout occurs from the fall through spring. 

At over 1,550 above sea level, Perris Reservoir has become a popular summertime party destination to escape the desert valley heat.

Abundant fish and amphibian populations attract avocets, egrets, herons, kingfishers, and stilts. Owls and a variety of wildlife, including bobcats, coyotes, and mule deer frequent the coastal sage scrub near the reservoir. 

3. Lake Fulmor

Lake Fulmor California
Source: flickr/public domain
  • Website: Lake Fulmor
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 37 miles (50 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking

A drive of 37 miles, including a stretch along the hilly and scenic Banning-Idyllwild Panoramic Highway on the western side of the San Jacinto Mountains, brings visitors to Lake Fulmor

The US Forest Service built an earthen dam that impounded Indian Creek so the roadway could pass through the area. This attractive lake formed in the mountainous area of the San Bernardino National Forest.

The Forest Service manages the Lake Fulmor Day Use Area alongside this small artificial lake that has a great reputation for the bluegill, largemouth bass, and rainbow trout caught there. 

A roadside picnic area developed in the 1950s offers lakeside access for fishing and picnics. 

A federal Adventure Pass or Interagency Pass should be displayed on vehicles parked at the day-use location. 

4. Lake Hemet

Lake Hemet California
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Lake Hemet
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 47 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Lake Hemet is a 19-mile drive south of Lake Fulmor along the Banning-Idyllwild Panoramic Highway, approximately one hour by vehicle from Palm Springs. 

This popular destination on the western side of the San Jacinto Mountains sits approximately 4,330 feet above sea level. 

Workers finished the original dam that created this reservoir in 1895. The Lake Hemet Municipal Water District maintains this 470-acre lake and an adjacent campground that sits in the San Bernardino National Forest.

In addition to shoreline fishing, boats are available for rental from the Water District. 

Anglers will find largemouth bass and trout abundant in the waters. 

Access requires the purchase of a federal Adventure Pass or Interagency Pass. 

5. Diamond Valley Lake

Diamond Valley Lake in California
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Diamond Valley Lake
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 47 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

A visit to the present site of Diamond Valley Lake before the late 1990s would have taken the visitor to a different landscape. 

Construction on this extensive reservoir began then as a plan to store emergency supplies of drinking water for populous communities of Southern California. 

Located just under 50 miles from downtown Palm Springs, Diamond Valley Lake represents long-term planning that has created a great habitat for wildlife and a popular location for recreational opportunities. 

Able to store up to 264 billion gallons of water when full, Diamond Valley Lake collects water from the northern part of the state that arrives from a more-than 440 mile-long aqueduct and pipeline network. 

Managed by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the reservoir serves as the site of the Diamond Valley Lake Marina, a popular lakeview trail, and abundant recreation facilities. 

Although fishing, kayaking, and boating with clean burning engines are permitted, body contact in the water is prohibited to preserve the reservoir’s integrity as a source of potable water. 

Water skiing, swimming, and personal watercraft use are not permitted in Diamond Valley Lake. 

6. Skinner Reservoir

Skinner Reservoir California
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Skinner Reservoir
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 60 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Sailing

Commonly known as Lake Skinner, this artificial reservoir took shape in 1973 after crews built the Skinner Clearwell Dam. 

Located 60 miles from Palm Springs, the Skinner Reservoir includes popular recreational facilities managed by the Riverside County Regional Park.

Since the water in this reservoir is preserved for possible use as a drinking source by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, no body contact is permitted within the reservoir. 

A nearby splash pad provides a chance to cool off. Also, there are hiking and horseback trails and parkland. A large campground offers overnight stays.

Fishing is permitted and is a popular activity at Skinner Reservoir. Channel catfish, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, and stripers are common catches. 

Access fees are required for visits to this location.

7. The Salton Sea

The Salton Sea in California
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Salton Sea
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 60 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Kayaking, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Birding, Photography

The Salton Sea has experienced a checkered history. Formed after an engineering accident filled parts of the lower Salton Basin that was part of the much larger, prehistoric site of Lake Cahuilla, this landlocked and shallow body suffers from high salinity. 

Located approximately 60 miles southeast of Palm Springs, this basin has filled with water from the Colorado River on-and-off, creating farmland in the Imperial Valley that has experienced great fertility. The modern lake that took shape in 1907 once spanned 15 by 35 miles. 

After World War II, the Salton Sea became a popular resort destination for those living in vacation homes. The shrinkage of the lake since the 1970s has left the water with levels of salinity that few fish can tolerate. Large fish kills became common by the 1980s, and the situation remains dynamic and not amenable for recreational fishing. 

The sargo, tilapia, and other fish that once flourished in this formerly-freshwater lake have disappeared. Although fishing is not possible, visitors to this area can enjoy the large number of bird species that frequent the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

8. Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake California
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Big Bear Lake
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 81 miles (1h 40min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Paddleboarding

Depending on the route taken around San Gorgonio Mountain, a trip from Palm Springs to Big Bear Lake is approximately 80-90 miles. 

The original dam that created this snow and rain-fed reservoir was built in the 1880s. Crews erected a new dam in 1911. 

Located in the San Bernardino Mountains, this artificial lake has a surface elevation of approximately 6,740 feet above sea level. 

Surrounded by trees and mountains, the area has become a year-round resort destination. 

In addition to bass and rainbow trout, fish commonly caught in Big Bear Lake include bluegill, crappie, and catfish. Both shoreline and boat fishing are popular pastimes. 

Besides fishing, Big Bear Lake offers swimming beaches, kayak, and boat rentals and is one of the destinations for wakeboarding and waterskiing.

9. Lake Gregory

Lake Gregory in California
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Lake Gregory
  • Distance from Palm Springs: 68 miles (1h 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Canoeing, Picnics

68 miles northwest of downtown, Lake Gregory traces its origins as an artificial reservoir to a plan in the late 1930s to create a dam on the east and west forks of Houston Creek. 

The federal Works Progress Administration coordinated this project within the San Bernardino National Forest.

Managed by San Bernardino County Regional Parks, the recreational opportunities at Lake Gregory include great catfish and trout fishing, as well as summertime swimming.

The boathouse and fishing at Lake Gregory Regional Park are open throughout the year. 

At over 4,550 feet above sea level, Lake Gregory enjoys a great mix of summertime rain and winter snow that sustains this important reservoir. 

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