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8 Amazing Recreational Lakes near Paso Robles, CA

The selection of lakes around Paso Robles isn't large but quite varied. A couple of large reservoirs nearby offer various types of water recreation, and smaller community lakes allow tranquil fishing and paddling.
itiswild.com Best Lakes near Paso Robles CA

Located just 30 miles from the Pacific, Paso Robles is a getaway to fishing, surfing, and ocean beaches. Yet, there are several reservoirs near the city that allow a range of freshwater activities.

Lake Nacimiento and Lake San Antonio are the two most popular options, offering swimming, boating, sailing, and camping.

Several neighboring towns have community lakes suitable for tranquil fishing and paddling. And those who enjoy hiking can venture to Soda Lake to explore the unique habitat of this ancient lakebed.

Learn more about the area and discover what Paso Robles has to offer!

Lakes near Paso Robles:

  1. Lake Nacimiento
  2. Lake San Antonio
  3. Atascadero Lake
  4. Whale Rock Reservoir
  5. Santa Margarita Lake
  6. Laguna Lake
  7. Lopez Lake
  8. Soda Lake
Lakes near Paso Robles California Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Lake Nacimiento

Lake Nacimiento California
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lake Nacimiento
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 20 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

A drive of 20 miles northwest of downtown Paso Robles takes visitors to the earthen dam that created Lake Nacimiento in 1957. 

Managed by the Monterey County Water Resources Agency, this impoundment along the Nacimiento River in San Luis Obispo County transformed a narrow waterway into a great recreation and camping location. 

The dam generates hydroelectricity, provides water for irrigation and reduces downriver flood risk. 

Some locals refer to this body of water as “Dragon Lake” due to the shape it has assumed within the valley. 

After passing the dam, water in the Nacimiento River flows into the Salinas River.

Located approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Lake Nacimiento has a shoreline spanning almost 165 miles, a length of 18 miles, and a surface area that usually ranges around 5,370 acres.

Lake Nacimiento Resort is a popular commercial property that offers access. With a Mediterranean-like climate, guests enjoy outdoor activities along this reservoir. 

Swimming, fishing, water skiing, wakeboarding, boating, hiking, and enjoying wildlife are common pastimes.

Anglers enjoy visiting this lake, the only one in California regularly stocked with white bass. Species found here include bass, catfish, crappie, and bluegills. 

Mercury from legacy mining operations has led to fishing advisories people should observe before consuming fish from the lake. 

A state record 52 lbs. minnow carp was caught by a lure in this lake in 1968.

2. Lake San Antonio

a reservoir in California valley
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lake San Antonio
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 30 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

A road trip that is a little more than 30 miles northwest of Paso Robles, Lake San Antonio took shape as a central California reservoir after the San Antonio Dam went into operation in 1967. 

Designed for flood protection, this dam serves a similar function as the one impounding Lake Nacimiento – to control the downriver flow along the San Antonio River and regulate water levels in the Salinas River for fish passage and groundwater recharge. 

This dam that holds the nearly 17-mile-long lake with approximately 100 miles of shoreline is also managed by the Monterey County Water Resources Agency.

Monterey County’s Lake San Antonio Recreation Area is the best place to experience this reservoir, which has a surface area of over 5,700 acres. 

Visitors can enjoy fishing, boating, camping, swimming, water skiing, hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, and horseback riding at two separate recreation areas: the North Shore’s 1,180 acres and the South Shore’s 3,020 acres. 

Those who fish in the reservoir may see deer and other wildlife perched on the nearby hills as they cast their lines. 

Common fish found in Lake San Antonio include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, crappie, and striped bass.

3. Atascadero Lake

Ducks gathered on the lawn in front of the Atascadero Lake at the Park
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Atascadero Lake
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 15 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Atascadero Lake is located 15 miles south of Paso Robles, in Atascadero. This municipal lake sits within a shallow, small basin that used to fill after the winter rains and largely disappeared during the summer. 

This small pond was a gathering place for the Salinan Indians long ago. When E.G. Lewis planned to develop Atascadero in 1913, he hired engineers and crews to expand the pond’s basin and touted the lake in his promotional brochures. 

Before the city was formally incorporated, San Luis Obispo County deepened the basin in 1962. 

The 30.5-acre lake has an average depth of 6.85 feet, though droughts in the semi-arid climate will lower water levels. 

Located on its northern shore, Atascadero Lake Park has a playground, trails, workout areas, and the Charles Paddock Zoo. 

Paddle boats are available for rental. 

Those who enjoy fishing will find bass, bluegill, bullhead, channel catfish, sunfish, sturgeon, crappie, and steelhead. 

4. Whale Rock Reservoir

Aerial photo of Cayucos Central Coast California San Luis Obispo County including the reservoir. Drought parched landscape. Tree covered ridges. Low clouds marine layer over the ocean
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Whale Rock Reservoir
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 23 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Located 23 miles southwest of downtown and less than a mile from the Pacific coastline, Whale Rock Reservoir impounds Old Creek, a short distance from the community of Cayucos. 

Built by the state’s Department of Water Resources in 1961 and managed by San Luis Obispo County’s Public Works, this impoundment serves as a source of drinking water.

Public access to Whale Rock Reservoir is permitted, but boating of any kind is prohibited. 

Three miles of trails and a picnic area offer excellent birdwatching sites. 

Year-round fishing is permitted at the reservoir. Fish commonly found within its clear waters include catfish, bluegill, bass, and steelhead.

5. Santa Margarita Lake

Santa Margarita Lake Recreation and Natural Area, California
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Santa Margarita Lake
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 33 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking

A drive along a section of US Highway 101 a little more than 30 miles south-southeast of town allows visitors to experience Santa Margarita Lake. 

Also known as the Salinas Reservoir, this impoundment of the Salinas River was constructed by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1941 to guarantee a reliable source of drinking water for Camp San Luis Obispo. 

Today, the 1,100-acre reservoir also is a water source for the City of San Luis Obispo. 

San Luis Obispo County Parks provides public access to Santa Margarita Lake. Although body-contact restrictions prohibit swimming, water skiing, and personal watercraft, activities such as year-round fishing and boating are allowed. 

The Santa Margarita Lake Natural Area offers activities such as hiking, biking, equestrian riding, and wildlife viewing in the open space near the reservoir. 

Anglers who visit this lake will enjoy its peaceful nature and excellent fishing opportunities. Species commonly found in Santa Margarita Lake include crappie, catfish, bluegill, trout, and redear sunfish. 

6. Laguna Lake

Peaseful afternoon of rural area at San Luis Obispo, California
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Laguna Lake
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 32 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Laguna Lake is located approximately 32 miles to the south, in San Luis Obispo. 

This seasonal reservoir has historically grown in size as runoff from Sycamore Canyon, Prefumo Canyon, and watersheds within the Los Osos Valley have flowed into it. 

Urbanization in the area, the re-routing of Prefumo Creek, and other factors have increased sediment deposits, an issue the city has started to address. 

San Luis Obispo has crafted a Laguna Lake Natural Reserve Conservation Plan to guarantee that birding, picnicking, boating, and fishing in the area will continue. 

The Laguna Lake Natural Reserve, 344 acres in size, includes the lake, a popular place to fish for largemouth bass, black crappie, and spotted bass. 

7. Lopez Lake

Lopez Lake jumping of a dock
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lopez Lake
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 46 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing

A 46-mile drive south of Paso Robles, Lopez Lake took shape after a dam impounded Arroyo Grande Creek in 1969. 

This reservoir provides drinking water for nearby communities along the Pacific Coast in San Luis Obispo County. 

The Lake Lopez Recreation Area is a perfect destination for those who want to visit this reservoir, which averages between 950 and 1,000 surface acres. 

Popular activities include camping, boating, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, zip-lining, birdwatching, and mountain biking. 

The Arboleda Group Day Use Area is a place for large gatherings and reunions. 

The park hosts more than 150 bird species and over 175 different types of flowering plants. 

Boats are permitted within the lake, unlike some drinking water reservoirs that only permit fishing from embankments. 

The lake’s 22 miles of shoreline make this an ideal destination for fishing. Top catches here include largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, and spotted bass, along with sunfish. 

8. Soda Lake

The overlook along Soda Lake Road offers a spectacular view of the ongoing super bloom at Carrizo Plain with flowers on either side of often-dry Soda Lake and the Temblor Range in the distance
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Soda Lake
  • Distance from Paso Robles: 60 miles (1hr 10min)
  • Activities: Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Photography, Birding

Sixty miles southeast of Paso Robles, Soda Lake offers a different recreational experience. 

This lakebed usually remains dry, though its outline as an alkali waterbed is visible to those who visit the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a federal preserve established in 2001. 

Situated in an area that receives very little rain, much of the water that hovers near or above the surface has a salty crust upon it. 

Located in an area of the Central Valley that once had vast grasslands, this remote region is known for its ridges and ravines, as well as lowland dry pond areas where rain accumulates during the infrequent precipitation. 

Once a year, this area comes alive with a wildflower display that stretches for as far as an eye can see. Springtime, and April in particular, are the best times to experience Soda Lake.

Those who visit this area should plan to bring plenty of water and supplies since services are limited. 

Anglers can leave their gear at home since only brine and fairy shrimp are usually found here. 

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