The Insider’s Guide to Foothill & Upcountry Lakes

The rising temps of summer in the hills are made all the sweeter when you know just where to find your perfect weekend by one of our many lakes – from boating to camping to quiet mountain dips.  Beat the heat  – and the crowds this summer with our insider’s guide on where to sleep, eat and play lakeside!

Utica Lake - kayaking
Photo: Kayaking on Utica Reservoir


THE FOOTHILLS –  Big Lakes, Big Fish and High Speed Fun

Hitch up the boat or jet skis and head to the bait shop on your way to one of four major reservoirs in the Calaveras foothills.  Lakes Camanche, Hogan, Melones and Tulloch all welcome personal watercraft and other towables, and have reservable tent and RV campsites with lake views.  Anglers have been setting records recently in these parts with prize bass and trout catches, as the lakes are all stocked to ensure a great fishing experience.

New Melones Lake. Photo: Raul Ortega


Many campsites have shady oak trees and picnic tables to provide some relief from the summer sun, but it’s never a bad idea to bring some extra shade – a simple pop-up shade tent or tarp will do the trick.  Love the camping idea but prefer a more comfortable route?  Check out the cabin and cottage rentals at Tulloch and Camanche, you’ll be by the shore with a roof over your head, a barbecue and a porch to take it all in!

Lake Camanche – Camping from $28 night / $150 week; Cottages from $170 night / $800 week
More info:   (209) 763-5912.

New Melones Lake  – Camping from $22 nightly;  Click here for reservations and lake info
Gear, supplies, fishing reports and local lore at nearby Glory Hole Sports  209-736-4333. Water levels are down due to the drought, but the lake is still open and there’s plenty of big fish to hook.

Lake Tulloch – Camping from $23 nightly; Cabins from $100 nightly
For reservations: or 800-894-2267

New Hogan Lake – Camping from $14 nightly; Click here for reservations and lake info


Lake Tulloch | Jack Forkner
Lake Tulloch, Copperopolis | Jack Forkner


UPCOUNTRY – The Place for Paddlers, Stargazers and Mountain Lovers

White Pines – While there’s no camping at White Pines Lake, this little gem just outside the town of Arnold is a perfect spot to take the kids on a hot day, with a shaded picnic area and extensive play structure, as well as a nice sunny beach with a shallow wading area.  Need to rent kayaks or paddleboards? Head over to SNAC and they’ll fix you up.  Be sure to load up on picnic supplies at Big Trees Market in Arnold before heading out.   Make it a day long outing with a hike or bike ride on the nearby Arnold Rim Trail and a visit to the fabulous Sierra Nevada Logging Museum, just a short walk from the lakeshore.

White Pines Lake | Gina Donoghue
Photo: White Pines Lake by Gina Donoghue


The High Sierra Lakes are characterized by crisp clear waters, granite islands and quiet campsites in the pines.  Most camping here is on a first come, first served basis so our recommendation is to get here before Saturday if you can.   Plan for cool evenings and remember that the local rodents and bears will visit when you leave food out – stow it in your vehicle overnight and when you leave the campsites for a day out.  Need fishing supplies before heading upcountry? Check out Ebbetts Pass Sporting Goods.

Lake Alpine – No question this is one of the most picturesque places to spend a summer day, take the four-mile trail around the lake, much of which is wheelchair accessible or opt for a more strenuous hike to Inspiration Point, overlooking the lake and surrounding wilderness.  There are four campgrounds on Lake Alpine, as well as a restaurant, bar and general store.  Rent a kayak or check out the free interpretive programs by local forest rangers.

Located 60 miles east of Angels Camp on Highway 4, 3 miles east of the town of Bear Valley.

More info:  Camping and recreation,  National Forest information

Utica Reservoir | Jason Smith
Utica Reservoir

Spicer Meadow / Union and Utica Reservoirs –
About four miles west of Bear Valley on Highway 4 is Spicer Reservoir Road, which will take you 9 miles down to this trio of granite lined lakes.  Surrounded by National Forest and the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness, this region has limitless possibilities for hiking and exploring.  Spicer is the largest of the three, with concrete boat ramps and trailer parking, although boats are limited to 10mph.   All offer great fishing, and Utica Reservoir is a favorite among kayakers for its many rocky islands that offer a unique boat-in camping opportunity.  Spicer has piped water available, while you’ll need to pack in the H2O at Utica and Union.

More info:  Camping and recreation

Kayaking lake Alpine
Kayaking & Paddle Boarding Lake Alpine. Photo: SNAC

Related links: Calaveras Lakes Round-up | Swimming Holes and Lakes | How to spend your vacation on the water | Sustainably Calaveras – Immerse yourself in authentic Sierra fun this summer |