Clear Lake is a reservoir on the San Joaquin River in northern California, United States. The lake extends into portions of Kern and Tulare counties. The dam that creates the lake is owned by the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP). It was constructed in 1958 to provide drinking water for the city’s residents as well as for agricultural use. The state park at its northeast corner has about 2,400 acres (970 ha) of land including two major camping areas with more than 200 campsites between them.
The main campground is located near the dam site with an overflow area across the river. There are facilities such as:
- modern restrooms
- picnic sites
- swimming beach
- boat launch
- fish cleaning stations
- hiking trails
- bike paths
There are two designated group campgrounds inside the park. One accommodates up to 100 people and the other up to 80 people. Both feature full hookups and minimal services. Campsites range from standard tent pads to fully equipped yurts and cabins. Toilets and showerhouses are provided in the larger group campground, but not in the yurt campground.
A single cabin sleeps six people and has four bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, dining room, living room, and roofed front porch. Two additional cabins built in 2008 were unoccupied at the time of writing. Clear Lake State Park features eight trailheads, 6 primitive walk-in campgrounds, and 13 drive-up campgrounds. Primitive walk-in campgrounds are accessible off either Highway 299 or U.S. 50. They offer flat ground along the shoreline with some privacy screening trees. No restroom facilities are provided, but water and trash receptacles are. Drive-up campgrounds are found along the eastern side of the park, behind the dam.
These campgrounds accommodate multiple vehicles, have RV dump station, and offer various levels of privacy screening. All drive-up campgrounds share a common parking area, which contains several pullouts and spaces for trailers, where bicycles may be left safely. Boat launches are provided at the westernmost boat campground, which is accessed off Highway 299. Fish cleaning stations are provided at the southern end of the park, near the dam. Located outside the park proper, these structures contain holding pens for striped bass, black sea bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, bullhead, pumpkinseed, and crayfish.
Fishing opportunities include:
- red-eared sunfish
Game fishing for:
- brown trout
Ice fishing for:
- rainbow smelt
- winter flounder
- kokanee salmon
Inland marine fishing includes:
- trolling for striped bass
black sea bass
Nearby attractions include the historic towns of Clayton and Grass Valley, as well as the clear waters of Clear Lake itself. Clear Lake State Park provides access to this inland coastal region via three separate routes: Highway 299 crosses over the dam from east to west, then north to access the park entrance, while both U.S. Route 50 and State Route 37 intersecting at right angles also provide access from the south. Clear Lake State Park is within sight of Mount Shasta, which is 10 miles (16km) distant.
Other nearby peaks include St. Helena, Napa, and Sonoma mountains, all of which are closer than Mount Shasta. On sunny days, you can see Mt. Shasta ten miles out into the lake. Clear Lake State Park features two primary entrances, one each on Highway 299 and U.S. 50.
- Entrance #1 is closest to Interstate 5, the major artery running through the Central Valley of California. This entrance offers a view of the entire lake, not just the northeastern part nearest the damsite.
- Entrance #2 is much smaller, only offering space for one vehicle to enter at a time. It gives drivers approaching from the direction of Clayton or Grass Valley, two communities that have grown up around the lake, a good idea of how large the actual parking lot/campground is.
Hikers are warned to bring shoes and gloves, as they will need protection from the sharp rocks and burrs that abound here. Clear Lake State Park has seven hike-to picnic areas, ranging from grassy knolls overlooking the lake to wooded areas providing shade. Picnic tables are furnished with grills, water, and garbage receptacles. Restrooms facilities are provided at Clears Lake SP, except at EZ PZ.
Campers can utilize the equestrian campground during the week of the summer horse racing meet, dates vary annually. Access is also possible on weekends year round, however, it is not recommended due to the possibility of encountering horses. Horses allowed in the campground are kept in enclosures, never tied up or close to the campsite. Horses allowed off property are required to have current Coggins papers. Clear Lake State Park has two primary wilderness areas, one on each bank of the lake. Within these areas, hikers can find secluded beaches, mature pine forests, open meadows, and rugged bluffs overlooking the lake.
The total combined acreage of all public lands in Clear Lake State Park amounts to approximately 3,300 acres (1,300ha), of which DWP owns 1,200 acres (490ha), LA County owns 800 acres (320ha), and the remaining 1,500 acres (610ha) are managed by Cal Trans, the California transportation agency, who in turn delegate their management responsibilities to the California State Parks department. Although most of the lands are publicly owned, many of the roads are maintained by Cal Trans, whose workers often perform seasonal maintenance in the spring and fall. Private lands adjoining the park are included in the overall acreage figure, but do not contribute any roadways or utilities.
The park’s interpretive center features exhibits about the natural and cultural history of the area. Interpretive displays include information on the construction and operation of the dam, the formation of the lake, the impact of the lake on local ecology and culture, Native American life before and after contact with European Americans, historical scenes from early settlement, and highlights of the human exploration of outer space. Visitors can learn how mud and rock dams are used to generate electricity, irrigate crops, supply drinking water, and protect downstream ecosystems from flooding. The visitor center auditorium presents movies about the wonders of nature and history every weekend, as well as educational programs throughout the year. Live animal exhibits include aquariums, touch tanks, and live snakes and lizards. Programs offered include hay rides, guided hikes, children’s events, arts and crafts classes, holiday events, and astronomy outings.
The park’s recreational activities include:
- mountain climbing
- wildlife viewing
Commonly seen wild animals include:
- gray foxes
More rarely spotted species include:
- black-tailed jackrabbits
- kit foxes
- cottontail rabbits