The sun is shining, and it’s hot out! You need a break from the heat. One easy, fun, and affordable way to do this is by shoving off on a kayak. Even if you don’t own one, they’re affordable to rent, and the activity is easy to try. And even better, this is an activity that is safe for the environment. Here’s a few of our favorite lakes to go kayaking in California High Sierra.

Donner Lake

Donner Lake paddling tour
Image appears courtesy: Donner Memorial State Park

If you’re new to paddling and eager to try, there’s no better opportunity than joining the FREE paddle tours. Available on a first-come, first-served basis. Every Thursday, guides at Donner Memorial State Park lead hour-long tours from late June through at least the end of September. During the tour, you’ll receive paddling instruction, safety talk, and life jacket fitting before setting off onto the serene waters.

For those who prefer to explore independently, rentals for kayaks, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, and even pedal boats are available at the Donner Lake Marina, conveniently located near the park’s boundary. Before you set off on the waters, be sure to read Visit Truckee-Tahoe’s visitor’s guide to water recreation for helpful tips and information.

Lake Tahoe

Image appears courtesy: North Lake Tahoe

How could we have this list without talking about the legend of alpine lakes – Lake Tahoe. It’s the 2nd deepest lake in the US. The largest alpine lake in North America. And most of all, the views are simply spectacular. With over 72 miles of shoreline and over 20 Lake Tahoe Water Trail trailheads, there’s no shortage of places to paddle or rent kayaks. From full moon tours with Tahoe Adventure Company to transparent kayaks with Wild Society, you’ll get an up close and personal view of one of the purest, large lakes in the world.

Caples Lake

Kayaking on Caples Lake Resort on a summer day
Image appears courtesy: Caples Lake Resort

Just a few miles south of Lake Tahoe lies a paddling paradise that couldn’t be more perfect—Caples Lake. Despite its elevation of 7,800 feet, easy access via Highway 89 makes it a breeze to reach. Yet, with its expansive 600 acres and 6 miles of shoreline, it feels like a world apart from the bustling energy of the Lake Tahoe Basin. Glide through shallower sections adorned with polished granite boulders. And thanks to Caples Lake’s 5 MPH speed limit, the glassy waters are so clear that you may even spot a huge rainbow trout swimming right beneath your kayak.

For those eager to explore this serene haven, kayak rentals are available at the Caples Lake Resort and Marina.

Twin Lakes

people kayaking on Lower Twin Lake in Mono County
Photo by: Local Freshies®

As soon as you slow down and begin to explore the nooks and crannies throughout the High Sierra, you’ll realize there are A LOT of precious gems hidden just a short detour away. A good example of this is Twin Lakes. It might only be ten miles from Bridgeport, but it feels like it’s in a different world. At seven thousand feet above sea level, Upper and Lower Twin Lakes provide an opportunity to catch trophy sized fish (state record for Brown Trout), and of course go kayaking in California High Sierra. Butting up to the Sawtooth Ridge, the famous Matterhorn Peak looks down on the lakes like a guardian. This is the same mountain that Jack Kerouac spoke of in “The Dharma Burns.” You can rent kayaks and boats from the Twin Lakes Resort which is on Lower Twin Lake.

Lake Mary

Image appears courtesy: Mammoth Lake Tourism – Photo by: Samantha Lindberg

Just a bit further south, under the abundant Mammoth Lakes’ summer sunshine, lies a chain of lakes perfect for kayaking. Among these tranquil waters, Lake Mary shines brightest. Situated at an elevation of 8,910 feet, it stretches a mile in length and half a mile in width, covering 140 acres. Its depth plunges to 114 feet at its lowest point. Lake Mary is not just a scenic marvel. It’s also steeped in legendary fish tales, including one about “Freddy Mo`Ready,” a monstrous German brown trout that gained fame in the early ’90s, even earning a profile in the L.A. Times.

Though landing a trophy trout may prove elusive, just one paddle stroke is enough to enamor you with its pine-lined shores and the majestic Sierra crest looming in the background. To ensure that all the lakes in the region continue to be enjoyed for future generations Mammoth Lakes Tourism and their partner Clean Up The Lake have committed to spend the next 5 years cleaning up the region’s lakes. Last year was Lake George and this year it will be Lake Mary.  

Both the Pokonobe Resort and Marina and the Lake Mary Marina, located on the northern shore of Lake Mary, offer kayak rentals, making it easy for you to explore this serene oasis.

Hume Lake

hume lake kings canyon national park
Hume Lake in Kings Canyon National Park; Image courtesy – Local Freshies®

Many visitors rush straight into Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, focusing solely on the main attractions. However, if you slow down and explore the roads less traveled, you’ll uncover hidden gems like Hume Lake. Nestled off the Kings Canyon National Scenic Byway in a picturesque high alpine valley, the surrounding peaks create a scene reminiscent of the Sound of Music. This 87-acre lake is an ideal destination for kayaking, as it prohibits motorized boats, ensuring a tranquil experience without major wakes to contend with.

Immerse yourself in the serenity of towering Sequoia and Jeffrey Pines, accompanied by the distant hum of children enjoying their summer camp activities. Hume Lake stands out as one of the few lakes in this part of the Sierra accessible by road, with kayak rentals conveniently available at the marina.

Bass Lake

kayaking on Bass Lake
Image appears courtesy: Visit Yosemite | Madera County

On the surface, this pine rimmed lake may feel like a smaller version of Lake Tahoe. But as soon as you look closer, you’ll find that it has its own charm and feel. Despite it being only fourteen miles away from the southern gate of Yosemite, this body of water offers a vast array of recreational options in its own right. Within a few miles of it, you can see Giant Sequoias in Nelder Grove. Access miles and miles of amazing mountain biking. Enjoy a 19th century steam engine ride. And of course, go kayaking in California High Sierra via the multiple rental locations around its shores.

Pinecrest Lake

person kayaking on Pinecrest Lake in Tuolumne County
Image appears courtesy: Visit Tuolumne

For a more relaxed atmosphere that doesn’t include personal watercraft or anyone waterskiing, consider visiting Pinecrest Lake. This 300-acre jewel is a good option for those wanting to enjoy a human powered water activity like canoeing, stand up paddleboarding, or kayaking in California. At an elevation of 5,600 feet, this is a great warm weather destination to cool off at. It’s quite popular in the summer months so we recommend visiting on a weekday when the crowds are less.

When it comes to kayaking in California, the lakes of the High Sierra offer respite from the heat alongside some of the best views anywhere. Don’t just sit home in air conditioning. Make it a point to get outside and enjoy these amazing places.

Author: Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors

Stay Up to Date

for updates on hidden gems, events, and more from California's High Sierra.

More Trip Ideas

More Trip Ideas

Keep Discovering

Need more reasons to visit the Sierra Nevada High Country?

Get a glimpse of the stunning scenery to see and activities to do in the Sierra Nevada.

View Gallery Brochure

Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors