Cachuma Lake, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Central Coast -

Also known as:  Cachuma Reservoir, Lake Cachuma

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One of the most popular destination lakes along the California Central Coast is 3100-acre Cachuma Lake. In 1953, the federal Bureau of Reclamation constructed a dam across the Santa Ynez River to provide a water supply to nearby Santa Barbara and surrounding areas. After the Cachuma Dam, later renamed the Bradbury Dam, began retaining water that would otherwise flow into the Pacific, much of the Santa Ynez Valley was under up to 150 feet of precious water. The local Santa Barbara County Parks Division immediately arranged a long-term lease of the lake and surrounding 9000-acre Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. The intervening 60 years have seen Cachuma Lake developed into one of the area’s favorite outdoor destinations. There is now something here to interest every member of the family.

One of the most popular spots on Cachuma Lake is along the south shore where the Cachuma Lake Campground holds more than 400 campsites in four separate areas on a large peninsula, with over 100 of them fully equipped with electric, water and sewer service. Group camping areas are available for reservation. The large public use area on the peninsula also holds a marina which rents row boats, canoes, kayaks, pontoon boats and pedal boats; the marina sells gas, fishing licenses and bait. A grocery/convenience store sells snacks and supplies, while a playground offers some physical activity to energetic young visitors. Picnic tables, grills, rest rooms and drinking fountains round out the amenities for day visitors, while coin-operated laundry and showers add convenience for campers.

In addition to bring-your-own shelter, Cachuma Lake offers yurts and fully-equipped one-and two-bedroom cabins by reservation only. The campground is popular enough that reservations are always a good idea. As Cachuma Lake is a drinking water supply reservoir, no-body-contact rules preclude activities such as water skiing, jet skiing and swimming. Two swimming pools with lifeguards are available for swimming, with swimming lessons taught regularly for a small fee. The pools are closed during the winter months, although the campground is open. The campground even offers a new dog park for four-legged campers, who must be licensed and up-to-date on required vaccinations.

Boat launching ramps accommodate a variety of smaller boats for a small fee. Two fishing piers, one with handicapped access, are provided for shore fishing. A 40 mph speed limit on much of the lake allows bass boats to travel the large lake with ease. Other areas are off-limits to heavier boat traffic for the paddling pleasure of canoes and kayaks. The lake and boat ramps are open year-round, with fishing usually more popular as a winter sport. The planted rainbow trout are usually more interested in the offered flies when the water is cooler. In recent years, the lake has become known for excellent smallmouth bass fishing, while the many arms, coves and bays provide optimal habitat for sunfish, catfish, bluegill, redear and crappie. An annual trout fishing derby is extremely popular. And recently, in answer to an increasing number of carp in the lake, a carp bowhunting season has been declared. Because of the danger of invasive mussels, new boating regulations require quarantine times and power washing for trailered boats without a current Cachuma Lake sticker. A storage lot is provided for boats waiting out the quarantine period.

Miles of hiking trails are enclosed within the 9000-acre Cachuma Lake Recreation Area. Set against the San Rafael and Santa Ynez Mountains, the area covers all types of hiking terrain. Everything from easy, leisurely walks to rocky and steep climbing routes can be found. On the north shore of the lake, the Neal Taylor Nature Center is a hands-on nature experience offering nature-based exhibits and activities for children. Bird feeding stations behind one-way glass allow for observation of the many local birds, Trout eggs can be seen hatching, and a resident bear is available for viewing. Entrance to the Nature Center is free, covered by the $10 entrance fee to the Recreation Area (annual permits are available). The Nature Center also offers lake wildlife cruises led by naturalists, who know the best locations to scout out birds and animals among the isolated coves and rocky shores. In winter, these lake cruises are especially prized by bird watchers who often sight bald eagles.

Other nearby attractions include the Los Padres National Forest, a short distance up-river with plenty of scenic hikes, forest campgrounds and hidden wilderness picnic spots. El Capitan State Beach is about 45 minutes to the west by road, offering swimming, beach hikes and lovely views of the Pacific. Several nearby small towns offer unique restaurants, bed & breakfasts and guest lodges. The City of Santa Barbara is located 30 minutes away and offers a full range of hotels and upscale lodgings, elegant shops and restaurants of every description. All sorts of outdoor adventures can be found in the surrounding area to take advantage of the warm climate and fantastic mountain views.

Cachuma Reservoir delivers water into the main Santa Barbara water distribution system via a tunnel from the lake. As the lake ordinarily holds the waters from spring flooding, water levels are very dependent on recent rainfall and can change drastically from season to season and year to year. After several years of drought, Cachuma Lake is currently very low, so boating and fishing are limited by the low water. The water levels will improve once regular rainfall in the surrounding mountains provide the necessary run-off. The campground is still open, however, and many activities can go on as usual. Cachuma Lake is well-worth a visit even during times of low water as the striking rocky scenery is still visible and the plentiful wildlife even more likely to be near the water. So, bring the binoculars and the hiking shoes: Cachuma Lake awaits!

Things to do at Cachuma Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Swimming Pool
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest
  • Playground

Fish species found at Cachuma Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Redear Sunfish (Shellcracker)
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Cachuma Lake Photo Gallery

Cachuma Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: U.S Bureau of Reclamation-Cachuma Project

Surface Area: 3,100 acres

Shoreline Length: 42 miles

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 751 feet

Maximum Depth: 150 feet

Completion Year: 1953

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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