Lake Isabella, California, USA
Also known as: Isabella Reservoir
Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Lake Isabella.
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Lake Isabella visitor and community guide
Lake Isabella is an 11,200 acre reservoir in Kern County, California, about 35 miles northeast of Bakersfield. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers created the lake, also known as Isabella Reservoir, in 1953 for flood control along the Kern River, irrigation water storage, and hydroelectric generation. Tucked into the southern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the lake enjoys warm summer temperatures and mild winters. Offering year-round recreational opportunities, Lake Isabella has become a premier California vacation destination.
Two dams impound Lake Isabella: the Main Dam and the Auxiliary Dam. In 2006 a leak was found in the Auxiliary Dam. The Corps of Engineers lowered the water level 20 feet below normal full pool (2585 feet above sea level) to investigate the leak and determine corrective measures.
While visiting the lake, carve out some time to go fishing. A pastime enjoyed by many, Lake Isabella is home to many species that live beneath the surface, including bluegill, carp, crappie, hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, perch, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, striped bass, white bass, and yellow bass. In fact, bass fishing is so good here that local anglers are sure that a record-making largemouth bass specimen will soon be caught. As always, make sure you have a valid California fishing license before you arrive.
On any warm day, you’ll find the lake spotted with boats of all shapes, sizes, and speeds. Canoes and kayaks take tranquil strolls around coves, sail boats catch the strong summer breezes, pontoon boats enjoy leisurely cruises, and power boats speed their way around the 38 miles of Lake Isabella shoreline, often pulling wakeboarders and waterskiers behind them. But before heading out into those inviting waters, be aware that all boats must display a valid Lake Isabella boat permit, available at any marina on the lake.
The refreshing, cool waters of Lake Isabella stand in contrast to summer temperatures that can reach 100 degrees, almost begging you to take a long swim. Grab a tube or water toy and float along, watching birds swoop above or cottony clouds drift by. Swimming is not permitted more than 300 feet from shore.
Due to Lake Isabella’s prime location adjacent to the Sequoia National Forest, over 1,000 miles of nature trails await the outdoor enthusiast. The 2,207 square mile forest is a haven for bird watchers, hikers, off-roaders, and equestrians, offering plenty to see and do. The Pacific Rest National Scenic Trail passes through the Sequoia National Forest for 78 miles and, combined with Summit trail, Cannell Meadow trail, and Jackass Creek trail, weave naturists though the unique and magnificent sequoia ecosystem.
For those who love a bit of excitement, the Kern River is a very popular destination for whitewater rafting. Plenty of tours are available to help you navigate the rapids of the Lower Kern and Upper Kern. The Lower Kern, most southern of all Sierra rivers, offers intermediate and advanced rapids in the class III-IV range as you careen down an aquatic canyon. The Upper Kern offers the same class of rapids with big, white waves and heart-stopping drops. Make reservations in advance.
The fun doesn’t stop when the temperatures drop – in fact, some would say they’re just beginning. Winter sports abound in this California region, with snowshoeing, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, and snowboarding topping the list. Head to Mountain & River Adventures for snow shoe and cross country ski rental or the Alta Sierra at Shirley Meadows Ski resort for downhill skiing, snowboarding terrain park, and a thrilling tube park. Lessons are available at both locations, and the very fair prices will make you almost as happy as the sports to follow.
Lake Isabella is a wonderful vacation destination for all four seasons, offering excellent water activities in summer and exciting snowy ones in winter. Depending on your preferences, plan your trip according to season or, if you can’t quite decide, just make plans for a bit of Lake Isabella during every season!
Custom Lake Isabella house decor
Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.
Things to do at Lake Isabella
- Vacation Rentals
- Whitewater Rafting
- Water Skiing
- Downhill Skiing
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Horseback Riding
- National Forest
Fish species found at Lake Isabella
- Black Bass
- Largemouth Bass
- Rainbow Trout
- Smallmouth Bass
- Striped Bass
- White Bass
- Yellow Bass
Best hotels and vacation rentals at Lake Isabella
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Lake Isabella photo gallery
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Lake Isabella statistics & helpful links
Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed
Water Level Control: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Surface Area: 11,200 acres
Shoreline Length: 38 miles
Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 2,585 feet
Average Depth: 60 feet
Maximum Depth: 185 feet
Water Volume: 560,000 acre-feet
Completion Year: 1953
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