Lake Oroville, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Shasta Cascade -

Also known as:  Oroville Reservoir

Lake Oroville, snuggled into the Sierra Nevada Foothills about 75 miles north of Sacramento, is one of northern California’s favorite playgrounds. Boasting the tallest earthen dam in the United States — 770 feet — the reservoir was built by the California Department of Water Resources on the Feather River as part of the California State Water Project. Since its completion in 1967, Lake Oroville has provided water to millions of Californians, irrigation water for agriculture, flood control, hydroelectric power, fish and water quality protection, and many recreational opportunities for visitors and residents alike.

Because Lake Oroville provides flood control in the Feather River basin, the water level is drawn down in the fall to winter pool level, allowing winter and spring rains to fill the reservoir instead of flooding the surrounding land. The maximum summer pool elevation of the lake is 900 feet above sea level, with an average elevation of 793 feet. The minimum level since the project began in 1967 was 645 feet above sea level.

Lake Oroville’s electricity generation is a pump-back system, where water is released over the dam during peak demand for electricity, then pumped back during off-peak hours. This pump-back operation can cause the water levels to fluctuate 1 to 2 feet daily and up to 9 to 11 feet over a several week period.

On warm summer days, you’ll find Lake Oroville dotted with outdoor enthusiasts indulging in some of their favorite activities: picnicking beside rippling water, horseback riding along groomed trails, taking a splash-filled dip in the inviting and refreshing water, or pitching a tent for a night’s rest under the stars. If you’re looking for peace and relaxation, Lake Oroville delivers.

Begin your trip with a hike through the area’s diverse wilderness. Take a meandering walk through ancient oaks that sprinkle the valley, catch a glimpse of history looking at Chinese laborer-made lava rock walls, and gaze in wonder at the scenery that mountain hiking will afford you. Bikers are also welcome explorers, and the Freeman Bicycle Trail offers over 44 miles of off-road terrain for eager mountain bikes and their riders. And if you’re not an advanced rider, don’t fret: about 30 of those miles are flat, sometimes gently rolling, so you can enjoy a biking adventure, too. Whether you’re hiking or biking, take a camera along and keep your eyes open for Northern California wildlife, like wild turkeys, raccoons, ring-tailed cats, and deer.

Head to the Lake Oroville State Recreation Park for some of the best offerings at the lake. Before you get comfortable in the sun, check out the park’s visitor center, perched atop Kelly Ridge. Learn about the dam’s creation, take a look at any of the on-request videos, or enjoy the spectacular vantage point from the 47-foot overlook tower.

After your visit to the Visitors’ Center, head for the comfortable, cozy picnic areas that await you, offering the perfect spot to grab a bite in the shade before beginning your aquatic antics. The only two officially designated swimming areas at Lake Oroville are also located within the state park, so feel free to take a dip at both the Loafer Creek Area and North Forebay.

Oroville Lake is divided into several different areas: North Forebay is reserved for the exclusive use of non-motorized boats, so if small wake and quiet surroundings are your fancy, head to this tranquil wedge of the reservoir. Get out in a canoe, kayak, or sailboat and take advantage of the wake-free lake surface. Make use of the day-use areas, with covered shade ramadas for picnic groups, barbecue stoves, and a 200-foot sandy beach that’s perfect for building sandcastles and digging your toes into. Nearby South Forebay is a bit more active, providing launch ramps for power boats and some truly spectacular fishing. Loafer Creek Area is mostly for lounging and swimming, providing a 100-food beach and green area perfect for spreading out a blanket.

If fishing is your game, Lake Oroville offers wonderful German brown, catfish, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, salmon, and smallmouth bass opportunities. Everyone over 16 will need a valid California state fishing permit. In addition to the lake’s offerings, the Feather River Fish Hatchery, located just across the river from Oroville city, raises salmon and steelhead trout. If you’re interested in going behind-the-scenes, underwater windows at the hatchery allow you to watch things happen during spawning season.

Of course, one of nature lovers’ favorite activities is camping, and Oroville Lake has one of the most unique camping options available. In addition to traditional camping, offering both hookup and primitive sites on land, the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area offers the opportunity to camp on the water. You’ll need your own boat (any kind will do) to get to the on-water floating campsites, but once you’re there, you’ll be treated to a fantastic, one-of-a-kind camping experience. Each floating campsite is 20′ x 24′, sleeping up to 15 people, and offers a propane grill, a food locker, a lockable closet, a handicap-accessible bathroom, a covered living area, and an upper party deck/sleeping area for daytime sunbaths and nighttime tents. Make sure to take your own drinking water before embarking on this adventure.

Lake Oroville offers many wonderful opportunities, assuring that everyone in your group will have a great time at this scenic lake in Northern California.

Things to do at Lake Oroville

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Playground

Fish species found at Lake Oroville

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Steelhead Trout
  • Trout

Lake Oroville Photo Gallery

Lake Oroville Statistics & Helpful Links

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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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