San Luis Reservoir, California, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - California - Central Valley -

A sparkling sapphire gem carved into the eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley, the San Luis Reservoir enjoys a scenic location in Merced County. This California reservoir is jointly owned and operated by the California Department of Water Resources and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Unlike other reservoirs that are created by damming river waters, the San Luis Reservoir is the largest off-stream storage facility in the world. Water is pumped uphill from the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta during the rainy season, then released during the dry season for use by the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project.

Construction of the B.F. Fisk Dam took four years, from 1963 to 1967, at which time the reservoir began receiving water. The San Luis Reservoir filled to capacity in 1969 with 12,700 watery acres and 65 miles of shoreline. In addition to the lake’s functional purposes for farm irrigation and hydroelectric power generation, San Luis Reservoir is now known as a haven for boaters, sailors, campers, and nature lovers alike.

On a warm spring day, on your way to the shores of the San Luis Reservoir, you’ll pass fields of colorful wildflowers, glimpses of the crystalline blue waters, and gently rolling green hills. In summer, warm temperatures help those hills to turn a golden wheat color as the oaks adjust to the new season. Always a peaceful and beautiful trip, your first sight of the natural treasures that await will be the perfect appetizer to your trip.

This quiet valley began as a home to three different indigenous Yokuts groups – the Foothill, the Northern Valley, and the Southern Yokuts. Always rich in natural resources, these peoples fished, hunted, and foraged for food and materials to sustain them. In 1805, the Spanish arrived with new ideas and missions, forever changing the lives of the Yokuts. Over the next 40 years, up until the 1848 Gold Rush, the newcomers fished and hunted the Yokuts lands, eventually depleted their resources and doing serious damage to their number by introducing new diseases. With the influx of settlers during the Gold Rush, the native resistance was finally squelched.

Though the valley bears little resemblance to what it was 200 years ago, visitors and residents can educate themselves on the San Joaquin Valley and San Luis Reservoir past and present at the San Luis Reservoir State Recreation Area. Start your day at the park’s Romero Visitor Center and pick up pamphlets of San Luis facts, things to see, places to go, and goodies to eat.

The San Luis Reservoir offers many different options, from sightseeing to hands-on activity. Nature lovers will enjoy taking an introductory hike; the Lone Oak Trail travels six miles of the lake’s shores, weaving past Quien Sabe Point and flirting with Lone Oak Bay. Take your camera, because the shores of the lake are filled with jackrabbits, ground squirrels, deer, feral pigs, bobcats, cottontail rabbits, waterfowl, and even bald eagles.

Summer temperatures at the lake usually hover in the 90s, occasionally reaching 100. On such warm days, a cool lake dip will be just what you need to refresh your energy supplies. San Luis Creek’s North Beach area has a lifeguard and designated swimming area, and the rest of the lake is fair game for those who want to find a quiet spot for a float.

Of course, there are other ways to cool off aside from swimming. Enjoy the breeze on your face as you take a powerboat jaunt around the lake, hang onto a tube for dear life, or test your waterskiing skills behind your rented boat. Jet skis, pontoon boats, canoes, and kayaks also have a niche at the San Luis Reservoir, so whatever your speed and boating preference, you’ll feel right at home. Strong winds can pick up quickly on the lake, so red warning lights on top of Romero Overlook and Quien Sabe Point warn boaters to head to shore.

San Luis Reservoir reaches a water level low-point during summer when demands for water are high. Low water levels combined with high temperatures encourage the growth of algae. The San Luis Reservoir Low Point Improvement Project is reviewing feasible ways to preserve water quality.

Camping has a big presence at the lake, and one of the best ways to get to know the lake is at night. When most of the day’s visitors are gone, the stars come out, the waters calm, and you’ll feel like you have this 12,700-acre reservoir all to yourself. Several campgrounds populate the shores and provide everything from primitive campsites tucked into eucalyptus and pines to luxury sites with nearby restrooms, barbecues, and water and electric hookups.

The San Luis Reservoir and San Joaquin Valley are rich in history, natural beauty, and activities for tourists and residents alike. After you’ve spent just a weekend here, you’ll find that leaving the rippling blue waters and green hills to go home is something best left for another day.

Things to do at San Luis Reservoir

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

San Luis Reservoir Photo Gallery

San Luis Reservoir Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Not Known

Water Level Control: California Department of Water Resources

Surface Area: 12,700 acres

Shoreline Length: 65 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 544 feet

Maximum Depth: 270 feet

Water Volume: 2,041,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1969

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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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