There are amazing places across the country to paddleboard, but we wanted to narrow down the top three spots just in Northern California.
It wasn’t easy. The whole region (including parts of Southern Oregon) is filled with great places to paddle. For instance, West of the Cascades between San Francisco and Ashland has more than 1,000 lakes and recreation areas situated in some of the most beautiful forests, hills, and mountains in the country — to say nothing of the rivers and, of course, the Pacific Ocean.
It took some work, but our top picks are Mammoth Lakes, Juanita Lake and Point Reyes – one each from Northern California’s lakes, rivers, and the ocean. These genuinely are paddle boarding nirvana, waiting for you.
First on the list is Mammoth Lakes…
This trio of lakes sits southeast of Yosemite National Park, nestled in a wooded mountain valley. Lake Mary, Horseshoe Lake, and Convict Lake each provide vast expanses of clear water amidst the kind of scenery people keep complaining you can’t find anymore.
Expect super-calm water in the morning until the warming afternoon makes the wind pick up. After that, there’s just enough chop to make things interesting.
GETTING THERE: Approach Mammoth Lakes via Highway 203 from Route 395. Follow Lake Mary Rd. South out of town as the road curves rightward to the northwest (that’s Lake Mary on your left). Continue following Lake Mary Road to its end to find Horseshoe Lake. For Convict Lake, follow 395 Southeast past the Mammoth Lakes/203 Exit and turn right on Convict Lake Road. You’ll find the resort, marina, and lake a few miles south.
Parking is open and easy to find, though it can be crowded on weekends during peak season.
EAT, DRINK, SUP
Multiple public campgrounds dot the area around Mammoth Lakes, with lodges, hostels, and full hotels nearby or back in town. You can find something for whatever level of comfort you want between paddle sessions.
Driving to the lakes takes less than an hour even in summer traffic, with restaurants, bars, and resorts of every variety waiting back in town. Most of the campgrounds include grill or campfire sites.