If you like camping with a side of fresh water and lots of land to explore, Lake Isabella is the place to go.
Situated in Southern California and spanning over 11,000 acres, there’s no shortage of sights to see and wonders to discover, making it the ideal destination for a camping trip.
Can you go camping at Lake Isabella? There are lots of opportunities for camping at Lake Isabella, including group camping areas and developed campgrounds.
With its lakeside location, you’ll be able to enjoy boating, fishing, and swimming, as well as hiking and exploring the surrounding areas.
As one of the largest reservoirs in Southern California, there’s plenty of room to move at Lake Isabella and lots of different campgrounds and opportunities for dispersed camping.
If you’ve added this picturesque spot to your camping bucket list, we can help you plan the adventure, with our guide to Lake Isabella Camping.
The Geography of Lake Isabella
Lake Isabella is part of the Hot Springs Valley and found in the southern Sierra Nevada, in Kern County, California.
The name Lake Isabella was derived from the reservoir it was named after, which was created in 1953 by a dam in the area, and today it’s enjoyed by campers and outdoor enthusiasts of all types.
The town of Lake Isabella is found just 35 miles east northeast of Bakersfield and is in close proximity to Los Angeles, so it’s not just campers who visit its beauty.
The elevation of the town ranges from 2,500 to 2,600 feet so it’s perfect for everything from fishing on the lake or hiking the surrounding mountains.
Lake Isabella is situated at the meeting point of the North and South Forks of the Kern River, and both of these rivers are wild.
This means you can enjoy white water rafting during the spring or take things easy with swimming and fishing in summer, with lots of freshwater options available.
What’s There To Do?
As a camping destination that centers on a lake, most of the activities you’ll want to do at Lake Isabella involve the water.
Among some of its more famous attractions are the hot springs, white waters, and calm lakes for enjoying with a sailboard or kayak, depending on your interests.
The surrounding trails make it a popular spot for hikers, walkers, cyclists, and explorers and you’ll be able to find many day trails to enjoy.
The most popular is the Isabella Peak Trail that lets you look out over the lake and its surroundings, so you can marvel at the sheer size of the unique body of water.
As Lake Isabella is relatively close to larger towns, there’s no fear of missing out if you need to head to the grocery store.
You’ll also find dining, auto repair shops, hardware stores, and anything else one might require on a camping trip, so it’s not the most isolated of positions to camp.
Accommodation and Camping at Lake Isabella
Lake Isabella is home to a handful of developed campgrounds that are managed by California Land Management. These are just a few of the popular grounds and what they have to offer campers:
Pioneer Point Campground: Bookings are required at Pioneer Point, and it has room for 78 family units and campers up to 30 feet in length. The campground features showers, toilets, fire rings, and grills, but there’s no access to water on site. It’s open year-round for those who want to check out Lake Isabella in the winter, too.
Auxiliary Dam Recreation Area: No bookings are allowed at this campground, so you’ll need to fight the other tourists to get a spot. With flushing and chemical toilets, no limit on RV length, and open camping options, it’s one of the most popular ways to stay and see Lake Isabella.
Hungry Gulch Campground: The popular Hungry Gulch Campground can be found on the western side of Lake Isabella. This site is popular with families and features a playground, water, toilets, showers, grills, and tables. However, it’s only open from April through to September and requires booking in advance.
Tillie Creek Campground and Group Areas: Sites for groups and individuals are available at Tillie Creek, and RV owners will be pleased to know there’s no limit on length. You’ll find a fish cleaning station, RV dumping station, showers, toilets, and amphitheater here, so it’s a cut above the rest at Lake Isabella.
Those who prefer to boondock and camp privately will be pleased to know there are some areas set aside for dispersed camping.
This allows you to enjoy the surroundings and views of the lake without being in a crowded campground, which is more to some people’s style.
The Best Time to Visit
Ask any Californian when they enjoy their best weather and they’ll no doubt tell you from May through to October.
These months are also the best time to visit Lake Isabella to take advantage of the famous California sun, pleasant temperatures, and minimal rainfall.
Keep in mind, if you do visit during these months, you’ll be joined by a huge swarm of campers and other tourists.
The ideal temperatures mean it’s quite popular and if you don’t mind sharing the lake and surroundings with others, it’s the perfect time to go.
Otherwise, some of the campgrounds at Lake Isabella are open over the winter and provide a unique take on this area with its continental climate.
However, you’ll need to be prepared for the cold temperature and increase in rain, which don’t always make for the best camping experience.
Tips to Prepare For Your Camping Trip
Although a popular camping destination, there’s a lot to learn about Lake Isabella before you take off on your trip. Keep these things in mind when camping in the area to ensure you’re doing it right.
If you’re staying at a group campground, it needs to be reserved at least five days before your arrival. As most of the camping spots are busy during the high season, you’ll need at least a few month’s notice to reserve a site, so plan accordingly.
The water on the lake can get quite gusty which is why it’s a hit with windsurfers. If you’re not planning on windsurfing, make sure you’re comfortable swimming or boating in these kinds of conditions.
Using a boat or personal watercraft in this area requires a permit, which can be obtained from the marina at Lake Isabella. Failing to acquire a permit and then being on the lake in a watercraft can lead to fines and your camping spot being reprimanded, so it’s taken seriously.
Some of the campgrounds operate as a first come, first served, basis, so you might be able to get something last minute. Do your research before leaving home though, as you’ll need to know the right time to arrive to ensure you snag a spot.
Take a Dip at Lake Isabella
The massive centerpiece of Lake Isabella is arguably what draws people to visit it, but the surrounding beauty is just as special.
As one of California’s most popular camping spots, you’ll need to be prepared and booked in advance to ensure you don’t miss out on anything this gorgeous spot has to offer.
Lake Isabella is one of the greatest spots that Southern California has to offer and has always been a huge hit with campers.
To find out more about other popular Californian camping destinations, we’ve answered some FAQs that can point you in the right direction.
What is the Most Popular Campground in California?
California is home to some of North America’s best campgrounds and among their favorites are the Nevada Beach Campground, Sonoma Coast State Park, White Tank Campground, and Crystal Cove State Park.
Whether you want to see the beach, the forest, or the mountains, there’s a campground in California that can deliver.
Is Boondocking Legal in California?
With lots of different federal, state, and local laws in place, the best rule of thumb to follow is that boondocking is only allowed on Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management property.
Even then you should check the specific area that you plan on boondocking at, as there may be additional regulations.
Can You Just Camp Anywhere in California?
It is not possible to camp anywhere you want in California but you may be able to enjoy dispersed camping on Public Lands in the state.
However, there are rules about how long you can do this for, with a period of no more than 14 days spent camping in California over a 28 day period.
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