Exploring Pyramid Lake by Boat – A unique Southern Californian Adventure
About Pyramid Lake
Are you looking for an adventurous nature-getaway to escape the hectical Los Angeles city life for a few days? Search no more! Located inside the Los Padres National Forest of California, Pyramid Lake offers a great option for those who truly like to enjoy nature. The water reservoir, which is formed by the 386-foot-tall dam, represents an extremely underrated destination when it comes to outdoor recreation. Jet skiing, kayaking, hiking, camping, boating. There is nothing you can’t do. Naturally, my wife and I decided to pack our tents and head 50 miles up north-west to see what this place really had to offer.
Setting up our tent at Los Alamos Campground
When looking for a reasonable place to stay, we immediately came across Los Alamos Campground, a well-rated camping area located just about 2 miles north of Pyramid Lake. Although many campgrounds around major nature spots in Southern California were booked out during the time of our trip, we were able to book one of the spacious camp sites (20 US$ per night) spontaneously 3 nights before our arrival. The place really had all the basics needed, a close-by restroom, fire pits and a fresh water supply. All in all, a perfectly quiet, comfortable, and affordable place to spend the night! Purposely, I booked a spot closest to the surrounding mountains to reduce surrounding lights for my night photography.
Given the fact that we were still quite close to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the state of California, there was almost no surrounding light during the night. Really impressive and unexpected! We lit the fire and enjoyed a nice meal while watching the sun go down behind the beautiful mountains
Heading out to Pyramid Lake
It was Saturday and the weather forecast (no wind and 28 °C without clouds) could have not been better. This being said, the owner of Los Alamos campground suggested to us to get to the lake not later than 8:00 AM to assure getting a parking spot and renting whatever it is we wanted to rent (we didn’t even know that ourselves yet). And so, we did.
After a beautiful breakfast under the trees surrounding our tent, we drove back south for 4 minutes and reached a place called Emigrant Landing, the main entrance to Pyramid Lake. Surprisingly, the parking lot was still empty. In fact, we were only the third car arriving. Once we passed the entrance station, where we had to pay $12, we followed the sign pointing us towards “boat rentals.”
After parking the car, we walked down a dirt path that would lead us to a small wooden cabin, which served as both a souvenir shop and rental station. Although we originally were interested in renting a Kayak, we quickly dropped that idea after learning that we could only circle around the harbor area and not access the open lake at all due to safety reasons (there are many fast-moving jet skis and boats out there that could cause problems, especially for inexperienced people). Instead, we decided to rent a boat for the day, how exciting!
Renting a boat for the day
After paying a $75 deposit, we received a pink piece of paper (booking confirmation) as well as a small map of the lake and headed down towards the dock, where an extremely friendly and helpful staff member welcomed us and led us to our boat.
The boat itself was nothing special, just a basic fishing boat consisting of a metal frame and a small motor (8 MPH). This was the cheapest of 4 options and would be charged depending on our return. The minimum rental fee for this particular boat was $35 for two hours) and $10 for each additional hour or $75 maximum for an entire day (which we chose).
After a few safety instructions, we went back to our car and loaded all we could think of into the small but still very spacious boat. Food, chairs, a SUP board. Anything we could think of. After all, we did not intend to return earlier than 5 PM, which was the deadline for boat returns. We were excited, hopped in the boat, and started our journey.
Exploring Pyramid Lake by boat
A few seconds after we headed out from the dock, we already knew that we had made the right decision. Warm wind gently touched our faces as we were gliding to the small waves of the lake’s surface. Not only did we feel super excited about the day ahead of us, but we also felt like explorers. The amazing thing about exploring Pyramid Lake by boat: It is allowed to stop anywhere!
And when I say anywhere, I mean anywhere. There are literally no restrictions as to where the boat can stop. Since we were in the water quite early, there was almost nobody else out there. Occasionally, we saw some people fishing, but that was it. Following the advice of the staff member preparing our boat, we set course towards a small bay called “Tin Cup” (marked on the yellow map).
Once we approached the small bay after about 15 minutes, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It looked like it was straight out of a movie. A small and hidden bay gently nested in between green mountains. Slowly, we let the boat drift towards shore until hitting ground. Splash! After jumping in the water with both feet, we secured the boat, placed our camping chairs in the fine sand, and went for a swim.
So much more to see at Pyramid Lake
Although we really loved Tin Cup, we explored the entire lake by the end of the day. One fascinating stop was the “pyramid” itself, located very close to the dam. However, our favorite thing to do was casually cruising over the lake to find new private spots to spend some romantic time together.
And there were many! Sometimes we even stopped in the middle of the lake to cool off. In the end, it felt like the day passed by within the blink of an eye. We still wonder how so little people know about a place so beautiful. If you make it out there, I am sure you will forget being close to any city at all in no time.
COVER: The beauty of Pyramid Lake. Photo: Thomas Später
Where to Stay Near Pyramid Lake, California?
Use the interactive map below to search, compare and book hotels & rentals at the best prices that are sourced from a variety of platforms including Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, Vrbo, and more. You can move the map to search for accommodations in other areas and also use the filter to find restaurants, purchase tickets for tours and attractions, and locate interesting points of interest!
Thomas Später, PhD, is an experienced backpacking traveler that specializes in adventurous trips around the globe. He has traveled to remote and exotic places, such as Namibia or Mongolia and focuses on landscape and wildlife photography to share the beauty of our planet with others. In 2021, Thomas published a (German) book about Overpopulation and Over-consumption (Die Überbevölkerung). With his awareness of current global issues, he uses his travels to support particularly local hotels and restaurants to raise awareness for the nature and culture of his destinations. Follow Thomas´ adventures on Instagram as well as on his website, World In Frames.