Photo © Cynthia Allred
An angler's dream, a windsurfer's paradise, a naturalist's open invitation to exploration, Lake Isabella has something for every outdoor enthusiast.
One of the largest reservoirs in Southern California with over 11,000 surface acres. Fishing, motorized and non-motorized boating, camping, picnicking, and windsurfing attract visitors to this beautiful body of water, year round. Itt offers one of the best fresh-water recreation experiences in close proximity to Los Angeles and Bakersfield.
In 1953, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed the Main and Auxiliary Dams that formed Lake Isabella from the mighty Kern River for the purposes of flood control and providing a water supply to the Bakersfield area. In 1991, management of the lake's shore was transferred to the Sequoia National Forest, and the lake's surface now falls under the jurisdiction of the Kern County Parks and Recreation boat patrol. Elevation of the lake ranges from 2,500 to 2,600 feet.
Most developed fee campgrounds and group camping areas operate under a concessionaire program with California Land Management (CLM). Reservations can be made for these campsites by calling the National Recreation Reservation Service (NRRS) at 877-444-6777 (TDD 877-833-6777), or check their website at least 5 days prior to your arrival. A certain percentage of campsites also operate on a first-come, first-served basis. Group sites also require reservations through NRRS. Camp 9 campground is operated by the Forest Service and is first-come, first serve. Stine Cove is the one area around the lake that allows camping free of charge, year-round; but it also has less amenities.
Senior and Access Passes are accepted at the Forest Service and CLM managed campgrounds, and entitle the card holder to a 50% discount on federal use fees. Group areas are excluded from this discount. An additional $2 will be charged for campsites on Holiday weekends.
The Auxiliary Dam, Old Isabella, and South Fork Recreation Areas offer standard amenities for those that want to purchase the Southern Sierra Pass to camp or park their RV for only $10 a night. Interagency passes that will also be accepted in the area include the America the Beautiful Interagency Pass, the Senior Pass, the Access Pass, the Golden Age, and the Golden Access Pass.
Please follow Water Safety Regulations and fishing regulations while visiting. For more detailed fishing regulations, visit the California Fish and Game website.
Boat Permits for Lake Isabella (and fishing licenses) are available at French Gulch Marina, North Fork Marina, Kern Valley Marina, Crossroads Shell, James Store, James Station, Mt. Mesa Shell, and River Side One Stop.
Public Launch Rampsare located at Camp 9, Engineer Point, South Fork Recreation Area, Kissack Cove, and Paradise Cove Campground.
- Boat Registration through California Department of Motor Vehicles
- Lake Isabella Boat Permit Required for all boats and boards.
- Fishing License through California Department of Fish and Game (sold at several local stores)
- Camping fees at CLM managed campgrounds
- Camping/Day-use fees at Forest Service managed standard amenity sites and campgrounds
- Areas around the lake not covered by the Southern Sierra Pass or part of the CLM campgrounds are free for the public to access.
- Fishing and boating: open year round.
- Camping: Some year-round, most open from mid-Spring to mid-Fall.
- Windsurfing/Kite-boarding: Year round, most popular in the summer (with warm temperatures and predictable afternoon winds).
- Off-Highway Vehicles: Although non-street legal vehicles are not allowed to cruise around the lake’s shoreline, the Forest Service provides an OHV park at Cyrus Canyon for those that want to ride on a dirt track.
- Engineer Point Boat Ramp is wheelchair accessible.
- Tillie Creek has ADA accessible campsites.
- Camp 9 Group Site #2 is an ADA accessible site.
- Auxiliary, South Fork, Engineer Point, and Camp 9 each has at least one wheelchair accessible flush toilet.
- Wheelchair accessible vault toilets can be found at several campsites around Lake Isabella.
The land around Lake Isabella is managed by the Forest Service. The Forest Service is a pet friendly land management agency and allows dogs on the public land it manages, as long as they are on a leash and under control by the owner. Please pick up behind your animals, especially within 100 feet of the water. If your animal is known to be skittish or aggressive around other animals or people, consider using a muzzle to keep it, other animals, and other people safe.