Santa Margarita Lake, CA – The ultimate hiking spot for nature lovers

Santa Margarita Lake

The Central Coast of California is filled with natural treasures, and Santa Margarita Lake is one of them. Tucked away in the pristine hills of San Luis Obispo County, in the little-known town of Santa Margarita, lies one of the most gorgeous and pristine lakes on the Central Coast.

Santa Margarita Lake is part of the longest river on California’s Central Coast, the Salinas River. The lake was created in 1941 after the Salinas Dam was built upstream by the Army Corps of Engineers. It played an integral role during World War II by providing a source of water to the infantry division camp, Camp San Luis Obispo. Today, the lake serves as a drinking water reservoir for the city of San Luis Obispo. As such, no body-to-water contact is allowed.

Santa Margarita Lake is a hidden gem in San Luis Obispo County, but you’ll wonder why the place is not more popular when you visit. With a multitude of permitted activities at Santa Margarita Lake Natural Area, you could spend days here and not experience everything this place has to offer. Spanning 1,100 surface acres with 22 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of 130-feet, Santa Margarita Lake has something for all nature lovers.

No Shortage of Hiking Trails at Santa Margarita Lake

In the mood for some sweat-inducing strenuous exercise, or is a leisurely and scenic hike what’s on the menu? Santa Margarita Lake has over 20 miles of hiking trails, all of which feature breath-taking views of the lake and the Santa Lucia Mountain Range, which runs just to the east of the Central Coast.

Boating Options and Limitations

Boating is a popular activity at Santa Margarita Lake Natural Area as well. However, because body-to-water contact is not allowed, activities like jet skiing and wakeboarding are prohibited. Instead, visitors can enjoy the waters on kayaks, jon boats, fishing boats, and other slow-moving crafts which can abide by the lake’s 5 MPH default speed limit.

But be advised that all boats entering Santa Margarita Lake must pass a quagga and zebra mussel inspection before launching into the water. So, be sure to remove drain plugs and ensure that the bilge, live wells, and integral coolers are dry before attempting to launch into Santa Margarita Lake. After coming off the water, boats will also be required to undergo a decontamination process using hot water treatment to rid the boat of mussels and their larvae.

A Fisherman’s Dream

If fishing is more up your alley, there are plenty of amazing catches in Santa Margarita Lake. The lake is stocked with rainbow trout but is also home to a wide variety of other fish including bluegill, striped bass, carp, crappie, sunfish, and largemouth bass. Without disturbances from water skiers and large-engine boats, anglers can enjoy calm waters and excellent fishing. There’s also a marina which offers a few services as well as boat rentals.

Stay the Night at the Lake

And, if after a day of exploring, you find that you can’t get enough Santa Margarita Lake Natural Area, well, then, you don’t have to leave. Stay for the night — or the next few nights. There are four campgrounds with a total of 60 campsites located on the lake’s south shore as well as one group campground. The campgrounds feature piped water, and there are pay showers which can be accessed nearby.  There are also restrooms, a seasonal swimming pool, a playground for the young explorers, and an equestrian staging area.

Something for Every Nature Lover

An invigorating hike or an easy day of paddling on the lake — no matter your idea of a good time, you can experience at Santa Margarita Lake. Water sports, hiking, picnicking, mountain biking, and even equestrian trails — find it all and more when you visit the hidden gem of San Luis Obispo County.

(Keys 2 The Coast is a Travel Resource for San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Monterey Counties. Donna Polizzi is a Travel Expert, columnist and Founder of, offering honest recommendations on the “Best Places to Wine, Dine, Explore and More!”) Visit Keys2theCoast.Com or Facebook Keys2TheCoast