Trip Ideas

Englebright Lake Reservoir near Smartsville in Nevada County

Life’s Better On The Lake – Boating Lakes In Nevada County

Rev your engine for adventure and explore these 7 boating lakes in California's Nevada County this summer. Year-round oases, a lake that only offers boat-in camping, and high elevation paradises that can be accessed only in the summer these bodies of water invite you to hop on board for some fun.

Tips & Resources

The latest information regarding camping, day use fees as well as seasonal passes for Nevada Irrigation District Lakes.

Nevada county’s lakes are primarily fed by snowmelt. This means that water is cold especially in the early season. We want you to have a fun adventure, so play it safe and and wear a life jacket anytime you’re in the water, it can save your life.

Be aware of the current water temperatures on the lake you are visiting so that you can avoid cold water shock and hypothermia — enter water slowly and control your breathing



By Alex Silgalis

The sound of water lapping against a hull. Warm rays hitting your face. A glassy surface to carve turns in on a pair of water skis or a wakeboard. There’s nothing better than getting out on a lake. From year-round reservoirs to seasonal hotspots, here’s the rundown on boating lakes in Nevada County.

Before You Go

Who manages the boating lakes in Nevada County is crucial to knowing the general rules and rates. They are managed by NID (Nevada Irrigation District), the Army Corp of Engineers, the US Forest Service and even a sprinkling of privately managed bodies of water. NID Managed lakes provide self-inspection forms for all boaters to fill out when you pay your boat launching fee. They also offer a seasonal pass specifically for the Rollins or Scotts Flat Lake and even one that covers all their lakes. For others such as Donner Lake, there are some additional requirements you may need to cover before launching as well.

Rollins Lake

Managed by: NID
Hours: Dawn To Dusk
Open: Year-round
Learn More About Rollins Lake

Note: For summer 2024 boating season Rollins Lake water levels will drop significantly below average. For more information, see Damaged PG&E infrastructure impacts NID water supply – Nevada Irrigation District

Puffy clouds floating over Rollins Lake Reservoir on a sunny afternoon
Image appears courtesy: Nevada Irrigation District

Situated in the foothills of the Sierra at an elevation of 2,100 feet above sea level between Grass Valley and Colfax. It offers 26 miles of shoreline and waters that you can go water skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, and event trolling for fish. Best point for boat access is via Orchard Springs Campground which has two sandy beaches, a boat launching ramp, and boat slips. NID provides self-inspection forms for all boaters to use when you pay your boat launching fee. Here’s the latest information about day use fees as well as seasonal passes.

Scotts Flat Lake

Managed by: NID
Hours: Dawn To Dusk
Open: Year-round
Learn More About Scotts Flat Lake

Note: For summer 2024 be aware that Scotts Flat Lake water levels will drop below average. For more information, see Damaged PG&E infrastructure impacts NID water supply – Nevada Irrigation District

Dock with kayaks at Scotts Flat Lake
Image appears courtesy: Nevada Irrigation District

A few hundred feet higher in the Sierra at 3,000 feet above sea level you’ll find Scotts Flat Lake. The perfect headquarters for a family getaway in the Tahoe National Forest. You’ll find 7.5 miles of shoreline and more than 850 surface acres to play in. Along with its water fun, Scotts Flat Lake is also a gateway to some of the best mountain bike trails in Nevada County. Be aware that jet skis are not allowed on Scotts Flat Lake. Here’s the latest information about day use fees as well as seasonal passes.

Jackson Meadows Reservoir

Managed by: NID
Hours: Dawn To Dusk
Open: Year-round but access issues due to snow and ice cover
Learn More About Jackson Meadows Reservoir

Jackson Meadow Lake in Nevada County California
Photo by: Monica Reyes – Image appears courtesy: Nevada Irrigation District

Near the summit of the Sierra Nevada crest, this high alpine lake sits at 6,100 feet above sea level. At this elevation, Jackson Meadows get blanketed with feet of snow each winter, making access nearly impossible during this season. A good lake for anglers, campers, and even horseback riders to access miles of trails including the legendary Pacific Crest Trail. Since it is seasonal, NID does not offer a season pass specifically for Jackson Meadow, but the daily launch fee is only $5.00 versus the $22.00 for Scotts or Rollins Lake.

Englebright Reservoir

Managed by: US Army Corps Of Engineers
Open: Year-round
Learn more about Englebright Reservoir

Skippers Cove Marina in Englebright Reservoir on sunny summer afternoon
Image appears courtesy: Skippers Cove Marina

Nestled in the steep Yuba River Gorge known as the narrows, the lake is nearly nine miles long and has a surface area of 815 acres. A unique aspect to this body of water is that it only offers boat-in camping. The two boat ramps including Skippers Cove Marina sit at the largest part of the lake, allowing you easy access to the five miles that are reserved for all activities. Due to the narrow canyons and sharp bends, the upper 4 miles of the lake are not suitable for water skiing and/or towing any type of inflatable device. Skippers Cove Marina offers boat rentals, mooring, gas, sewage pumping, and store facilities. The Corps of Engineers participates in the America the Beautiful-Federal Recreational Lands Pass Series as well as their own Corps Annual Pass for $40.

Donner Lake

Managed primarily by: Truckee Donner Recreation And Park District
Open: May – September
Learn more about Donner Lake

Donner Lake From McClashan Point
Image taken by: J.Smith BY CC 3.0

From the eye popping scenery of the Sierra crest to the pine tree shoreline, Donner Lake is like a quieter version of Lake Tahoe, located just 15 miles north of the iconic Big Blue. Windsurfers will enjoy the lake in the afternoon as the winds pick up. While water skiers and wakeboarders, kayakers and paddleboarders can enjoy a glassy surface if they head out before 10 a.m. Along the north shore, you’ll find 37 public docks for both boaters and swimmers. Numerous locations to launch kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. The boat ramp to access Donner Lake is on the northwest corner. Be aware that watercraft self-inspections are mandatory for all motorized and/or trailered watercraft launching on Donner Lake and must be submitted to the town of Truckee.

Lake Spaulding

Managed by: PG&E
Open: Mid-May through Mid-October (depending on snow melt)

Lake Spaulding on a summer afternoon in the Sierra Nevada
Image appears courtesy: Placer County Water Agency

Originally built for hydraulic mining in 1912, today campers and boaters enjoy it for its beauty. Set among high granite cliffs, the 698-acre lake is a gem for scenery and fishing with giant boulders of granite lining the shore. Managed by PG&E, visit their recreation page to learn more about Lake Spaulding and other outdoor recreation opportunities. The launch ramp is on the west end of the lake. Located off of Highway 20, drive 2.3 miles from I-80, turn right, then 0.5 mile to the boat launch. Boat Launch fee is $10.

Boca Reservoir

Managed by: US Forest Service
Open: Year-round (frozen during winter)

Boca Reservoir nearly full on a sunny summer afternoon near Truckee California
Image appears courtesy:

While it’s technically open year-round, the lake itself freezes over during winter and is blanketed with snow. The best months to enjoy it are typically May through October. Only ten miles from Truckee, Boca Reservoir is where both residents and visitors enjoy boating and beach lounging on warm summer weekends. The east shore of the lake is popular for wind surfing. Canoeing is best in the early morning and evening hours when the waters are at their calmest. For a quieter experience of human powered activities such as kayaking and paddleboarding, we recommend visiting Prosser Reservoir as well. Bring a picnic dinner to the rocky beach on the east side of the lake for an incredible sunset!


Alex Silgalis

Alex founded Local Freshies® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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