Lake County is a mere 1.5 to 2-hour drive from Santa Rosa Plaza, yet many Sonoma County residents have never come to call. Perhaps that’s because the region, surrounded by mountains and accessed from only a few narrow back-country roads, seems far away. But that semi-isolated, off-the-everyday-track aspect helps to make The county of Lake a great getaway, one with much to offer.
For decades, this region had limited amenities for travelers, but in recent years a strong but modest tourist infrastructure has emerged, offering excellent wineries, charming and even luxurious boutique hotels and highly rated restaurants. Outdoor activities abound and cultural events are on the rise. And yet, the region retains a wonderful feel of California in decades past. There’s a touch of frontier here — an outlook more “countrified” than gentrified — and a slower pace that’s both infectious and calming.
For Sonoma County residents, Lake County’s treasures are just a short drive away — and autumn is a perfect time to visit. Vineyard leaves are ablaze with brilliant reds and yellows. Thousands of migrating birds are paused along the region’s intricate complex of waterways to feed and mate and play, and massive Clear Lake — where waters remain high thanks to last winter’s bountiful rains — is peaceful, clear and mesmerizing.
The natural wonders here start with the dozens of waterways that gave the county its name. The two side-by-side Blue Lakes, spring-fed and unspoiled, are exceptionally beautiful havens for swimming and fishing. Borax Lake played such a major role in California’s Native American history that it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2006. Loch Lomond Vernal Pool is populated by sensitive plant species such as spike rush and coyote thistle, which only exist in the pool’s rarefied habitat.
The county’s largest water body, Clear Lake, is huge. At 19 miles long and 60 feet at its deepest, it’s the biggest natural freshwater lake in California (Lake Tahoe is larger, but lies partly within Nevada). It’s also the oldest lake in North America (about 2.5 million years), holds more fish per square acre than any other lake in the nation and has been called the “Bass Capital of the West” by many fishing organizations.
Dominating views of Clear Lake and much of the surrounding area is Mt. Konocti, a 4,299-foot stratovolcano that last erupted 11,000 years ago. Keep an eye out for prized Lake County “diamonds,” small shards of volcanic silica glass (quartz) that sparkle like precious jewels. Among the county’s other volcanic features — including lava domes and cinder cones — is The Geysers. The world’s largest geothermal field complex, it supplies 60 percent of average electricity demand in the coastal region from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border.
The region’s significant wilderness areas and waterways have resulted in numerous officially protected areas. In 2015, the county’s Cache Creek Wilderness and Wildlife Areas, along with wilderness lands in six other contiguous counties, were designated by President Barack Obama as the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. Other notable protected areas in the county include Boggs Mountain Demonstration State Forest, Anderson Marsh State Historic Park, Boggs Lake Reserve, Loch Lomond Vernal Pool Ecological Reserves, Rodman Slough Preserve and Clear Lake State Park.