Last Updated on October 5, 2022 by Wandering our World

Located right between Los Angeles and San Francisco, this stunning lake offers year-round fun for families looking to get away from city life. No wonder too, as Lake Nacimiento is famous for its 165 miles of shoreline nestled between the Santa Lucia mountains.

With a marina and boat rentals available, this is a great spot for families to enjoy time on the water. And with so many activities available here on the water and land (like hiking and stargazing), one of the best ways to really experience this area is to go camping at Lake Nacimiento.

If that’s your plan, then you’re in the right place.

Why? Well we know this area well, so right here we show you what makes each Lake Nacimiento campground unique, including the negatives and positives. We also share information on dispersed camping at Lake Nacimiento further down this article, give information on boating, the best time to visit and more.

So read on to begin your Lake Nacimiento camping adventure!

CONTENTS:

  1. A Quick Overview of Lake Nacimiento
  2. The Lake Nacimiento Campgrounds In-Depth
  3. Dispersed Camping at Lake Nacimiento
  4. Best Time to Camp at Lake Nacimiento
  5. Other Accommodation at Lake Nacimiento
  6. Boating at Lake Nacimiento
  7. Hiking at Lake Nacimiento
  8. Free Scavenger Hunt Game!
Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/AndrisBarbans

A Quick Overview Of Lake Nacimiento

Often called the Dragon Lake due to its dragon-like appearance, Lake Nacimiento is a dam that was originally designed for irrigation and flood control. The dam completed construction in 1956.

Most of the property around the lake is private, save for areas closer to the dam itself. This is where many enjoy their camping activities.

This lake is well known by California watersport enthusiasts too, as it has ample room for waterskiing, wakeboarding, wakesurfing, and jet skiing!

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/StephanieFrey

The Lake Nacimiento Campgrounds In-Depth: Everything You Need to Know !

There are several campgrounds to choose between, and they are all located at the ‘mouth’ of the dragon.

All have their own perks, and all are quite near the marina so in a great location for watersport and boat activities.

1. Oak Knoll Campground

This is the first campground you’ll see to the right after passing the entry gate, and it is one of the best options if you’re looking for peace and quiet on your camping trip. Expect the sounds of nature if staying here, and the possibility of spotting wildlife like deer, hawks and bobcats.

There is a trail direct to the lake from the campground, so you can park your RV or pitch your tent and get straight to the shore! In fact some of the campsites even look out towards the water.

The spaces are a little small though, so if you have an RV over 30 feet you may struggle to fit into the campsites.

Amenities and Facilities

There are 40 full hook-up sites available to reserve, and many of the sites have barbecues, picnic tables, and fire rings. So they’re perfect for the whole Lake Nacimiento experience.

Free showers and toilets are accessible from all campsites too, and there are boat trailer spaces for those who show up first.

As the first campground in the area, it is farthest from the marina. So if you have an RV and are towing a boat, it may be better to select a different campground.

The Important Info

Reservations are necessary to stay at Oak Knoll Campground and can be made by calling ​​(805) 237-4924.

Rates: Full Hook-up with water, electric, and sewage – $55

Address: Paso Robles, CA 93446

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/SolisImages

2. Quails Roost Campground

This campground is located to the left just after passing through the entry gate. During weekdays this place is quiet and secluded, but it can get busy at weekends and on holidays.

It’s quite far from the lake shore (although still within easy walking distance), and some of the campsites aren’t very level. Still they’re good for tents in our opinion, and the lower levels have the best shade too.

There are 60 single regular sites for campers to choose from, and many of them have some amount of shade and back up on open space. 

Amenities and Facilities

Flush restrooms and showers are located in the center of the campground, and they are free to use. Water is accessible throughout.

Many of the sites also have fire rings, barbecues, and picnic tables.

However due to the narrow roads and slanted campsites, RVs or vehicles with trailers are probably not suited for this campground.

The Important Info

Reservations are necessary to stay at Quails Roost Campground and can be made by calling ​​(805)-237-4924.

Rates: Basic with no hook-up – $45 per vehicle

Address: Paso Robles, CA 93446

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/a-Taiga

3. Pine Knoll Campground

Out of all the Lake Nacimiento camping options, Pine Knoll Campground offers the most in terms of facilities – including a pool! Located at the end of the road, this is often the one and only stop travelers want to make.

There are over 90 spacious campsites and good roads between the sites, making this campground perfect for those with RVs or who are towing boats. It’s also the closed campground to the marina, so another big plus if you’re taking a boat with you.

From the upper campsites you’ll get some fantastic views down towards the lake, while the campsites lower down are shady and have easy access to the water. So you’ve plenty of choices about where you’d like to camp depending on your priorities.

With the views, easy access to the lake, and the excellent facilities (see below), Pine Knoll tends to get busy at the weekends and on holidays. So make sure you book in advance.

Amenities and Facilities

This campground is within close proximity to all that Lake Nacimiento has to offer. It is closest to the marina, store, and restaurant, and also has a pool and even a seasonal movie theater. This is camping style!

There are two flush restrooms and showers are free. On top of that you’ll find that water is close to many of the campsites.

The Important Info

Reservations are required to camp at Pine Knoll. Call (805) 237-4924 to schedule your stay.

Rates:

Basic with no hook-up – $45 per vehicle

Address: Paso Robles, CA 93446

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/welcomia

4. Rocky Canyon Campground

This is the second campground to the right after passing the entry gate. It’s first come, first serve, so it’s best to get there early!

There are 14 sites for tent camping only, with sizes ranging from single vehicle all the way up to seven vehicles. No large vehicles or RVs are allowed.

Rocky Canyon is built on the ridge overlooking the lake so this campground offers the best views in our opinion, and the most airflow on hot summer nights.

There is a walking trail to the lake, as well as a trail to the Nacimiento lodges.

Amenities and Facilities

Sites come equipped with barbecues and picnic tables, and some have fire rings. There are free flush toilets and showers for campers. We’ve found the toilets and showers at this Lake Nacimiento camping option to be some of the most well-maintained.

Due to its abundance of pine and oak trees, many campsites are well-shaded here too. Which is a big bonus.

The Important Info

This campsite is first come, first serve, so reservations are not required.

Large vehicles, vehicles towing boats, and RVs are not allowed at Rocky Canyon due to its narrow roads.

Rates: Basic with no hook-up – $45 per vehicle

Address: Paso Robles, CA 93446

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/bokan76

5. Sandy Point Campground

Sandy Point is the third campground to the right after passing the entry gate.

This is one of the most popular campsites in the area so it is recommended to make reservations as early as possible. And with only 12 single or group use sites, the spots tend to go fast!

Many say this is the best campground that Lake Nacimiento has to offer. Why? Well it has a large day use area and prime beach access. So families and friends looking to get the most out of their vacation will find that Sandy Point likely offers all they need.

Major plus points is the fact the beach beside the campground feels almost like a private beach, there’s a curfew at 10pm so you can fall asleep to the sound of nature, and the campsites feel more private than other Lake Nacimiento camping options.

The negatives? Well there’s not many, although it can get a little dusty here when it’s windy – it is called Sandy Point after all. There may be a few racoons looking for food left out at night too, so make sure everything is well secured.

Amenities and Facilities

Sandy Point Campground is rustic and doesn’t offer hook-ups, but there is accessible water close to many of the sites.

Free showers and flush toilets are located centrally within the campground. Those facilities are really well maintained, but it’s a little bit of a hike to get there from some of the sites.

This campground is home to the area’s sandy beach, so campers here will have first access to all the best spots. Registered Sandy Point campers also have full use of their day area. All of which are big plus points for choosing this campground.

The Important Info

Reservations are required to camp at Sandy Point. Call (805) 237-4924 to schedule your stay.

Large vehicles, vehicles towing boats, and RVs are not allowed at Sandy Point due to its narrow roads.

Rates: Basic with no hook-up – $45 per vehicle

Address: Paso Robles, CA 93446

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/Anatolly_Gleb

6. Eagle’s Ridge Campground

This is the fourth campground to the right after passing the entry gate.

If you’re looking for a true camping experience, Eagle’s Ridge could be the campground for you. Many spaces are walk-in and have fantastic views of the lake, there’s lots of shady spots and its just a short walk to the shoreline.

Considering all of that, it’ll come as no surprise this is a popular campground. But get here early as they also operate on a first come, first served basis.

This campground is more spread out than the others, so longer walks to the facilities may be required. However with the views on offer during the day, and the stars above your campfire at night, this Lake Nacimiento camping option is a great choice.

Amenities and Facilities

This campground offers chemical toilets, trash service, and fresh water.

Spaces may require a change in elevation to access.

The Important Info

Rates: Basic with no hook-up – $45 per vehicle

Address: Paso Robles, CA 93446

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/Eshma

Dispersed Camping At Lake Nacimiento: Everything You Need to Know!

DISCLAIMER: Below we give general advice, but we always recommend staying in an official campsite. If you choose to go dispersed camping, then make sure you do so with someone who already knows the area where you’re planning on camping for your own safety.

Dispersed camping at Lake Nacimiento is difficult, if not impossible, because much of the area is privately owned. So while dispersed camping is legal in California, it’s only allowed in state-controlled areas – like areas controlled by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Areas under the control of the USFS and BLM include many state and federal forests along with a range of other areas. So while you can’t go dispersed camping along the shoreline at Lake Nacimiento due to it being mostly private land, if you travel away from the lake there could be some potential free camping spots. Just look out for areas under USFS and BLM control.

Most dispersed camping doesn’t require camping permits, although it’s best to check whether one is needed if you find a USFS or BLM area you’d like to camp in.

Regardless, there are general rules that must be followed, including:

  • Don’t camp near trailheads, recreational areas, or developed campgrounds
  • Keep your campsite as small as possible
  • Use existing campfire or fire ring areas
  • Build your campsite in an area without vegetation
  • Don’t camp within 200 feet of a water source
  • Dispersed camping in the same area is usually limited to 14 days within 30 days.
  • Take away whatever you bring to the campsite

On top of that, if you wish to have a campfire outside of a designated campground then you must have a campfire permit. This is due to the issues California has with wildfires.

In addition to campfires, a permit is required for any barbecue, lantern, or stove that will be used outside of developed recreational areas like designated campgrounds or picnic areas.

You can apply for a permit here – Submit your California Campfire Permit Application.

By obtaining a campfire permit, you also agree to terms around their use and your management of the fire. Those terms include:

  • Clearing a space at least 5 feet around the campfire from any flammable materials.
  • Have a shovel and water available to help build and extinguish the fire.
  • Have a responsible adult watching the fire at all times.
  • Extinguish the fire with water every night
  • You also need to follow specific campfire building and extinguishing procedures.
Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/Ashley-Belle Burns

Best Time To Camp At Lake Nacimiento

Lake Nacimiento is open year-round, but when is the best time to visit?

This area has been blessed with the Mediterranean climate, so the hot days are never too hot, and the cold days are rarely bone-chilling.

That said, the best time to visit weather-wise is from April to October. The temperature at its height in July rarely goes past 85°F (29°C), and nights will be a mild 54°F (12°C).

The winter months can reach 57°F (14°C) and have a low of 38°F (3°C).

Rates for campsites don’t tend to vary based on season, so there is no benefit for camping during the colder months – unless you’re looking for seclusion, that is.

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/nortonrsx

Other Accommodation At Lake Nacimiento

If all campsites are full, or if you’re looking for a stay that’s more glamorous, here are two fantastic options for lodging at Lake Nacimiento.

Lakeview Lodges

There are two lodging options available for Lakeview Lodges: the small lodge and large lodge.

With occupancy ranging from 4 to 8 people, this is a great option for family or friends looking for a hotel-quality stay with gorgeous lake views.

Both lodge options offer the same amenities of a hotel: fresh linens, kitchenette with cookware, fridge and freezer, and AC and heating. Each lodge also comes with outside charcoal or wood barbecues, while one complimentary boat slip at the marina will be granted for the duration of the stay.

Small lodges come with a balcony overlooking the lake while the large lodges have a fireplace and large patio with furniture.

Pets are welcome at both lodges.

The Important Info

Reservations are required to stay at the Lake Nacimiento Lodges. Call (805) 237-4924 to schedule your stay.

Rates: Varies by date and size, but Summer rates for single start at $270 and large starts at $360.

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/g-stockstudio

Naci Cottage

This one-bedroom, one-bathroom cottage is located just outside of Pine Knoll campground, so it’s close to the general store and marina.

The cottage has a kitchen, living room, and dining room, and can sleep up to four guests.

Amenities include cookware and utensils, outdoor firepit and furniture, refrigerator and freezer, AC and heat, and one complimentary boat slip good for the duration of your stay. 

The Important Info

Reservations are required to stay at Lake Nacimiento Cottage. Call (805) 237-4924 to schedule your stay.

Rates: Rates vary by season. Summer rates start at $270 per night.

Boating At Lake Nacimiento

Lake Nacimiento offers boat rentals, and they have a variety of motorized and non-motorized options to fit all needs.

It isn’t a problem if you’ve never driven one before: all renters will be given a quick orientation that will leave everyone confident and ready to have a great time on the water.

Marina hours are from 9:00am until 5:00pm daily, and launch ramp hours are 6:00am until 6:00pm daily.

Boats

A 21’ Sweetwater Pontoon boat suitable for 8 people runs for $300 for a half-day rental, or $535 for a full day.

A 24’ Sweetwater Pontoon boat suitable for 12 people runs for $325 for half-day rental, or $560 for a full day.

All boats require a reservation and a $500 deposit. Reservations can be made at (805) 238-1056.

Non-Motorized

The non-motorized options available for rent are:

  • Paddleboard
  • Kayak
  • Tandem Kayak
  • Water Ski
  • Wakeboard
  • Kneeboard
  • Life Vests
  • Fishing Poles

All require a $200 deposit, save for the life vests and fishing poles that require a $20 deposit. Call (805) 238-1056 to make a reservation.

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/Bobex-73

Hiking At Lake Nacimiento

The Lake Nacimiento resort takes up the majority of the public land in the area, so there is only one hiking trail open to the public.

The Lake Nacimiento Shoreline Trail is a 4.8 mile (7.7km) loop considered to be a moderate hike, but in truth it only has a couple of harder parts. Most of it is an easy hike.

The one issue is that it is poorly marked at times, so use caution and bring a map. It should take around two hours to complete.

There is some shade provided by oak trees on this hike, but it is recommended to wear sunscreen and bring a hat and sunglasses, even in the winter months. See the trail map here.

Photo for illustrative purposes only: iStock.com/audioundwerbung

Lake Nacimiento Camping: Free Scavenger Hunt Game!

If you’re looking to keep kids amused while camping at Lake Nacimiento – or you fancy having some fun for yourself – then we’ve created a printable scavenger hunt game!

Save the image and print it out, then tick off what you find and achieve during your camping holiday.

The game encourages players to get out and discover wildlife and nature, as well as make new friends and do fun camping activities. Enjoy!