Lake Natoma in Folsom, California – Complete Adventure Guide

Lake Natoma, located between the Folsom and Nimbus Dams in Sacramento County, California, is a relaxing spot to enjoy a day of non-motorized water activities, wildlife watching, and picnicking along the lower American River. Lake Natoma is often cited as one of the best lakes in California to paddle on. Its certainly one of my favorites.

Lake natoma california

Lake Natoma Hours of Operation

Summer Hours: April 1-October 15, 7 days per week, 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

Winter hours: October 16 – March 30, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.


  • Day Use: $10
  • Boat Launching: $10

-Last verified May 1, 2024.

Lake Natoma Activities

Lake natoma california folsom bridge
Folsom Historic Truss Bridge at sunset

There are numerous spots to launch your kayaks or stand-up paddle boards, as well as many well-maintained biking trails that meander along the water at points. The 4-mile-long lake is situated within the Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, and there are facilities located at the various launch points.

Lake Natoma is also home to an active and welcoming group of outdoor enthusiasts that hosts frequent meetups. They launch from Black Miner’s Bar and Willow Creek for both afternoon paddles and night excursions. It’s a great way to make friends or get more comfortable in the water with your gear.


Lake Natoma is a great spot for fishermen and women looking to hook both cold and warm water species. Some of the common catches include rainbow trout, brown trout, black bass, Largemouth bass, crappie, carp, and bluegill.

Nimbus Flat Fishing Area is a pier fishing access point, but there are plenty of banks to set up camp along the lake. The cold waters flowing through Lake Natoma’s rocky and deep upper areas are known for fostering giant, well-fed rainbow trout.

A fun activity is visiting the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, where you can watch the salmon swim up the fish ladder and feed the young trout.

Kayaking and Paddling

Lake natoma stand up paddleboarding
Where paddleboarding meets leisure in the best of ways

Lake Natoma is used almost exclusively for non-motorized boat recreation. If you don’t own your own SUP or kayak, Sacramento State University’s Aquatic Center offers reasonable canoe, SUP, and kayak hourly rentals. Visit their website to book a rental or check before you visit if school events are taking place – sometimes they take over the lower part of the lake.

The water is slow-moving along most of the lake, and there are great spots for wildlife watching and swimming. Willow Creek Cove is a nice place to paddle if you are an absolute beginner because it’s sheltered by a small island. *People are required to either wear or attach a life jacket to their SUP or kayak.

*Motorboats are allowed on the lake, but the maximum speed is 5 mph on the entire lake.

If you’re into paddleboarding, you might also want to check out this guide to essential Paddleboard Accessories.

Lake natoma the wire at folsom lake prison

“The Wire” – the border as far north as you are allowed to paddle, which goes to the Folsom State Prison boundaries.


Lake natoma california rowing race saint marys
Saint Mary’s rowing team races during the Western Intercollegiate Rowing Association Championship, April 2024.

Lake Natoma is considered the third-best lake in the United States for rowing. A lot of competitive races happen here, closer to Nimbus and the CSUS Aquatic Center. You’ll also see quite a few rowing teams just out practicing on the big long stretches.

The USA Canoe Olympic Team Trials also happen on this lake.


The designated launch areas along Lake Natoma offer plenty of parking, shaded picnic tables, BBQ grills, and restrooms.


Lake natoma california paddling

Nimbus Flat Beach, located just off the Hazel Ave exit off Highway 50, is a popular family-friendly spot for swimming and picnicking on a sandy lake shore. The beach area is close to the parking lot and there are restrooms nearby. There is even a lifeguard posted on the beach near the Sac State Aquatic Center during the summer. Black Miner’s Bar is another great spot for swimming, paddling, and kayaking. There are some sandy banks to relax on and, for the thrill seekers, many rock formations to jump from.

Water Temperature

The water temperature for Lake Natoma usually runs pretty cool and isn’t really idea for swimming in for long periods of time. It is great for cooling off in the middle of summer. Winter drops the temperatures down to the low 50’s, with summer warming the water up to just past 65.

Lake natoma california water temperature
Daily temperature readings, taken by Nimbus Dam. Source: waterdata.usgs.gov

Statistics for May 1, 2024 based on 7 years of data

Temperature, water, °F (calculated)

  • Low (2018): 53.42 deg F
  • 25th percentile: 53.60 deg F
  • Median: 54.50 deg F
  • 75th percentile: 59.36 deg F
  • Mean: 56.30 deg F
  • High: (2021) 60.98 deg F

Bike Riding

With 11 miles of paved bicycle trails and 6 miles of multi-use trails, it’s easy to see why bike riding along Lake Natoma is such a popular activity. The Lake Natoma American River Trail is a relatively easy 11.5-mile loop trail in Folsom. On average, it takes around 3 h 43 min to complete and is mostly flat. If you’re biking in the scorching summer months, make sure to bring extra, extra water. The Nimbus Fish Hatchery is a great place to start your ride.

Bird & Wildlife Watching

You can catch glimpses of wildlife along the entirety of Lake Natoma, but there are some secluded areas where you’re more likely to see animals such as birds and turtles. Turtle Alley and Cattail Cove is an offshoot of the lake that is only accessible when the water is high enough, but you are guaranteed to see many sunbathing turtles in this spot.

You may also spot deer, egrets, and other bird species. To access Turtle Alley, you have to go past blackberry cove, where blackberries grow thick and are easily accessible by boat, and then make your way through the culvert or tunnel.

Duck Lagoon across the lake from the Ranger’s House is a great place to bird-watch or paddle over to pick some blackberries. Between Black Miners Bar Slough North and South is a section of vegetated channels dubbed the “Jungle Tour” – a great place to explore and spot wildlife.

On the trail between the Nimbus Dam and Laural Beach, make sure to look out for the bald eagle nest high up in the trees.

From Black Miner’s Bar, paddle north and you can spot plenty of birds up until the prison wire limit. I’ve also spotted rattlesnakes and skinks.

Late April through May is when you can spot baby ducklings and goslings.

Lake natoma california gosling family
A gosling with its family, April 2024.


There is one group campground at Black Miner’s Bar on Lake Natoma. It’s a nice dirt camp along the lake with bathrooms but no showers.

Another unique lake to camp on nearby is Lake Clementine.


Rainbow trout, brown trout, black bass, crappie and bluegill are the fish that can be caught in Lake Natoma. A few folks have said the fishing here is tough. You can either fish by boat or fish from a platform along the Numbus Flat Fishing Area, which includes restrooms, picnic areas, and equipment rentals.

Launch Areas for Boats, SUP’s and Kayaks

Two launch ramps provide continuous boat launching access year-round, in addition to one car-top boat launch area.

Nimbus Dam Boat Ramp

This boat ramp within the Nimbus Flat State Recreation area is located right across from the Sacramento State Aquatic Center and the Nimbus Dam. Nimbus Flat Beach is a good place to swim, paddle, picnic, or watch school aquatic events such as rowing. There are BBQ pits and tables, as well as a designated swimming area with a lifeguard for children.

This popular area located off of Hazel and Highway 50 can get very crowded on weekends and during school events. If you want to be safe, check out the Sac State Aquatic Center events page before heading over. Parking costs $12 per car, and public restrooms are available.

Willow Creek Boat Ramp

The Willow Creek Boat ramp is a medium-sized launch within the Willow Creek Recreation Area that drops you in the middle of Lake Natoma. The water near the launch can be a tad murky because of all the geese that frequent the area, but it becomes cleaner as you paddle out of the cove. There are rocky beach spots along the river here to bring a chair and relax. As with most of these popular launches, it’s good to get there early before the parking spaces fill up. There are public restrooms available.

Right around the corner from the boat launch, there is a small island where people sometimes jump off the rocks. If you paddle to the right of the launch and continue upstream, you’ll find yourself immersed in a beautiful riparian habitat. Just across the lake from Willow Creek is the rookery at Willow Creek, a seasonal nesting ground for herons, egrets, and cormorants. This is a great place to watch these large birds come and go from the treetops.

Black Miners Bar

Lake natoma california black miners bar
Black Miner’s Bar boat launch

There are three different launch points along Black Miner’s Bar. The southernmost is a day-use area with beach access, tables for picnicking, 3 small group campsites, and a place to launch your kayaks and SUPs. There are stairs or ramps to get you down to the water, but this area can be crowded in the summer. This is the best place to launch if you want to kayak up to the Folsom Prison waterway, and there are Kayak/SUP Rentals near the beach during the summer. Parking costs $15 for the day. A hiking and horse trail also meanders through the area.

The Lake Natoma Northern Boat Ramp is the second launch in the middle and has plenty of parking. The third northernmost launch point is the North Shore Put-In, and there is a steep hill between the lot and water. Nearby is Mosquito Cove and many unique boulders in the water.

Gold Lake Dr. Put-In

This is a free launch spot across from Black Miner’s Bar with somewhat limited parking along Gold Lake Dr. Apart from the limited parking, the only other downside is that you must carry your equipment up and down stairs. Karen’s Bakery and Sociology Coffee Bar are nearby for a before or after-paddle pick-me-up. This is also a great place to start your bike journey along the Jedediah Memorial Trail.


This is a useful map of trails surrounding Lake Natoma from the Parks Department.

This Google Maps list created by Brent Andrew Körner is also an excellent resource.

Lake natoma california rainbow bridge sunrise
Sunrise at Rainbow Bridge, April 2024.

The Wildlife: Flora and Fauna

Flora Around Lake Natoma

The landscape features a range of oaks including valley, blue, and black oaks, interspersed with occasional oracle oaks. Digger pines are also common, complemented by shrubs like toyon and California buckeye.

Plantlife native to the region include the Pineapple-Weed and Rough Cocklebur.

Spring Wildflowers

The area bursts into color with a diverse array of wildflowers such as Indian paintbrush, California poppy, larkspur, lupine, bordicaea, fiddleneck, Dutchman’s pipe, and monkey flower. For more info on the wildflowers of California, check out the article on the California Super Bloom.

Fauna in the Park

Common sightings include black-tailed deer, ground squirrels, raccoons, skunks, opossums, gray foxes, rabbits, and coyotes. More elusive are mountain lions and bobcats, with beaver and muskrat residing in some the more secluded and covered areas – also a prime spot for birdwatching.


One of the most famous birds of Lake Natoma are the Bald Eagles, which have a nest overlooking the lake, just about in between the Willow Creek and Black Miner’s Bar areas, on the North Side. Coordinates are 38.669089, -121.191230. You can view the nest and the babies in April and May either by driving to a nearby street ( 38.669753, -121.191893 ) or from down on the lake. You can also walk around the opposite side ( 38.671935, -121.186535 ) of the lake around sunrise and watch the eagles hunt for prey.

Canada geese overwinter at the lake, with heron rookeries on Lake Natoma’s south shore. The area supports a variety of year-round avian residents, including blackbirds, scrub jays, quails, bushtits, wrens, and towhees.

Flycatchers inhabit the dry chaparral, while kingfishers, grebes, and gulls are often near water. Raptors like red-tailed hawks, kestrels, eagles, and other birds of prey are commonly observed soaring above.

Lake natoma california red-breasted merganser mergus serrator
Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), April 2024.


Snakes include the Western Rattlesnake, California King, Gopher, North American Racer, Coast Night, Sharp-tailed, Ring-necked, Sierra Garter, Western Terrestrial Garter, and Common Garter.

Lake natoma california western fence lizard
Western Fence Lizard, spotted near Willow Creek, April 2024.

Safety Note Regarding Rattlesnakes: Rattlesnakes are important to the local ecosystem. While they typically avoid confrontation, they will defend themselves if threatened. You should maintain a respectful distance to ensure safety.

Lake natoma california western rattlesnake in the water
Spotted a Western Rattlesnake floating in the lake, April 2024.

This was the first time I have ever seen a rattlesnake floating in the water like this. It probably fell in and was curled around itself to float and stay warm, as the water temperature was in the 50’s.

Where to Stay

If you’re visiting Lake Natoma from out of town, these are some great options to stay at, which provide close proximity to the Folsom Historic District as well as lake access.

Lake Natoma Inn

Located right in the Historic District, the Lake Natoma Inn is within walking distance to a ton of great restaurants and bars. One of which is a personal favorite of mine, The Backroom at Gaslight, a speakeasy. You can also walk down to Lake Natoma from here.

Book Your Stay

Larkspur and Hilton are right next to each other and are closer to the Willow Creek launch. They are walking distance to movies and outlets for shopping, but other than that you’ll need to drive to get anywhere interesting.

Larkspur Landing Inn

Book Your Stay

Hilton Garden Inn Folsom

Book Your Stay


May 2, 2024: Added flora and fauna. Edited rowing information. New photos. Added where to stay.

May 1 2024: 2024 summer season updates. Added additional wildlife info, clarified hours. Added fishing section. Added temperature.

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