Lake Cuyamaca is a recreation and park district approximately one hour northeast of San Diego in the Cuyamaca Mountain range of Julian, California. The 110-acre lake sits at an elevation of just over 4,500 feet surrounded by a forest of old oak and pine. The picturesque lake is surrounded on three sides by the Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, a 26,000-acre park of which over 50% has been set aside as wilderness area.
Activities in the area include hiking and camping, as well as boating and bird watching. Fishing on Lake Cuyamaca is encouraged, the lake is stocked annually with over 38,000 pounds of trout. It is the only lake in California to be stocked year-round. Additional species of fish include catfish, bass, sturgeon and bluegill. Duck hunting is allowed in season on Wednesdays and Sundays. Known for ‘big duck’ hunting, Lake Cuyamaca is home to mallards, widgeon and pintail ducks.
Several campsite options are available around the Lake. Lakeview cabins offer linens and towels, as well as private decks equipped with a 4 burner grill, full kitchens and even a horse corral for those traveling by horse. The Angler’s Retreat cabin includes free motorboat rental as weather permits. 29 RV sites are available with both water and electric hookups. Those in tents will find 26 campsites across three main areas of the lake. Showers are available for tent campers near the RV sites. Sleeping cabins offer a level of comfort in between the tents and the Lakeview cabins. Although they do not have indoor plumbing, the cabins offer beds and a covered porch.
Boats are available for rentals. Lake Cuyamaca offers everything from rowboats, paddle boats and kayaks, to outboard motorboats and pontoon boats. Off-water recreation includes a three-mile loop hike that circumnavigates the lake, with several places along the way to stop and enjoy the views. A family-run restaurant on-site offers a view of the lake and an outside deck, and serves up Julian’s famous apple pies.
History: Lake Cuyamaca is home to the second oldest dam in California, which dates back to 1888. Originally, the dam was constructed for use of the lake as a reservoir to supply San Diego with fresh water. Water was transported to the city by way of a 37-mile long wooden flume. The lake was stocked with fish as early as 1891, becoming a mountain fishery. Due to decades of draught in the area through the early 1900’s, the lake and the fishery dried up completely by the 1940’s, and the site was left unused until the 1960’s.
In the 1960’s, members of the Fletcher family, sons of the late Col. Ed Fletcher, began to take action to form a recreational area at the park in support of their father’s dying wishes. With the help of Helix Water, Senate Bill 1218 was written in 1961, officially forming the Lake Cuyamaca Recreation and Park District. The formation of the Lake Cuyamaca Recreation and Park District allowed for the necessary funding to create of a more sustainable infrastructure for the lake. The lake was split into a deeper but smaller section that would be draught resistant, with an overflow area that fills during rainy seasons. The Lake was designated a ‘Special District’ in 1962. Fishing returned to the lake in 1974, when the Park District entered into an agreement with the California Department of Fish and Game.
Today, the lake is managed by the Lake Cuyamaca Recreation and Park District with additional support from the Lake Cuyamaca Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides fundraising to support improvements and recreational opportunities, as well as programming for children’s events and youth groups.
Ongoing Programs and Education: Free fishing classes take place each Saturday at the public launch ramp. Volunteers discuss best methods for fishing for trout or the other fish in the lake, as well as how to choose baits, lures, and rig tackle. Casting lessons are available for beginners.
The Lake Cuyamaca Foundation support additional programming to offer free hunting and fishing opportunities to youth under the age of 15, including the annual ‘Fishin in the Pines,’ a youth fishing derby. The Foundation also supports a Junior Waterfowl Hunt that takes places each year on the first Saturday after the close of the duck hunting season. Juniors work with volunteers to learn about hunting safety, duck calling, setting decoys, and using dogs as retrievers.
15027 Highway 79, Julian, CA 92036