Not all Southland swimming beaches line the Pacific shore. High in the San Bernardino Mountains you'll find summer swimmers and sunbathers flocking to Silverwood Lake.
Surrounded by forest scenery, the 3,380-foot-high lake also attracts boaters, water skiers and fishing folk. It's the focal point of a state recreation area where hikers, bicyclists, picnickers and campers are welcome, too.
The man-made lake's main purpose is not for recreation but as a reservoir for the state's aqueduct system. It holds 25 billion gallons of water that's brought to the Los Angeles area from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Best of all, the refreshing mountain lake offers a convenient escape from the city. You'll find it just 12 miles off the freeway from Cajon Pass.
Drive east from Los Angeles on the San Bernardino (Interstate 10) or Pomona (California 60) freeways to join Interstate 15 north to that mountain pass. Before reaching the summit, exit at Cajon Junction onto California 138 and follow the signs east to the lake.
The curvy back-country road parallels part of the Santa Fe and Salt Lake trails that California's pioneers traveled through the pass in 1849.
Rest and Watch Trains
For a rest stop, park on the left by a chain-link fence to look down on the railroad tracks that dozens of trains crawl along daily, passing between the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountain ranges.
Follow the highway through Horsethief Canyon into Summit Valley before turning south to skirt the lake to the park's main entrance. In summer the gates are open for day visitors from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Arrive early; lines into the park often form on weekends, especially Sundays.
Entry is $2 per vehicle, $4 if you haul a boat to launch in the lake. Dogs on leashes are welcome for a 50-cent fee, plus proof of current rabies vaccination.
Ask the rangers at the entry station for a map of the recreation area, which spreads over 2,400 acres of rugged terrain in San Bernardino National Forest.
Scrub oak, manzanita and other chaparral cover much of the park, but you'll find forests of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and incense cedar at the high elevations.
Head to Sawpit Canyon, the main area for access to the lake where there is a launching ramp and a marina with boats for rent. (Boats must be off the lake by 8:30 p.m.)
Hire an eight- to 12-passenger motorized pontoon vessel to tour the sprawling lake, or sightsee near the marina with a muscle-powered pedal boat or aquacycle. Sailboards for windsurfing, as well as fishing boats, also can be rented.
Bait, tackle and the required state fishing license are available at the marina shop. You'll also find picnic supplies and a snack bar there. To phone Silverwood Lake Marina: (619) 389-2320.
Adjacent to the marina in Sawpit Canyon is one of the park's two swimming beaches where lifeguards are on duty daily in summer. The other is in the westernmost arm of the lake at Cleghorn Cove.
Both areas also have picnic sites with tables and barbecue grills. You can picnic at an eastern arm of the lake at Serrano Beach, but tables are a quarter-mile from the nearest parking lot. At the lake's north end are three other picnic areas that can only be reached by boat.
Hikers and cyclists will enjoy the 12 miles of paved trails that border the southern perimeter of the lake and lead to vista points and picnic spots, including remote Serrano Beach.
You also can reach that scenic area of the park along Miller Canyon via car by returning to California 138, driving east toward Crestline for four miles, then turning left at the Pilot Rock turnoff.
The Silverwood Lake area is home for an abundance of wildlife, including 130 species of birds. Listen or look for acorn and downy woodpeckers, Stellar jays and red-shouldered hawks. Often seen scurrying over the ground are California quail, chipmunks and squirrels.
Near the park's main entrance is Mesa Campground with 136 sites for tents or RVs (no hookups). The nightly fee is $6; call (800) 952-5580 for reservation information. To phone park headquarters at Silverwood Lake: (619) 389-2303.
On the way back to Los Angeles you can visit another mountain lake and recreation area. It's Lake Gregory, a San Bernardino Regional Park that's popular for swimming, boating, fishing, picnicking and camping.
Follow California 138 south toward Crestline and turn east on Lake Drive through Lake Gregory Village to the man-made lake that was created in the late 1930s.
Entry to the lake's swimming beach and picnic area costs $2 per person, free for children under 5. Daily hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. A special attraction is the 320-foot water slide, where kids of all ages race down the twin-chute waterway for $2.50 a half-hour.
Rowboats for Rent
At the Lake Gregory Boat House you can rent a rowboat (gas motors and private boats not allowed). Hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Phone (714) 338-2233. Fishermen have access to the lake without charge; park along the road.
Lake Gregory has a 4 1/2-mile shoreline that can be circled by boat or car. Drivers can head east along Lake Drive, go right on San Moritz Drive, then right on Lake Gregory Drive.
Privately run Camp Switzerland has tent and RV sites across the road from the lake's north shore; phone (714) 338-2731.
To return to Los Angeles, rejoin California 138 going south through Crestline to the junction with California 18. Take it west down the mountain to join the freeway spur leading to Interstate 15 and San Bernardino, then pick up Interstate 10 west.
Round trip from Los Angeles for a mountain outing to Silverwood Lake is 160 miles.