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Majestic Lake Piru Is a Big Splash : It's the only lake in the county that allows swimming. Expect crowds on the weekends.


If the idea of swimming in the ocean leaves you cold--literally--then consider a trek to Lake Piru where the water temperature can hit a balmy 78 degrees.

The summer swimming season opened there this week, which is good news to warm-water fans. This lake near Piru is the only one in the county where swimming is allowed.

That doesn't mean you can take a dip anywhere you want in the lake. The main swimming area is a sandy beach on the west side of the lake where lifeguards are on duty weekends from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Swimming is allowed there during the week, but at your own risk.)

And don't expect a secluded spot. The roped-off swimming area is only about 200 feet by 100 feet and it gets packed with swimmers on the weekend, according to Doug West, park manager. The parking area there only holds 75 vehicles.

The other swimming spot is also on the west side, past the marina, in an area called Reasoner Canyon. With the drought over, the lake is full and park officials decided to allow swimming here this year. This is a large, grassy picnic area where children might want to wade, but no lifeguards are stationed here. Both beaches drop off gradually.

"We'd like to enlarge our swimming areas," West said. "Our two most popular recreational activities are swimming and picnicking."

With the water level high, the lake is getting back to the high attendance levels it had before the drought, he said. This year's attendance is 35% ahead of last year.

The warm weather has helped too. Last week the water temperature at the lake was 68 degrees, considerably warmer than the 61-degree reading at the ocean.

Lake Piru, located near the funky little town of Piru, was formed when the Santa Felicia Dam was constructed by the United Water Conservation District in 1955. The district oversees recreational uses on the lake, which is 4.1 miles long with an average width of about one mile.

The lake, ringed by mountains and hills, is majestic. Even the six-mile drive from Piru to the lake passes through scenic country.

But prepare for crowds on the weekend. The lake gets 90% of its use then, according to West. Water-skiing is allowed, and on the weekend 300 to 400 boats cruise the lake. Canoes, kayaks, sail boards and jet skis are not allowed.

The marina rents 14-foot aluminum boats and pontoon boats. For fishermen, the latest trend is to go out in a float tube, which looks like a giant inner tube. The lake is stocked with trout, and with the water level up, the fishing is exceptional now, according to West.

Water-skiing and fishing seem like they would clash. But the two activities are separated, with the water-skiing directed to the center of the lake and fishing focused on the lake's many coves where the speed limit is 5 m.p.h.

The lake has 238 campsites, with 107 equipped with electrical hookups. Sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis and often fill up by Friday night.

The lake has its share of wild animals--geese, ducks, ospreys, deer, bears, bobcats and mountain lions. And if you spend the night, watch out for the olives covering the ground. The Olive Tree Campground is under scores of olive trees, planted by David C. Cook who founded the town of Piru.


WHAT: Lake Piru

WHERE: Located six miles from Piru, just off California 126.

COST: Day use per vehicle is $5. Camping is $12-$16 per night.

FYI: Day use hours are from sunrise to sunset. Pets must be leashed and are not allowed in the water. Snack bar and bait shop located near the marina. For more information, call 521-1500.

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