Santee Lakes – A Beautiful Day Or Vacation Stay!

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve is one of the best staycation spots in California. Kids and adults are definitely going to have fun during their stay with the many recreational activities the park has to choose from. You can boat, camp, rent a cabin, get in some exercise, or just sit outside for a beautiful day!

santee lakes - high view

Padre Dam Municipal Water District decided to build Santee Lakes to help show the public the promise and plausibility of water recycling. They recycle and reduce waste to have a water stream with minimal processing costs, thus helping the locals increase their water supply. With this, tons of architects, engineers, government officials and urban planners worldwide visit Santee Lakes to see the good it has to offer.

So what are the activities awaiting in Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve? See them all here.

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve Park

Santee Lakes feature one of the best award winning parks in California. They strive to showcase their best facilities and amenities for all guests and campers. The daily use part of the park is open at 8 a.m. on the weekdays and 6 a.m. on weekends, and closing anywhere from 5 p.m.- 7 p.m. depending on the season. The weekday fee is $4 per vehicle and $6 on the weekend, and you will receive a $1 discount if you pay with cash.

entrance to santee lakes

The park is open every day with tons of activities for all ages, like bike rentals, fishing, boating, and camping. Kids can have a good time in one of their seven playgrounds, including the Sprayground and Boulder Island adventure course. A Sprayground wristband is available for $2 per child on the weekdays to $3 on the weekends. There is a Tot Lot for smaller children, and a special playground for children with disabilities between lakes 3 & 4.

Those who want to enjoy some quiet time can set up a picnic under one of the park’s cool lakeside gazebos all year round! They can host all kinds of parties, just ask! Parents and kids will surely create some great memories as they have fun with different activities around the park. Biking can also be fun and are available to rent from $12-$35/hr, depending what type of bike it is. Regular bikes can be rented for the day also, but surreys are for one hour at a time.

surrey ride

If you plan to regularly visit the park on different occasions on a yearly basis, you may opt to get the annual parking permit for $75 at the park office. They also offer special discounts for different seasons so you can enjoy the park throughout the year for a lot less. Save the money for something else AND enjoy the park!

Make sure you don’t bring pets to the park because they do not allow pets in the day use areas or the cabins. They do, however, allow pets on the campgrounds, so you can bring your pet/s (up to 2 dogs) on vacation. Your kids will appreciate that too if they are close to the family pet.

Santee Lakes Campground

Santee Lakes offers the perfect spot for the whole family, couples or singles to enjoy. Parents are encouraged to bring their kids for a week or weekend full of adventure. They have shower, restroom and laundry facilities, as well as a clubhouse for parties, 2 swimming pools and a jacuzzi.

Santee Lakes is proud to showcase their campground, which has about 300 campsites to choose from, all equipped with free WiFi access and cable TV. Registered campers get the benefit of fishing exclusively in lake 6 and 7, which are not open to day guests. The campsite is just 20 minutes away from the big attractions in San Diego. It is definitely a great spot to come back to if you spend the day out of the park on your vacation.

RV parked at santee lakes!

Camping at Santee Lakes helps promote the reduction of environmental impacts. All facilities in the area are run with the help of more than four acres of solar panels. These solar panels help produce almost 50% of the power the entire park and campground need everyday! They are situated above car ports, where you can park your RV, with card access control and dump stations for $120 per month for units 20 feet and under.

The campground is mostly for RVs, but there are a limited number of tent camper sites for one tent and six people. Campfires are permitted if they are contained and off the ground, but they are not allowed in the Mulberry Loop. Camping prices can be found HERE.

Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve was awarded the National Plan-it Green Award for their efforts to help protect the environment. The award is presented to parks for using green energy instead of traditional energy that pollutes the environment.

santee lakes award

Fishing Fun at Santee Lakes!

There are seven lakes in the area regularly stocked with different fish, including catfish, bass, bluegill, and carp. Regular day fishing is allowed in lakes 1 to 5, while lakes 6 and 7 are only designated for registered campers. However, there are a limited number of stamps that unregistered campers can obtain, along with a fishing permit, to use lakes 6 & 7.

santee lakes fish

You may or may not need a fishing license from the district to fish at Santee Lakes, but you do need to get a day permit from the general store on the park grounds if you are 16 or older. Children 7-15 years old require a junior permit, while those under 7 years old can fish without one as long as they are accompanied by an adult with a valid permit. The fishing limit would be for one person in that case. Each pole that you use will be an added cost to your fishing trip.

Day use visitors to the park can fish during park hours, while campers can fish from sunrise to sunset, and even into the night with a night fishing permit. Lights must be used at all times on the water if you are fishing at night, and the quiet time at the campground must still be obeyed. You can catch 5 fish per day, per person, but bass must always be released into the same lake after you catch them. They prefer that you release catfish as well, but it’s not a rule that you have to. Trout and carp must never be released, and the park actually wants you to take the carp out.

caught fish

When you are fishing, you cannot use minnows, frogs, goldfish, other fish, chum and corn as bait. It’s best to use an artificial lure so as not to introduce anything new into the lakes. One adult day permit is $9, a senior permit is $6 (for ages 60 and older), a junior permit is also $6, and an extra pole is $4. Night fishing is $6 for adults and $3 for juniors, and there are also fishing events where you can win prizes at certain times of the year.

What About Boating At Santee Lakes?

Santee Lakes is imposing some important restrictions due to the presence of invasive Quagga Mussels in several lakes in California. These mussels vary in size from microscopic to fingernail length. Quagga Mussels are very active and attach themselves to any hard surface. These invasive mussels create significant negative impacts on the lakes’ water systems. Furthermore, it disrupts the natural food chain by releasing toxic chemicals that affect other aquatic species.

quagga infiltrating

Santee Lakes has had to temporarily impose strict rules in banning the use of personal watercraft, personal live bait and containers, fish finders, floating catch buckets, and other potential contaminants. All fishing equipment should only come from the Santee Lakes general store and will be carefully inspected by their staff.

So in order to fish (or you can fish from the shores) or have fun on a boat, you must rent one for now. Pedal boats with 4 seats cost $16/hr, canoes are $17/hr, and kayaks are $17/hr, and they all can be rented at half hour rates as well. If you are renting a cabin, there are shared and private pedal boats to use as part of your rental.

Renting Cabins!

Santee Lakes offers waterfront cabins and three floating cabins that guests can choose from. Waterfront cabins are equipped with a queen bed for two adults, a small mattress for one adult or two children, and a bunk bed that sleeps two. It’s meant to accomodate five guests, but six are allowed. The kitchen includes everything needed to run a kitchen, like a refrigerator, cooking utensils, plates, dish soap and sponge, a coffee pot, etc. It also has a bathroom, and a living room with a tv and dvd player. Outside the cabin, there is a propane grill, fire ring, a porch, 2 chairs, and shared pedal boats.

waterfront cabins available in santee lakes

The floating cabins have basically the same indoor amenities as the waterfront cabins, but only sleeps four, with a queen bed and a sleeper sofa. However, six guests are allowed here as well, and there is a shared fire ring, a porch with a table and 4 chairs, and a personal pedal boat. These cabins are actually ON the water like a house boat would be. In either cabin, you could also fish right from your porch and cook fresh fish for dinner on the grill!

floating cabins

There is also an ADA cabin with a ramp for easy wheelchair access that sleeps three, but will allow six guests like the other two types of cabins. It includes a full sized bed and a floor mattress, with mostly the same amenities as the other cabins. There is a ramped porch with 2 chairs and shared pedal boats.

You can bring your own things to the cabin, but with kitchen supplies, the cabins should have all the basics you will need. You can also bring your fishing gear, but it would be a good idea to remember the rules about what bait you can’t use and what fish you can keep. Quiet time starts at 9 p.m. and ends at 8 a.m. for the whole campground, and you can be escorted off the grounds for violating that rule. Also, they only allow one car per cabin, but you can pay for guest parking if you have more than one, depending on availability.

Need Snacks? Welcome To The General Store

store at santee lakes

There is a store inside the park, located at lake 5, where you can pick up food, drinks/hot drinks, fishing supplies/permits, rent boats/bikes, and pay for camping/cabins. Starting on Friday (until Sunday), you can sit at the Waterfront Grill (or sit on your own chair that you brought) and choose from burgers, hot dogs, spicy sausages, grilled cheeses, and drinks. Even if you just came for the day, it’s beautiful to eat some good food and look out onto the lake with the sun shining on the water!

santee lakes grill

Santee Wildlife

There are several types of wildlife that call Santee Lakes their home or part time home. The most diverse wildlife present in the area is the vast species of birds, with over 200 different species that live or simply pass by. There are also coyotes, ducks, herons, raccoons, and owls, just to name a few.

bird in tree

Local Santee Attraction

Santee Lakes has many attractions nearby to enjoy for the whole family, as part of a nice vacation. Just 20-30 minutes away from Santee Lakes will lead you to some of the best attractions in California. You can visit these attractions during your stay at Santee Lakes Recreation Reserve. Here are some of the local attractions in and near Santee, to name just a few:

  •  Balboa Park and Museums
  •  Cabrillo National Monument (beautiful high point views of San Diego Bay, the city itself, the ocean, and more!)
  •  Birch Aquarium at Scripps
  •  La Jolla Cove
  •  Coronado Island
  •  Legoland
  • Old Town State Historic Park
  • Seaport Village
  • Sea World
  • San Diego Zoo
  • Torrey Pines Beach/Natural Reserve
  • San Diego Zoo Safari Park (north, in Escondido)
  • Mission Trails Regional Park

Volunteers Is What Makes Santee Lakes A Relaxing Experience

The success of Santee Lakes is mainly thanks to the hard work of their paid staff and volunteers. The volunteers make up 60% of the workforce of the whole park! They help to implement rules and regulations, and take care of the overall maintenance of the park. Of course, volunteers get many benefits like free parking, fun use of amenities as they assist guests, and experiencing the beauty of the lakes.

maintaining the santee park

If you want to spend some great time with your family and friends, away from the busy and stressful city, Santee Lakes is the best place for you. It will keep you away from trouble and bring peace to your inner soul.

People of all ages will definitely have fun during their stay. Even grandparents can do some fishing and boating activities. If kids are looking for more fun, you can bring them to local attractions that are just a few minutes away. The park is always looking to improve, so it will be interesting to see what they add to it!

PS. Looking for more things to do in Santee, CA?  Check out our Mission Trails and Cowles Mountain Hiking Guides!