Escape to Lake Berryessa this Summer

lake berryessa, napa county

A short drive from Sacramento and the Bay Area, Lake Berryessa offers a variety summer recreation close enough for a day trip. Photo © AlessandraRC –

NAPA COUNTY – The abundance of rain over the winter delivered more than just beautiful blossoms this spring. It brought national attention to Lake Berryessa and the Monticello Dam in Napa County. There is a concrete tunnel drain in the lake to prevent the dam from overflowing. When the lake gets too high, this spillway, or “glory hole” as it’s known, drains the lake at a rate of up to 48,000 cubic feet per second and then discharges it 700 feet below into the Putah Creek.

The water in Lake Berryessa rarely rises above the circular spillway, but when it does, the result looks like something out of a science fiction movie. The concrete drain itself isn’t visible, so observers see water rapidly sucked into the lake with the destination appearing to be Middle-earth. Earlier this year we posted a video of water draining down the spillway on our Instagram page.

However, the spillway doesn’t have to be active to warrant a trip to the lake. There are plenty of other things to see and do here, many of which are courtesy of Mother Nature. Both cold and warm water fish, including rainbow trout, bass and bluegill, inhabit Lake Berryessa, so fishing is plentiful.

In addition, several hiking trails along the lake’s perimeter provide the opportunity to give your legs a good stretch or to set up a scenic picnic. They vary in distance from 0.1 to 5 miles, so there is something for all abilities. Trails provide picturesque lake views, especially if you hike along the Smittle Creek Trail, which follows along the western shoreline. This trail offers prime spots for wildlife and bird watching. On any given day you may spot wild turkeys, songbirds and hawks.

lake berryessa tubing

Tubers enjoying a day on Lake Berryessa. Photo credit: star5112/flickr

As one of the largest bodies of fresh water in California, Lake Berryessa is a great destination for boating, water-skiing, wakeboarding and tubing enthusiasts. During the summer months, the water temperature rises to 75 degrees, making swimming pleasant. Don’t forget the sunscreen!

patio of turkovich

A comfortable patio allows wine tasters to sip al fresco at Turkovich Family Wines in Winters. Photo via Turkovich Family Wines/Instagram

Cap off your Lake Berryessa excursion with a short drive east on Highway 128 to the small town of Winters, where several wineries and taprooms offer tastings. (Editor’s note: tasting options may be limited due at this time due to COVID-19. Check with each location for details). Located at 304 Railroad Ave. in historic downtown, the Turkovich Family Wines tasting room welcomes guests to relax while sampling local wines and cheeses. If you worked up a heartier appetite at the lake, Hooby’s Brewery at 9 E. Main St. will take care of you. Dive into a waffle sandwich, savor a pretzel brat or graze on seasonal charcuterie and cheese offerings as you sample their original brews.

If you go: The Lake Berryessa Visitors Center is located at 5520 Berryessa-Knoxville Road, Lake Berryessa. More information on recreation at Lake Berryessa can be found at the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s website.

Your Town Daycations is a series featured in Your Town Monthly. A version of this article was originally published in the June 2019 print editions.