Lake Berryessa is a place in Napa County where you can go and spend a nice afternoon. A half hour drive from Davis will bring you to the first sign of the lake, the impressive Monticello Dam, from which Putah Creek flows. The glory hole spillway is one of the outlets of the lake. The water is pretty clean (the lake provides drinking water for much of Solano County) and often warm but some of the lakeside areas are littered with broken glass and fish hooks. It's a great place to go for a swim, get out in nature and just relax.

Lake Berryessa is used often for hiking, fishing and water skiing. One may rent boats (power, kayak or pedal-types) from the resorts of the lake for a fun day in the water. Lake Berryessa is also an official seaplane base.

There is no road access to the east side of the lake, and many of the resorts and public areas are on the west and north sides of the Lake, so expect at least one hour's drive (or a nice long bike ride — but be careful, because the road is narrow and winding), depending on your destination.

Check for the abandoned cars there that went off the edge. There are two. What part of the lake?

Aerial photo taken 4-29-07 by Andrew Leonard.

Happenings at the Lake

The Past

Before the dam was built in 1957, the town of Monticello was in the middle of the Berryessa valley, and the site is still marked on some maps of the reservoir. Before the town was flooded renowned photographers Dorothea Lange and Pirkle Jones did a project here published in Aperture Magazine as "Death of a Valley".

  • The Berryessa name is the family name of three brothers who settled along Cache Creek: Santiago Berryessa, Nemecia Berryessa, and Francisco Berryessa.
  • Sadly, Lake Berryessa was the site of a 1969 murder linked to the infamous Bay Area Zodiac Killer (see the location on wikimapia). The Zodiac Killer has never been caught and is the subject of a recent movie.
  • Because of heavy mining which was once an important industry in the area, the Lake has an over abundance of Mercury. This mercury shows up in the fish that inhabit the Lake and Putah creek. Check the OEHHA Berryessa website for information regarding safe levels of fish consumption
  • Creedence Clearwater Revival used to hang out at Lake Berryessa a lot. They wrote the song, "Green River" about Putah Creek

The Present

The Bureau of Reclamation is in the process of phasing out the private resort areas (as contracts expire) in order to allow for public access.

Low water levels (as of Summer, '08) mean that some islands which are normally unreachable on foot are now accessible. You can find some cool things on such islands, even trash!

The Future

The private sites will be replaced by accommodations for the public that will include cabins, lodges, and possibly motels and hotels, with restaurants, retail outlets, and marinas. There will also be campgrounds for both tents and RV’s. One of the most eagerly awaited proposals is the development of a 150 mile shoreline trail. Reclamation has also decided to create two no-motor areas, one at Steele Canyon Cove and the other between the islands and the shoreline of the two public parks.

Things to do


See more: Trailheads map for Napa County

Beaches and Swimming

Lake Berryessa Links


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2007-08-27 00:36:59   I normally lament the ever-present trash found even miles out a trail, but recently I was walking around some of the islands here that are currently accessible because of the low water and was very interested to find a (pull tab!) can of Schlitz Beer made in 1975. —JoePomidor

2008-08-29 23:00:51   The hikes are amazing, just be sure to get an early start in the summer and leave time to cool off in the lake. Also, beware of the abundant poison oak (leaves of three, let them be). From the trailhead right below the dam, cross over the road (or under in the dry season) and head up the valley. You'll pass an old homestead, and can get views of the valley if you continue up one of the ridges (can be made into a loop). —rrignacio