Lake Cachuma

Lake Cachuma is a reservoir in California’s Central Santa Barbara County, in the Santa Ynez Valley. With its rugged beauty, variety of coves, inlets and wild shores, the lake and its surroundings are an extremely popular recreational area.

Lake Cachuma Stats

Lake NameLake Cachuma
CountryUnited States
Surface area9.550
Maximum depth45.7
Average depth22.3
Lake typeReservoir
Catchment area1086.50
InflowsCalifornia Aqueduct, Santa Ynez River
OutflowsSanta Ynez River
Shore length36.11
Residence time424.4
Average discharge5.803

Dam and Water Usage

The 61-meter long earth-fill dam called Bradbury Dam was constructed on the Santa Ynez River by the US Bureau of Reclamation in 1953. The reservoir, situated in the northern part of California State Route 154, provides drinking water to its surrounding inhabitants. Because of this, swimming, waterskiing, wading has been strictly prohibited since the 1950’s. The no body contact regulation has been revised in the May of 2011, allowing human-powered watercrafts (such as kayaks and canoes) on the lake’s waters.

Water from the lake is diverted to the South Coast Region, passing through the Santa Ynez Mountains with the help of a 10-kilometer long tunnel. The water is carried an additional 40 kilometers from the tunnel outlet through the South Coast Conduit. The water is treated at the City’s Cater Water Treatment Plant midway down the main conduit and is distributed to locals within the city’s service area. A percentage of the water is put back in the conduit to deliver to the residents of Carpinteria, Montecito and Summerland.

The lake’s name originates from a Chumash village, which was spelled as Aquitsumu by the Spanish. In  Barbareno Chumash language “aqitsu’m” means “sign”.

Geography and Surroundings

Lake Cachuma’s surface area is 1,300 hectares. Its maximum design capacity is 253,000,000 m3, but due to sediment accumulation is currently limited to 232,000,000 m3. The city of Solvang is situated 16.9 km west of the lake, while Santa Ynez can be found 11.67 km west of Bradbury Dam.

The reservoir is bordered by Los Padres National Forest, with many hiking trails, and the San Rafael Mountains. The southern shore boasts a large campsite for visitors.


Santa Barbara Country Parks ensures cabin and yurt rentals, along with tent, group and RV camping on the reservoir’s shore. Lodges, inns and bed&breakfasts can also be found in the area. Travellers can find general stores, shops, boat and kayak rentals and tackle shops in the proximity. Viewing bald eagles from seasonal tour boats is a popular activity.

A marina with a variety of fishing and pontoon boats can be found at Lake Cachuma. Fishing is extremely widespread, since the activity is allowed all year round, both from the shore and from boats. Throughout the winter, the lake is stocked with rainbow trout. There’s an annual trout-fishing derby organized at the lake which attracts many eager fishermen. Cachuma is also home to largemouth and smallmouth bass, bluegill, catfish and crappie. Bowfishing for carp is also permitted.

The Neal Taylor Nature Center attracts a lot of tourists through its exhibits about the area’s natural history, including displays of plants, animals and geology. Admission is free, and the expo is open year-round. They also host many workshops, both for youngsters and adults, along with lectures and nature education programs.

The University of California, Santa Barbara’s official rowing team regularly visits the lake for practices and races. They even erected a permanent boat house on the reservoir. Despite the no body contact policy, dogs are allowed on boats, to eliminate “incidental body contact” with the lake’s water as a punishable offence.

Lake Cachuma Map

Lake Cachuma Reviews

4.5/5SuperbBased on 1 review
4.5 stars

Shirl Aronson – 2016-11-17 12:57:28

After living in SB for 26 years.... I can't tell you how much I miss the Lake. I have camped many many times, from tent to motor-home. What a wonderful natural setting. Love 'playing' in the Santa Ynez valley. Every time I come to CA to visit family & friends I spend at least 2 days at Cachuma.