Exploring Lake Berryessa

Recently, I took a drive to Lake Berryessa in Napa County. It’s about 45 minutes from North Napa and the largest lake in Napa County. It was formed in the 1960s from the Monticello Dam’s construction on Putah Creek in the 1950s. It provides water to the North Bay as well as San Francisco Bay Area.

When I went in March 2021, it was still recovering from the Hennessey Fire Damage. It’s extremely sad to see how the fire destroyed hundreds of acres as well as homes in the Spanish Flats and Berryessa Hylands.

Lake Berryessa

About Lake Berryessa:

It’s about 15.5 miles long and 3 miles wide. There are about 165 miles of shoreline around Lake Berryessa; it’s huge! The lake itself is over 20,000 acres when full!

Lake Berryessa

About the Glory Hole:

One of the most famous parts of Lake Berryessa is the Glory Hole! Near the dam on the Southeast Side is an open bell-mouth spillway 72 feet in diameter (also known as the “glory hole).  The spillway operates when there is excess water in the reservoir. I started operating again in 2017 after heavy rains as well as in 2019.

Lake Berryessa is important for recharging the groundwater in the greater Bay Area. Without the dam, Putah Creek can dry out in summer.

History of Lake Berryessa:

Lake Berryessa was named after the first European settlers in the Berryessa Valley: José Jesús and Sexto “Sisto” Berrelleza. Before the American Settlement, Lake Berryessa was home to the Pomo Tribe. The Napa Valley was known to have some of the finest soils in the US.

The main town of Monticello was abandoned to construct the reservoir.  Monticello residents even opposed the government but were sadly unsuccessful. Homes were destroyed, and the cemetery had to be relocated.

In the early 1900s, the interest in constructing Lake Berryessa began. There had been small irrigation projects in the area, but nothing successful. Many people believed the Monticello dam would never be successful.

A few years after the Monticello Dam was completed, the governor proposed building an even bigger dam and lake. The “Greater Berryessa Project” created a new 600-foot dam that holds ten times the amount of water and expanded Lake Berryessa to 3x its current size. This is what the current lake looks like today!

Lake Berryessa

What is there to do at Lake Berryessa?

  • Waterskiing
  • Jet Skiing
  • Boating
  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Hiking: Keep in mind, many of the trails are closed due to the fire damage.
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Fishing: There is plenty of warm water and cold-water fish, including sunfish and landlocked salmon. A few other specials include seabass, catfish, carp, and rainbow trout.
  • There is even a Seaplane Base! You can learn more about it here.
  • Lake Berryessa
    Charred branches and fire damage

My experience at Lake Berryessa:

I went in March 2021. As many locals are aware, there were huge fires that rolled through Napa County during the fall of 2020, and Lake Berryessa had some significant damage. It was sad to see all of the fire damage from the Hennessey Fire. The Hennessey fire hit the lower part of the lake and burned down about 100 of the 300 homes in the Berryessa Highlands. You can see many burned and charred trees that are block trails.

Lake Berryessa
More charred branches and fire damage

Many of the hiking trails are closed due to fire damage. I spent about an hour walking along the shoreline, where it was safer. During that time, I saw many boaters and fishers out. It was a beautiful but sad hike to see all of the damage. I definitely want to come back at some point when more is open. You can find updates about Lake Berryessa here.

Lake Berryessa

You can see more hikes and trail runs here.

Questions for you:

Have you ever been to Lake Berryessa?

Have you ever witnessed fire damage?