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Not far from the famed San Jacinto Peak in California's Inland Empire, Lake Hemet Reservoir offers plenty of nature-focused recreation to lucky visitors. The reservoir, built along the San Jacinto River, holds water to be supplied to several towns and businesses in the Palm Springs area. Originally constructed in 1895 when the Hemet Dam was built, operating authority for the reservoir now belongs to the Lake Hemet Municipal Water District. Located entirely within the San Bernardino National Forest, a six-section campground adds valuable waterside fun to numerous families every year. A surface area of 470 acres offers ample area for anglers who come to enjoy the fishing. Set against the stunning backdrop of the towering San Jacinto Mountains, Lake Hemet is a prized destination for outdoor-loving visitors of all ages.
The reservoir is a designated water supply, so access is regulated to prevent contamination. A day pass fee is required of those who come to picnic, swim or fish in Lake Hemet. Personal fishing boats are allowed, but must be inspected for aquatic 'hitch-hikers' before launch. Many choose instead to rent a fishing boat at the park-operated marina, where motorized and rowboats can be launched for a small fee. The boating speed limit is 10 mph, so water skiing, power boats or personal watercraft are not allowed. The marina also rents pontoon boats, peddle boats and sit-on-top kayaks. Fishing is usually good, as the California Department of Fish and Game regularly stocks the lake. Rainbow trout are stocked every two weeks during the warmer months. Largemouth bass, channel catfish and blue gills are also sought-after targets. All fishermen over age 16 must hold a valid State of California fishing license. There are several places to fish from shore, although most prefer renting a boat.
A day spent in the shade of the giant oaks, pines and manzanita trees in the picnic grounds gives one plenty of views across the water to the surrounding mountains. Eagles and hawks glide effortlessly on air currents above. Bicycles can be rented within the park; cycling and walking the many paths are enjoyed by all. Playgrounds for the youngsters occupy active children, and a six-hole disk golf course commands the attention of those not interested in volley ball, horseshoes, tetherball or bocce ball. A waterplay area, shallow swim lagoon and a small swimming beach give plenty of opportunities for cooling off. On Saturday nights, there are open-air movies, and internet access is available in the Discovery Room. A camp store offers all sorts of necessities and snacks. Six campground sections are stretched along the eastern shoreline with restrooms, showers and the usual amenities. Reservations are recommended as these campgrounds are popular and fill up quickly. A campsite here makes a great home-base for exploring the many hiking trails and majestic peaks in the surrounding San Bernardino National Forest and Mt. San Jacinto State Park.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway provides great views to San Jacinto Peak, taking passengers from 2,643 feet past the sheer walls of Chino Canyon to 8,516 feet in about ten minutes. Those hiking to the top of San Jacinto Peak can continue on foot. The tramway car with a rotating floor assures all riders of spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and valleys. The wilderness areas of the state park and national forest are replete with trails for hiking of varying difficulty. Appropriate passes should be obtained before venturing off into these forested mountains, and accurate trail maps are always a good idea. These are available at the Ranger Stations in Idyllwild and Long Valley. There are even primitive camping areas available for overnight camping in the national forest. These also fill up quickly in this popular area, so it is wise to apply for a permit early.
The town closest to Lake Hemet is tiny Idyllwild to the north along State Route 74, known as the Pines to Palms Highway. Idyllwild is filled with shops and restaurants catering to tourists. To the west, the small City of Hemet offers a number of attractions. The Western Science Center is filled with interactive exhibits relating to the geology of the surrounding area and what life was like in the Domenigoni and Diamond Valleys in both the recent and distant past. Children will love the life-sized mastodons, and adults will marvel at the pioneer living facilities depicted. There is even something for the very young child at Hemet. The Fingerprints Youth Museum offers interactive displays and opportunities to explore such things as construction equipment and primary science activities. If the fish aren't biting at Lake Hemet, a small, five-acre pond called Little Lake on the outskirts of Hemet gives everyone an opportunity to try their luck in a heavily-stocked pond. The admission price covers the fish caught, and opportunities to walk the trail around the lake are an added bonus.
No visit to the Lake Hemet area would be complete without a side trip to The Living Desert. This zoo and botanical garden recreates a panorama of the world's different desert ecologies, including animals and plants. Other attractions include a model train village, wildlife trails, an 'Ant Lab' and an air-conditioned Discovery Center. Those not camping can find a variety of other lodgings in the towns and cities in the area, with a number of hotels, guest cottages, bed & breakfasts and resort ranches, some within the San Bernardino National Forest. Real estate may still be available in the area, even if not directly on Lake Hemet. Located just a couple of hours east of Los Angeles, the Lake Hemet area is easy to reach and a ton of fun.
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