There’s a joke shared by anglers and school kids alike:
How did the fisherman get rich?
Well, here in Mariposa County not only are puns a gill-ty pleasure but we have an abundance of fishing riches in the form of Lake McClure and Lake McSwain.
One of California’s secret fishing destinations, sun-soaked Lake McClure and its little brother Lake McSwain are nestled in the oak-studded Sierra foothills on the western edge of Mariposa County, both lakes are fed by Yosemite’s Wild and Scenic Merced River. With affordable, well-maintained facilities and three marinas, the lakes feature trophy-level fishing, family camping, water sports, house boating and even hang gliding. Located 2.5 hours from the Bay Area, 1.5 hours from Fresno and just one hour from Yosemite National Park, Lake McClure and Lake McSwain are the perfect weekend fishing getaways whether you’re trolling deep near the dam or flicking a Kastmaster from shore with your trusty ice chest by your side.
The foothills’ gem, Lake McClure.
Situated at an elevation of 867 feet, Lake McClure was originally completed in 1926 and named after Wilbur F. McClure, the Head Engineer of the State of California (fun fact: McClure was also responsible for constructing the popular John Muir Trail). The dam was rebuilt in 1967, and the amenities have been improving ever since. The horseshoe-shaped lake features 80 miles of shoreline with wide, deep sections as well as long inlets and secluded coves providing countless opportunities to drop your line.
When it comes to fresh water, you can hook just about everything in Lake McClure: rainbow, brown and brook trout; kokanee salmon; largemouth and spotted bass; crappie, bluegill, shad and catfish. The lake is regularly stocked and excellent for both topwater and deepwater approaches, by boat or from shore. Trolling near the dam is reliable, as is working your way west from Horseshoe Bend down to Barrett Cove, or east from the dam along Cotton Arm. Shore fishing is solid on Lake McClure’s many inlets such as Cotton Creek, Temperance Creek, Rancho del Oro Gulch and Piney Creek where deer, raccoon and the occasional fox might just pay a visit to the water’s edge.
(Canada Goose migrate through during spring, some staying to nest. Bald Eagles nest in winter and there are wild mules living along the shoreline that have inhabited the region for over a century.)
With its varied underwater geography and rocky points, Lake McClure is solid for bass fishing year-round. The Merced River Arm — emanating from the high-country of Yosemite National Park — proves a popular spot, but the main body doesn’t disappoint. Record spotted bass of 9 lbs have been caught on Lake McClure, as well as 15 lb largemouth bass. In the summer of 2019, over 150,000 lbs of trout were stocked in Lake McClure including some whoppers weighing up to 18 lbs, while the average trophy-sized fish weighed in at 10 lbs and measured 24 inches long. To keep things sporting, six trout were specially tagged and whoever reels them in wins a $1,000 prize from Merced Irrigation District Parks & Recreation. Net profits, indeed!
Lake McClure has four campgrounds — McClure Point, Barrett Cove, Horseshoe Bend and Bagby — each with its own personality and unique amenities including free hot showers. No matter which you choose, families (and pets!) are always welcome and the fishing is top-notch.
McClure Point Campground: with 100 camp & RV sites, McClure Point is located on the main body of the lake near Exchequer Dam with excellent water views. It has multiple boat ramps, day-use picnic tables and a protected swim area.
Make it a fishing trip with all of the great camping options around Lake McClure.
Barrett Cove Campground: with 249 camp & RV sites, Barrett Cove is located on Lake McClure’s western shore and boasts many shade trees. The largest of the campgrounds, it features multiple boat ramps, a protected swim/play area with attached pavilion, barbecue pits, Marina Cafe & Store and three rentable park cabins (390 square feet). Boat rentals are available (fishing, kayaks, houseboats, sport and wave runners) as well as access to the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park with trail names like Gnarnia and Dustsurfer.
Horseshoe Bend Campground: with 97 camp & RV sites, Horseshoe Bend is located on the north shore of Lake McClure and 4 miles west of the Gold Rush town of Coulterville. It has a boat ramp, lakefront picnic area with protected swimming lagoon and pavilion, as well as shore and river access.
Bagby Campground: with 31 camp & RV sites, Bagby is located just below the Wild & Scenic Merced River at the inlet of Lake McClure. It is a more remote, peaceful spot with an additional 10 primitive campsites and a boat ramp (if water levels are high enough).
Easy to reach from the Bay Area and the Central Valley, Lake McClure is affordable and offers senior/military discounts as well as seasonal passes. For a complete list of park use fees click here. To reserve a campsite, click here.
Located six miles below the Exchequer Dam, Lake McSwain is an after bay of Lake McClure which means that its water level is not affected by local conditions. Translation? Consistent fun in the sun whether its one of Lake McSwain’s yearly fishing tournaments, grabbing lunch at the Marina Cafe or teaching the kids how to kayak. The lake has a 10 mph speed limit which provides for placid waters and plenty of nibbles on the PowerBait.
Regularly stocked, Lake McSwain is known as a great trout fishing destination (rainbow, brown and brook) but salmon and bass can also be caught here. There is plenty of room to cast from shore in the camping area, from the fishing dock, or by hiking to your own secluded retreat. The lake’s 10 mph limit lends itself to trolling, a relaxing option without all the fuss of speed boats roaring by. Lake McSwain hosts a Trout Fishing Derby twice a year in April and October, with thousands of dollars in cash prizes and the opportunity to show off your fishing skills by hauling in one (or more!) of the tagged fish. Fun fact: the largest rainbow trout ever caught out of Lake McSwain was 17.5 lbs and 34 inches long, taking twenty minutes to haul in.
Camping, swimming, fishing and even a waterpark! There is so much to do on Lake McSwain.
Lake McSwain Camping & Recreation Area: with 111 camp & RV sites, Lake McSwain Campground is located just six miles south of the Exchequer Dam at Lake McClure and has every amenity for a wonderful weekend getaway. The campground features a Marina Cafe & Store, boat ramp, day use area including fishing dock, playground and picnic shelter, horseshoe pits and a designated swimming area. There are six park cabins for rent at Lake McSwain (390 square feet, two units ADA compliant) as well as an event pavilion with a deep pit barbecue. Perfect for groups or special events.
Soaring with eagles high overhead, the non-profit Mother Lode Sky Riders Association promotes foot-launched flying out of its Lake McClure location. The site hosted a record 300 gliders on a single day (1986) and operates with permission from the Merced Irrigation District. If you’d like more information on when to witness this amazing wind-powered feat, check their website for upcoming events.
Lakes McClure and McSwain are not only great places for swimming, but there’s family fun to be had at the Splash-N-Dash Aqua Park.
Located at Lake McSwain by the day-use picnic area, Splash-n-Dash Aqua Park is an impressive flotilla of inflatable obstacles, challenges and on-water acrobatics. The course offers three different routes and four challenge levels ranging from beginner to expert, with features such as Action Tower XXL, High Roller and Wiggle Bridge. Guests must be 7 years olds, 45 inches tall and know how to swim. Life vests are provided with admission but you must bring your own aqua shoes.
Life aquatic for the younger set can be found at Lil’ Splash Zone, a more chill obstacle course with such features as the Wibit Splasher, Aqua Glide Splashmat and Fiesta Lounge. Beach toys and sand buckets are also provided. Parental supervision is required at all times. Birthday package are available for all ages and budgets, including great food and a dedicated picnic area.
View from the summit at Exchequer Mountain Bike Park overlooking Lake McClure. Photo by Grant Parker
Not directly on the lake, but very nearby is the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park. Imagine 700 acres with 900 feet elevation gain on prime riding terrain dedicated exclusively to mountain biking. The Exchequer Mountain Bike Park welcomes riders of all ages and abilities to experience mountain biking trails designed specifically for mountain biking by mountain bikers like you. Enjoy an easy trail for beginners or people interested in just getting out for a social cruise. Or get ready to rip on thrilling technical descents.
Exchequer overlooks the northwestern shore of Lake McClure and has great access from the cabins, camping, and facilities at Barrett Cove Recreation Area. That means you can take a spin on your mountain bike and then cool off by swimming or boating in the lake.
There are endless things to do in California. Take a look at some of our favorites – and they can all be done in or close to Yosemite National Park.
One of California’s secret fishing destinations, sun-soaked Lake McClure and its little brother Lake McSwain are nestled in the oak-studded Sierra foothills on the western edge of Mariposa County.
Yosemite Mariposa County is the home to countless activities and the best things to do near Yosemite. We’ve taken the liberty of giving you 100 things to do in Mariposa County that don’t include Yosemite National Park to get you on your way to your own adventure.