Rancho Seco Recreational Area

Rancho Seco Recreational Area

If the thought of spending a day in the shadow of twin nuclear-generator towers sounds like a terrible idea, think again. Rancho Seco Recreational Area surrounds a 160-acre lake that is as pleasant a place to play as anywhere in Sacramento County.

The Sacramento Municipal Utilities District owns the site, which was developed to support a nuclear generating facility in the 1970s. The lake originally served as a backup emergency water supply for the station. The plant operated from 1975 to 1989, when it was decommissioned.

Today a private concessionaire oversees facilities that include campgrounds; group and day-use picnic areas; a swimming beach with lifeguards (in season);  boat-launches (no gas motors permitted); boat rentals (paddle-boats, kayaks, electric-powered fishing boats, SUPs, rowboats); volleyball courts; a camp store; hiking trails and a waterfront dog park. Fishing for bass is reputed to be very good, and the lake is stocked with trout in the spring.

Rancho Seco is popular with wind-surfers, small sailboats, kayakers, fishermen and especially families, who set up camp on summer weekends at shady picnic tables stationed on broad, well tended lawns. Breezy afternoons are the norm, even on the hottest days.  

Dogs are welcome at the park but must be leashed except in the dog-park area near the end of the dam. Elsewhere, away from the swimming beach you’ll find lots of nooks and coves (many marked with “no swimming, diving or wading” signs) where dogs, but not their people, presumably can go for a quick dip.

Rancho Seco, open year-round, is 25 miles southeast of Sacramento. Take Highway 99 south to Twin Cities Road (also signed Highway 104), go left and follow it 12 miles to the signed entrance for the park. 

Day-use fee is $10 per vehicle. There is a $15 boat-launch fee and a $3 charge for dogs. Group picnic areas for up to 200 people can be reserved. Tent and RV camping also available. The park is open year-round.

Updated 8/4/15

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