The moon is bright, the water calm. An owl hoots, a fish flops. Fido perks his ears. No, you’re not camping: You’re floating through the weekend on a houseboat.
Whether you opt for a stripped-down model sleeping six or a floating palace that can handle a crowd, there’s nothing like a waterborne vacation to bring out your inner Huck Finn.
Houseboats can be rented on numerous California lakes and waterways, but none is more suited to the pastime than Shasta Lake, California’s largest and most beautiful reservoir.
Shasta is the houseboating capital of California, if not the world, and for good reason. The lake's 360 miles of jagged shoreline are indented with cove after cove where house-boaters can anchor out in solitude or bob in the company of others.
While the party crowd tends to gather at coves and marinas close to Interstate 5, the Pit River arm of the lake is noted for more secluded places to anchor.
Permits are required for campfires; they’re free and can be obtained from houseboat-rental companies.
Ideal as it is, Shasta is not the only option for a waterborne vacation in our region. Lake Oroville in Butte County is known as a top-notch fishing lake (especially for bass), but its 167 miles of shoreline also beg exploring.
There's no better place to wait for the fish to bite than on the deck of a houseboat with Fluffy lazing by your side. Houseboaters can explore the three arms of the lake extending eastward to the South, Middle and North forks of the Feather River, and pull up overnight at three boat-in campgrounds.
Pet-friendly Forever Resorts, a major player in the houseboating world, rents vessels out of Lake Oroville Marina in the Lime Saddle Recreation Area. They're big, measuring in at between 50 and 70 feet. The top-of-the-line Silver Millennium sleeps 10 comfortably and sports amenities including a 45-inch TV and a wet bar, six-person hot tub and barbecue grill on the top deck. Dogs are welcome aboard with a $100 nonrefundable deposit.
For boaters skilled in negotiating tides and currents, the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta is a paradise that in places feels like another world. Its 1,000 miles of navigable waterways wind through one of the richest agricultural regions in the nation and are easy to get lost in, so navigation skills are a must.
Other challenges—like knowledge of tides and currents and being on the alert for low bridges, snags and shallow channels—make houseboating here a different venture than on a lake. But the rewards, from lazing away a day on a quiet slough at Delta Meadows State Recreation Area to tying up at a restaurant on the Delta Loop, are more than worth it.
Seven Crown Resorts is the only company currently renting houseboats on the Delta. Vessels available at its Paradise Point Marina location near Stockton are smaller and nimbler than those seen on large lakes. Pets are welcome on all boats at no extra charge.