California’s principal river systems are formed by the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries, which drain the Great Central Valley. The Sacramento, the longest river within the state, flows generally southward for 607 km (377 mi) from its source at the base of Mount Shasta in the southern Cascade Mountains to its junction with the San Joaquin. The Pit River is the longest tributary of the Sacramento, but shorter tributaries, such as the Feather and American rivers, carry larger volumes of water. The San Joaquin River rises in the Sierra Nevada near Yosemite National Park and flows generally northward for 560 km (350 mi) to join the Sacramento River. The Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers unite to form a large inland delta that drains to Suisun Bay, the eastern arm of San Francisco Bay. Numerous mountain streams descend from the Sierra Nevada to join the two rivers. A number of short streams rise on the eastern flanks of the Coast Ranges, but they usually run dry before reaching either river.
The rivers of the Coast Ranges in California are relatively short, except for the 400-km (250-mi) long Klamath River, which rises in Oregon and flows through northwestern California. Farther south the Salinas River rises in the Coast Ranges and flows northwestward, roughly parallel to the coast, through a broad fertile valley to Monterey Bay.
The major river in southern California is the Colorado River, one of the chief rivers of the western United States. It follows the Arizona-California state line before flowing into the Gulf of California, in Mexico.
California has several thousand lakes, most of which are small. The largest is the Salton Sea, a salty lake in the south that lies 71 m (233 ft) below sea level and covers 943 sq km (364 sq mi).
Lake Tahoe, high in the Sierra Nevada, is on the California-Nevada state line and is one of the deepest lakes in the United States. Numerous other lakes have been created by the damming of rivers. These include Folsom Reservoir on the American River, Lake Oroville on the Feather River, and Pine Flat Reservoir on the Kings River, all in the Sierra Nevada, and Clair Engle Lake on the Trinity River, in the Klamath Mountains. Shasta Lake, behind Shasta Dam on the upper Sacramento River, is the largest reservoir in the state, and along with Clair Engle and Whiskeytown lakes, forms one of the largest national recreation areas in the nation.
California’s coastline is 1,352 km (840 mi) long; when all the inlets and islands are taken into account, it is 5,515 km (3,427 mi) long. The only large indentation along the coast is formed by San Francisco Bay and its tributary bays. The nearly landlocked bay is linked with the ocean through the narrow Golden Gate, and it is one of the finest harbors on the Pacific coast of North America. Other indentations include San Diego Bay, San Pedro Bay, Monterey Bay, and Humboldt Bay. Other than the small, rocky Farallon Islands, which lie some 50 km (30 mi) west of the Golden Gate and which comprise a National Wildlife Refuge, the state’s larger islands are offshore of southern California. They are in two groups: the Santa Barbara Channel islands, which geologically are a seaward continuation of the Transverse Ranges, and Santa Catalina, San Clemente and San Nicolas islands, which are associated geologically with the Peninsular Ranges.
Although essentially uninhabited, the Channel Islands form a national park and are accessed by charter boat. By contrast, Santa Catalina, with its colorful port city of Avalon, has a permanent resident population, as do a few other islands. With the exception of far-flung San Clemente and San Nicolas islands, which serve as unoccupied United States military reservations, Santa Catalina and the Channel Islands are situated 50 km (30 mi) offshore, the former west of the densely populated Los Angeles Basin, and the latter due south of the city of Santa Barbara. None of the islands are large. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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