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Story and photos by Miriam Raftery

March 7, 2011 (Santee) –Golden lights glowed from the interiors of floating and waterfront cabins at Santee Lakes--cozy havens which will soon be accommodating overnight guests. I took a sneak-preview stroll along Lake 7 at twilight—witnessing the transformation from daytime to nightfall in the campground.


As the sun set, I could hear the “singing” of coyotes on nearby hills.  Soon, deep indigo blue hues enveloped the lake and sky above.  The soft call of a night heron carried on the wind. Shorebirds perched in trees or foraged among rushes along a waterfront path; a flock of ducks left a rippling trail across the otherwise mirror-smooth lake, crowned by rolling hills beyond.


Reservations are now being accepted for the newest getaway in East County: ten waterfront cabins at Santee Lakes—including three dockside floating “houseboats.” There’s even an ADA-compliant cabin with wheelchair ramp for disabled campers.


Rates range from $100 to $145 a night, depending on location and dates, with occupancy available starting April 1st.  That's comparable to many budget motels during summer months--with far more to offer for families or anyone who enjoys outdoor activities or simply a natural setting.


Each floating cabin includes a private pedal boat for exploring the lake. Land-based waterfront cabins have shared pedal boats as well as barbecues and fire pits. Pine cabins have cozy interiors and include kitchens stocked with pots, pans and dishes. Campers bring their own linens, toiletries, firewood and fishing gear. No state license is required on Lake 7, which is stocked with bluegill, bass, catfish and carp; you can also fish for trout at other lakes in the park.

 “You’ll see fish jumping ,” said Nancy Gallagher, park recreation coordinator.


What else might you spot as the sun goes down? “In the evening, raccoons scurry into the trees,” Gallagher noted.

Bryan Hague, park and recreation supervisor, added, “Most people don’t know that they can swim. We see them out on the islands.” Some raccoons nest in palm trees overlooking the lake, he noted.

“There’s a barn owl who sits on that fence and catches mice,” said Gallagher, pointing to a fence between the cabins and an office nearby.


Reaction from the public thus far has “all been positive,” Hague said, adding that many reservations have already been made for what promises to be a popular new attraction.


Rates for weeknights (Sunday-Thursday) run $100 for waterfront cabins (including the disabled access cabin) and $120 for floating cabins. On weekends and holidays, rates run $125 for waterfront and $145 for floating cabins, which are pre-fabricated by Athens Park Homes in Athens, Texas.


Waterfront cabins sleep six; floating cabins sleep four. While sleeping spaces are tight quarters (two bunk beds and one queen), you won’t be roughing it. Cabins also include two flat-panel TVs, DVD players, and air conditioning. Each cabin has its own name, such as Qual Way and Catfish Cove.  There are also porches complete with Adirondack chairs--providing ideal spots to gaze out at the lake and mountains beyond.

Santee Lakes is owned and operated by Padre Dam Municipal Water District, providing watere to 100,000 residents in East County. The waters in Santee Lakes is all reclaimed water in a project that’s considered a model for green and sustainability. Half the power for the facility comes from solar panels.


No swimming is allowed in the lakes, however guests can swim in two swimming pools (one heated) or soak in a spa at a 300-space campground and RV park also located on the lake. A clubhouse includes Wi-Fi internet and cable access.


There are playground facilities for kids, including a water spray park and kids’ rock climbing course within the park. The campground will also soon have a basketball court and horseshoe pit, said Hague.


With 190 acres of open space, Santee Lakes is among the most popular parks in San Diego County.

“We get over 600,000 visitors a year,” said Hague. They come from around the world; currently travelers from Australia are staying at the campground. But the park is also becoming more popular as a “staycation” destination for Southern Californians.

“In the last couple of years, with the economy, we’re having a lot more local people come stay at our campground,” Hague said.

Santee Lakes will turn 50 this year—and will soon be announcing celebrations for its half-century in operation. The park also offers many special events each year, such as an Easter Egg Hunt “Eggstravaganza” , movies at the lake on selected summer nights, fishing events, Green Day, and Santa at the Lakes during the Christmas holiday season.


If you want to see the park after dark, however, you'll have to stay overnight, since the gates close before dusk.  For reservations or more information, visit www.santeelakes.com.


View our Santee Lakes slideshow:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcxvIH3at6U

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