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21 Best Lake Vacations in the U.S.

Lakes offer the chance for quiet contemplation and relaxation as well as a variety of water activities. If you’re looking for a destination that allows you to slow down from the chaotic pace of day-to-day life, enjoy an action-packed getaway, or perhaps a little of both, consider one of these magnificent lake escapes.

Lake Crescent, Washington Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park
Credit: Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park by rarvesen via Flickr

Lake Crescent, Washington

Lake Crescent, a breathtaking gem in Washington’s Olympic National Park, is the state’s second deepest, filled with emerald-hued waters that rival, or perhaps even surpass, the striking beauty of more well-known western lakes like Tahoe and Crater. Surrounded by lush greenery and an abundance of waterfalls, it’s hard to beat the scenery like this, but it’s not just about the scenery. A variety of activities are available too, with legendary Lake Crescent Resort as well as Log Cabin Resort offering kayak, rowboat and canoe rentals. You can also fish for two species of trout, though it’s catch and release only. Accommodation options including everything from tent camping sites and rustic cabins to lakeside chalets and lodge rooms.

Shasta Lake, California

Shasta Lake, California

Shasta Lake, located in Northern California just 10 miles from Redding, is the state’s third-largest body of water. It also offers some especially dazzling scenery with the chance to play in the water as the soaring 14,000-foot peak of Mt. Shasta looms above. It offers typical lake activities, including swimming, water skiing and fishing for trophy-size bass and 10-pound trout as well as salmon, catfish, bluegill, crappie and sturgeon. Boat rentals are available at many of the lakeside marinas, and visitors can even spend the night on the lake by renting a houseboat.

Crater Lake, Oregon Crater Lake, Oregon
Credit: Crater Lake, Oregon by Powderruns via Flickr

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the U.S., with few others on earth that can compare to its intensely blue color, not to mention its sheer surrounding cliffs that tower to nearly 2,000-feet high. If you’re a scuba diver who wants to try lake diving, this is one of the best places to do just that. While other lakes may have sunken towns or shipwrecks, only Crater Lake offers the chance to dive into a flooded volcano. Others can enjoy exploring lava formations, fish and underwater moss meadows in its crystal clear shallow waters too. If you don’t want to get wet, take the Wizard Island boat cruise around the island. On land, there are plenty of opportunities for scenic hikes in the area too. Want to be close to the action? There are plenty of accommodation options near Crater Lake.

Lake Havasu, Arizona Lake Havasu, Arizona
Credit: Lake Havasu, Arizona by Bigstock.com

Lake Havasu, Arizona

Offering the only beachfront location in Arizona, Lake Havasu is one of the state’s most popular destinations, with its glistening turquoise waters set just below the Chemehuevi Mountains, adding a spark of color to the desert. Millions flock to its shores to enjoy the scenery as well as the refreshingly cool waters of the lake and all sorts of water sports from boating and fishing to jet-skiing, swimming and more. There are plenty of things to do on land too, including hiking trails, dock parties and camping. You’ll even find an abundance of nightlife options, with a number of bars, nightclubs and eateries.

Redfish Lake, Idaho Redfish Lake, Idaho
Credit: Redfish Lake, Idaho by Bigstock.com

Redfish Lake, Idaho

Nestled in the heart of Idaho’s spectacular Sawtooth Mountain Range, Redfish Lake, named for the Sockeye Salmon that once returned here in such massive quantities from the Pacific the water was a shimmery red hue. Unfortunately, these fish are on the endangered species list today, but it’s still a beautiful destination for fly fishing and spin casting for rainbow and Dolly Varden trout as well as landlocked salmon and kokanee, in addition to water sports like swimming and boating. You’ll find lodge rooms, cabin and boat rentals as well as campgrounds and day-use areas here, while the surrounding hills offer some of the most challenging granite cliffs for mountain climbers too.

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Credit: Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri by Bigstock.com

Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Lake of the Ozarks is tucked among the rolling hills of Central Missouri, making it a popular getaway for Midwest residents. The lake as well as the surrounding region has become one of the top fishing and golfing destinations in America’s Heartland. It also offers world-class boating, a wide range of accommodation options, restaurants, state parks and an array of other recreational activities. With an incredible 1,150 miles of scenic shoreline, you’ll have your pick when it comes to the perfect spot.

Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona Lake Powell
Credit: Lake Powell by bigstock.com

Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona

Lake Powell is renowned as one of America’s best houseboating destinations, ideal for beginners as well as seasoned houseboaters, with a variety of rental options from economic to luxurious. Take one out and explore the six-mile-long lake with its sandy beaches, cool blue waters and extraordinary red rock scenery. Boat to Rainbow Bridge, visit remote canyons and sand dunes – the hardest part is narrowing your options. Cathedral Canyon is especially impressive – this narrow slot canyon is just 12 feet wide in some places, with sandstone walls that tower for hundreds of feet. You can reach it by personal watercraft, powerboat or kayak. Just across the bay from the canyon, are the vestiges of gold mines that date back to the 1880s.

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada Lake Tahoe
Credit: Lake Tahoe by bigstock.com

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Renowned as one of America’s most beautiful lakes, Tahoe straddles the California and Nevada border in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, with the north offering a more tranquil, sophisticated experienced, as compared to the south region’s party-happy casino atmosphere. Its hues vary from Caribbean blue to emerald, while its surrounding shores feature 55 acres of long sandy beaches, forested areas and rocky coves. With crystal clear, cool waters, it’s great for summer swimming as well as scuba diving. Other popular summertime activities include cruises on the lake, boating and kayaking as well as hiking, off-roading and mountain biking in the surrounding mountains. You’ll also have your choice of everything from campgrounds and cabins to economic hotels and luxurious resorts when it comes to accommodations.

Lake Chelan, Washington Lake Chelan, Washington
Credit: Lake Chelan, Washington by © Kbferguson20 | Dreamstime.com

Lake Chelan, Washington

Lake Chelan, the longest natural lake in Washington, sits at the base of the North Cascade Mountain Range in Washington. The 55-mile-long lake has been a popular getaway spot for Seattleites for decades, but it’s only recently become known as a popular national destination. With frequent blue skies, clear waters, beautiful beaches and rugged mountains, it’s really no surprise. Despite its increasing popularity, visitors can still enjoy a more remote, tranquil experience by heading to Stehekin, accessible only by boat or plane, on the far end of the lake. Wine enthusiasts can enjoy a number of vineyards nearby as well.

Lake Oconee, Georgia Lake Oconee, Georgia
Credit: Lake Oconee, Georgia by melissambwilkins via Flickr

Lake Oconee, Georgia

Lake Oconoee, about 75 miles from Atlanta in Greensboro, Georgia, offers a ton of southern charm along with some of the region’s best fishing, boating and water recreation like kayaking and wakeboarding. Bordered by the Oconee National Forest, you’ll also enjoy spectacular views. Greensboro is filled with gourmet eateries and is also known for some of the top-rated golf courses in the country.

Big Bear Lake, California Big Bear Lake
Credit: Big Bear Lake by © Irina Brester | Dreamstime.com

Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake offers the quintessential lake vacation in Southern California’s San Bernardino National Forest. In addition to its vivid blue waters and surrounding green pines, visitors can take part in practically an endless list of activities. Along with the usual water sports like boating, fishing, kayaking, canoeing and jet-skiing, you can enjoy great mountain biking at Snow Summit, zip-line rides, horseback riding, hiking, an alpine water slide, scenic helicopter tours, off-roading, parasailing and more. Of course, you could also kick back and just enjoy the fresh mountain air and scenic wonders while sipping a cold brew or some fine wine. No matter what your taste or budget, you’re sure to find the perfect place to rest at the end of a long day, whether it’s underneath the towering pines and starry skies, a charming bed and breakfast or a lavish vacation rental.

Squam Lake, New Hampshire Squam Lake, New Hampshire
Credit: Squam Lake, New Hampshire by Bigstock.com

Squam Lake, New Hampshire

Located in the Lakes Region of central New Hampshire, this picturesque retreat was the backdrop for the film “On Golden Pond.” Like the movie depicted, it offers the perfect spot for quiet reflection – and, it’s just a two-hour drive from Boston. Little has changed in the past 30 years since the making of the film. You’ll still find the quintessential New England scene with families spending time around the campfire, and the call of the loon heard while enjoying some of the best canoeing, kayaking and fishing in the state. A variety of lodging options also await, with the Manor on Golden Pond a great choice for peace and romance. Framed by sentinel pines with wonderful views of the White Mountain foothills, guests can also enjoy lavish spa treatments.

Lake Dillon, Colorado  Lake Dillon, Colorado
Credit: Lake Dillon, Colorado by Bigstock.com

Lake Dillon, Colorado

Lake Dillon in the Colorado Rockies, close to the state’s famous ski areas like Breckinridge, Copper Mountain and Keystone, offers the chance for recreational facilities galore, with 26 miles of shoreline and a backdrop of breathtaking mountain scenery. It’s ideal for boating, sailing and picnicking, and Dillon Marina offers charter cruises as well as boat rentals and weekend sailing regattas. Fishing is great too, with stocked cutthroat and brook trout as well as salmon. A stay at the Best Western Ptarmigan Lodge offers the chance to enjoy a room with a deck and lake views, and there are also campgrounds near the lake.

Jenny Lake - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Credit: Jenny Lake, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming by bigstock.com

Jenny Lake - Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Jenny Lake is one of the highlights of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, popular for its fishing and boating opportunities as well as the jaw-dropping scenery and wildlife. Enjoy camping at Jenny Lake Campground, fishing for trout in one of the many great spots along the shoreline, or taking the Jenny Lake Boat to the base of Cascade Canyon and hiking to Hidden Falls. If you’re looking for an upscale mountain lake experience, Jenny Lake Lodge is a luxury eco-resort made up of private cabins with amazing views.

Rangeley Lakes, Maine Winter view of an ice covered Cupsuptic Lake, Rangeley, Maine
Credit: Winter view of an ice covered Cupsuptic Lake, Rangeley, Maine by © Jeffrey Holcombe | Dreamstime.com

Rangeley Lakes, Maine

Maine is home to some of the nation’s largest wilderness regions, with more undeveloped land than any state in the country, which means, while you’re paddling across one of the many waterways in the Rangeley Lakes region, you should keep an eye out for eagles, herons and moose, found in abundance here. The area is made up of six major lakes along with hundreds of smaller lakes, ponds, rivers and streams that are stretched below Saddleback Mountain. In the summer, enjoy swimming, boating and fishing for brook trout or landlocked salmon as well as lake cruises. In town, be sure and take a tour and taste at Maine Mountain Maple plantation, where locally-tapped sap is made into syrup. Camp at Rangeley Lakes State Park, or stay at one of the many wonderful B&Bs.

Lake Superior - Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin The Lake Superior Shoreline on a bright sunny day, in Isle Royale National Park, Michigan
Credit: The Lake Superior Shoreline on a bright sunny day, in Isle Royale National Park, Michigan by bigstock.com

Lake Superior - Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin

Lake Superior, as you probably know, is so huge, it could hold all of the water from all of the other Great Lakes, which means there is not only a wide variety of vacation destination options along its shores, there are many different fish species that can be caught in abundance all year long. Superior is home to smallmouth bass, trout, salmon, northern pike, smelt, walleye and many others. As the world’s largest freshwater lake, it could easily be an inland sea, stretching across three states and between two countries. Fishing enthusiasts may want to head to Duluth, Minnesota, or Bayfield, Wisconsin, two of the charter hubs. Enjoy a family vacation or a romantic retreat at Lutsen Resort on the North Shore in Minnesota with lots of opportunities for getting active, including guided sea-kayak tours and hikes as well as fly fishing classes.

Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Credit: Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho by Bigstock.com

Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Brilliant blue Lake Coeur d’Alene, framed by pine-forested hills in northern Idaho, has become a popular international destination. The 26-mile long lake features 135 miles of shoreline, with numerous brewpubs, art galleries and resorts found on the north end, while the southern reaches are more secluded and tranquil, known for quiet inlets and sheltered coves. This bird watcher’s paradise is home to the largest nesting population of osprey in the western U.S., and bald eagles are frequently spotted here as well. One of the best ways to get out and see it all is by kayak.

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina
Credit: Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina by © Francisco Blanco | Dreamstime.com

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Lake Santeetlah boasts 76 miles of mostly protected shoreline as part of the national forest. It sits in the quiet shadows of majestic mountains and allows visitors to enjoy the tranquility by paddling a sea kayak, canoe or stand up paddleboard. The lakeside bar and dock at Blue Waters Mountain Lodge is the perfect place to enjoy a nightcap after a day of play. It also offers comfortable rooms with lake views along with traditional southern cuisine.

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
Credit: Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota by Bigstock.com

Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Voyageurs National Park is a 218,000-acre national park without any roads. Instead, visitors get around by boat to explore the 30+ lakes, including the largest, Rainy and Namekan. You can enjoy everything from a peaceful canoeing experience to motoring around on houseboat or spending a day on a guided walleye fishing trip and staying at one of the resorts in Rainier or International Falls. Or, you could spend the day out on the water and then anchor at one of the many islands where you can enjoy the warmth of a campfire as well as glorious sunsets.

Caddo Lake - Uncertain, Texas Amazing trees at Caddo Lake State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife
Credit: Amazing trees at Caddo Lake State Park - Texas Parks and Wildlife by Caddo Lake State Park

Caddo Lake - Uncertain, Texas

With centuries-old cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, you might think you’re in a Louisiana bayou. There are few lakes as enveloping as Caddo, with its pristine water boasting top-notch fishing as well as local wildlife, including alligators, river otters, mink, wood storks, owls, eagles and great blue herons. This getaway offers the chance to paddle through the waters in a swamp boat or enjoy hiking and biking on land. On the lake’s northwest side in Uncertain, Texas, Lafitte’s Landing offers a perfect place from which to enjoy it all in private cottages that sit beneath the cypress trees.

Wallowa Lake, Oregon Wallowa Lake, Oregon

Wallowa Lake, Oregon

Wallowa Lake is set right at the doorstep of Eagle Cap, the largest wilderness area in Oregon. This ribbon-lake a mile south of Joseph in the northeast region of the state is surrounded on three sides by soaring 9,000-foot-tall snow-capped mountains and features a marina with a variety of watercraft rentals, including kayaks, canoes, paddleboats, paddleboards, rowboats, motorboats and pontoons. You can fish or swim in the crystal clear waters of the lake too. The surrounding region also offers the chance for scenic horseback riding, biking and wildlife viewing. After a day of play, spend your evenings at Wallowa Lake Resort, a restored 1923 lodge in a tranquil setting with super comfy beds.

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