K.C. was a featured writer for Yahoo! Travel before joining trips to discover in 2013. She is the author of Best Travel Guide for First Time Visitors to Ireland, an Amazon bestseller every year between 2013 and 2016. She has been a featured expert on Newsweek, Travel + Leisure, Travelocity, among others.
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Wherever you are in Washington, you’re likely to be close to a lake, and probably several of them. The state is home to more than 8,000 lakes, providing opportunities for fun and relaxing on, in and around the water. When planning your next lake getaway, consider one of these top options from the Olympic Peninsula to the Cascade Mountains and beyond.
Located in Olympic National Park, Lake Crescent is one of the top lake getaways in the U.S. It’s filled with crystal-clear water in shades of sapphire, turquoise and emerald that rival, or perhaps even surpass the beauty of more well-known western lakes like Tahoe and Crater. It’s surrounded by lush greenery and waterfalls while offering a host of activities. Bring your own vessel (non-motorized), or rent a kayak, rowboat, or canoe at Lake Crescent Lodge or Log Cabin Resort along the shoreline. Fishing for two species of trout, though it’s catch and release only, is possible too. You can easily visit from nearby Port Angeles, which offers a number of hotels, or stay on the lake with everything campsites and rustic cabins to lakeside chalets and lodge rooms.
Located on the sunny east side of the state along the slopes of the North Cascades, Chelan is Washington’s largest natural lake. The 55-mile-long lake boasts clear waters, beautiful beaches and rugged mountains, and there are even vineyards nearby for wine tasting too. As the third deepest lake in the country, it’s also a fishermen’s paradise where one can catch bull trout, whitefish and multiple other native species. Plus, parks and recreation areas are scattered throughout the shoreline, with Lake Chelan National Recreation Area at the north end and Lake Chelan State Park at the south end.
Lake Wenatchee is a popular day trip from the Bavarian town of Leavenworth, but it’s worth a stay to enjoy all that it has to offer, especially during the summer. There are beaches dotted around the shoreline and clear sapphire waters that are ideal for swimming and a variety of other water sports like kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, windsurfing and boating. Both SUPs and kayaks can be rented right at the lake, a great way to explore its nearly 2,500 acres. On land you’ll find miles and miles of trails for mountain biking and hiking – the nine-mile trek up Dirty Face Mountain offers especially magnificent views.
Located at the western edge of Olympic National Park, Lake Quinault is surrounded by the Quinault Rainforest in the “Valley of the Rain Forest Giants” with countless waterfalls and many record size tree species, with five of the 10 largest Douglas fir trees, including the world’s largest Sitka spruce tree which is over a thousand years old. Visitors can enjoy all sorts of activities on the lake like kayaking and fishing, along with hiking and fantastic wildlife viewing, including black-tailed deer, bobcat, beaver, river otter, Roosevelt elk and black bear.
This stunning manmade lake in the North Cascade Mountains was created by the Diablo hydroelectric dam in the Skagit River, but with its remote location and spectacular surroundings, you’d never know it was artificial. The stunning color of the water in shades ranging from pale emerald to brilliant turquoise comes thanks to the minerals in the nearby glaciers, and with the often snow-capped mountains providing the backdrop, it must be one of the world’s most scenic. Many people simply stop at the Diablo Lake Overlook for photos, but there are a number of campgrounds nearby that are accessible by car, plus three small areas for camping on the lake that is boat-in only. A 3.2-mile trail runs along the north shoreline for hiking, and visitors can also enjoy canoeing, kayaking and fishing.
Lake Whatcom is a 10-mile-long lake in Bellingham, providing the perfect place to relax and play. There are a number of accommodation options around the shoreline, from Airbnbs to resorts, that provide the perfect base for fun out on the water, from kayaking and canoeing to boating and fishing. Visitors can also hike or bike along the shore by following the Hertz Trail which brings views of waterfalls and some old-growth forest along the hillsides along with beautiful coves and beaches that are tucked alongside.
If you’re looking for a lake escape where you can enjoy the delights of the city, it’s hard to beat Lake Union. From here you’ll enjoy views of the skyline, including the Space Needle, while boating, paddleboarding, kayaking, or numerous other water sports. Gas Works Park sits at the northern end, popular among locals and tourists while hosting frequent events, including the Fourth of July fireworks show. It’s also home to the famous houseboat where Tom Hanks character lived in “Sleepless in Seattle” – you might even find a houseboat to rent through Airbnb to enjoy your own houseboat stay right on the water.
Lake Ozette is the state’s third-largest natural lake, located just a few miles from the Pacific Coast at the north end of Olympic National Park. Remote and nearly untouched, it’s known for its outstanding flatwater kayaking and opportunities for exploring hidden bays and rivers. Canoeing, fishing, hiking, and camping are popular here too. One of the top treks is the 9.4-mile Ozette Triangle Loop which will bring you to the Makah petroglyphs that were etched into the Wedding Rocks, a cluster of boulders that hug the shore along the coast, predating European settlement in the Pacific Northwest. Along the way, you’ll see gorgeous sea stacks, sea lions, sea otters, and, of course, beautiful ocean scenery too.
Formed with the damming of the Columbia River in 1941 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, Lake Roosevelt, which is technically a reservoir, has a nearly 603-mile shoreline. It’s a 130-mile stretch of the Columbia River nestled between the Okanogan Forest and the Selkirk Mountains, just south of the Canadian border with Grand Coulee Dam at its southern end. Surrounded by the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, it offers more than 500 campsites along with opportunities for fishing, boating, canoeing and swimming. In the spring, the hundreds of secluded beaches, inlets and coves along the shoreline are left exposed by receding water making it ideal for combing for tribal artifacts like arrowheads and ceramics. It’s illegal to remove them, but you can take photos to capture a slice of Native American history.
Located in southern Washington between Clark County and Cowlitz County, Lake Merwin is part of the Merwin River and offers boating, fishing, and hiking in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Mount St. Helens is nearby offering a variety of activities too, including zip-lining and scenic trails for hiking and exploring the famous active volcano.
Located north of Spokane in eastern Washington, beautiful Loon Lake offers the opportunity to take advantage of the sunnier side of the state and enjoy swimming, fishing, boating, and more. Loon Lake Marina sits along its southeastern shore and provides many different watercraft rentals, including pontoon and powerboats, canoes, kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. It’s a great lake if you want to test your luck at catching largemouth bass, rainbow trout, and lake trout.
An ideal lake for Seattleites looking for a weekend getaway, Kachess Lake is just a two-hour drive from the city along the Kachess River in the Cascade Mountains, just off Interstate 90. It’s popular among fishing enthusiasts, particularly for kokanee, along with rainbow and cutthroat trout. There are campsites for overnight stays, while the Kachess Lake Shore trail runs along the west shoreline providing magnificent views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
Located in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest southwest of North Cascades National Park, Baker Lake offers stunning mountain views along with a wealth of recreational activities like boating, fishing and camping with 55 campsites for tents and RVs. Along its east shoreline is the Baker Lake Trailhead for scenic hikes and horseback riding. The nearest town is Concrete, just 10 miles away, offering hotel, cabin and other types of accommodation.
Trout-stocked Alta Lake is the centerpiece of Alta Lake State Park, just east of the Cascades. The 174-acre park includes campsites, a boat launch, and dramatic canyon walls. It’s popular for fishing, boating, windsurfing and swimming, and there’s even golfing right along the shore at the Alta Lake Golf Course. By basing yourself in the Methow Valley (Methow, Twisp or Winthrop) you can take advantage of many activities throughout the area, including an eclectic mix of thriving arts culture and Wild West, along with miles and miles of hiking and biking trails.