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17 Best Lake Vacations in the United States

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on June 9, 2021. In

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What is it about a lake vacation that can make it so unforgettable? It seems more intimate than a vacation to an oceanside resort. It’s like you’re more in control and the world is a little smaller. The perfect lake vacation can be a great fishing trip for one. Or an exciting getaway for the entire family. After all, the oceans are out there spanning the world. But a lake in the US is like your own, private spot.

Choosing the best lake vacations doesn’t have to be hard. Sure there are well over 3 million lakes in America, but not all of them are set up to be vacation spots. We’ve curated a list of some of our favorites. Check out what we liked about each spot, including some things you may want to be aware of ahead of time. These are the best lake vacations in America.

Finding the Best Lake Vacations in America

There is never one “best” lake vacation in America. The lake is almost always a backdrop for whatever else you want to do. If it’s fishing and swimming, it can be easier to pick a vacation. But if you’re looking for hiking trails, you need to consider a little more. Likewise, if your passion lies in horseback riding or wine tasting. We’ve tried to cover all the bases here. If we missed an awesome lake, let us know in the comments.

Lake Erie, Ohio

Lake Erie is not just the lake itself but a spot on the lake. Try Lake Erie, Ohio if you’re in the market for an immersive nature experience with some history. Once upon a time, Lake Erie, Ohio had really gone to the dogs. Pollution and mismanagement made this a place no one in their right mind would visit on vacation. But a few decades can make a heck of a difference.

Bird watching is huge in Lake Erie these days. Lake Erie’s bird watching trail is an amazing 312 miles long along the shore of the lake. From an overlooked and neglected tract of nature in the past, there are not over 400 bird species here. You can check out the lake, marshes and more to try to see them all.

The town itself has a lot more to draw you in. From their Walleye Festival to Bacon Fest and Founders’ Day celebrations, there’s a lot to do in town. Accommodations are plentiful, as the town really caters to the idea of tourism. There are dozens of hotels, lodges, campground and vacation rentals available.

For a true small-town relaxing feel, try Kelley’s Island. It’s the largest island on the lake and about as relaxed as relaxed gets. From there you can scuba dive to check out shipwrecks. You can also fish, boat, or just play mini golf. There are tons of quaint little cabins to rent. The whole place gives a real “family vacation to the lake” vibe you might remember from being a kid.

One of the best parts? You’re a hop, skip and a jump away from Cedar Point in Sandusky. It’s a great amusement park to top off any vacation.

Crater Lake, Oregon

As the deepest lake in America, Crater Lake is a must see destination. If you like a lakeside retreat, you won’t find many more memorable than this. The water reaches depths of 1,943 feet. That’s why Crater Lake is an incredible destination for scuba diving fans. Where else can you find depths like that? Does it have shipwrecks you might find in the ocean? No. But is the ocean a flooded, ancient volcano like Crater Lake? Not at all.

You can take a Wizard Island boat cruise around the lake and check out the crystal clear water first hand. If you want to go for a dive, there are plenty of cool sights below the surface. The lake is home to trout and salmon as well as amazing moss forests. There are unusual volcanic rock formations and some incredible water clarity.

Because the lake is located in a national park, there’s plenty to see and do off the water as well. You can visit Mazama Campground or Lost Creek Campground if camping is your cup of tea. If you want some more amenities, there’s always Crater Lake Lodge or the Cabins at Mazama Village.

Crater Lake Lodge is the “big” resort in the area and it’s not cheap by any means. It has a lot of charm though and 1994 renovations really improved the overall quality of the place. Just make sure that you pack your own food before you go. Nothing around the park is necessarily big on fine dining. It’s not that you can’t find food, but the options are limited. The park has only three restaurants and one grocery store. That has to feed you and everyone else who’s visiting, so you can see how that could be a problem.

The food is a minor inconvenience though. The beauty of the park and the lake itself more than make up for any preparations you need to do in advance of your trip.

Lake George, New York

New York has its fair share of lakes and we think one of the bets is Lake George. From fishing to boating to whitewater rafting, there’s a ton of activities. And they don’t skimp on the summertime luxuries here. Do you like ice cream? The Lake George Ice Cream Trail features 16 stops that will take you up to Lake Placid and back again.

On the lake itself you can take a relaxing boat cruise to just enjoy the sights and sounds. There’s a fireworks display every Thursday in the summer to cap off your evening. During the day, rent a boat and go parasailing. Or just relax in the shade of the Adirondacks.

Do some camping and rough it or enjoy some luxury resorts. We recommend the Stone Gate Resort or the Fort William Henry Resort. But there are plenty of others that offer a lot of great amenities.

You can check out the Fort William Henry Museum and check out what life was like in 1757. Or hit up the Adirondack winery for a wine tasting. And of course we can’t forget Six Flags. If you have a family, you have to make the trip.

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Everyone has heard of Lake Tahoe and for good reason. At 6,225 feet the elevation makes this a standout all year around. Come in the winter for incredible skiing. There’s a reason that the Winter Olympics took place here in Squaw Valley back in 1960.

Come in the summer for the amazing lake and all the amenities. Sand Harbor State Park offers sandy beaches. It also has crystal clear waters. It’s the perfect spot to swim or rent a kayak for an afternoon. If you want some wildlife watching, hike the trail to the top of Eagle Rock.

If you’re not into roughing it, Lake Tahoe has you covered. The Ritz-Carlton should be able to meet your needs. No need to worry about roughing it at a wine tasting. Of course there are some more affordable lake getaways around Lake Tahoe as well. Whatever your tastes, this is one of the best lake vacations in America.

Lake Michigan

Any beach lover needs to hit up some lake vacations around Lake Michigan at some point. Yes, it’s a massive lake and you can make your stop in Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois or Michigan itself. There’s 1,600 miles of shoreline here so it’s hard to pick a bad spot. There are more beaches here than on any other lake in the country.

If you hit up South Haven, you can check out the Michigan Maritime Museum. It’s also the blueberry capital of the world, if that affects your decision at all. Grand haven has Grand Haven State Park and an immense 1,151 foot pier. The two lighthouses in this historic spot make a great place to take some photos. There’s also a musical fountain that puts on a show every night.

As for the lake itself, the opportunities for boating and camping are limitless. Go parasailing or jet skiing. Or take your own boat out for an afternoon on the water. Lake trout, coho salmon, Chinook salmon, perch, catfish, all kinds of bass and more can be pulled in from the lake. It’s some of the best fishing in the country and you’re sure to have a good time.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Arizona’s Lake Havasu City has a lot going on. London Bridge is here, how many other cities can say that? And the bridge is not a weird replica either. They literally moved it brick by brick from London to Lake Havasu City and rebuilt the thing. It’s just one of many unique features around town.

Check out the Desert Bar for a weird blast from the past mixed with modern charm. Solar power keeps this one-time mining camp going. There are no paved roads that go here and they only take cash, but it’ll be one of the most memorable meals you ever eat.

Lake Havasu State Park is your real draw and offers great camping. The lake is perfect for swimming, boating, and fishing. Of course, one of the big draws here is the partying. Lake Havasu is infamous for boat parties thrown by college kids on Spring Break. These parties are almost non-stop during certain times of you. They can last for well over a day and when one stops, another starts.  On shore the party atmosphere is kept alive with clubs and restaurants. If you like a lake vacation with some energy, Lake Havasu has it.

Lake Powell, Arizona

Arizona has some amazing lake destinations. Lake Powell is a real standout, especially if you really want to be on the water. You can rent a houseboat here and spend your entire weekend out on the calm, clear lake. Wahweap Marina in the town of Page has everything you need to set yourself up. From there you can enjoy swimming, water skiing and of course, fishing. The lake offers bluegill and crappie. You’ll also find smallmouth bass, largemouth bass and striped bass. There’s also channel catfish in abundance.

If you’re a fan of the scenery of a lake vacation, Lake Powell is a great choice. On the water you’ll get amazing views of Horseshoe Bend. You can also tour through slot canyons at Antelope Canyon. The entire lake is a massive 186 miles in length. It covers 96 different canyons as well. Incredibly, this lake is actually man made. It formed in Glen Canyon after dams were closed in the 1960s and it took 17 years to fill up completely.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument is definitely worth checking out as well. It’s the largest natural bridge in North America. There are tours to take you to the location that run twice a day during peak season. Be prepared, it’s a full 8 hour excursion.

Big Bear Lake, California

Sometimes it can be hard to get really far from the city. Luckily if you’re around Los Angeles you don’t need to go far at all for one of the best lake vacation spots in the country. Big Bear Lake is just two hours from the city. The lake is located in San Bernardino National Forest. It offers swimming, waterskiing, exceptional fishing and more. You can even take a pirate ship cruise.

There are hundreds of miles’ worth of hiking trails to enjoy. You can rent a cabin or hit up a hotel or lodge for accommodations. Try your hand at experiencing the gold rush at the gold mining adventure. Or hit the skies on a zipline.

The lake offers golfing, a petting zoo, and just about any water sport you can imagine. Big Bear Lake caters to both avid outdoorsmen and families.

Lake Superior

How do you choose the best lake for fishing in America? You don’t, really. There are too many choices. But Lake Superior is definitely one of the best. There are plenty of spots near the Canadian border to check out. These offer up the ultimate in fishing, scuba diving and wildlife watching.

Lake Superior can be enjoyed across several states. It’s actually larger than all the other Great Lakes combined. You can stop in Upper Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan. Or maybe head to Bayfield, Wisconsin. Wherever you look, there are countless spots to stop. You can camp across all three states or have your pick of some amazing hotels along the shores.

For some old school charm you can hit up the Lutsen Resort in Minnesota. Built in 1885, this luxury resort overlooks the lake. It features some of the best fishing and hiking in the state.

No matter where you choose to stop on the lake, if fishing is your goal, you made the right choice. Lake Superior is home to northern pike, walleye, salmon, trout, bass, herring, and many other fish. There was a lake trout pulled out of Superior that weighed about 35 pounds back in 2009. In 2019, a 50 pounder was pulled out. Superior is a huge lake with huge fish and there’s lots of fun to be had on vacation here.

Lake Charles, Louisiana

Most tourists hit up Louisiana for New Orleans. Those in the know head to Lake Charles. This is a true Cajun vacation destination. It’s a stone’s throw from casinos. It’s also completely surrounded by not just incredible history but food as well, this is a great spot.

Head out on the Creole Nature Trail and make the most of a wildlife watching experience. It’s not every lake where you’re going to find alligators, after all. You can take a guided tour or just rent yourself a kayak or paddle board.

Check the town website before you go to plan your vacation. There are festivals nearly every weekend throughout the summer. It makes Lake Charles a really unique lakeside getaway. You can expect amazing food and amazing music pretty much non-stop. And if you head a few blocks from the lake into town, you’ll have authentic cuisine and accommodations. You can rough it a little at Alligator Park, or pick one of the three casinos if that’s more to your liking.

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

New Hampshire is overlooked too often as a vacation destination. But Lake Winnipesaukee has a lot going on. And it’s more than just some gorgeous scenery. If you’re a fishing fan, then New Hampshire’s largest lake will meet your needs. Rainbow trout, pickerel, largemouth and smallmouth bass await. Gorgeous sandy beaches also offer a chance to relax surrounded by lush forest.

There are several boat cruises of the lake available. You can, of course, rent your own as well. Weirs Beach is a major tourist attraction and a definite stop to make. The 1300 foot boardwalk sets the stage for a fun weekend destination. With the lake and the mountains in full view, it’s a gorgeous spot. And it’ll lead you right to a massive arcade called Funspot. This place has everything from bowling to mini golf, and 300 classic arcade games. You know, for when you’re done on the water. As soon as the sun goes down, you can also hit up a movie at the drive in. When’s the last time you got to do that?

Camping in the summer is ideal but there are hotels you can hit up as well. For sheer fun, you won’t find a lot of lake vacations that offer more.

Finger Lakes Region, New York

The Finger Lakes in New York cover a decent spread. This is a little bit more of a refined vacation spot. By that we mean there are over 100 vintners in this region. If you’re a wine lover and aren’t near the Napa Valley, come here instead.

Past Lake Seneca and Lake Geneva you’ll find tons of places to stop for a tasting. The region is known for its Riesling wine. But don’t let that stop you if your tastes are different. You can also find award winning Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and more.

Set up camp in Watkins Glen State Park. Or choose one of many hotels or bed and breakfasts in the area. We recommend Lake Geneva or any of the national parks in the area. Grab a lakeside cabin for a weekend getaway and you won’t be disappointed.

Flathead Lake, Montana

The countryside in Montana is absolutely gorgeous. Some of the best in the country hands down. Flathead Lake is no exception. And if you’re a nature lover, this has to be on the top of your list. Where else are you going to see wild horses roaming the countryside?

Flathead Lake is the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. It offers pristine waters and some of the most relaxing spots to spend a weekend you’ll ever find. Best of all, it’s still one of those underrated vacation destinations. Most people are heading to Glacier Park and passing this spot right on by.

The region is famous for cherries, so if you head there at the right time of year you’ll be eating well.

The lake waters are crystal clear for quite a depth. Just make sure you go for a swim on a warm day. The lake is often incredibly cold and is not for those looking for a warm and leisurely swim.

Local restaurants offer a wide range of foods. You can find everything from down home classics to tropical fare. Where else are you going to find fish tacos down the street from grits. The accommodations range from rustic camping to classic cabin by the woods. Vacation rentals shouldn’t break the bank. Of course, there’s also the option of heading to luxury hotels. It all depends on what kind of lake vacations you’re in the market for.

Table Rock Lake, Missouri

Branson, Missouri has been a popular vacation destination for years. What not everyone knows is that it’s just a stone’s throw from Table Rock Lake. It’s a great spot for camping, fishing, and taking in the sights of Branson.

There are plenty of lakeside resorts to meet anyone’s needs. And if you plan your trip right, you can take in amazing festivals. Pay special attention to the annual Bluegrass and Barbecue Festival. If you like music and good food it’s a can’t miss stop for your vacation.

Zipline tours are available for those with a sense of adventure. Plus guided tours of the lake if you’re in the mood to go fishing. To really get into nature there’s Talking Rock Caverns and Marvel Cave.

The beauty of the Ozarks are on full display in Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Plenty of great hiking and camping opportunities here. Fish for trout, go on a horseback tour, or even take the tram.

The lake itself has 800 miles of shoreline. Enjoy tubing, kayaking, wake boarding and more. For more fun with the family, Silver Dollar City theme park is not far away, either. It features 17 restaurants and numerous attractions.

Glacier National Park, Montana

With a name like Glacier National Park you know it has to be an impressive place. Located in Montana, this is one of the most gorgeous parks in the entire country. It’s home to Lake McDonald, the largest of the glacier-made lakes in the park. It’s a full ten miles long and stretches down nearly 500 feet.

You can do a scenic boat tour of the lake from McDonald Lodge. If you’d rather get a view from land and like horseback riding, no worries. There’s a horseback trail around the lake as well. You can book a room at the lodge itself or set up camp nearby.

Lake Oconee, Georgia

If you’re looking at Georgia, you’ll want to hit up Lake Oconee. It’s more than just a great destination for fishing and camping. You can enjoy some world class golf here as well. There are nine different golf courses on the lake here. Jack Nicklaus’ Great Water is a huge draw, but so is the National golf course. Plenty of lake towns offer golfing lake vacations, but few offer this much.

Rent a jet ski or a pontoon to head out on the water. You can even snag a double-decker boat with a slide for added thrills. There is also some amazing fishing as well. Plenty of largemouth and striped bass. And several catfish species are present as well.

Best Hiking Trails Lake Vacation

If you care more about what’s around the lake than the lake itself, head to Washington. Lake Chelan has the best hiking trails you’re likely to find anywhere. You can make your way along dozens of trails that span the 55 miles around the lake.

Head out on the Lake Chelan Lakeshore Trail for a full overnight hike on your way to Prince Creek. The hike is 18 miles and will give you the most immersive hiking experience in the state. Definitely a must try at least once. But hey, if you’re not down for a full overnight hike, don’t worry. If you leave from the Golden West Visitor Center it’s a solid day hike.

Rent a cabin or head to a more boutique location like Kelly’s Resort. There are a lot of places to stay that can range in price from dirt cheap to pretty extravagant. The Lodge at Stehekin features a restaurant and a general store. It also has the most amazing wilderness in the state. The lake is located in North Cascades National Park. The location offers some of the most incredible natural landscape in America. You’ve got temperate rainforest and dry ponderosa pine. Hiking through the 800 square miles is an experience you won’t soon forget.

Final Thoughts

The best lake vacations are always a mix of things. Maybe you want mountain biking plus a renaissance golf resort. Or world class fishing at a historic hotel. Maybe you just need a romantic getaway with hot springs and tennis courts. We’ve tried to offer you our thoughts on the best of the best here. There’s a huge range of options though, so there’s bound to be something to meet your needs.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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1 Comment

  • Viji Carlucci on August 23, 2021

    Thank you, Ian. So incredibly informative. Any liveabosrd lakes for the winter ?

    Reply

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