Summer’s here, and, for those of us craving some nice sunny days lazing on the beach or out on crystal clear waters, a visit to a nearby lake may be the most cost-effective alternative to a tropical getaway.
Fortunately, America boasts many jaw-dropping lakes (which span 39.9 million acres!) for you to enjoy. Dense, untouched forests, expansive waters, natural rock formations, beautiful sandy beaches… we have it all!
Whether you’re looking for tranquility on pristine waters, amazing natural sights, or family-friendly lakeside fun, these lakes will exceed all expectations.
We know you’re ready to grab your towel and get out that door, but choosing between all of the amazing options can be a real struggle.
That’s why, to help narrow your search, we’ve scoured the sites of the web’s top travel experts and compiled their findings on America’s best lakes. Here are some our favorites from their selections:
America’s Most Beautiful Lakes
Lake Powell, Utah, Arizona
It’s not often that humans can accidentally create something of such extraordinary natural beauty. Initially, this man-made lake stirred loud outcries when Glen Canyon was dammed, and the Colorado River rose to create the second-largest reservoir in the U.S. But there’s no denying the mystical allure of this long, sinewy lake, as its warm blue waters wind through sheer red-sandstone cliffs, filling more than 90 side canyons.
Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina
Deep within the Nantahala National Forest and surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains, Lake Santeetlah’s forested 76-mile shoreline is almost completely protected from development. The result is an oasis of quietude for fishing, paddling a canoe or kayak, or just relaxing on the beach at Cheoah Point. This 3,000-acre man-made lake, formed when the Cheoah River was dammed in 1928, remains remarkably pristine. Keep an eye out for otters, beavers, bald eagles, and hawks.
Lake Superior, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin
The name speaks for itself: Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake (by surface area). And there’s a lifetime’s worth of views around every corner of its 2,700-mile majestic shoreline. Natural attractions include the 200-foot sandstone cliffs, beaches, and waterfalls that tumble into the lake at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; the sea caves on the Apostle Islands; and the isolated ruggedness of Isle Royale, with its wolves and moose. You can hike, drive, kayak, or take a ferry to your preferred destination. This lake is so vast it can feel more like an ocean—just ask the intrepid surfers of North Shore.
You can take a look at the rest of Travel+Leisure’s choices here.
America’s Most Amazing Recreational Lakes
Lake Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan & Wisconsin
Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes, and the only one that’s fully within U.S. Borders. Nature abounds here, with more types of plants per acre than any other national park, so the area is colorful with plants and flowers. Relax with the sand between your toes, explore sand dunes, hike trails, go climbing, go boating and go camping. Lake Michigan is also the site of warm-weather festivals, and a cross-country skiing destination in the winter.
Lake Havasu, Arizona
Lake Havasu is called “Arizona’s playground,” and it’s no wonder why. In this large reservoir, right on the Cali border, visitors can go boating, swimming, fishing, shopping, off-roading, golfing, rock-climbing, hiking, cycling or gamble in casinos. Stretch out on the sand or go fast on a jet ski or speed boat. The lake draws 750,000 fishers a year, often trying to snag that prize bass. Lake Havasu has it all: water, mountains, desert, entertainment, sunshine, museums, parties and family-friendly activities. Don’t miss the famous London Bridge.
Big Bear Lake, California
The excellent weather year-round makes Big Bear Lake a popular destination in California’s San Bernardino Mountains. Wedged in the national forest, this 7-mile-long snow-fed reservoir is great for water sports, such as kayaking and fishing (bluegill, catfish, rainbow trout), but the activities on the shore bring adventure to the next level. Go ziplining through the forest, take a helicopter tour, go biking around the lake, visit the nearby weekly Farmer’s Market or go hiking in the breathtaking mountain range.
For more fun recreational lakes, check out the rest of 10Best’s selection here.
Now get out there and enjoy all the amazing sights and sensations our lakes have to offer!
Cover image by Moyan Brenn via Flickr.
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