Two Adirondack chairs on a wooden dock facing a lake

The Best Lakes For a Vacation in the US

Whether you plan to rent a cottage, set sail on an epic fishing adventure, or simply want to relax on the shoreline – there’s nothing quite as sweet as a vacation on the lake. From the Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes, the US is home to some seriously sweet bodies of freshwater. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it is estimated that the country is home to over 3 million lakes in total. Of course, not all lakes are named or even accessible, but amidst the millions of lakes, there are some true gems. So if you’re itching to be by the water this summer, here are the best lakes for a vacation in the US.

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Lake Tahoe’s East Shore walking path in Incline Village, Nevada.

Lake Tahoe is a massive alpine lake situated on the border of California and Nevada. At its widest point, the lake stretches for 22 miles and its deepest point sits at 1,645 feet – making it the second deepest lake in the country. Those hoping to vacation at Lake Tahoe will likely want to visit California where the majority of the lake's shoreline exists. While here, lake-goers can enjoy a wide range of activities on the lake including swimming, watersports, and fishing.

When not on the water, visitors can spend the day exploring Emerald Bay State Park. The park offers opportunities for camping, boating on the bay, and hiking to ​​Lower Eagle Falls. Those interested in old architecture will also want to visit Vikingsholm – a Scandinavian-style castle touted as one of the area's first summer homes. For even more architectural fun, head to the nearby Tallac Historic Site. Here, guests can admire three historic homes built between the years of 1894 and 1923. Additionally, the site has interpretive hiking trails and hosts an array of events each year.

Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona

Boats on Lake Powell, Southern Utah, overlook.

Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir sitting partially in Arizona and mostly in Utah. Best known for its rainbow bridge rock formation, Lake Powell also features tons of sandstone coves and side canyons that make for perfect photo opportunities. The 186-mile-long lake is an ideal spot for activities including paddleboarding, boating, kayaking, swimming, and fishing. Since most of the lake lies inside the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, lake-goers will have a wide array of things to do during a lake trip. Hiking enthusiasts will want to trek to Horseshoe Bend, one of the most recognized sites in the park.

Those looking to spend the night can sleep under a blanket of stars when they choose a backcountry camping trip.

You May Also Like: 7 Dark Sky Places In Arizona For The Best Stargazing

Lake Champlain, New York and Vermont

North Beach, Lake Champlain, Burlington, VT.

Stretching from New York to Vermont and even parts of Canada, Lake Champlain is often referred to as the ‘sixth great lake.’ The lake is roughly 120 miles long and 12 miles across, at its widest point. In addition to the various types of birds and fish that rely on the lake, Lake Champlain also serves as a source of drinking water for approximately 200,000 people.

Travelers will find a handful of public sandy beaches around the lake’s shoreline where swimming and other water-based activities are on offer. Those visiting the lake from New York will also want to venture out and see the famous Ausable Chasm. In addition to being a stunning site, the chasm offers an abundance of activities including hiking, tubing, camping, and disc golf courses. 

Crater Lake, Oregon

Crater Lake at the Rugged Crest Palisades in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

If you’re looking to take your lake vacation to fun new depths, then a trip to Crater Lake in Oregon is a must. At almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is known as the deepest lake in the US. Lake access is available through Crater Lake National Park where vacationers can partake in a range of activities both on and off the water.

One of the easiest ways to admire the park's beauty is by driving along the 33-mile Scenic Rim Drive. Along the route, drivers will find 30 overlooks where they can park and soak in the views. The park also offers hiking trails, ranger-led programs, camping, and boat/trolley tours. Those interested in swimming at Crater Lake will need to head to Cleetwood Cove which offers the only legal access to the lakeshore. 

Finger Lakes, New York

Taughannock Falls State park is located in Ulysses, NY, in the Finger Lakes area of central New York.

The Finger Lakes region is made up of 11 different lakes including Canadice, Canandaigua, Cayuga, Conesus, Hemlock, Honeoye, Keuka, Otisco, Owasco, Seneca, and Skaneateles. The lakes got their name from Indigenous people who believed the finger-shaped lakes were a handprint from the Creator.

Located in the heart of wine country, these gorgeous lakes are the ideal destination for outdoor lovers and vino enthusiasts alike. At Cayuga Lake, visitors can tour the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail. In addition to sampling tasty beverages from local wineries, travelers can expect to see a handful of waterfalls and gorges along the route as well. The region is also home to several state parks where swimming, waterfall chasing, and hiking are all available. A few highlights include Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert Treman State Park.

Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming

Lakeside Spring and Yellowstone Lake in West Thumb Geyser Basin.

With 110 miles of shoreline, a pristine mountain backdrop, and plenty of surrounding wildlife, Yellowstone Lake in Wyoming is a sight you won’t want to miss. The lake is located in Yellowstone Lake National Park and offers visitors the chance to enjoy fishing and boating. Swimming, however, is not advised due to the water's cool temperatures. While in the park hiking and back-country camping are just a few of many activities available.

Travelers who don’t want to get up close to the lake can choose instead to drive around Grand Loop Road. The road is shaped like a massive figure 8 and provides views of the lake as well as local wildlife such as bears, wolves, bison, and elk.

Lake Clark, Alaska

Float Plane Taking off From Crescent Lake in Lake Clark National Park in Alaska.

Those looking for a memorable off-the-grid vacation will be interested in Lake Clark. Located in Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park, this remote area is accessible mainly by floatplane. While getting to the lake is a bit of a journey, the natural beauty of it makes all the effort worthwhile. Lake Clark stretches 42 miles long and is approximately 1,000 feet deep, making it the 6th largest among thousands of named lakes in Alaska.

While in the park, activities such as camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, and boating are all available. Those planning on spending a night or even a day here should be aware there are few accessible roads and no grocery stores nearby, so plan to pack accordingly. 

Lake Superior, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota

Copper Harbor Lighthouse on Lake Superior, with defocused fishermen in a boat.

With a name like Lake Superior, it’s no surprise that this great lake is massive. Going by surface area, Lake Superior is the largest lake in the world spanning 31,700 miles. And if you’re measuring by volume, it is the third largest lake in the world coming in at 12,100 km³. Because of the lake's exceptional size, parts of it lie in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario, Canada. Those looking to camp out by the lake can visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan. Here, campers can enjoy swimming, fishing, and boating on the lake.

Once tired of the water, venture to other parts of the park for some drive-in or backcountry camping, hiking, waterfall viewing, and ranger-led educational programs. 

Wrapping Up

Whether you’re searching for remote lakes surrounded by wildlife or sandy shore lakes ideal for swimming, the US has you covered. Home to some of the most notable lakes in the world, it’s easy to find the ideal destination for your next lake trip. So pack up the beach towels and snacks, it’s time to hit the water.


More in United States