The Best Lakes in All 50 States
mel-nik/istockphoto
The Best Lakes in All 50 States
mel-nik/istockphoto

SHORE THINGS

Looking to spend summer days on or in the water? It's easy if you're wealthy enough to live on the coast or have your own pool. But even in land-locked states there are plenty of inexpensive spots for swimming, boating, and other aquatic adventures. Here are some of the top lakes in each state, with a special focus on fishing opportunities. (Be sure to check for beach and park closings before making plans.) 

Related: Best Fishing Spots in All 50 States

Lake Martin, Alabama
Lake Martin, Alabama by Rebecca Hagen (CC BY)

Alabama: Lake Martin

Birmingham and Montgomery residents retreat to this laid-back lake community. Be sure to check out Acapulco Rock, better known as Chimney Rock, a cliff-jumping spot that doubles as the lake's most famous (and dangerous) landmark.

Mendenhall Lake
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Alaska: Mendenhall Lake

Mendenhall Lake, only 20 minutes from downtown Juneau, is the gateway to view magnificent Mendenhall Glacier. To best explore this natural beauty, rent a kayak and paddle near waterfalls and floating blue icebergs. The less intrepid can stroll the lake's shore to Nugget Falls.

Lake Havasu, Arizona
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Arizona: Lake Havasu

Hailed the "personal watercraft capital of the world," Lake Havasu is all about water sports such as wakeboarding and water skiing. Sparkling blue waters and an abundance of hidden coves and beaches attract families and spring breakers year after year to this sunny desert destination.

Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
Courtesy of arkansasstateparks.com

Arkansas: Lake Ouachita

Pronounced "Wash-ah-taw," this human-made lake boasts more than 1,000 miles of shoreline. Residential development doesn't exist, except for a few marina projects. If you want to camp, there are a few rough options on the south shore. The lake is most noted for its pristine water and wealth of marine wildlife, which attracts scuba divers and spear fishers.

Lake Tahoe, California
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California: Lake Tahoe

Straddling California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe has been ranked "America's Best Lake" by USA Today readers. The California side, known as Tahoe South, is a vibrant playground for aquatic adventurers. Between its epic sunsets and the Sierra Nevada mountains, it's a spectacularly scenic place.

Grand Lake, Colorado
Courtesy of visitgrandcounty.com

Colorado: Grand Lake

For a great day trip in Colorado, head to Grand Lake. Located on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park, this high alpine lake appeals to beach goers who enjoy crystal blue waters and a lively boardwalk. It also stakes a claim as the state's largest freshwater lake.

Bantam Lake, Connecticut
John Phelan

Connecticut: Bantam Lake

Connecticut's largest natural lake has two beaches: Morris Town Beach and Sandy Beach. The former is smaller and laid back, but it lacks the amenities of Sandy Beach, which has a bathhouse and picnic areas. 

Noxontown Lake, Delaware
THE BASS COLLEGE/youtube.com

Delaware: Noxontown Lake

Find this privately owned lake 40 minutes south of Wilmington. The lake is bordered by St. Andrews Prep School, where filming took place for the Robin Williams feature "Dead Poets Society." Anglers have access to the property between dawn and dusk to fish for bass, pan fish, white perch, and shad. 

Related: 50 TV and Movie Locations Worthy of a Road Trip

Lake Kissimmee, Florida
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Florida: Lake Kissimmee

About 70 miles from Orlando and spanning some 54 square miles, Lake Kissimmee is home to bald eagles, ospreys, white tailed deer, and bobcats. Below its surface are loads of largemouth bass, bluegill, and crappie. Visitors can take advantage of Lake Kissimmee State Park's camping facilities and enjoy its 13 miles of hiking and nature trails. Lake Kissimmee is also a popular wedding site, maybe in part because of its smoochy-sounding name.

Lake Rabun, Georgia
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Georgia: Lake Rabun

Weekend warriors from Atlanta escape to this pretty reservoir in the Northeastern corner of the state. Fourth of July festivities are huge here — there's a wooden boat parade and fireworks, and since 2007 a Rabun Ramble Road Race, at 5K and 10K lengths.

Lake Wilson (Wahiawa Reservoir), Hawaii
Courtesy of hawaii.gov

Hawaii: Lake Wilson (Wahiawa Reservoir)

Bass is the main attraction at this O'ahu fishing hole, specifically peacock bass. Catch rates are most consistent April through October. Shore fishing is an option, and there's a boat launch, bathroom, convenient parking, and picnic tables to help make this spot an angler's or vacationer's dream.

Priest Lake, Idaho
Peckycox

Idaho: Priest Lake

Roughly 90 miles from Spokane, Washington, and Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and a mere 30 miles south of the Canadian border, Priest Lake State Park is a camping mecca for outdoor aficionados. With more than 150 campsites, folks come to hike, bike, swim, and boat among the mile-high Selkirk Mountains.

Cedar Lake, Illinois
Courtesy of explorecarbondale.com

Illinois: Cedar Lake

In addition to being one of Southern Illinois' most scenic recreational areas, Cedar Lake is also in the backyard of Carbondale, named by Outdoor Life magazine as one of the top 200 towns for sportsmen. Head out on the water to compete for crappie and bass or take advantage of the beach, with its picnic tables, concession stands, and restrooms.

Tippecanoe Lake, Indiana
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Indiana: Tippecanoe Lake

This glacial lake in Northern Indiana, just an hour from Fort Wayne, is used primarily for fishing, boating, jet skiing, and water skiing. "Lake Tippy," as locals call it, is the deepest lake in the state and holds more than 25 finned species for anglers.

West Okoboji Lake, Iowa
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Iowa: West Okoboji Lake

Part of the Iowa Great Lakes, West Okoboji Lake is famed as one of only three "blue water lakes" in the world. Whether it is, and whatever that means, the lake is one of the top tourist spots in the state, drawing millions of visitors each year. Drop a line for walleye, bluegill, and trophy northern pike. First-timers can book a guided charter. For something more romantic, relax on a sunset cruise.

Milford Lake, Kansas
Milford Lake, Kansas by Acorns Resort (CC BY)

Kansas: Milford Lake

The state's largest lake is a popular destination for anglers looking to catch walleye, crappie, catfish, and largemouth, smallmouth, and white bass. Wildlife lovers are rewarded with opportunities to watch and photograph a variety of non-game birds, mammals, and reptiles. (In winter months, the area attracts bald eagles.)

Laurel River Lake, Kentucky
Courtesy of tripadvisor.com

Kentucky: Laurel River Lake

Drive-in and boat-in campgrounds attract summer travelers to one of the deepest and cleanest lakes in Kentucky. Nearly 200 miles of forested shores offer many places for relaxation and solitude. Fishing is generally excellent (think black bass, rainbow trout, and catfish) and night fishing for trout is a favorite activity for anglers in the summer.

Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana
Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana by Barry Goble (CC BY)

Louisiana: Lake Pontchartrain

During sticky summer months, New Orleans locals dip in the cool waters of Lake Pontchartrain (which was rehabilitated about a decade ago after water quality concerns prompted swimming advisories). A 24-mile causeway bisects the lake and connects the Big Easy to the north shore, where the best site for swim access is Fountainbleu State Park. 

Related: 26 Best Cheap Or Free Things To Do In New Orleans

Maine 2009
Maine 2009 by Carlos Castro (CC BY-ND)

Maine: Sebago Lake

Sebago Lake holds the title of deepest lake in Maine. It's also the top tourist destination in the western part of the state, and the surrounding towns provide virtually endless recreational opportunities. Camping is big here, with options ranging from traditional tents to cabins and luxury RV sites. 

Related: 50 Budget-Friendly RV Campgrounds

Lake Waterford, Maryland
Courtesy of aacounty.org

Maryland: Lake Waterford

Tucked inside the Lake Waterford Park and Adaptive Recreation Complex in Pasadena is this small but mighty 12-acre lake, which attracts birdwatchers as well as folks who come for shoreline fishing. Three pavilions can be booked for large groups.  

Long Pond, Massachusetts
Courtesy of longpondassociation.org

Massachusetts: Long Pond

Pack a picnic and head to Long Pond, which spans the towns of Brewster and Harwich, near Cape Cod. The two main beaches have lifeguards so kids can swim in safety while adults sunbathe. Tire of that and you can always hit the Cape Cod Bike Trail. Boating enthusiasts have three ramps to try. (Watch out when mapping routes: There's a completely different Long Pond about 60 miles west.)

Lake Michigan, Michigan
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Michigan: Lake Michigan

The second-largest of the Great Lakes offers miles of white sand and massive sand dunes. Hello, dune buggies! With many lakefront towns to explore, there's plenty to see and do, but not much beats grabbing a blanket and watching a beautiful sunset over the distant horizon.

Lake Calhoun, Minnesota
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Minnesota: Lake Calhoun

In the Land of 10,000 Lakes, this urban retreat stands out. Canoe, kayak, or paddle board the largest link in Minnesota's Chain of Lakes and catch crappie, pan fish, and muskie from the fishing pier on Lake Calhoun Parkway. Or try the Midwest-rooted tradition of log rolling and enjoy a view of Minneapolis from Thomas Beach. Be aware that within the state, the name was changed in 2018 to Bde Maka Ska, its original Dakota name meaning "White Earth Lake."

Arkabutla Lake, Mississippi
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Mississippi: Arkabutla Lake

There's lots for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy at this remote lake in the southeast corner of the state. Come for the fishing pier, swimming beaches, and nearly 300 tent and RV campsites.

Ha Ha Tonka State Park, Missouri
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Missouri: Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks is about 2½ hours from Kansas City and St. Louis. Known for its party coves where boaters gather to enjoy music and each other's company, the lake offers 54,000 acres of water, the expansive Lake of the Ozarks State Park, and numerous marinas. At Ha Ha Tonka State Park, visitors can explore the ruins of a turn-of-the-century stone castle on a high bluff over Lake of the Ozarks. Built as the home of a wealthy businessman who was soon killed in a car accident, it eventually became a hotel, only to be destroyed by a fire in the 1940s.

Flathead Lake, Montana
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Montana: Flathead Lake

Thirty miles long and 15 miles wide, Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. Carved in the shadows of Glacier National Park and Whitefish Mountain, fishing rules around these parts, but it's also a fun day drive to circle the lake. Or book a cruise from Somers Bay to Woods Bay for dinner at the famous Sitting Duck.

Lake McConaughy, Nebraska
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Nebraska: Lake McConaughy

Nebraska's largest lake has more than 100 miles of shoreline, making it a great day-trip destination. Changing water levels sometimes limit beach camping options, but they haven't deterred day-use boaters, swimmers, and kite boarders. 

Lake Tahoe
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Nevada: Lake Tahoe

Like its California sibling, North Lake Tahoe in Nevada promises no shortage of waterfront fun. Thrill seekers can parasail; those who prefer serenity can try stand-up paddle boarding. Visitors can also dock and dine at the many lakefront bars and restaurants.

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
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New Hampshire: Lake Winnipesaukee

This central New Hampshire lake covers 72 square miles and contains more than 250 islands (most of them teeny tiny). It's a go-to spot for Boston and New York residents looking to escape urban heat, but others may know it from references in Thornton Wilder's 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Our Town" and its role in the 1991 Bill Murray comedy "What About Bob?" (although scenes from the movie were filmed on Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia).

Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey
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New Jersey: Lake Hopatcong

The Garden State's largest lake offers 45 miles of shoreline. The popular swimming spot is kitted with all the necessities for a great day at the lake: bathrooms, showers, food concessions, and a picnic area. There's also a playground and volleyball courts. (From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day, be prepared to pay admission whether you walk, bike, or drive in.)

Cochiti Lake, New Mexico
Courtesy of tripadvisor.com

New Mexico: Cochiti Lake

This lake within the boundaries of the Pueblo de Cochiti Indian reservation offers two prime spots for outdoor recreation: Cochiti to the west and Tetilla Peak to the east. Windsurfing and fishing are the lake's biggest draws, but the campground is a family favorite and the scenic desert scrub landscape and mountain views cannot be beat.

Lake George, New York
OlegAlbinsky/istockphoto

New York: Lake George

Nicknamed "Queen of the American Lakes," there's tons of fun to be had at this Adirondack foothills lake. In addition to playing on its beaches, renting a boat, or chartering a fishing boat, visitors can book a ride on the Lake George Steamboat Co.'s Minne-Ha-Ha, one of the last steam paddlewheel boats in America. After some sun and fun, grab a cocktail or dinner at one of the many waterfront restaurants.

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina
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North Carolina: Lake Santeetlah

Surrounded by Nantahala National Forest, this low-key lake destination is rarely crowded. Pack a picnic, rent a boat, and find a secluded cove for a beautiful day trip. A mostly unspoiled shoreline attracts a variety of birds, and water conditions are crystal clear with deep visibility.

Devils Lake ND taken from Sully's Hill State park
Devils Lake ND taken from Sully's Hill State park by Beatnik Photos (CC BY)

North Dakota: Devils Lake

The largest natural body of water in North Dakota is a rough translation of its Lakota name, "Ble Waka Sica," or "Lake of the Spirits," and the Spirit Lake Tribe inhabits most of its southern shore. Like the Great Salt Lake in Utah, Devils Lake has high saline levels. Fishing and water sports are big here; it's been called the "Perch Capital of the World."

Lake Erie, Ohio
hiramtom/istockphoto

Ohio: Lake Erie

There's no shortage of things to do on Lake Erie, one of the five Great Lakes. Indulge in the usual recreational suspects, try parasailing, or an airboat, or head inland for the Ghostly Manor Thrill Center. Nearly 7 million vacationers come to Lake Erie each year.

Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, Oklahoma
Grand Lake O' the Cherokees, Oklahoma by JDMcGreg (CC BY)

Oklahoma: Grand Lake O' the Cherokees

Ranked consistently as one of the top bass fishing locales in the country, anglers will also find bluegill and white crappie. Grand Lake also attracts its fair share of sailboaters. Numerous camping facilities and RV facilities are available, as well as lakeside golf courses.

Crater Lake, Oregon
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Oregon: Crater Lake

Crater Lake National Park is home to the deepest lake in the United States. The lake fills the caldera of a dormant volcano, and visitors can drive, hike, take a trolley, or ride a bike along the rim to peer into the lake from different vantage points. Steep cliffs limit access to the water, but visitors can hike several trails and take a boat tour around the lake's perimeter or to Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone that rises about 760 feet out of the water.

Laurel Lake, Pennsylvania
Courtesy of tripadvisor.com

Pennsylvania: Laurel Lake

A mountain backdrop and sandy beaches make this a popular spot for families to swim and stay cool, and that goes for migrating families of birds and waterfowl as well. Merganser, Canada geese, and mallard ducks are among the kinds drawn to Pine Grove Furnace State Park and the 25-acre Laurel Lake. But they don't appreciate the Appalachian Trail Museum as much as humans do.

Wallum Lake, Rhode Island
Courtesy of burrillville.org

Rhode Island: Wallum Lake

This 322-acre lake near the town of Burrillville, in northwestern Rhode Island, is a beautiful but no-frills spot stocked with brown and rainbow trout and accessible from two boat launches. The northern side of the lake borders Douglas State Forest in Massachusetts.

Trophy Lakes, South Carolina
trophylakes/facebook.com

South Carolina: Trophy Lakes

Adrenaline junkies thrive on the variety of water sports at Trophy Lakes. Check out the water sports cable park, where beginners can learn to wakeboard, water ski, or kneeboard with the help of an over-the-head cable system.

Sylvan Lake, South Dakota
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South Dakota: Sylvan Lake

Known as the "Crown Jewel" of Custer State Park, Sylvan Lake attracts people wanting to swim, sun, fish, and get married in its picturesque setting, surrounded by hillsides of pine and spruce trees. Intrepid travelers can hike from the lake to Harney Peak, the highest point in the United States east of the Rockies.

Norris Lake, Tennessee
epantha/istockphoto

Tennessee: Norris Lake

A massive reservoir with more than 800 miles of shoreline and known for its clear waters, Norris Lake touches five counties and covers 53 square miles about an hour north of Knoxville. Naturally, water skiing, boating, swimming and fishing are popular activities. Norris Dam State Park has a full-service marina where visitors can launch their own boats or rent houseboats, pontoon boat, and other boats. There are also mountain bike and hiking trails.

Related: Destinations Where Houseboats Rentals Beat the Beach

Lady Bird Lake, Texas
Silvio Ligutti/shutterstock

Texas: Lady Bird Lake

Lady Bird Lake, rechristened in 2007 to honor the first lady, is in downtown Austin. Bordered by 10 miles of well-maintained trails, it's a well-liked hub for bicyclists, runners, and walkers. The terrain varies, and the views of the city are spectacular. Keep an eye out for the statue of the late, great guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn.

Lake Powell, Utah
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Utah: Lake Powell

This reservoir, the second-largest human-made lake in the United States, straddles the Utah-Arizona line. It's a mecca for houseboats during the summer months and, at 186 miles long, considered one of the best places in the world to wakeboard. The crystal blue waters are striking, but it's the surrounding sandstone cliffs that really take visitors' breath away. 

Lake Bomoseen, Vermont
Courtesy of vtstateparks.com

Vermont: Lake Bomoseen

Sunsets and views of the Taconic Mountains are highlights of a visit to beautiful Lake Bomoseen, but this freshwater lake also draws people for its boating, fishing, and swimming. For a glimpse into local history, check out the self-guided Slate History Trail, which leads hikers through relics of the area's slate industry. 

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia by Tess Dixon (CC BY)

Virginia: Smith Mountain Lake

Known as the "Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains," Smith Mountain Lake (or "SML," as locals call it) offers 580 miles of shoreline. Roughly equidistant from Roanoke and Lynchburg, this rural destination is popular with outdoor-loving retirees and vacationers. Fun fact: The lake house used in the movie "What About Bob?" is located here.

Lake Crescent, Washington
HaizhanZheng/istockphoto

Washington: Lake Crescent

Located on the Olympic Peninsula in northwest Washington, Lake Crescent is known for its deep, turquoise waters. If you tire of fishing, swimming, and boating, be sure to check out the Spruce Railroad Trail. The mostly flat 8-mile round-trip hike is one of the few in Olympic National Park that allows dogs and bikes.

Stonewall Jackson Lake, West Virginia
aimintang/istockphoto

West Virginia: Stonewall Jackson Lake

Briar Point Campground is a favorite spot for front-row views of Stonewall Jackson Lake. Visit the Marina at Stonewall Resort to rent a pontoon boat, Aqua Cycle, or stand-up paddle board.

Lake Minocqua, Wisconsin
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Wisconsin: Lake Minocqua

Boasting thousands of lakes, rivers and streams, the Minocqua area is often called "Nature's Original Water Park." Whether you like to fish, swim, kayak, or boat, there's something for everyone on this gorgeous body of water. 

Western Tropics
Western Tropics by Zach Dischner (CC BY)

Wyoming: Lake Hattie

Fishers take their rods and reels to Lake Hattie for lake trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, perch, and brook trout, all stocked by the state's game and fish department. Thanks to strong winds whipping across the plains, windsurfing is also popular here. Located about 20 minutes west of Laramie, the lake offers a handful of campsites, along with its boat launches, but is better suited for day trips.