The Best Lakes in All 50 States
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 sites 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.)
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.
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.
Find this privately owned lake 40 minutes south of Wilmington. The lake is bordered by St. Andrews Prep School, where the Robin Williams feature "Dead Poets Society" was filmed. Anglers have access to the property between dawn and dusk to fish for bass, pan fish, white perch, and shad.
Weekend warriors from Atlanta escape to this pretty reservoir in the Northeastern corner of the state. Fourth of July festivities are huge here, so keep Lake Rabun in mind for your travels next year. There's a wooden boat parade and fireworks, and in years past a Rabun Ramble Road Race, at 5K and 10K lengths.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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 haven't deterred day-use boaters, swimmers, and kite boarders.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Ranked consistently as one of the top bass fishing locales in the country, Grand Lake also attracts its fair share of sailboaters. Non-boat owners can tour aboard the Cherokee Queen riverboat, which has been traveling this beautiful lake in the foothills of the Ozark Mountain Range since the 1940s.
Part of Deschutes National Forest in the high desert region of central Oregon, Scout Lake draws nature lovers with its towering conifers, birding, and wildlife. Camping and water sports such as water skiing, fishing, and boating are another big lure. (Dog lovers take note: Pets aren't allowed here.)
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.
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.
Adrenaline junkies thrive on the variety of water sports at Trophy Lakes. Check out the watersports cable park, where beginners can learn to wakeboard, water ski, or kneeboard with the help of an over-the-head cable system.
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.
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.
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.
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.