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 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.)
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Lake Okeechobee hosts a lot of recreational activities. Due to the lake's dense population of alligators, swimming is not one of them. Instead, consider boating, freshwater fishing, and hiking or biking the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail at Florida's famed "inland sea."
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 in years past a Rabun Ramble Road Race, at 5K and 10K lengths.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 January to Bde Maka Ska, its original Dakota name meaning "White Earth Lake."
Whether you visit for the day or stay for an extended vacation, there's plenty to see and do at this family-friendly destination. With the Ozark Mountains as a backdrop, anglers reel in trophy largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass at this consistently high-ranked bass fishing 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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."
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.
Also known as Douglas Reservoir, this lake in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains attracts close to 2 million visitors each year. It's a popular vacation destination for families.
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.
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. Watch out for lower waters this summer, though, after a warm, dry winter.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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