40 Under-The-Radar Boating Destinations Across the Country

Sailboat plying the calm waters of the Salish Sea near Anacortes, Washington

Carlos Gandiaga Photography/istockphoto

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Sailboat plying the calm waters of the Salish Sea near Anacortes, Washington
Carlos Gandiaga Photography/istockphoto

Sail, Dock, or Moor Your Boat ...

The world is 70% water, yet many boaters end up in the same popular lakes, ports, and harbors. We want to show some love to the hidden gems around the U.S. (and one on the Canadian border) so boaters can discover these lovely destinations on the water. We had some help from regional boating experts to discover these 40 under-the-radar destinations for boating. Not ready to hit the water? These photos are pretty soothing all on their own. 

Lake Martin, Alabama
Jacqueline Nix/istockphoto

Lake Martin

The boating industry website Discover Boating recommends Lake Martin, the state's largest lake. A bonus of the Martin Dam, which generates power for Alabama, is this man-made reservoir on the Tallapoosa River. The lake's Chimney Rock serves as a cliff-diving peak for daring swimmers. A boater's paradise, according to Carl Blackwell, president of Discover Boating, Lake Martin offers several public boat-access options, including Wind Creek State Park, Smith Landing on Sandy Creek, and Pace's Point near Camp Alamisco.

Homer, Alaska


In the gigantic state of Alaska, Discover Boating recommends this small city on Kachemak Bay. Plenty of ferries and cruises depart from Homer, and the Homer port offers a five-lane load and launch ramp. The Homer Spit is a local mecca for fishing and boating. 

Tempe Town Lake, Arizona

Tempe Town Lake

Tempe, Arizona
Out-of-towners may be surprised to find good boating in the desert state of Arizona. Discover Boating recommends Tempe Town Lake, which was created by damming the Salt River. More for paddling than sailing, there are plenty of boats for rent for day trips and fishing. Trout, bass, catfish, and sunfish swim in Tempe Town Lake and during the pandemic boats are sterilized after every use.

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Beaver Lake, Arkansas

Beaver Lake

Rogers, Arkansas

This man-made lake was created in 1966 when the White River was dammed. Now it offers 28,000 acres where anglers can fish for bass, catfish, bream, and crappie. The shore offers plenty of marinas and campsites for overnight stays.

Channel Islands Harbor, Oxnard, California
Tom P./Yelp

Channel Islands Harbor

Oxnard, California

The California Coast has more than 650 miles of waterfront. Between the famous San Diego and San Francisco harbors are gems like Oxnard's Colorado Islands Harbor. It has 2,150 boat slips and other marina facilities, including commercial boatyards, and places to buy boats and supplies. Captains can fuel up, repair, or wash their boats in the marina.

Lake Dillon, Colorado

Dillon Reservoir

At 9,000 feet above sea level in mountainous Summit County is Dillon Reservoir, the world's highest deep-water marina. Visitors to Lake Dillon could ski all day and spend the evening on the water, at least until the lake freezes over in the winter.  

Riverside properties
Riverside properties by Smudge 9000 (CC BY)

New London


Mystic and Bridgeport offer a lot, but Tom Richardson, editor and host of New England Boating says this Thames River town is experiencing a comeback since the '80s. "The city put a ton of work into expanding the waterfront facilities for boaters," Richardson told Cheapism. "It's got a great launch ramp nearby. Downtown New London has all sorts of restaurants, shops. There's an Amtrak station right there on the waterfront. It's got tons of history. New London is a huge whaling port. You can immerse yourself in all of that." 

Port Lewes, Delaware

Port Lewes


This colonial port is still a harbor of refuge, and it's worth docking there. "Far enough from the big cities to be more than a day trip, it is easy to spend a week or more on the hook here or tied up in a marina," Frank Mummert, an instructor at the Maryland School of Sailing, told Cheapism. "The ferry that runs from Lewes to Cape May offers a day trip to the Victorian era town at the southern tip of New Jersey, or even the possibility of visiting the Las Vegas of the East, Atlantic City."

Related: Beloved Seaside Villages Perfect for Vacationing

Spoil Islands, Florida
Spoil Islands, Florida by Roger W (CC BY)

Spoil Islands

Tampa, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Sarasota, and the Keys are pretty crowded with Florida boaters and visitors. But when Florida dredged new cruising paths for deepwater boats, the islands they created turned out to be quite beautiful. That's why they're the preferred choice of Rick and Jennifer, the Florida boaters behind the blog Thunderhula. "The pace seems to slow way down when you just set up some chairs and watch the never-ending parade of boats (and yachts) cruise by your little piece of heaven," they told Cheapism. "Sometimes the dolphins will even put on a show just for you and your family. There are a number of public boat ramps all along the ICW, [Intracoastal Waterway] many within eyesight of a spoil island. Just be sure to get to the island you picked early to stake your claim."

Jekyll Island Georgia

Jekyll Island

Discover Boating recommends this barrier island off the coast of Georgia, and it's easy to see why. The marina has a pool and hot tub, along with free Wi-Fi, so it's like docking at a spa. If your boat is trailered, they have launch facilities, too. Once you're settled in, there's fishing, shrimping, crabbing, and an island full of resorts and historic sites.

Kailua-Kona, Hawaii



Of all the islands of Hawaii, and all the ports on the Big Island itself, Discover Boating recommends Kona. The Kona waters are calm and clear, thanks to Mauna Loa volcano blocking the winds. You can see manta rays or deep sea fish, while you sample some of the Kona coffee for which the region is known. Weather tends to be sunny and dry year round.  

Fox Lake, Illinois

Fox Lakes

Chicago has a high-traffic river, but if you're looking for an out of the way place and more room to spread your sails, try this chain of lakes. "Pontoon boats are very common on the smaller lakes," Jorge Cabre, fleet manager for the boat-rental outfit Boatsetter tells Cheapism. "If it's a beautiful day but it's windy which is very common, you're better off going to hit the Fox Lakes where you're going to be a little bit more protected, first of all because it's inland and second because it's a smaller chain of lakes. You're not going to find big seas. Also, there are little islands that you can stop at. You can do fishing. I guess if you have smaller kids it's a safer bet when you go over the weekend."

Rathbun Reservoir
Christina F./Yelp

Rathbun Reservoir

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built and maintains this lake, which visitors can use for relaxing on the water. "The 11,000-acre lake is perfect for boaters interested in skiing, tubing or fishing, with several boat ramps, campgrounds and a marina," Jessica O'Riley, tourism communication manager for Travel Iowa, tells Cheapism. "Additionally, Honey Creek Resort State Park on the north shore offers boat rentals such as pontoons and jet skis, along with a large dock system and boat ramp for people bringing their own boats."

Lake Cumberland

Lake Cumberland

Kentucky has dubbed itself the "Houseboat Capital of the World" for manufacturing and shipping houseboats. Many of the houseboats remain on Lake Cumberland, which is recommended by Discover Boating. State Dock Marina rents out houseboats for vacations along the waterfalls of Lake Cumberland. They host races like the Raft Up and Poker Run. Wolf Creek Marina also docks and rents boats with a full slate of amenities.

Related: Destinations Where Houseboats Rentals Beat the Beach

Caddo Lake
sgatlin archive/istockphoto

Caddo Lake

Louisiana and Texas

Discover Boating recommends Caddo Lake for boating down South. There are launch ramps and marinas, but speedboaters might look elsewhere because of the swampy waters and tangle of vegetation. According to Discover Boating's Blackwell, Caddo Lake — the state's largest natural freshwater lake — is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts looking for a range of fishing options. Bass are among the 70 species of fish that are yours for the taking. Boaters can also see Lady Bird Johnson's birthplace in Karnack, Texas, from the lake.

Related: Best Fishing Spots in All 50 States

Kennebec Marina


On the Kennebec River, just 12 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, this historic ship-building town is a secret haven for New England boaters. "Getting there is a lot of fun because you get to follow the river up and see all the lighthouses along the way," Richardson, editor and host of New England Boating, tells Cheapism. "Bath is home to the Maine Maritime Museum. There is a public docking area where you can dock up and spend a few hours there and visit the downtown area. You can rent a mooring through the harbormaster's office for something like $35 a night. You can also get a slip at the Kennebec Marina which also has a dock and dine restaurant called the Kennebec Tavern. The water is very protected, and just upriver you have Merrymeeting Bay which is a beautiful natural area. There's a sandbar up there."

Related: 20 Things You Never Knew About New England

Scituate Harbor

Scituate Harbor


Scituate is a secret favorite for many Boston boaters. "There's a really unique Main Street area with towns and shops, lots of galleries, that sort of thing," Richardson tells Cheapism. "It's good on all tides, and it's got quick access to the open ocean so you can launch there, go out to the Cape Cod Bay and go fishing. If you want to stay overnight, there's several marinas in Scituate Harbor. There's also a public marina. You can talk to the harbormaster about getting overnight accommodations through the harbormaster's office. The downtown area, Main Street, is right there." 

Related: Best Main Streets in America

Rock Hall, Maryland

Rock Hall

Annapolis and the Chesapeake Bay get most of the spotlight, but Maryland boaters know where to go on the Eastern Shore. "Located on a peninsula of land a little north of the eastern end of the Annapolis Bay Bridge, Rock Hall is a waterman's community," says Mummert, an instructor at the Maryland School of Sailing. "It has one grocery store, one gas station, one bank, and more than a dozen marinas. Approachable from the Chesapeake Bay or from the Chester River, it is a short day trip from Annapolis or Baltimore, but can easily be turned into a week-long trip by exploring up the Chester [River]."

Fayette, Michigan


There are many stops around Lake Michigan, but this historic town on the state's Upper Peninsula is a favorite stop of Great Lakes Cruising Club's Lou Bruska. "It's a state park, but they have a tiny marina," Bruska tells Cheapism. "When I say tiny, you think a capacity of like 16 boats. However, it was a lumber town, and I guess there was a mill. There's a smelter for iron ore first. The town pretty much exists, most of the buildings are now considered a walk-through museum. If you're a camper, there's campgrounds there. Like I said, they have limited capacity, but boats can go in there."

Rogers City, Michigan

Rogers City


Bruska also encourages boaters cruising the Great Lakes to stop in Rogers City for nautical needs and dining options. "I think Rogers City is a must-go-to," Bruska tells Cheapism. "Rogers City is again a very nice little town and has a long affiliation with the Great Lakes ships. It is a very nautical kind of town. If you like smoked meats, whether it's smoked Polish sausage or kielbasa or smoked pork sausage, smoked fish, one of the oldest smokehouses in the nation [Plath's Meats], it's over 100 years old now, is headquartered in Rogers City. It is a nice town. There are some museums there that are worth going to."

Rogers City, Michigan
Rogers City, Michigan by Scott Catron (CC BY)

Lake Jacomo


Jackson County owns and maintains this lake that Discover Boating also recommends. Boaters will have to share the water with windsurfers. The Lake Jacomo Marina offers day passes, fuel, and waste facilities, and fishing right off the dock (masks are required indoors). Anglers can fish for bass, catfish, crappie, sunfish, walleye, and even the prehistoric spoonbill.

Related: The Best Lakes in All 50 States

Lake Mead, Nevada

Lake Mead

North of Las Vegas, Discover Boating recommends this man-made lake created by the Hoover Dam. With up to 255 square miles of water at its peak, there are plenty of marinas for owners or boat rentals for day trips. There are also a lot of regulations in Nevada, so brush up and make sure you have all your permits so your day on the lake isn't interrupted. A recent record snowpack melt has boosted water levels after years of drought. 

Newfound Lake

Newfound Lake

New Hampshire

New England scuttlebutt recommends Newfound Lake. Even Richardson, editor and host of New England Boating, hasn't personally sailed there, but he has heard enough to put it on his bucket list. "I've read articles on it and based on those, I'd love to go there," he says. "It's got a little town at the base of it where you can get ice cream and little restaurants and shops. It's just a nicely protected lake centrally located in the state. I'm intrigued by it. It's considered a hidden gem by freshwater boaters." In 2022, it was dubbed the eighth-clearest lake in the country.

North Port, Long Island, New York
North Port, Long Island, New York by Fife Club (CC BY)

North Port

Long Island, New York

A bit south of New England, Richardson filmed two shows at North Port and considers it a hidden gem among Long Island harbors. "A lot of boaters from Connecticut go across to Long Island County and visit the North Shore of Long Island," Richardson said. "It's like 15 minutes in some cases, a short run, protected sea. It had two private marinas, and you could also dock at a very long public pier. There's a great beach where a lot of people like to go to, it's called Sand City. They used to mine sand there to make concrete which was used in a lot of the construction of the building of New York City. It's got great fishing nearby in Long Island Sound." 

Lake McConaughy

Lake McConaughy


This 20-by-4-mile lake is plenty deep enough (142 feet) for boating and fishing. "Lake Mac" hosts sailboats, wind surfers, water skiers, scuba divers and even ice boaters when frozen. Anglers ply the lake for walleye, but trophy-sized trout and catfish have also been caught in Lake Mac. (Note: No alcohol is allowed at Lake Mac, so plan accordingly.)

Bass Islands, Ohio

Bass Islands

Cruising Lake Erie could take you around the Bass Islands in Ohio. "North Bass Island is a nice place to go to, and it's an easy hop then to get to Pelee Island," said Bruska of the Great Lakes Cruising Club. "If you were to be on a boat or in a trailered boat, something 25 or 27 feet long, that would be a great place to bring your car and trailer it and go to three or four islands, hopping and stay at each one over night. They're very close to each other, 5 to 15 miles apart, easy to get to by a small boat, particularly a small powerboat."

Related: 30 Serene and Secluded Lakes Worth the Drive

Pelee Island

Pelee Island

Ontario, Canada
You'll need a passport to go this far north in Lake Erie because it's Canadian territory, but it's worth going through customs, says Bruska. "It's known for its wineries," he says. "They don't bottle the wine there. They grow the grapes there and transport them to the Canadian shore where they actually bottle them. The wine tour there is one of the nicest I've been on because it takes you out into the fields to see the grapes, and they explain the process of growing them rather than explain the process of bottling."

Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

Columbia River Gorge

Go a bit inland off the West Coast where Discover Boating recommends this canyon cutting through the Cascades. Boating on the bottom of the canyon gives you a magnificent view. It probably hasn't changed much since Lewis and Clark crossed it. Discover Boating's Blackwell notes that the gorge offers a vibrant foliage scene in the fall and magnificent waterfalls, including the 620-foot Multnomah Falls.

Presque Isle, Pennsylvania

Presque Isle


A bit cut off from the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast, Pennsylvania does touch on Lake Erie. Bruska recommends accessing it via Presque Isle. "It has a cute little harbor," Bruska said. "There's not too much activity, but they have a nice little restaurant/yacht club. You're working your way down the coast, I think it's one of those must-go-to stops."

Bristol Harbor, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island

Bristol Harbor

Rhode Island

If you're looking for someplace interesting to sail in New England, just look inside Narragansett Bay. "I've always been enamored with Bristol," Richardson said. "They just opened a maritime center where visiting boaters can rest up, use Wi-Fi, wash their clothes, take a shower. It's got an incredible vibe, just really laid back, historic, home to the oldest running Independence Day parade in the country. They're very proud, it's a very patriotic place. The Main Street is beautiful, old Victorian homes."  

Lake Murray, South Carolina

Lake Murray

South Carolina

The South Carolina coast boasts Hilton Head and Charleston, but one of its best bodies of water is a man-made lake. South Carolina Electric & Gas Co. dammed the Saluda River in the 1920s. Lake Murray now has 48,000 acres of water. While boating on Lake Murray, guests can stay in cottages or a converted caboose, enjoy a public beach or tour the dam. If you don't own your own boat, you can rent a paddleboat, pontoon or canoe for the day.

Corpus Christi, Texas
Ryan Conine/istockphoto

Corpus Christi

The Gulf of Mexico feeds this Texas harbor, which Discover Boating also recommends.  Corpus Christi Bay is home to the historic U.S.S. Lexington, and there are several marinas for recreational boaters. Naturally, the gulf waters offer a wide array of fishing, including redfish and shark. The city has up to 560 slips for private or commercial boats to dock, and after hours you're walking distance from the Texas nightlife.

Tennessee River Gorge

Tennessee River Gorge


Cruising the Tennessee River from Chattanooga into Alabama takes boaters through the "Tennessee's Grand Canyon," a waterway that Discover Boating recommends. From a bustling downtown riverfront to more secluded state parks and islands where only animals live, there's plenty of camping, hiking and even the historic Pot Point Cabin for overnight stays.

Related: The Best State Park in Every State

Lake Powell, Utah

Lake Powell

Arizona and Utah

This reservoir straddling Arizona and Utah also comes recommended by Discover Boating. Lake Powell's main channel branches off into calmer bays. Water sports are popular, but the fluctuating water levels make them riskier. The red cliffs give Lake Powell's waters a unique look, and the lake is also home to the sandstone Rainbow Bridge. Lake Powell has also benefited from recent a record snowpack after lengthy drought conditions.

The Inland Sea of Lake Champlain, Vermont
Meghan McGrath/istockphoto

The Inland Sea of Lake Champlain

On the U.S. side of Lake Champlain, New England Boating editor Tom Richardson recommends "The Inland Sea." "It's a section of Lake Champlain, the northern part of Lake Champlain, a bunch of islands up there," he said. "It's not a harbor per se. It's more of an island, but it's a really beautiful part of the lake. It's very well protected. There's great sailing, kayaking, and fishing, several launch ramps that you can use. There's a few marinas in the area. There's several islands you can park, bring your boat and camp there."

Cape Charles, Virginia

Cape Charles


This southern Delmarva Peninsula port has a mix of state history and modern tourism. "Originally a transit point for train cars headed to Norfolk by barge, the town has reinvented itself as a tourist destination," says Mummert of the Maryland School of Sailing. "The municipal marina on the main waterfront has floating docks and great facilities for the visiting boater. On a little tributary north of town, there is a private marina with lots of resort amenities. The town itself is in transition, and fancy clothing stores stand next to a hardware store that goes back over 100 years."

San Juan Islands, Washington

San Juan Islands

Some 172 islands make up this archipelago that Discover Boating recommends on the way up north to Canadian waters. Boaters can dock or anchor out at Friday Harbor or many other marinas and go whale-watching, tour lighthouses, or hike amongst cows, sheep, and alpacas. Sail around the horseshoe shaped Sucia Island and visit the historic sites and museums at stops like Roche Harbor or Rosario Resort on Orcas Island.  

Apostle Islands, Bayfield, Wisconsin

Apostle Islands

Lake Superior touches on Wisconsin, and Bayfield provides a way into this archipelago, most of which is unpopulated. "You would leave out of Bayfield, Wisconsin, which has marinas, restaurants, everything you would need both if you were just visiting by car or visiting by boat," Bruska says. "Bayfield is a major town, and then from there you can take tours, motor boat tours. There's an island called Madeline Island. It is not far from Bayfield. That one is populated, and they have a nice tour and museum at that island."

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Geneva Lake

Initially a retreat for Gilded-Age elites, this lake is so popular that Wisconsinites and folks from nearby states flock to vacation there. "It's where a lot a Milwaukeeans go in the summer," said Boatsetter's Jorge Cabre, describing it as blend of land and water. "It looks like you're in the countryside, but all of a sudden you have this big lake. It's beautiful."

Jackson Lake, Wyoming
Art Wager/istockphoto

Jackson Lake


Discover Boating also recommends Grand Teton National Park's Jackson Lake. Surrounded by stunning mountain views, the lake is popular for boating and fishing (trout, salmon, and pike). There is a permit fee of $75 for motorized craft and $25 for non-motorized boats. While the lake area is open, be sure to check the website for restrictions due to the coronavirus. Blackwell notes that Jackson Lake is also a popular spot for outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, and kayaking around the lake's 15 islands. 

Related: 22 Beautifully Serene Lakes Around the World