When the thick, summer heat has the pavement steaming, few things sound more satisfying than leaping into cool water. And whether that’s a rooftop pool on a long afternoon or the ocean with a cooler of beer and a towel spread out on the sand — throwing on a bathing suit and going for a swim is a classic sign of summer. But unfortunately, you don’t always have a rich friend with pool access or an ocean nearby. So, what are you to do when you hear the siren’s call to get in the water?
May we suggest a lake?
Going to a lake is the ultimate (and accessible!) fun in the sun activity. Every single state has at least a few, and they’re the best of a pool and the ocean combined. The water is calm but still wide and open. And there’s room for a boat, but not one that might be overtaken by sharks. Lakes are just the ideal spot for hanging with friends or getting buzzed on a giant unicorn floaty. But all lakes are not created equal — some are filled more with retirees looking to catch a fish than a bunch of young people partying all day. So, we looked for the most fun lake in every state, and we found amazing spots. From manmade ones to those carved out by glaciers, the lakes on this list are a guaranteed good time — perfect for summer 2019.
Check out the list below to find out which lake in your state should get worked into your summer plans ASAP.
Alabama — Lake Martin
When Alabama dammed the Tallapoosa River in 1926, it formed the largest man-made body of water on the entire globe (at the time). Lake Martin is a whopping 41,150 acres of sparkling water — which gives ample room for parties between Memorial Day and Labor Day. From sun up to sun down in the summer, it’s packed with people socializing on pontoons, docks, and party barges. Some liken Lake Martin to an all-ages summer camp.
Pro-tip: Accessible only by the water, Chimney Rock is the party cove not to be missed. The array of graffiti on the rocks makes for great pictures, and the area is also home to Acapulco Rock, whose 60-foot face is a huge temptation for daredevils looking to flip into the water in full view of folks cheering from vessels bobbing on the lake.
Alaska — Kenai Lake
There are plenty of lakes filled with beautiful water, but Kenai Lake sees those lakes, and raises them the most startlingly, greenish-blue, glacial water you could imagine. That makes it a great place to visit year-round for hiking the shore and taking dope pictures. But when the weather gets warm, you also have the option to engage in a whole mess of other activities like fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, boating, and stand up paddleboarding.
Pro-tip: This Alaska lake is a large zigzag or boomerang shaped body of water that is the headwaters of the Kanai River. It’s also set against the Kenai Mountains and fairly close to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, so people looking to stay in the area for more than a fun afternoon should make that a stop!
Arizona — Lake Havasu
Looking for a lake that’s sure to be a party? Look no further. This large reservoir — formed by a dam on the Colorado River — is 19,300 acres of water sitting on the border of California and Arizona. And when the weather turns warm, the shores are flooded with twenty-somethings in eye-catching swimwear, plastic sunglasses, and an ever-present Solo cup. It’s the kind of place where you can make a best friend that you never see again.
Pro-tip: Everyone says not to miss the Bridgewater Channel — the half-mile span of water between Rotary Park and London Bridge. There is talk of a boat-side stripper pole, which we think really sums things up. Plus, there are a ton of beaches, bars, and restaurants to enjoy when you want to slip out of the boat parade and mingle. However, keep in mind that the city of Lake Havasu is generally a sleepy retirement community when it isn’t besieged by spring breakers. Plan your trip to align with the amount of action you require.
Arkansas — Lake Hamilton
When the Arkansas Power and Light Co. finished Carpenter Dam on the Ouachita River in order to generate electricity, Lake Hamilton was created. Nowadays, the 7,200-acre reservoir near the town of Hot Springs is a popular destination for area residents and tourists alike. The lake itself is ringed by motels, resorts, and restaurants. But most people spend their time fishing, waterskiing, parasailing, and boating. And if you aren’t the captain type, there’s even a 400-passenger riverboat named the Belle of Hot Springs that offers cruises on the lake.
Pro-tip: People looking to plant their cooler and do some splashing in the water will want to hit up Hill Wheatley Park where you can easily swim (or just take in the sun on its sandy beach). There are also picnic facilities and restrooms. Grab friends, toss down some towels, and take the perfect Instagram shots.
California — Mono Lake
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A lot of the entries on this list are definite party lakes, but we also think that cool extends beyond drinking on a boat. That’s where Mono Lake comes in. This ancient saline lake sits at the edge of the Great Basin and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Covering more than 70 square miles, its salt level is even higher than it used to be because the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power diverted water from Mono Basin streams for nearly 50 years. That’s not great, but in a “making lemonade” statement, now the water is denser than ocean water, and so swimming in it is super buoyant and fun.
Pro-tip: This lake was part of the cover art for the Pink Floyd album Wish You Were Here. The cover used a photo called The Diver, which was taken at Mono Lake and features what looks like a man diving into a lake without making any ripples. It was actually a visual effect created by a diver doing a handstand under the water. And it’s a pretty cool thing to try to recreate. Good luck.
Colorado — Grand Lake
Grand Lake has the distinction of being the largest and deepest natural lake in the state of Colorado. And it’s located just one mile outside Rocky Mountain National Park, so it’s a great afternoon trip to cool down after hiking or mountain biking. The lake has cool, clean waters for swimming, and there’s a boardwalk in the town of Grand Lake that allows people to walk easily to the water.
Pro-tip: When you’re done swimming, there’s a marina that rents pontoon boats and Boston Whalers. There are also sunset party cruises for up to 35 people — so consider letting someone else steer the boat while you make new friends and have some refreshing cocktails.
Connecticut — Candlewood Lake
Candlewood Lake is the largest man-made lake in the entire state, and the real estate that sits on its shores is some of the spendiest in Connecticut. In the summer, those homeowners and a ton of tourists flood the area to do some swimming, boating, fishing, and golfing. The shores boast beautiful beaches and sought after marina space.
Protip: Not the “I own a yacht” type? Try a jump from the 25-foot Chicken Rock or use a rope swing to fly over the water.
Delaware — Lake Como
The Delaware coast is the obvious choice for residents looking to slap on some sunscreen and get wet, but there are times when getting to the ocean simply isn’t an option. In these cases, Lake Como makes for an ideal place to splash, swim, and paddle the afternoon away. Plus, it’s one of the only lakes in the state that allows public swimming. There’s a swimming area — complete with lifeguards — open seven days a week through Labor Day.
Pro-tip: Families like to hit the beach on the weekend so it’s generally better to go during the week and enjoy the water without the crowds.
Florida — Lake Eola
Lake Eola isn’t so much a lake as it is a sinkhole that is most famous for its surrounding park and fountain. In 1883, Jacob Summerlin, a wealthy Orlando resident who served as the first city council president, donated a sizable tract of land to the city to be used as a park. Since it was formally established in 1892, the park has included the broadcast site of a local radio station, a pier with a dance area, tennis courts, a zoo, and a horse racing track. But the lake has remained the centerpiece throughout. Nowadays, a playground, a Chinese pagoda, and The Disney Amphitheater are positioned on the 1,369 miles of the lake’s shoreline.
Pro-tip: This isn’t a lake that invites visitors to swim, fish, or party on it. But it does have swan-shaped paddle boats and live swans that are perfect for photographing. There are also a lot of bars and restaurants with lake views.
Georgia — Lake Lanier
Encompassing 38,000-acres, Lake Lanier is a reservoir that was formed by the construction of the Buford Dam on the Chattahoochee River in 1956. It quickly became popular with summer vacationers looking to enjoy its calm waters. Nowadays, more than 7.5 million people visit the lake each year, which totally makes sense because, because in addition to the lake recreation, there are more than 90 parks dotted across the 680 miles of shoreline. And 23 of them have swim beaches. There are also a dozen beaches positioned on islands located across the lake for those looking to relax exclusively with other boat people.
Pro-tip: Lake Lanier is very close to Atlanta, which means you have to expect crowds. But its size really does allow you to find relatively vacant areas if you get creative. And it’s not just a summer travel destination. They’re home to one of the largest animated, holiday light shows in the southeast.
Hawaii — Halalii Lake
This ephemeral lake is situated in the south central part of Ni’ihau, the smallest inhabited Hawaiian island in the chain. It is very close to Halulu Lake — the official largest natural lake in the Islands. However, during the rainy season, Halalii can become swell to become Hawaii’s largest lake — though, in the dry season, it becomes arid and small, marked by little saline lakes. It’s quite the shapeshifter.
Pro-tip: Though this is a beautiful lake, what makes it interesting is that few people ever get to visit the island to see it. Ni’ihau has been limited to 130 or so native people living in the village of Puuwai and relatives of the woman who purchased the island from King Kamehameha V in 1864. The islanders follow a traditional way of life that they fear losing — so they keep most visitors out. Visiting is a rare privilege to work toward.
Idaho — Lake Coeur d’Alene
A lot of the lakes on this list are the largest in their state, but it’s Idaho’s second largest lake that we think is the coolest. It’s 49.8 square miles of natural lake fed by two rivers, and there are more than 135 miles of shoreline. There are more than a dozen boat launches, and you can rent ski boats, jet skis, sailboats, pontoons, and stand-up paddle boats. Then, there are nine marinas to choose from if you need fuel or a place to grab some food and kick back.
Pro-Tip: When the weather gets warm, this lake may not be all booze, beer bongs, and wet t-shirt contests, but there are extensive sandy beaches waiting for you to slide your toes into, numerous hiking trails peppered with some of the best scenery in the state, and volleyball courts made for Top Gun cosplay. Bottom line: this lake manages to be both the perfect place for a summer party and the perfect natural resource for outdoor enthusiasts. Plus, you can spot bald eagles.
Illinois — Grass Lake
Grass Lake is part of the Chain O’Lakes, a series of ten lakes connected by the Fox River and another five linked by smaller canals and channels. Grass is one of the only three natural lakes in the group, and it comes in at 1,360-acres of watery good times.
Interesting fact: In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this lake was filled with lotus beds whose density made rowing very difficult, so boats had to use poles to propel themselves. Over time, a lot of the lotus disappeared, but a bit of a revival is happening now.
Pro-tip: Part of what makes Grass Lake fun is Blarney Island, which sits one mile offshore. Boaters from all over Wisconsin and Illinois can float up for a cocktail, and people without boats can hop on a shuttle to get there. It’s been voted the greatest boating bar in the world by Extreme Boats Magazine, and local legend says it can be traced back over a hundred years to a floating houseboat of vice that made its way up and down the Fox River. Today, it is the only place on Earth that hosts high-performance drag boat racing every Thursday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Indiana — Lake James
A lot of the lakes on this list boast a party cove and Lake James is among them — though, the party is a bit smaller than in some of the more established lake scenes. But during the summer months, there can be as many as 2,000 boats in the water. Expect to float side by side with other enthusiasts at a sandbar known as First Basin with music playing, drinks flowing, and plenty of happy bodies splashing in the water. In a 2005 survey, more than 60 percent of the people who live near the lake listed fast boating, water skiing, and fishing as the activities they prefer. So you can be damn sure that stuff is going on all day long.
Pro-tip: At 1,200-acres, it only ranks as the fourth largest natural lake in the state of Indiana, but that’s plenty of room for watercraft, watersports, and two beaches covered in bathing suit-clad folks looking to chill. Plus, the water quality is ranked as some of the best in Indiana. Something has to counteract all the day-drinking, right?
Iowa — West Okoboji Lake
Part of the Iowa Great Lakes chain, West Okoboji Lake is 3,847-acres, making it second in size only to Spirit Lake and the deepest lake in the state. Because of its depth, it’s known for water skiing, boating, sailing, swimming, and fishing. But there are also great beaches, hiking trails, and campsites. And near the shoreline of the lake is Arnolds Park Amusement Park (in addition to two state parks), which makes for a great addition to a day at the lake.
Pro-tip: When it comes to swimming spots, Gull Point is dope because it can get a little loud and rowdy. Pike’s Point is another nice beach with a steep drop off just off the shoreline, which keeps most families with small children from hanging there. If you want a more adult crowd around you, this is a good option.
Kansas — Perry Lake
Perry Lake is a reservoir in the northeastern part of the state that’s known as “Paradise on the Plains” to the many people who travel from its neighboring cities Kansas City, Lawrence, and Topeka. It has a party cove that is so legit — it has its own Facebook group for coordinating events and keeping abreast of opportunities on the lake. That is a commitment to boating fun that we can’t help but respect.
Pro-tip: In addition to general boating and partying, people come to Perry Lake for the usual: to bike, fish, ride on horseback, camp, view wildlife, swim, engage in watersports, picnic, and hike. In fact, the 30-mile Perry Lake National Recreational Hiking Trail is well-known for its rugged terrain among people who like to work up a sweat in nature. What could be better than hiking a trail before doing a front flip off of your boat into the cooling waters of the lake?
Kentucky — Lake Cumberland
Lake Cumberland isn’t just any reservoir; it’s the ninth largest in the entire country, packed with enough h2o to cover the whole commonwealth of Kentucky in three inches of water. It is huge. It’s also a huge tourism boon because people love to travel from all over to play on its shores and in its waters. In 1999, about 4.75 million visitors flocked there. And it’s largely considered the number one place to put down your houseboat, as evidenced by the more than 1,500 houseboats that bob about on its surface.
Pro-tip: Two state parks make up the lake. Lake Cumberland State Resort Park sits on the shore and General Burnside State Park is located on an island in the middle of the lake. In addition to all your swimming and boating fun, makes sure to include some hiking in the parks.
Louisiana — Toledo Bend Reservoir
Located on the Texas-Louisiana border, the Toledo Bend Reservoir is huge. It’s the largest man-made body of water in the South. And fifth largest (by surface area, which is 185,000 acres) in the nation. When you also consider the 1,200 miles of shoreline, it’s clear that there is more than enough of this watery wonderland to go around. The accompanying thousand acres for camping, hiking, and birding doesn’t hurt its appeal. You could spend weeks here and not explore the entire area. But you would get to do plenty of sightseeing, picnicking, swimming, boating, and the like. Chances are your bathing suit would barely have time to dry between adventures.
Pro-tip: It would be remiss to not go into a little fishing detail here because Toledo Bend Reservoir was voted the best bass lake out there. Yep. None are better according to Bassmaster. It’s likely due to the many submerged trees and stumps, which serve as the preferred chill spots for bass. These also make boating potentially dangerous on parts of the lake, so if you go, use the well-marked boat lanes.
Maine — Millinocket Lake
Another freshwater reservoir, Millinocket Lake does some heavy lifting for the region, providing flood control, drinking water, and hydroelectric power. And that’s all cool if you are super into water management, but our focus is more on the dope setting and recreation opportunities. It’s genuinely incredible to sit on your boat or a dock and have views of Mount Katahdin, the tallest mountain peak in the state and voted the World’s Best Hike by National Geographic.
Pro-tip: When you slide into the water for a summer swim, you will be pleased to find the water near the surface is 70 degrees and it only drops to 55 degrees in deeper areas. Most people find July is the best time to snorkel and swim.
Maryland — Deep Creek Lake
In the 1920s, the Youghiogheny Hydroelectric Company instituted a hydroelectric project on Deep Creek, and the construction of a dam resulted in the formation of Deep Creek Lake, the largest inland body of water in the state. We wouldn’t necessarily say that we are lake size queens, but these larger bodies of water generally have more recreation options. Wakeboarding is exceedingly popular right now at Deep Creek, and demonstrations are held all summer. There’s also plenty of wake surfing and stand up paddle boarding. Jet ski, tube, and boat rentals are all options as well, so there are a large number of water adventures to be found.
Pro-tip: One thing that makes all the activity on the water special is that many of the local businesses and restaurants offer docks, so you can boat about and make stops periodically to grab a bite or explore some shops.
Massachusetts — Lake Onota
This 617-acre lake is on the smaller side compared to the majority of the lakes on this list, but it makes up for that with lots of swimming, fishing, and boating. It is considered two lakes in one because it began as a natural lake that was enlarged as the result of a dam. The southern basin was bordered by a roadway that is now submerged but remains a separator between the two parts of the lake — the maximum depth is 66 feet, but the average is 22 feet, making it okay for some snorkeling and maybe even some scuba diving. However, it’s best for just chilling in a tube or on a boat.
Pro-tip: One of the coolest parts of this lake is that concerts are held at the parks that rim it, allowing people to take a break from the water to attend. Or they can stay on the lake and catch the sounds of the live performances. Burbank Park, where a lot of performances are held, is 151 acres and has multiple swimming beaches, so it’s a good place to spend an afternoon.
Michigan — Lake St. Clair
Sometimes called the “sixth Great Lake,” Lake St. Clair is positioned between the US and Canada and is one of the most popularly used parts of the Great Lakes. And maybe we should have picked a Great Lake, but you have to take notice when a smaller lake makes up a third of the entire Great Lakes sport fishing catch every year and almost half of the entire sportfishing effort in the Great Lakes. This little watery beauty may be shallow with an average depth of ten feet, but it is a freaking fish bonanza.
Pro-tip: If you go boating, drop anchor near Strawberry Island where you will find dozens of boats frequently rafted together on weekends while their owners float, swim, and splash. Some people water and jet ski around here as well. And if you want slightly more adult activities, hit up Big Muscammoot Bay, which is called the R-rate anchorage. When you aren’t engaged in a bacchanal, order a pie from S.S. Pizza Boat delivery.
Minnesota — Lake Minnetonka
Minnesota’s ninth-largest lake at 14, 528 acres, Lake Minnetonka is a mere two miles from Paisley Park. If proximity to Prince’s former home and recording studio counts for cool points, this body of water gets all of them. Heck, in Purple Rain, Apollonia tries to purify herself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka (which Dave Chapelle famously referenced on his show).
It’s also super awesome that boats of all sizes and horsepower are allowed on the water. And though speed and noise restrictions are in place, the openness to a variety of watercraft means that larger excursion vessels are an option for people looking to learn more about the area or engage in a lot of partying without having to captain a vessel. It’s likely the reason the lake has four active yacht clubs.
Pro-tip: This lake is also special because it is used year-round, even when things get cold. Summer means kayaking, swimming, and stand up paddleboarding, but winter means snowmobiling, ice fishing, and ice yachting.
Mississippi — Grenada Lake
One of four flood control lakes constructed in North Mississippi by the US Army Corps of Engineers, Grenada Lake is a decent size at 35,000 acres and boasts 148 miles of shore. People looking for beach spots along that shore will enjoy planting their beach chairs and towels on the sands of Grenada Landing Swimming Beach or Natural Beach at Hugh White State Park. But at the former, swimming is only allowed inside the buoy lines that designate five swimming areas. It can get a little crowded. The latter tends to be a bit more loosey goosey. And damn, you are a grown up; you can swim any way you like.
Pro-tip: If you are down with fishing, it’s worth knowing that people come from distances both near and far to hook some huge crappie from these waters. If you aren’t into fishing or crappie, the lake is awesome for boating casually or waterskiing.
Missouri — Lake of the Ozarks
Are there party coves on this list? Hell yeah, there are. But Anderson Hollow Cove in Lake of the Ozarks was termed the “oldest established permanent floating bacchanal in the country.” It is the party cove to end all party coves. And 495 Productions, the people who brought television viewers Jersey Shore and Party Down South, are supposed to be airing a new reality show called Party Cove that is set at this lake. However, it’s worth noting that the sexy, insane acts that the area came to be known for in the 1980s and 90s aren’t as common these days. The party got dialed down, but it’s still a dope place to hang with other boaters and get your drink on.
Pro-tip: This lake is also home to the annual Lake of the Ozarks Shootout each August. It’s the largest unsanctioned boat race in the country, and it’s considered one of the top must-see boating events held in the US. A bit of an outlaw event, it’s super fun, and they donate a lot of money to charity.
Montana — Flathead Lake
Flathead Lake has a superlative, but it comes with a lot of caveats. It isn’t the largest freshwater lake in the state. Nope. It is by surface area the largest natural freshwater lake west of the source of the Missouri River and in the lower 48 states. That’s probably a lot to put on a plaque though. However, more impressive is that this is one of the cleanest lakes of its size and type in the entire populated world. That’s 200 square miles of crisp, clear water to use as the setting for an adventure or a relaxing day at the beach. Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks maintains thirteen access areas around the 185 miles of shoreline, so it is fairly easy to find a starting point that isn’t terribly crowded.
Pro-tip: If you get a chance to go to Flathead Lake, you have to boat out to Wildhorse Island, a 2,165-acre state park that can only be accessed by boat. It is the perfect place to explore after some swimming, waterskiing, power boating, or tubing.
Nebraska — Lake Minatare
Coming in at 2,158 acres, Lake Minatare is the largest body of water in the Panhandle. This is part of the reason it attracts thousands of visitors every single year. Another reason is that it sits in the Lake Minatare State Recreation Area, as well as the North Platte Wildlife Refuge. Nature lovers who also like to get their swim on are in luck. It’s also worth noting that the wildlife refuge includes the Lake Minatare Lighthouse, a historic mock lighthouse built by the Veterans Conservation Corps in 1939. It was intended to simulate a lighthouse and it makes for fun pics.
Pro-tip: The clear water is ideal for water skiing, boating, swimming, and windsurfing. But it’s also a great lake for chilling. Set up a towel on one of the sandy beaches or docks and enjoy a cool beverage while people watching.
Nevada — Lake Tahoe
Although this could easily have made the California entry as well, we are considering it a Nevada one to avoid doubling up. But it’s cool in either state. Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in the entire continent of North America. It’s 191 square miles, and it falls only behind the Great Lakes when it comes to the largest lakes by volume. In addition, it is the second deepest one in the country. These stats make it an ideal setting for every type of water sport — though stand up paddle boarding and kayaking have become the most popular pastimes in recent years. Lake Tahoe is also host to one of the most respected wooden boat shows in the United States. There are tons of other events as well, like firework shows over the water, guided cruises, and sailboat racing. Plus, lots of bar and restaurant options in the area.
Pro-tip: Lake Tahoe has a party zone called Zephyr Cove, which boasts an annual hot body contest, a beachside bar, and sand volleyball. You might even find a DJ spinning on the water. The floating fiestas never stop in this South Lake Tahoe paradise.
New Hampshire — Lonesome Lake
A lot of the lakes on this list are easy to reach and kick back in, Lonesome Lake is not that. This 12.2-acre body of water is only reachable via hiking trails. The Appalachian Trail passes at its outlet, and there’s an Appalachian Mountain Club hut next to Lonesome Lake. But it’s not just a shack. This “hut” is like a hostel with a large dining room where scratch-made breakfasts and dinners are served during summer and fall. It’s open year-round and people who show up during other seasons are welcome to bring their own food. A caretaker is there to let you in and help you. If you opt to spend the night, there are co-ed bunkrooms and washrooms — but don’t expect heating or lighting. It’s headlamp time.
Pro-tip: This is an ideal lake for a cooling plunge after a vigorous hike. Let the chill waters relieve the burning in your thighs. Because you have to hike to get to the water, this lake doesn’t get as much traffic, but the people who do make it here are more adventurous and cooler than most.
New Jersey — Lake Hopatcong
With a surface area of four square miles, Lake Hopatcong is the largest freshwater body in its state. You know what they say, “small state, small lake.” The lake’s proximity to the Delaware Water Gap and New York City means its 45 miles of shoreline gets a lot of visitors. When things get warm, expect to find the restaurants, beaches, and marinas crowded. One fun aspect of the lake is that it’s one of the only bodies of water in the state that boasts eateries accessible by boat. Just float up to the dock, grab some grub, and get back on the water right away.
Pro-tip: This lake is largely residential these days, so you do have to stick to public access points like Hopatcong State Park and Lee’s County Park Marina. But there’s still plenty of shore left to have a ton of fun, so don’t worry.
New Mexico — Elephant Butte Lake
This reservoir on the Rio Grande is only the 84th largest man-made lake in the US, so it doesn’t seem that big, but it is the largest by total surface area and peak volume in the state of New Mexico. At 36,500 acres, the lake definitely has room for a lot of people to pour in and have a good time. And they do. As soon as the weather gets warm, expect carloads of people with music blasting to arrive one after the other. People looking to jet ski, float on pontoons, and make friends. However, drought and dismal snowpack in recent years have left the lake at a very low capacity, so always check to see if water sports are an option when you go.
Pro-tip: We can’t claim that a visit to this lake will end with you discovering a dinosaur fossil, but it’s possible. In 2014, a bachelor party discovered a stegomastadon skull right below the surface of the sand, and it was in stellar condition. Now, it sits in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. See? Partying is good for science.
New York — Keuka Lake
One of the Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake distinguishes itself by being the only one that flows both north and south. It has a surface area of 11,730 acres — which makes it fairly sizable. People rush to this area of the state for the gorgeous lake, but also because of the Keuka Lake Wine Trail — a dozen or so local wineries that travelers can visit to do tastings and purchase bottles. As such, having a little vino while grabbing some rays on a boat or a dock is common practice. After all, the Finger Lakes region is the largest and most well-known wine producing area in the eastern part of the country.
Pro-tip: The 60-mile shoreline is largely residential, but there are a few parks (including one state park), some camps, a grip of first-rate restaurants, lodging options, and lots of boat launchers, as well. It is everything you need for a fun day at the lake or a weekend away.
North Carolina — Lake Norman
The largest manmade body of fresh water in the state, Lake Norman has a surface area of roughly 50.8 square miles. This body of water has all of the markers associated with a dope lake, including marinas, yacht clubs, and boat rentals and an absence of horsepower and speed limits. There are also a ton of opportunities to hop into the sparkling waters and canoe, kayak, paddleboard, and wakeboard. But we can’t get past Normie, the Lake Norman Monster. Sightings date back as early as 1996 and mirror the reports associated with the Loch Ness Monster of Scotland.
Pro-tip: Lake Norman State Park has a bathhouse complex and 125-yard long swim beach with a boat ramp, which makes it a pretty ideal place to set up camp at one of the 32 sites in the park. When you aren’t in the water, try the 30.5 miles of single-track mountain biking trail.
North Dakota — Lake Sakakawea
Yet another lake that comes in as the largest man-made one in its state, Lake Sakakawea has a surface area of 307,000 acres and stretches over a massive six counties. It is also the second largest lake in the country by area and the third largest by volume. It’s huge, which means that you can fulfill practically all of vour lakely desires. Seriously, it has more shoreline than the entire California Pacific Coast. There are a bunch of access points, plenty of places to drop anchor, and no reason not to spend the day as an angler, swimmer, boater, hiker, or camper. We recommend hitting up Lake Sakakawea State Park and using their swim beach, sand volleyball courts, and full-service marina.
Pro-tip: North Dakota has fabled strong winds (it’s a leading state in wind power generation), and Lake Sakakawea is a great place for windsurfers and sailboaters to take advantage of them.
Ohio — Lake Erie
Alright, we have to acknowledge that Lake Erie is giant, and as the 11th largest lake on Earth (in terms of the surface area) covering every one of its rad beaches on this list would be fairly difficult. So we’re going to cover the part of Lake Erie near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, a hugely popular summer resort and recreation destination on South Bass Island. When the weather is nice, streets fill with wild millennials looking to party, and we wish you good luck trying to find a place to stay even though the village has one of the world’s largest hotels, the Hotel Victory.
Pro-tip: One estimate places the number of shipwrecks in Lake Erie at 1,400 to 8,000, so diving is a popular pastime among people who like a bit of history and adventure. Some approximate Lake Erie holds 25 percent of all the wrecks in the Great Lakes and others claim there are more wrecks per square mile than any other freshwater locale. If you dive, this is the lake for you.
Oklahoma — Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees
Often shortened to Grand Lake, Grand Lake o’ the Cherokees boasts a surface area of 46,500 acres and sits in the Ozark Mountain Range in the northeastern part of the state. When the Pensacola Dam was completed in 1940, the lake was created and it remains one of the most beautiful lakes in the state. Since the lake was established, a tour boat called the Cherokee Queen has operated, and it’s fun if you’re looking for a break from hanging on the beach and diving off of boats. Why not do something a little kitschy? If you opt instead to boat on your own, consider a sailboat. The northeast to southwest orientation of the lake is perfect for getting winds to billow your sails.
Pro-tip: There are five state parks on the gorgeous shoreline, so there are just as many recreation activities on the land as on the water. We like the Cherokee Area at Grand Lake State Park, which has a 9-hole golf course. Though they don’t serve beer there, you can bring in your own alcoholic beverages as long as they aren’t in glass containers, and you can borrow a cooler from the pro-shop while there.
Oregon — Timothy Lake
Before 1956, Timothy Lake didn’t exist. It took Portland General Electric constructing a dam on the Oak Grove Fork Clackamas River to bring it into being. And in many ways, it matches the other lakes, even the natural ones in the Oregon Cascades. Visitors get a great mountain view from the cool, clear waters, there are bunches of recreation opportunities, and there’s no shortage of opportunities to be blown away by the amazing Pacific Northwest. Visitors can enjoy a day kayaking or canoeing (both of which are ideal activities at this locale), and standup paddleboards are on the rise. Sailboats and motorboats (there’s a 10 mph speed limit) aren’t quite as common, but inflatable watercraft are.
Regardless of your watery sport of choice, try to camp at the lake if you can. One of the pluses of the campgrounds around the lake being on the south and west shores is that you get the best views of Mount Hood. Take tons of pictures.
Pro-tip: Definitely take time off the water to hit the Timothy Lake Trail, South Shore Trail, or Pacific Crest Trail, all of which run by the lake. After getting through with a moderate hike, chilling by the lake feels perfect.
Pennsylvania — Dutch Springs
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My scuba buddy Larry Cohen and I officially opened scuba season at Dutch Springs, Bethlehem, PA. I’m looking forward to diving all over the world this year. #scubadivingworlds #dutchsprings #scubadiving #scuba #scubadivingmag #scubadiver #scubadive #scubashooters #scubadivinglife #scubalove #rebreather #rebreatherdiving
Dutch Springs is a spring-fed lake with a bit of interesting history. Starting in 1933, the National Portland Cement Company purchased the land on which the lake sits and started mining limestone and manufacturing cement. Over time, the quarry started filling with water that had to be pumped out on a continuous basis. When the company shut down in the 1970s, the quarry filled with water. It wasn’t until 1980 that the land was purchased and turned into a freshwater diving facility. Now, it is a must-visit lake for scuba divers of all levels. If you visit and go diving, there’s a chance to see submerged aircraft, as well as a school bus, fire truck, and a trolley. And if you aren’t a diver but want to become one, you can take an introductory program.
Pro-tip: It is worth noting Dutch Springs has a series of admission fees that vary based on the activities you choose to participate in, so plan ahead. Also, be prepared to see someone dressed as a mermaid swimming in the water. Just go with it.
Rhode Island — Watchaug Pond
Technically, Watchaug Pond is a kettle pond, which is what it’s called when blocks of dead ice get surrounded by sediment and create a depression that fills with a lake. So based on that, we consider it a fair entry. One of the largest freshwater bodies of water in the state, it’s super popular when the weather turns warm, so visitors should expect it to be packed from midday onward. Though the pond covers 573 acres, the only the beach open to the public is at Sanctuary Road Picnic Grove. Although, you can also access the water if you opt to camp at one of the campsites that dot the shore. Burlingame State Park is a good option, as it has a beach.
Pro-tip: The water of this lake gets rather warm when the weather is hot, so don’t expect to shiver your butt off when you do take the plunge on an 80-degree day. And though there are boat launches, there is barely any motorized traffic, so you don’t need to steer clear of speedboats should you have a few drinks and decide to kayak or do the backstroke.
South Carolina — Lake Jocassee
Visitors to the 7,565-acre Lake Jocasse can thank the Appalachian mountain rivers for the cool, clear water that fills the reservoir throughout the year. It’s another manmade lake that only dates back to 1973 when Duke Power constructed the Jocassee Dam. What makes it particularly cool is that the flooding that created the lake happened in an area that had a lot of structures. In fact, the Mount Carmel Baptist Church that served as a setting in the film Deliverance was covered by 130 feet of water when the lake was formed. And though most of the structures were demolished before the area flooded, some divers recently discovered a lodge sitting under 300 feet of water. It remained intact and certainly makes for an awesome bit of scuba diving.
Protip: Devil’s Fork State Park is the only public access point for the lake, so consider grabbing a campsite and making a full vacation out of your lake visit, which has been called both “South Carolina’s Little Switzerland” and “Lake Tahoe to the East.”
South Dakota — Sylvan Lake
Among the five Custer State Park lakes, Sylvan Lake is probably the most recognizable. Photographers, influencers, and artists love to capture it, but it was National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets that cemented it in a lot of people’s minds. Although locals may bristle a little at its use because the film made it look like the lake is directly behind Mount Rushmore when it’s really about five miles away.
Because the lake has been popular for an extensive span of time (it was created by the building of a dam in 1881), it has everything visitors could want from a lake. There are lodgings and restaurants for people looking to have more of a vacation. But there’s also a swimming beach and boat rentals where people can snap up a canoe, paddle boat, or other watercraft. Be aware that the lake does not permit motorized crafts.
Pro-tip: The beach at Sylvan Lake is awesome. You have the beautiful lake, but there are also many, many pine trees and some huge boulders that are both great for jumping off of. There’s usually plenty of room to splash about, but on sunny days, a lot of people come out so it’s a great place to meet people.
Tennessee — Dale Hollow Reservoir
Situated on the Kentucky/Tennessee border, this lake was formed by the damming of the Obey River. It boasts 27,700 acres of water and considered a premier location for fishing. The lake produced the largest smallmouth bass ever taken for a world record and set the Tennessee record for the size of a Lake Trout. And if trout size isn’t your thing, it’s also beloved by scuba divers, many of whom dig diving under the cool water to see the Old Willow Grove Schoolhouse which was covered when the lake was created in 1942. Other popular spots include the banks of Ashburn Creek, Diver’s Rock, and the cliffs at Pleasant Grove.
Pro-tip: If you decide to camp here, you should consider doing it at Geiger Island where there is a primitive camping site run by the Army Corps of Engineers. In the summer, a lot of people reserve spots on the island so make your plans ahead of time to avoid missing out.
Texas — Lake Travis
We’ve said this a lot, but it’s true: this lake is big. With over 271 miles of shoreline and a surface area of 18,929 acres, this pride of the Central Texas Highland Lake is the single most visited freshwater recreational vacation destination in the state. There are a lot of draws to the body of water, including the limestone bed which creates crystal clear blue waters. If you’re visiting for the day, consider using one of the many parks along the shore as a home base. They have places for picnicking, grilling, hiking, and swimming. Plus, there’s boat ramp access. And if you don’t have a boat of your own, you can rent houseboats, pontoon boats, party barges, jet skis, wave runners, sailboats, and boats for skiing, wakeboarding, and wakesurfing.
Pro-tip: We love Hippie Hollow Park, a recreational area that permits nude sunbathing and swimming. It’s on the eastern end of the lake and has distinguished itself as the only legal clothing-optional park in Texas.
Utah — Lake Powell
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Just got back to civilization after a 6 day pack rafting trip thru Grand Staircase Escalante and Glen Canyon. It was the perfect way to welcome summer… days in the water, and nights cooking by the fire under canyon walls. w/ @jess.wandering @minayounglee @juusoringman using @kokopellipackraft 🚣🏾♂️🚣🏻♀️🚣🏾♂️
Lake Powell is a reservoir that sits on the Utah/Arizona border, and it’s a super sought-after vacation destination with roughly two million people visiting a year. And there’s plenty of room for them, as this sizable body of water boasts a surface area of 161,390 acres and is the second largest man-made reservoir in the country. Though the number one largest, Lake Mead, does occasionally drop below Lake Powel due to high water withdrawals.
If you cruise the internet looking for a pic of Lake Powell, you may find that it looks very, very familiar as it has served as a shooting location for 45 films and television series, including Planet of the Apes (both the 1968 and 2001 versions), Gravity, and John Carter. The Rainbow Bridge Natural Monument is also a recognizable landmark as it is the world’s largest natural bridge. The same red rock views that greet travelers to nearby parks are part of the reason Lake Powell is often called, “America’s lost national park.”
Pro-tip: Access to the lake varies with the water level, so be sure to check with the national park service before you head out to get wet. They can let you know about current conditions and marina availability.
Vermont — Lake Champlain
A majestic lake that served as a primary industrial and commercial thoroughfare between the United States and Quebec, Lake Champlain straddles the borders of New York, Vermont, and Quebec. These days, it is a beautiful destination popular among tourists. One of the major draws is the more than 300 shipwrecks beneath its surface. Divers dip under the surface searching for the remains of both Revolutionary War battleships and modern airplanes. Other visitors opt to spend their days in the sun leaping from the rocky heights of the cliffs that rim the lake into its crisp blue waters. With a background of both the soaring Adirondacks and the Green Mountains — this watery oasis has an aesthetic that is perfect for nature photography as well.
Pro-tip: There are more than 50 Champlain Area Trails for people to explore when they aren’t in or on the water, and a number of Vermont parks make for great access points to the lake. Check out the beach at Sand Bar State Park with its 2,000-foot natural beach and kayak rentals. Or consider camping at Grand Isle State Park.
Virginia — Philpott Lake
This reservoir in Virginia was created by the installation of Philpott Dam, which was created to control flooding on Smith River in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It has a relatively small surface area, but it also sits in 20,000 acres of unspoiled nature with the lake’s steep, rugged banks and beautiful forests filled with maple, oak, hickory, cedar, and pine. The lake’s surrounding area also contains six swim beaches, eight campgrounds, and nine boat launches.
Pro-tip: One of the things that make Philpott Lake so special is that much of the shoreline is undeveloped. That isn’t the case with a lot of these lakes. What it means in this instance is that the views are spectacular and beg to be photographed. Seriously consider doing some kayaking or canoeing so you can appreciate large swaths of the shore.
Washington — Lake Washington
If you think parking lots are the only place to tailgate, let Lake Washington change your mind. This large freshwater lake is the second largest in the state, and upon its shore sits the University of Washington’s football stadium, meaning the water can fill up with fans looking to expend some of their team spirit. The school also operates a boat rental facility in Union Bay where people can rent rowboats and canoes by the hour. People who are new to the area may have a good time on a Seattle Lake Cruise where they can learn about local history. They can also spot the homes of the rich and famous who live in the area.
Pro-tip: This lake has served as the location of the Seafair Log Boom, the largest floating party of the year. Boaters pull their crafts up and tie them to well-placed logs. Then, it’s time to mingle and watch as hydroplanes race at over 220 miles per hour and the Blue Angels fly overhead. All that and the world’s longest floating bridge? Sign us up.
West Virginia — Summersville Lake
Some lakes are perfect for having a beer (or several) while others are perfect for exploring nature. Summersville Lake, with its white water and stunning cliffs, is both. Thanks to the construction of the Summersville Dam, this 2,700-acre lake was created making it the largest in the state. In addition to the boating and fishing, this body of water is also known for its rock climbing. The lake is formed in the gorge of the Gauley River and it has one of the best concentrations of sport lines in the region.
Pro-tip: Scuba diving and snorkeling are also a big deal here. A boat was intentionally sunk under the lake, and that provides a point of interest to divers. In addition, Summersville Lake Lighthouse sits on the cliff and is the only working lighthouse in the state. It makes for great pics and is simply a cool landmark.
Wisconsin — Lake Monona
A freshwater drainage lake, this body of water is the second largest of a four-lake chain on the Yahara River. It also forms the south shore of the isthmus that creates downtown Madison. For trivia buffs: This is where Otis Redding died at 16 years of age when his plane crashed into the lake during a storm. The only passenger to survive was trumpeter Ben Cauley.
Pro-tip: The lake is good for boating, but we know that it’s an expensive recreational endeavor. That’s where the Lake Monona Sailing Club comes in. This not-for-profit, volunteer-based organization helps people maximize the opportunities of the lake by making sailing as easy and affordable as possible. They have two piers and welcome sailors of all skill levels. They have also sponsored sailboat races. It’s not like they hand out boats for free, but they do make boating accessible to locals who might not otherwise have the chance to sail.
Wyoming — Jenny Lake
This lake located in Grand Teton National Park dates back roughly 12,000 years when glaciers carved Cascade Canyon. Because it provides quick access to the primary climbing routes onto the highest peaks of the Teton range, offers scenic boat rides (there is a shuttle service across its waters), is one of two lakes in the area that permit motorboats, and is located near a bevy of hiking trails at all skill levels, it’s a huge focal point in the park.
The lake is split into South and North Jenny Lake. The north area is a bit quieter and has fewer visitors, but it also has a boat launch, a trailhead, and a picnic area, so it’s worth visiting. The south area has more amenities and serves as the home to some docks, campgrounds, a visitor center, and a ranger station.
Pro-tip: The glassy water begs you to rent a canoe or kayak and get rowing. Jenny Lake Boating is happy to provide you with a watercraft for a fee. If you aren’t down with driving or powering yourself, definitely take the aforementioned shuttle, which is one-part tour and one-part water taxi. It carries passengers from South Jenny Lake to the Cascade Canyon trailhead and gives plenty of chances to check out rad landmarks like Inspiration Point and Hidden Falls.