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Two people kayaking on a lake on a sunny day
Jacob Lund | Adobe Stock

The 10 Best Lake Vacation Destinations in the U.S.

SmarterTravel

There’s something so relaxing about a lake getaway, where your only concern is whether to go for a boat ride or a swim. Here are ten of the best lake vacation destinations in the U.S. where you can escape civilization (and summer humidity and stress) and just look out peacefully on the water. For each picturesque spot, we’ve tracked down the perfect vacation rental so you can stop planning and start relaxing immediately. 

Flathead Lake, Montana

Montana’s Flathead Lake is stunningly beautiful, and there’s miles and miles of shoreline to explore (185 miles, to be exact). Besides swimming, boating, and watersports, you can find roadside stands with locally grown cherries and plan a trip to see bighorn sheep and horses on Wild Horse Island. Head into town for art galleries, boutiques, and distilleries at Bigfork, or plan a big excursion to Glacier National Park, just 40 miles away. 

Group kayaking on Flathead Lake, Montana
Danita Delimont | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: This luxurious four-bedroom house is all about cutting-edge contemporary style, with big windows for lake views and a rooftop deck. 10 guests can sleep here and take advantage of amenities like a gourmet kitchen, gas fireplace, heated floors in the bathrooms, and a boat dock and sun dock on the lake.

Two-story vacation rental near Flathead Lake, Montana
Hosted by Kody & Brittin | VRBO

Lake Superior, Michigan

Ten percent of the world’s surface fresh water can be found in Lake Superior, judged to be the largest freshwater lake by surface on the planet. Needless to say, there are so many ways to explore Lake Superior but one great option is via the town of Marquette in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. You can hike to waterfalls or up mountains like Mt. Marquette and then visit lighthouses (Stannard Rock is said to be “the loneliest place in North America.”) Water-based adventures include diving off 15-foot cliffs into crystal-clear waters at Presque Isle Park or scuba diving though shipwrecks at Marquette Underwater Preserve.

Red house by Lake Superior, Michigan
Kenneth Keifer | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: For a secluded getaway for up to five guests, check out this two-bedroom home located 12 miles from downtown Marquette’s breweries and restaurants. You can walk to 200 feet of sugar sand beach on Lake Superior from the cabin, which includes a detached two-car garage. There’s a deck equipped with grills for barbecues, and a fire pit for toasting marshmallows. This is a good spot for day trips to Michigan’s famed Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

Hosted by Joe Erdmann | VRBO

Lake Havasu, Arizona

Palm trees, year-round warm weather, and dramatic rock formations make Lake Havasu a more unique lake vacation than the typical woodsy destination. This Arizona desert oasis features sandy public beaches, bars and nightclubs, wildlife refuges, and even the original London Bridge (purchased from England in the 1960s and transported to a canal in Lake Havasu City). 

Boats in an inlet off of Lake Havasu, Arizona
levifrench.photo | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: If you want to spend all your time on a boat in Lake Havasu, this homey rental with lake views and a nearby boat launch ramp could be ideal. The two-bedroom house sleeps four, and features bright white decor and a front porch with a firepit. There’s a community pool and hot tub you can use too.

Hosted by kathryn Hicks | VRBO

Lake Coeur D’Alene, Idaho

Unspoiled natural beauty is what draws visitors to Idaho, and Lake Coeur D’Alene is no exception. Activities during your vacation could involve spotting bald eagles on the 135 miles of shoreline, taking in a street fair at downtown Coeur D’Alene, hiking at Tubbs Hill, and riding along trestles on the Hiawatha Scenic Bike Trail. Golfers should check out the world’s only floating green located right on the lake at Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course.

Pier in Lake Coeur D'Alene, Idaho
Hanjo | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: Go for a relaxing swim in a no-wake zone on the lake at this three-bedroom lakehouse in Rockford Bay that sleeps eight guests. There are two levels of outdoor decks overlooking Lake Coeur D’Alene and massive windows for picturesque views. Inside, find new furnishings and all the amenities you would need for a weeklong vacation, like a laundry room, a fully-equipped kitchen, and a wood-burning stove. 

VRBO

Lake Lure, North Carolina

Lake Lure, silhouetted against North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, is so charming that it has served as the background for many movies. The town even puts on an annual “Dirty Dancing” festival to celebrate the most famous film set at Lake Lure. There’s a sandy public beach, and the marina and boardwalk just completed a renovation in 2020. Besides water activities, hiking, mountain biking, and more, don’t miss the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, a former highway that’s now a 155-foot garden. Combine a lake vacation with a visit to booming brewery town Asheville, located less than 30 miles away.

Boats on Lake Lure, North Carolina
jonbilous | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: This two-bedroom home is the quintessential log cabin of your lake vacation dreams, with a stone fireplace and wood paneling everywhere. There’s a well-appointed kitchen for cooking up family meals, and the deck is equipped with a hot tub. Read a book in the hammock outside or take the kayaks out on the water.  

Hosted by Mr. Lake Lure Vacation Rentals | VRBO

Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California

An iconic destination, Lake Tahoe draws in skiers, hikers, and sunbathers all year round. The area’s ski resorts are beloved for the quality of the powder, but Lake Tahoe’s also known for its sandy beaches and clear blue waters. Take a walk in Emerald Bay State Park, and work up an appetite to check out the thriving food scene (or try your luck at casinos on the Nevada side of the lake). 

Lake Tahoe
tusharkoley | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: If you want to splurge during your Lake Tahoe trip, this three-bedroom cabin on Tahoe’s West Shore is worthy of a design magazine spread. The two-story lake house sleeps eight, and features a gourmet kitchen, linear gas fireplace, detached guest house, and spa-like bathrooms. Take in the gorgeous views from floor-to-ceiling windows or the deck, and then hit the hot tub.

Hosted by Natural Retreats | VRBO

Kentucky Lake, Kentucky/Tennessee

This large, manmade lake straddling Kentucky and Tennessee is famous for its fishing, including crappie, bass, bluegill, and catfish. Besides boating and water activities, there are biking trails for road bike enthusiasts and families alike, along with lots of hiking opportunities. 

Two people kayaking on Kentucky Lake
Patrick Jennings | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: Choose between kayaks, a pedal boat, or paddle boards at this remote waterfront home with its own private dock. The spacious and nicely-furnished lakehouse sleeps up to 14 with three bathrooms. Kids will love all the games like darts, ping pong, and corn hole, while adults will appreciate relaxing in the screened-in porch complete with hammock and porch swing.  

Hosted by Denise Downs | VRBO

Moosehead Lake, Maine

The largest lake in Maine gets its name from its shape, as the meandering banks are said to resemble antlers. This beautiful, quiet spot is great for fishing (ice fishing and otherwise). Take a Moosehead Lake cruise on Steamboat Katahdin or even hire a guide for a “moose safari” to find the lake’s namesake.

Moosehead Lake, Maine
Brandon Schultz | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: Wade into Moosehead Lake via a private pebble beach at this rustic, two-bedroom cabin on a large lot. The view here is as serene as it gets, and there are kayaks for getting out on the water. Make breakfast in the dishwasher-equipped kitchen, and toast s’mores in an outdoor stone fireplace. The cabin is eight miles from downtown Greenville, in case you get sick of cooking.

Hosted by Vacasa of Maine | VRBO

Canandaigua Lake, New York

New York’s Finger Lakes are a beautiful corner of the country, with rolling hills, farmland, and temperate summers. Another high point: this is wine country, with wineries dotting the lakes. Stay at Canandaigua Lake and explore neighboring lakes like Seneca or nature spots like Letchworth State Park, which is nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the East.” 

Boat houses on Canandaigua Lake, New York
RedBridge | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: This charming four-bedroom cottage is perched on “Fossil Beach,” where kids can hunt for rocks imprinted with ancient leaves or insects. Jump off the private dock or head out in a canoe, paddleboat, rowboat, or a kayak, with a firepit right on the water. Inside, there’s a spacious kitchen and a screened-in porch.

Hosted by Finger Lakes Premier Properties | VRBO

Grand Lake, Colorado

Colorado’s largest natural lake is Grand Lake: this alpine lake is a popular spot for boating, fishing, and horseback riding. It even has its own boardwalk with all locally-owned shops. Grand Lake is also nicknamed the “Western Gateway” to Rocky Mountain National Park, if you’d like to combine a lake vacation with a trip to this natural landmark.

Grand Lake, Colorado
S Quintans | Adobe Stock

Where to stay: For something quite unique, the “Roundhouse” in the town of Grand Lake is exactly as it sounds, with views of Grand Lake, Shadow Mountain Lake, and the mountains in all directions. The three-bedroom property sleeps eight, and is designed with wood-paneled walls and an open great room that’s perfect for quality family time.

Hosted by John Waller | VRBO

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