Best Lake Getaways in the U.S.
Lake towns have a special kind of magic. They’re at once relaxing retreats and bustling hubs for boating and water sports, making the lake an ideal destination for just about every kind of traveler.
Whether your style of lake living involves curling up with a good book on a hammock or water skiing from the back of a speedboat, these top lake towns promise to deliver.
Even better? These lake towns are affordable. Your next waterfront vacation need not break the bank. Read on to learn about the best ways to stay and play in the U.S.’s top lake towns.
They call Branson, Missouri, the Las Vegas of the Midwest, but don’t let that moniker fool you. Branson is a family-friendly oasis smack dab in the center of the country, and thanks to nearby lakes, you’ll never feel landlocked.
Table Rock Lake is one of the top attractions, with beaches, a marina and even scuba diving. Renew your fishing license and plan a trip to Lake Taneycomo for some of the best trout fishing in the country, or hop in the car to explore Bull Shoals Lake just a couple hours east of Branson.
Where to Stay in Branson
On Table Lake, The Village at Indian Point offers lakeside resort living with amenities that families will love, like spacious outdoor and indoor pools and a game room.
Lilleys' Landing Resort & Marina on Lake Taneycomo is a family-run resort set away from the hustle and bustle of Branson. Book a pontoon boat rental at the marina for a half- or full-day adventure on the lake, or try your hand at trout fishing right from the Lilleys’ Landing dock. The on-site tackle shop has everything you need, from rods to bait.
For a rustic retreat on Bull Shoals Lake, book a tent site, load up the RV or rent an RV at Bull Shoals-White River State Park. And don’t forget your waders—the park is a popular spot for trout fishing, as well as mountain biking and hiking.
Baraboo, Wisconsin, is often overshadowed by its flashier cousin to the north — the Wisconsin Dells — but for lake lovers, Baraboo is a gem in the center of the state.
Devil’s Lake State Park is the flagship attraction here, offering glacial sand beaches and top-notch rock climbing. Baraboo also has a kitschy past as a circus hub. If a rainy day keeps you off the lake, head over to Circus World to learn about the history of the Ringling Bros. Circus, which called Baraboo home between 1884 and 1918.
Where to Stay in Baraboo
Devil’s Lake State Park is one of the state’s most popular camping destinations, with tent sites, RV sites and even two teepee sites. Reserve your spot well in advance — during peak summer and fall months, the campsite is known to fill up quickly. Reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance.
For more conventional accommodations, you can stay at the Clarion Hotel and Convention Center or at Best Western Baraboo Inn.
No list of lake towns would be complete without representation from Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Just two hours north of the Twin Cities, the Brainerd Lakes area is home to more than 500 lakes, and the cities of Brainerd and Baxter are the region’s entertainment epicenter.
Aside from water sports, fishing, golf and trails to explore, the area is home to a handful of craft breweries, an auto race track and even a zip line tour — a pulse-pumping way to take in the ultimate view of the lakes below.
Where to Stay in Brainerd
The Brainerd Lakes area is home to an abundance of hotels, resorts, bed & breakfasts, campgrounds and vacation rentals. For a luxurious stay with a historic twist, book a room at the Grand View Lodge Spa & Golf Resort, a spa and golf resort. The lodge has been an institution since 1916, and today, visitors can rent cabins, townhomes, villas, cottages or suites with a north woods feel.
Traverse City, Michigan
Looking out on Lake Michigan can feel more like staring across an ocean than a lake. In Traverse City, it’s easy to forget you’re in the Midwest, with 180 miles of beaches to explore.
Just 40 minutes west of the city, you can escape into the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, a fine white-sand haven that was dubbed the “most beautiful place in America” by Good Morning America.
Wine enthusiasts will especially love exploring the Traverse Wine Coast, where two glacially formed peninsulas create ideal winemaking conditions, according to the Traverse City tourism board.
Where to Stay in Traverse City
The Grand Traverse Bay is dotted with dozens of hotels, resorts and vacation rentals. The Bayshore Resort offers a beachfront location that’s just a few steps away from some of the area’s best restaurants and attractions. This convenient home base for Traverse City exploration also provides jet ski and boat rentals in the summer through Sunset Watersports.
The family-run Oviatt House has a homier atmosphere. Innkeeper Julia Oviatt lives onsite with her family in the historic 1900 house located in Traverse City’s Old Town. Relax in your private room after mingling with the innkeeper and other guests over a glass of Michigan wine in the communal kitchen, and enjoy a fresh breakfast every morning, included with your stay.
Gardnerville Ranchos, Nevada
Located just across the California state line, Gardnerville Ranchos in Nevada is a stone’s throw from Lake Tahoe but offers a more laid-back vibe in the Eldorado National Forest.
The area is bestowed with both lake and mountain views, and the proximity to Eldorado Forest is attractive to adventure seekers. From hiking to fishing to cross-country skiing, a visit to the forest is a blissful retreat into nature for landlubbers and water worshippers alike.
The forest is also located near the original California gold discovery site, and even today it “boasts numerous gold-bearing rivers and streams,” according to the USDA Forest Service.
Where to Stay in Gardnerville Ranchos
To stay near or within the small community of Gardnerville Ranchos, log onto vacation rental sites like VRBO or Airbnb, where you’ll find cozy cottages and condominiums that make a comfortable home base for a lakeside retreat. Fully equipped kitchens and on-site laundry facilities are key for longer visits.
Looking for something a little more luxe? Head to the east side of Lake Tahoe and book a stay at The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe. Enjoy the alpine lakes and fresh mountain air from the comfort of your room with its own gas fireplace and private deck or terrace, or take a dip in the lakefront pool that’s heated year-round.
Port Clinton, Ohio
Port Clinton on Lake Erie is a hidden gem in the Midwest. This Great Lakes port town is home to boating companies like Miller Ferry, which runs frequent trips to the Lake Erie islands of Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass Island.
A day on Put-in-Bay is whatever you want it to be: Plan a trip to a winery or visit the Antique Car Museum. On Middle Bass Island, explore the Kuehnle State Wildlife Area and then treat yourself to a cold one at St. Hazards microbrewery.
Where to Stay in Port Clinton
The Island House Hotel in Port Clinton offers a smorgasbord of charm, history and convenience. Located just steps away from ferries, dining and nightlife, the hotel was originally built in 1870, then rebuilt in 1886 after a fire destroyed the original building. The hotel has hosted VIP guests including past presidents, Hollywood icons like Marilyn Monroe and baseball legend Babe Ruth.
To get even closer to the lake, look into vacation rentals in and around Port Clinton. Some rentals, like this one, come equipped with stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, jacuzzis, and beach and marina access. All you need to bring is yourself, your sunscreen and a well-stocked cooler.
Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
This northwest Idaho town on Lake Coeur d’Alene is just about 40 minutes from Spokane, Washington, but it’s worlds away from city living. Although Lake Coeur d’Alene is the undisputed star lake in the area, there are more than 55 lakes within driving distance of the town, according to the Coeur d’Alene Convention & Visitor Bureau.
Aquaphiles can enjoy boating, paddle boarding and other water sports on the lake, but if you don’t have equipment, don’t worry. Book a scenic cruise where you can sit back and admire the wildlife (and the lakefront homes).
For a quirky detour from the lake, visit Seven Stars Alpaca Ranch, just 15 minutes from Coeur d’Alene. Run by a couple that originally hails from Alaska, the ranch gives visitors a chance to get up close and personal with alpacas on guided tours.
Where to Stay in Coeur d'Alene
If you’re craving kitsch, book a room at the Flamingo Motel. The property takes guests back in time to the 1950s, with themed rooms like Golfer’s Paradise, Gone Fishin’ and Flamingo Beach (complete with decorative parrots perched on the walls).
For lodging right on the lake, plan a stay at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. For special occasions, book ahead to reserve a Lake Tower room with large picture windows overlooking the lake and a gas fireplace.
For large groups and private getaways, look into vacation rentals, like a beachside lake house located about 40 minutes from Coeur d’Alene.
Sonora offers small-town living at its finest, with a vibrant downtown brimming with boutiques, restaurants and galleries. Sonora also has an interesting history as a mining town during the Gold Rush, which visitors can explore in depth at the area’s three museums.
Sonora’s proximity to Yosemite provides direct access to the park’s lakes and rivers is challenging, and officials recommend admiring Yosemite’s natural water features from a distance. Before planning your visit, brush up on the National Park Service’s water safety tips for Yosemite.
Where to Stay in Sonora
Knowles Hill Bed and Breakfast is perched upon a rock overlooking Sonora and promises guests a trip back in time to the days of the Old West. The innkeepers—and their collection of pets, including two collies and a handful of cats—will make you feel right at home, with private rooms and suites furnished with period-appropriate decor and a home-cooked breakfast served each morning.
Wine aficionados should book a room at the Barretta Gardens Inn, a restored early-20th-century Victorian farmhouse that prides itself on composting all it scraps and keeping its own chickens for fresh eggs. With rooms named for wine varietals like merlot, tempranillo and zinfandel, guests can choose from an array of accommodations that include king, queen or twin beds.
Visit the nearby wineries for a more laid-back tasting experience (and fewer crowds) than you’ll encounter in Napa or Sonoma.
Head east of Knoxville into the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains and you’ll discover Sevierville, the birthplace of Dolly Parton and a scenic southern wonderland. For lake action, head to Douglas Lake, a 28,000-acre lake not far from Gatlinburg that’s tucked between the surrounding mountains and hills.
Fishing is the top attraction at Douglas Lake, drawing visitors from around the country in pursuit of largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill, depending on the time of year. Check ahead of time to see which fish are in season and to be sure you meet the Tennessee resident or non-resident requirements for a Douglas Lake fishing license.
Where to Stay in Sevierville
Using sites like VisitMySmokies.com, it’s easy to search for private cabins and chalets in Sevierville and the surrounding Smoky Mountain area. Filter your search by selecting features like pet-friendly accommodations, indoor jacuzzis or mountain views — if you can dream it, you can book it!
To stay right on the lake, plan a romantic getaway at Mountain Harbor Inn. Scope out the rooms ahead of time to see which suites include lake views, private jacuzzis or pet-friendly lodging. Bringing a boat? The inn offers boat slip rentals, or you can rent a pontoon, kayak, canoe, paddle board or paddle boat by the hour. And don’t forget to take advantage of the inn’s perks — every reservation includes a sunset cruise, candlelight dessert and hot breakfast.
Spirit Lake, Iowa
Think beyond cornfields: Northern Iowa is home to a chain of glacial lakes known as the Iowa Great Lakes, and they live up to the name. Spirit Lake’s amenities include beaches, fishing, hiking trails and campsites, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources provides a fishing report and forecast to help anglers plan their visit.
Head south from Spirit Lake and you’ll hit Lake Okoboji, which bills itself as “Iowa’s greatest vacation destination.” This summer hotspot is a mecca for boating and watersports, and it’s easy to see why revelers from around the region flock to the area to purchase summer homes.
Where to Stay in Spirit Lake
Vintage Block Inn & Suites in Okoboji is committed to the lake town motif, with reclaimed dock lumber used throughout the hotel as decor. Guest rooms vary in size, sleeping anywhere from two to 10 guests, making Vintage Block a flexible option for any size group. The hotel is also close to the action—walk just a half-block down the road and you’ll find the East Okoboji Boat Ramp.
For a serene stay in Spirit Lake, book a room at The Oakwood Inn, a Victorian estate with meticulously maintained gardens and rooms featuring fireplaces and whirlpools. The Oakwood Inn also hosts special seasonal events like a four-course Christmas Tea in December and a Fourth of July celebration and bonfire.
East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania
Located in the Pocono Mountains, this lake getaway makes a great escape for those living in New York or Philadelphia.
Nearby Lake Wallenpaupack is the largest lake to visit in the area, but other smaller ones like Crater Lake, Blue Mountain Lake, Monroe Lake, Analomink Lake and Lake Valhalla also beckon visitors to cool off in the warm summer months.
Where to Stay in East Stroudsburg
If you're not camping, there are several properties to stay throughout the Poconos. In East Stroudsburg, there's the Pocono Palace Resort.
And then a tad further northwest, there's Kalahari Resorts & Conventions and Camelback Resorts — both of which have indoor waterparks that make them destinations worth the trek in themselves.
Jamestown, New York
Upstate New York draws crowds in the summer, and Jamestown is at the heart of it all.
It's situated at the tip of 17-mile Chautauqua Lake as well as in close proximity to Lake Erie and other small bodies of water that are perfect for summer activities. Boating, canoeing and kayaking in what locals refer to as "The Outlet" — the couple miles of the Chadakoin River that connect Chautauqua Lake to Jamestown — keep families entertained for hours.
Where to Stay in Jamestown
There are several budget-friendly brand hotels like Holiday Inn Express and DoubleTree by Hilton in Jamestown that give guests a solid place to rest.
But if you want something a bit more charming, The Spencer Hotel and Spa in nearby Chautauqua is it. The only literary-themed hotel in the U.S., this resort was built in 1909 and features rooms inspired by Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare, among other literary greats.
Not surprisingly, the Land of 10,000 Lakes lands on this list again. This time, it's the summer resort town of Alexandria that attracts visitors to Douglas County, where there are at least 300 lakes alone.
Alexandria pays homage to its Viking roots with a 28-foot Viking statue that stands in the heart of town, which is located directly on Lakes Winona and Agnes, but nearby Lakes Carlos and Darling are other popular hotspots. If you want to stay out of the water, Lake Carlos State Park offers an abundance of hiking trails.
Where to Stay in Alexandria
There are several resorts and bed and breakfasts that visitors can enjoy throughout the area.
Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center, located on Lake Darling, offers a variety of accommodations, including guest rooms, suites, townhomes and cottages. Plus, an 18-hole golf course, indoor water park and horse stables provide a wide range of activities, while a full-service marina also offers boat and jetski rentals.
The freshwater Clear Lake — which some say is the oldest in all of North America and is the largest in the state — draws people to visit the Clearlake community a few hours north of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Known as the "Bass Capital of the West," Clearlake certainly attracts people to come and fish. But it's also popular for watersports like waterskiing, wakeboarding, sailing and jetskiing.
Where to Stay in Clearlake
While Clearlake has struggled, with several foreclosures after the 2008 financial crisis and wildfires over the past couple years, it's making a comeback.
In fact, the Konocti Harbor Resort in nearby Kelseyville, which reopened after closing its doors for some years.
Mountain Home, Arkansas
Located in the Ozark Mountains near the Missouri border, Mountain Home offers a summer oasis nearby Norfolk and Bull Shoals lakes. Norfolk covers about 22,000 acres, while Bull Shoals is an even larger 45,500.
Both are popular bass fishing spots, but, of course, are also home to lots of boating, waterskiing and swimming activities.
Where to Stay in Mountain Home
While there are certainly budget-friendly hotels to stay in Mountain Home, there are also several campgrounds and cabin rentals available throughout the region.
Bull Shoals-White River State Park, located along the shores of Bull Shoals Lake and the White River, has 113 camping sites and three Rent-An-RV sites. Plus, the park features a marina and visitor center with campfire-cooking demonstrations, trout fishing workshops and nature walks available to visitors.
While this is a pricier lake getaway, that's because it's popular in summer and winter. Lake Pend Oreille attracts visitors with its white-sandy beaches, while Schweitzer Mountain Resort (Idaho's largest ski resort) offers skiing during the colder months.
Plus, this town has quite an artsy community, with wineries, breweries and a music festival in August.
Where to Stay in Sandpoint
While the aforementioned Schweitzer Mountain Resort (located 11 miles from downtown) is an amazing year-round accommodation option, so is The Lodge at Sandpoint, which is situated directly on the lake.
The Lodge is a boutique property that features 29 guest rooms as well as two cabins and a small house. It puts travelers directly across the iconic Long Bridge from Sandpoint, with quick access to the many restaurants and activities in downtown.
Grove has become increasingly popular among retirees for those interested in lakeside living. This small town is surrounded on three sides by Grand Lake o' the Cherokees (known locally as Grand Lake), so it provides easy access to all the fun fishing and water sports.
And as the largest town on this Oklahoma lake, you can expect to find 50-plus restaurants, a casino and tons of summer events like drag boat races and sailing regattas.
Where to Stay in Grove
If you're looking to have lake fun all in one place, Eagles Landing Resort and Recreation really has it all. Choose from a variety of remodeled cabins that can accommodate various group sizes.
Apart from the lake activities, the resort's miniature golf course, pickleball court, horseshoes, cornhole boards and more provide endless entertainment.
Located on the southern shores of Lake Powell, Page provides the perfect stomping ground for long days on the lake or visiting nearby Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.
The second-largest manmade lake in the U.S., Lake Powell is particularly popular for the rocky cliffs that line its waters and provide natural jumping-off points.
Osage Beach, Missouri
Don't let Netflix's TV show, "Ozark," dissuade you from visiting Osage Beach, located in the heart of the Lake of the Ozarks.
With a surface area of 54,000 acres and 1,150 miles of shoreline, this lake is massive. Party types will want to make their way to Party Cove, one of the oldest established permanent floating parties in the country.
Where to Stay in Osage Beach
This place is so popular that Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville enterprise recently opened up shop here in place of the former Tan-Tar-A Resort.
The setting will surely put in you in the "it's 5 o'clock somewhere" state of mind.
Of course, you can always opt to stay in Austin nearby, but if you're going for a more small-town lake vibe, then Lakeway in Texas Hill Country is the place to be. Located on the southern shores of Lake Travis, this is lake living at its finest.
What started as a community for retirees or second-home vacation spots has quickly become a home to people who love the lake lifestyle. Tennis courts, golf courses, hiking and biking trails make it an excellent choice to live or visit.
Where to Stay in Lakeway
If you're looking for a place that has something to offer the entire family, Lakeway Resort and Spa is it. A pool playground, Kid Zone recreation center and boutique spa check all the boxes.
And don't forget to check out the nearby golf courses and wine country as well.
Bigfork is a waterfront village, situated along the northeastern shores of Flathead Lake. Its charming downtown, as well as several pubs and breweries, provide the perfect spot to hang out after a long day on the lake.
Check out Flathead Lake Brewing Co. for something local, especially its perfectly summery Montana Light Kolsch-Style Ale.
Where to Stay in Bigfork
Marina Cay Resort offers everything from accommodations to boat rentals, making it a convenient place to stay while visiting Flathead Lake.
The live music at its marina-side Tiki Bar doesn't disappoint either.
Laconia, New Hampshire
Laconia happens to be the busiest city on Lake Winnipesaukee, located in the Lakes Region at the foothills of the White Mountains. What makes this lake so unique is the 264 islands that dot the landscape. The lake has also set the scene for such films as “On Golden Pond” with Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda and “What About Bob?” with Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss.
While Laconia is somewhat sleepy in the offseason, it really livens up in the summer, attracting visitors from all over New England.
Where to Stay in Laconia
The Lake Opechee Inn and Spa is quite charming. The dog-friendly boutique property features 34 guest rooms, each with their own fireplace and many of which also have whirlpool tubs.
Plus, hotel staff can help set up many adventures from lake cruises to zip line tours to a scenic train ride.
Located along the southeast end of Lake Chelan, the city of the same name has a year-round population of about 4,000, but come summer, it’s about five times that. Visitors will love its historic Main Street, one of only 13 cities designated as a Washington State Main Street.
And Chelan Riverwalk Park is home to the Chelan Evening Farmer’s Market, which is open every Thursday evening during the summer.
Where to Stay in Chelan
One of the oldest and largest resorts on Chelan Lake is none other than Watson’s Harverene Resort. Some families have been vacationing here for five generations.
The resort offers a variety of rental units, including ones that can sleep up to 10 people.
Go to Las Vegas for the action and then unwind nearby in Henderson. Situated directly on Lake Las Vegas, Henderson also offers close proximity to Lake Mead and Lake Mohave.
The largest of the three is Lake Mead, which is a man-made lake that lies on the Colorado River. Beating out Lake Powell in 2013, Lake Mead is now the largest reservoir in the U.S. in terms of water capacity.
Where to Stay in Henderson
Part of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, Henderson offers similar casino resorts.
The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa is a mere four-minute walk from Lake Las Vegas and features a spa, pools and nearby golf for those looking to do something other than lake activities.
Lake Texoma is another reservoir that offers fun lake activities with a location that spans across the Oklahoma-Texas border.
While more of the lake is technically in Oklahoma, we like the resorts and marinas in Pottsboro such as Lighthouse Resort & Marina, which offers a wide range of boat rentals and activities. Think stand-up paddle boarding, kayak rentals, sailboat rentals and even a dinner cruise.
Where to Stay in Pottsboro
If you’re looking for space, look no further than Tanglewood Resort & Conference Center. Not only is it situated directly on the lake, but it also offers three pools, an 18-hole golf course, volleyball, basketball, horseshoes and tennis courts.
Let’s just say, there’s no getting bored here.
Lake George, New York
Located at the southern tip of the lake of the same name lies the town of Lake George. The entire Lake George area acts as a gateway to the Adirondack Mountains, and in the summer, it’s a haven for New Yorkers looking to hike, bike and cruise around the lake.
Beyond the lake, there are classic roller coasters and water slides for the kids (and adults) to enjoy as well as craft beers and local wines for the adults to taste.
Where to Stay in Lake George
Located right on the lake, Dunham’s Bay Resort provides guests immediate access to all the lake fun.
Or you can forget the lake and head to Roaring Brook Ranch Resort, where you’ll find a ranch property with 25 horses perfect for wilderness riding.
Venture a few hours north to Burlington, located on the shores of Lake Champlain. This popular city in Vermont is really the best of both worlds in that it offers small-town fun and lake-getaway relaxation.
Apart from getting out on the lake, you can bike the 14-mile Island Line trail along Lake Champlain. Or foodies can rejoice by making a visit to the farmers market every Saturday for some locally produced veggies, cheeses and baked goods. You can also try the Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Factory Tour or the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory tour.
OK, we admit that visiting a lake in Florida when the state offers some of the best seaside beaches in the country seems a little odd. But Lake Okeechobee in central Florida, often dubbed the state’s “inland sea,” is a freshwater paradise. It’s the country’s second-largest freshwater lake and is particularly popular among people who love to fish for its largemouth bass and speckled perch.
And Clewiston is no doubt the “sweetest” spot along the lake. It has a local sugar farm and mill that visitors can tour as well as the annual Sugar Festival in April.
Where to Stay in Clewiston
The Clewiston Inn has been serving lake-goers since 1938.
It definitely knows how to bring on the Southern charm, with antique chandeliers and exquisite wooden finishes throughout the property.