The Best Lake Town in Every U.S. State
Lake-town vacations are a timeless American tradition, one that involves barbecuing or picnicking on the shore, swimming in the refreshing waters and hanging on to dear life while tubing from the back of a boat.
With thousands of lakes of all sizes, the United States is one of the greatest lake-town destinations in the whole world. And the best part is that every single state has gorgeous lakes that you can enjoy, so you don't have to go too far to have a fluvial adventure.
This is the best lake town in every U.S. state, ranked from great to absolutely must visit.
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50. Nebraska: Ogallala
The Old West meets the American lake town in Ogallala. You'll get both the arid atmosphere that complements the historical wooden buildings and Lake McConaughy, the largest lake in the state.
Water activities abound on the lake, where you can water ski, swim, windsurf and even dive. There are also camping sites for those who want a rugged adventure.
Where to stay: Travelodge by Wyndham Ogallala
49. Delaware: Glasgow
Despite its size, Delaware has quite a bit of coastline, making it much more of a beach destination than a lake one. But if a lake is what your heart is set on, you'll want to visit Glasgow, which is set on Lums Pond, the largest freshwater pond in the state.
The pond is part of a state park that carries the same name, where you can enjoy water activities like kayaking, rowing and sailing. Swimming is, sadly, not allowed.
Where to stay: Baymont by Wyndham Newark at University of Delaware
48. North Dakota: Kenmare
Those looking to get away from everything and enjoy the serenity of the water will love Kenmare. The town is by the Des Lacs Lakes (which, funnily enough, means "the lakes lakes").
Historic houses lend charming looks to the town, but you won't find many things to distract you — which is oftentimes what you're looking for in a quality lake town.
Where to stay: Quilt Inn
47. Virginia: Clarksville
Clarksville sells itself as Virginia's only lakeside town. And while we don't fully trust the accuracy of this claim, we will say that it's definitely Virginia's best lakeside town.
Right on the shore of the expansive Lake Kerr, Clarksville attracts people from all over the state for boating, fishing and swimming. Camping and hiking are also popular activities. Throughout the year, the town hosts numerous festivals and fishing tournaments.
Where to stay: Waterfront Cottage
46. South Dakota: De Smet
Pretty little De Smet is most famous for being the home of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the inspiration for "Little House on the Prairie."
Besides, well, the prairie and all the obligatory historic houses tied to the famed books, De Smet is surrounded by several lakes, which bring an even more tranquil air to the town.
Where to stay: Prairie House Manor Bed and Breakfast
45. Mississippi: Oxford
Oxford is best known for being the home of Nobel Laureate William Faulkner and the home of the University of Mississippi. But did you know it's also a veritable lake town?
Sardis Lake covers about 98,500 acres, providing plenty of space for outdoor adventures that the whole family can enjoy. The best times to visit are spring and fall when the weather is temperate.
Where to stay: Chancellor's House Hotel
44. Maryland: Oakland
Deep Creek Lake is Maryland's largest body of water inland. So, if you don't want to go all the way to the ocean, you can still enjoy the water with a visit to Oakland.
The lake is surrounded by mountains and forests and even has sandy beaches and nice swimming spots. Water-skiing, jet-skiing, tubing and wakeboarding are some of the more exciting watersports people enjoy here.
Where to stay: Windsor House
43. South Carolina: Columbia
Though it's one of the best places to visit in South Carolina, Columbia often gets overlooked as a lakeside destination. But the state capital is near Lake Murray State Park, whose central focus is, of course, the lake.
The vast shoreline provides ample space for swimming without worrying about the crowds, though most people come here to do some boating. After a day on the lake, you can enjoy Southern food and visit some landmarks.
Where to stay: Hilton Garden Inn Columbia Airport
42. New Jersey: Hopatcong
Lake Hopatcong is the star of the town that carries its name, providing residents and visitors opportunities to go swimming and boating in the summer.
Besides the lake, you can visit a Gilded Age Castle right by the water or go to the even-more-random Wild West City theme park.
Where to stay: Days Inn by Wyndham Budd Lake
41. Georgia: Pine Mountain
At Pine Mountain, you have your choice of lakes. For the largest artificial sand beach in the world, head to Robin Lake. Located inside the Callaway Gardens, you'll be within a resort that has a golf course, bike trails, a spa and a butterfly habitat.
For something a bit more natural, check out F.D. Roosevelt State Park, which has hiking trails up and around Pine Mountain as well as Lake Delanor.
Where to stay: Lakefront Chalet
40. Alabama: Guntersville
A gateway to Lake Guntersville State Park, this small town offers many outdoor activities on and off the water.
When you're not hiking, swimming or ziplining (yes, you can do that here), go to Top O'The River for its famous catfish.
Where to stay: Wyndham Garden Lake Guntersville
39. Connecticut: Kent
Kent can best be described as "Gilmore Girl's" Stars Hollow with a lake. This small New England town sits on Lake Waramaug State Park and near Macedonia Brook State Park.
You'll get to connect with nature when you're not roaming around town wondering how a place can be so cute. Visit in the fall for gorgeous foliage.
Where to stay: Modern rental near Lake Waramaug
38. Tennessee: Morristown
For a lake getaway near Great Smoky Mountains National Park (the most popular national park in America), visit Morristown.
Besides access to the mountains, you'll be near Creek State Park and get to enjoy the town's picturesque historic district.
Where to stay: Days Inn by Wyndham Morristown
37. North Carolina: White Lake
White Lake is unique in that its sandy bottom is white.
The lake resort town keeps visitors coming back with its extreme water sports, like wakeboarding, water skiing and jet skiing.
Where to stay: Elizabethtown inn
36. Rhode Island: Glocester
For a small state, Rhode Island has a surprising concentration of beautiful nature. Take advantage of it in Glocester, which is near the Smith and Sayles Reservoir. For more fun by the water, head to nearby Pulaski State Park, which has its own pretty beach; or hike up Jerimoth Hill, the state's highest peak.
And if you want to do something relaxing, Mulberry Vineyards is a short drive away from town.
Where to stay: Cottage on lake
35. Kansas: Topeka
Most people don't think of the capital of Kansas as a lake town, which is a big mistake given its proximity to Lake Shawnee. The well-serviced body of water has something for everyone, with volleyball courts, a marina, fishing docks, campgrounds, tennis courts and lodges. Most importantly, it has a beach that comes with a water slide straight into the lake.
Back on dry land, you can explore Topeka's Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to learn about the landmark supreme court case that marked the beginning of desegregation in the country.
34. Illinois: Highland Park
A suburb of Chicago, Highland Park enjoys the shores of Lake Michigan and proximity to the city — without worrying about the noise and pollution.
Highland Park holds its own as a destination, too, with the calm Rosewood Beach, golf courses and Willits House, a Frank Lloyd Wright original.
33. Wisconsin: Port Washington
Port Washington stands out from Wisconsin's many, many lake towns for its unique opportunity to shipwreck dive in Lake Michigan. This alone makes it worth a visit — if you're not scared of diving in cold water or seeing shipwrecks.
The town also has a pretty beach and plenty of water activities besides diving.
32. Pennsylvania: Erie
Named after the Great Lake it sits upon, Erie is home to Presque Isle State Park, which has a long stretch of sandy beaches and several trails.
The park is this town's most attractive destination, but you can also visit museums like the Erie Maritime Museum and Erie Art Museum. People also enjoy Waldameer Park & Water World, but we don't fully get why you'd go to a water park when you can instead enjoy the 11th largest lake in the world.
31. New Mexico: Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa, nicknamed the "City of Natural Lakes," is literally an oasis in the Texan desert.
This Route 66 stop is home to Santa Rosa Lake State Park, where you can enjoy plenty of fun in the water, even in the dry land of southern Texas. We also highly recommend visiting the Blue Hole, a narrow swimming spot that's 81-feet deep.
30. Utah: Saratoga Springs
Utah has natural beauty to spare. But while most of its natural parks are farther south, you can enjoy still mountains and lakes in Saratoga Springs.
The town is located on Utah Lake, where the favored activity is boating, followed by a generous portion of BBQ.
29. Oklahoma: Broken Bow
Prepare to have all your preconceived notions of Oklahoma shattered. Beautiful Broken Bow is a gateway to Beavers Bend State Park, where you'll find the large lake that bears the town's name.
Water activities include boating, swimming and fishing, but you can also hike around the surrounding forest, which is home to bald eagles and black bears. For experienced riders, there is also the option of riding trails on horseback.
28. Iowa: Okoboji
Tiny Okoboji is the place people in Iowa don't want you to know about, lest they have to share this treasure with outsiders.
Part of the Iowa Great Lakes region, Okoboji is surrounded by five lakes, each of which offers different types of entertainment. You can do everything from swimming to parasailing. Don't forget to also seek thrills at Arnolds Park Amusement Park, complete with a roller coaster from the 1930s.
27. Arkansas: Mountain Home
It might be a bit of a contradiction, but there is no better way to admire the beauty of the Ozark Mountains than from a lake. And the best place to do so is in Mountain Home.
Located between Norfork Lake and Bull Shoals Lake, the town is a preferred lakeside getaway. Boating and swimming are the most popular activities, but trout fishing is also very popular. Outside of the water, the town is known for its antique and craft stores.
26. Michigan: Holland
Holland did not receive its unusual name for no reason. Committed to keeping Dutch culture alive, immigrants made this town feel as if it were in Europe.
The quaint town is on both Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan, which makes it ideal to visit during the summer. But if you come in May, you can enjoy the tulip festival and see colorful rows of flowers frame old windmills. You'll even find some Dutch-style canals here!
25. Ohio: Put-in-Bay
There are plenty of ways to visit the shores of Lake Erie, but perhaps the best is to stay on an island within the large lake.
Take a ferry to Put-in-Bay, a small island off of Port Clinton to get away from everything. Besides the lake, you can see Oak Point State Park or visit the island's wineries.
24. Indiana: Michigan City
Though located in Indiana, Michigan City is named after the Great Lake it borders. The town's main summer attraction are the long stretches of beach at Indiana Dunes National Park.
Stroll around the picturesque old town and shop at its small boutique shops, or get a photo of the pretty red-and-white lighthouse.
23. Louisiana: Breaux Ridge
If you love crawfish, you'll love Breaux Ridge, a town very proud of its "Crawfish Capital of the World" title. Besides crawfish and Cajun food, Lake Martin is the town's main attraction.
Birders also flock here to see the wide variety of majestic wading birds that nest in this area.
22. Montana: Bigfork
Another beautiful hybrid lake-and-mountain town is Bigfork. Visitors get both the Rocky Mountains and Flathead Lake, the largest lake in the state.
Though the town is small, you'll find plenty of nature-related things to do, but we strongly recommend simply taking in your surroundings without needing to keep busy.
21. Kentucky: Grand Rivers
Grand Rivers has fluvial landscapes that provide countless activities for fun in the water. Located right on Cumberland River, the town is also known as the gateway to Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, one of the largest in the country. As the name suggests, the area is made up of a long stretch of land between Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.
Besides water sports, you'll be able to participate in ATV riding, horseback riding, biking and hiking.
20. Hawaii: Hilo
Located on Big Island, Hilo is better known as a beach town, but it also sits right on Waiakea Pond, part of the Wailoa River State Recreation Area. Get yourself a town that can do it all.
You won't be able to swim in the pond, but you can get a permit for fly fishing and baitcasting, and you can also picnic and walk around the pleasant park. Other nearby things to do include visiting Rainbow Falls and lava rock pools. Or, if you want to go big, head to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, considered one of the best in the U.S.
19. West Virginia: Summersville
What screams "lake town" louder than a name like Summersville? A very popular summer getaway, this West Virginian town really makes you feel like you're in "almost heaven," as John Denver said.
You'll find a swimming beach, picnic areas and enough space for fun boat outings. Summersville Lake is also big enough that you can scuba dive in it.
18. Missouri: Osage Beach
Fans of the popular show "Ozark" have started making their way to Osage Beach, where the show is set. But before it gained national recognition, the town was a preferred lakeside getaway for Midwest residents.
If you come here, it's to spend the entire day in the water and take in the beauty of the Ozarks. But if you're not completely spent by nighttime, there are also plenty of small bars that come alive even during weekdays.
17. Arizona: Lake Havasu City
Sometimes, the noise of cities can drown out the beauty of being in a lake. This is definitely not the case with Lake Havasu City, which does its best to exalt the natural beauty of the body of water for which it's named.
Besides all the usual fun water activities you can enjoy in Lake Havasu State Park, the city boasts attractions like London Bridge, which was dismantled and brought all the way from England.
During late spring to early fall, you'll also get the chance to ride a hot-air balloon over the city and take in the lake and its surroundings.
16. Vermont: Burlington
Considered one of the best destinations in Vermont, Burlington is a bustling college town where you'll find breweries, theaters and mountains.
You'll also be right on large Lake Champlain, which is the center of most summer activities in the city.
15. Colorado: Grand Lake
Grand Lake may be tiny, but it is the gateway to two things that definitely aren't: Rocky Mountain National Park and Shadow Mountain Lake. Ironically, Grand Lake isn't very large, but that doesn't take away from its beauty.
This is one lake town that is more popular in the winter than in the summer. For one, you'll have great skiing, but you can also enjoy the frozen lake by participating in hockey, ice skating and ice fishing.
14. Nevada: Henderson
Henderson is best known for being a suburb of rowdy Vegas.
What we love about the city is that it's close enough to the action that you can go into Sin City and indulge as much as you want. But, if you ever get tired of it, you can just as easily hop over to Lake Mead, Lake Mojave or the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
It's really the best of both worlds.
13. Texas: Austin
OK, we're pushing the whole "town" thing a bit far with Austin, but few other cities in the country take as much advantage of its lakes as Austin does.
Heading out to Lady Bird Lake is one of the most popular things to do in the city, especially since it's conveniently located right Downtown. Another place to enjoy the water is the Barton Springs Pool, which is filled with natural water.
And for bigger lake activities, Lake Travis is only a 30-minute drive outside of town.
12. Florida: Ocala
Did you know that Florida has its own lake county? That's right, the state is much more than pretty beaches and gator-filled rivers. In Ocala, you'll have access to Silver Springs State Park, where you'll kayak or swim through bright blue water and, very possibly, see gentle manatees.
The city is also right next to Ocala National Forest, whose lakes have white-sand beaches, and Indian Lake State Forest.
11. New Hampshire: Meredith
A perfect New England town, charming Meredith has welcomed summer vacationers for about 150 years.
Weirs Beach and the town's boardwalk are must-dos, as is Mills Falls Market, where you'll find great food.
10. Washington: Chelan
Visitors are drawn to Chelan for many reasons. One of them is Lake Chelan, Washington's largest lake, which is also a gateway into North Cascades National Park.
Fishing is particularly popular, with plenty of lake and rainbow trout to keep you busy. But hiking and boating also bring people in as well as the several vineyards surrounding the town that offer another way to relax.
9. Minnesota: Grand Marais
Grand Marais constantly makes it onto lists of the best lake towns in the U.S. Blessed with a front-row seat to the majestic Lake Superior, the town's waterfront is really its piece de resistance.
During summer, there are also art festivals that showcase Grand Marais' active artist community.
8. Massachussetts: Pittsfield
Nestled in the heart of the Berkshires, Pittsfield reigns as both a gorgeous lake and mountain town. It's known for Onota Lake, where large mansions welcome people in the summer to provide direct access to water-skiing, sailing, fishing and swimming.
You'll also be surrounded by numerous mountains and forests, including Pittsfield State Forest and Mass Audubon's Pleasant Valley Wildlife Sanctuary.
7. New York: Lake George
Founded in the 19th century, Lake George is reminiscent of the great vacation towns of the Adirondacks.
You'll still see historic buildings beautifying the town, whose population swells in the summer as people go upstate to surround themselves with nature. For an uncommon but fun experience, board a steamboat tour on the lake.
6. Maine: Greenville
A visit to Greenville revolves around the magnificent Moosehead Lake, the second-largest in the region.
Hiking is every bit as beautiful as you'd imagine, especially in the summer, where Maine enjoys perfect balmy weather, or during the fall, when the world is bursting with color.
5. Oregon: Klamath Falls
As the gateway to Crater Lake National Park, Klamath Falls is the best place to stay if you want to see the ninth deepest lake in the world.
Besides the beautiful and deceptively deep Crater Lake, the town is next to Upper Klamath Lake, a large body of water that offers plenty of fun recreational activities.
4. Wyoming: Jackson
Yes, it's expensive, and yes, it has too many tourists, but neither of those things take away from the sheer magic of Jackson.
Yellowstone's most popular gateway is a town surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. You'll also be able to reach Grand Teton National Park.
When you're not out in nature wondering how the landscape can be real, you can see pieces by Georgia O'Keeffe and Andy Warhol at the Museum of Wildlife Arts. In winter, you may not be able to swim in the nearby lakes, but you'll get access to premium skiing.
3. Alaska: Talkeetna
How do we even begin to describe how awesome Talkeetna is? First of all, this Alaskan town has a reputation for being quirky in a state that often feels like it's on a different planet. Talkeetna is also at the foot of Mt. McKinley in Denali National Park. The mountain is the highest peak in North America — but, you know, no biggie.
But because Talkeetna is not a town to slack, it also has three rivers and several lakes. Trust us, even with less than 1,250 people, you will never be bored here.
2. Idaho: Bayview
Another unique lake town not many people know about, Bayview stands out from the competition by being completely on Lake Pend Oreille.
The floating town showcases historical homes, most of which are from the late 19th century, originally having been built as fishing sacks. And if you ever want to leave the water, you'll be right near the entrance of the Coeur d'Alene Mountains.
1. California: South Lake Tahoe
In pictures, Lake Tahoe looks surreal. In person, it's even better. The clear lake displays giant boulders at its bottom, which are perfectly visible to swimmers and kayakers from above.
A year-round destination, we suggest heading to South Lake Tahoe, where you'll find both well-serviced beaches in the summer and good ski resorts in the winter.