25 Best Small Lake Towns in the U.S.
Lake life is rich with simple pleasures. Summer entices with boating, swimming and various water sports. Year-round fishing brings anglers from all over to enjoy the bounty. Hiking trails provide an active escape into the wilderness, with lake views in the distance.
But it’s the small towns situated along these majestic lakes that deserve attention. Rustic cabins, swanky resorts, down-home dining, elevated cuisine, bustling breweries and historic downtowns thriving with art galleries, antique shops and boutiques add culture and dimension to the bodies of water nearby.
We’ve rounded up 25 small lake towns with populations of 10,000 or less for you to enjoy the beauty and peace you’re looking for in one of the thousands of lakes across the U.S.
25. Clinton, Tennessee
Where to stay: Hickory Star
Best time to visit: Come the first weekend in October to attend the Clinch River Antique Festival. Over 100 antique dealers line the streets, while food, entertainment and antique shops stay open for late night fun.
* All population numbers come from the latest census records.
The Experience: Clinton, Tennessee
Rated in the top 10 antiquing districts in the country, Historic Downtown Clinton oozes small town charm. Along with its antiques, collectibles and gifts, the area is rich in unique eateries like Hoskins Restaurant, which features an authentic 1940s soda fountain.
Meanwhile, the pristine beauty of Norris Lake is minutes away. A stay at Hickory Star provides topnotch access to the lake.
24. Lake Arrowhead, California
Where to stay: Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa
Best time to visit: Summer is by far the best time to visit this quaint lake town. Unlike winter, when the weather is very cold and partly cloudy, summer welcomes warm-weather activities, while the village is alive with al fresco fun.
The Experience: Lake Arrowhead, California
Nicknamed the “Alps” of Southern California, Lake Arrowhead is tucked into the San Bernardino National Forest, offering bountiful activities from dining and imbibing to hiking, cycling, boating, fishing and more. A stay at the town’s renowned Lake Arrowhead Resort & Spa will position you in the middle of all the action.
Since the lake is private, you’ll have access to lakeside luxury, including exclusive access to boating and the beach. Sip a beer with a breathtaking view at Lake Arrowhead Brewing Co., enjoy a wine flight and delicious eats at The Grapevine, go to Skypark for an epic day of activities, and on your way out of town, treat yourself to the shrimp and grits at Stone Creek Bistro.
23. Sandpoint, Idaho
Where to stay: The Lodge at Sandpoint
Best time to visit: June through October promises comfortable temperatures. July is especially enticing, when the lake is warm and the landscape surrounding it is a vibrant green.
The Experience: Sandpoint, Idaho
Situated on Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream, with its world class hiking and biking trails, ski slopes and more. A stay at The Lodge at Sandpoint will put you up close and personal to the lake, making for easy access to boating, fishing and swimming.
Events, including theatrical performances, concerts and fairs, thrive in the summer. Situated in the rugged Selkirk Mountains, Schweitzer Mountain Resort entices as well, with its uncrowded ski slopes and beautiful views of the lake below.
The Experience: Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Situated on the shores of Lake Martin, this small lake town is known as “the crawfish capital of the world.” Stay at the original bed and breakfast, Bayou Cabins, for an authentic Cajun experience.
The lake is home to the largest nesting area of wading birds in the country, earning it a spot on Audubon Society’s top 10 bird watching spots in the U.S. Visitors can also enjoy world-class fishing here and in the Atchafalaya Basin. Stroll through downtown for a lovely array of antique shops and quaint boutiques, and be sure to dine at Buck & Johnny’s for a menu filled with mouthwatering Cajun dishes.
21. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Where to stay: Maxwell Mansion
Best time to visit: Skip the peak of tourism, and come in October. You’ll catch the stunning fall foliage, while many scenic boat tours and signature cruises continue throughout the month.
The Experience: Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
This small resort city is beaming with fun. Lodging at Maxwell Mansion is filled with luxurious charm. It was the first mansion built in Lake Geneva (in 1856!) and is known for hosting dignitaries and socialites.
Outdoor adventures are endless in Lake Geneva. There’s ziplining, golfing, hiking and biking, petting zoos and horseback riding, lake activities, skiing and so much more! The annual Winterfest & the U.S. National Snow Sculpting Championship makes the most of the snowy season. And the best lakeside dining can be found at Pier 290, which is a year-round restaurant accessible by land, water and ice.
20. Devils Lake, North Dakota
Where to stay: Totten Trail Inn
Best time to visit: Winters are frigid here, so plan a summer trip to enjoy swimming and boating.
The Experience: Devils Lake, North Dakota
Visitors flock to Devils Lake for its world-class hunting and fishing. Large numbers of walleye, northern pike and white bass, have earned it the reputation of being the “Perch Capital of the World.”
Nearby Grahams Island State Park features more than 1,000 acres of wooded land to explore. Also, check out Ranch Steakhouse for dining in a restored barn and Proz Lakeside at the Cove for a quintessential sports bar experience, complete with an outdoor tiki bar.
19. Monticello, New York
Where to stay: YO1 Wellness Resort
Best time to visit: Plan a trip around the second week of October for a first-class ticket to fall foliage and fun festivals like Oktoberfest.
The Experience: Monticello, New York
Located within the Catskills region, Monticello is a charming little town that offers prime access to camping, fishing and sought-after culinary endeavors like Cellaio, an Italian-inspired steakhouse with a menu curated by the acclaimed chef Scott Conant.
It’s also home to luxury wellness retreat YO1, which borders Bailey Lake. The colorful forests of the Catskills beg for exploration, whether on foot, mountain bike or via zipline.
18. Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Where to stay: A waterfront lake house rental
Best time to visit: Dubbed “The Oldest Summer Resort in America,” the town beckons you to enjoy its charm during the warmer months. Some would argue autumn is the perfect time to come, however, with its fiery fall leaves leading hikers up Mount Major.
The Experience: Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
A resort area situated beside the 72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee, this lake town swells with visitors during the summer or for big events. Wolfeboro has several markets and festivals year-round to enjoy, including farmer’s markets, music festivals, antique boat and car shows, pond hockey tournaments and fishing derbies.
Be sure to check out the new Pavilion Restaurant for seasonal cuisine in a charming atmosphere.
17. Osage Beach, Missouri
Where to stay: Margaritaville Lake Resort
Best time to visit: Late spring in Osage Beach has comfortably warm weather, ideal for those who can’t take the blistering heat the area experiences in the height of summer.
The Experience: Osage Beach, Missouri
Situated right on the Lake of the Ozarks, Osage Beach is home to a wide array of shops and local restaurants and ice cream parlors. Of course, you’ll want to spend your warm-weather days out on the lake, but a visit to Margaritaville Lake Resort for a cocktail is also worthy of your time.
Fun fact: This is the town where the Netflix show “Ozark” is set.
16. Lakeport, California
Where to stay: A cozy cottage by the lake on Airbnb
Best time to visit: Come at the tail end of peak season, which corresponds with harvest season for the area (August through October), to enjoy the lively energy without the high prices, plus the beautiful fall foliage.
The Experience: Lakeport, California
Located along the west shore of Clear Lake, Lakeport puts you in the heart of Northern California’s wine country. The largest natural freshwater lake in the state, Clear Lake offers 68 square miles to enjoy a day in the sun.
Popular activities include boating, fishing, off roading, bird watching, wine tasting at the over 30 wineries in the area and more. Check out Red’s at the Skyroom for California comfort food, sustainable proteins, handcrafted cocktails, and local beer and wines.
15. Bigfork, Montana
Where to stay: Flathead Lake Lodge
Best time to visit: The summer is short but enjoyable, so catch it while it lasts from early July to mid-August.
The Experience: Bigfork, Montana
Bigfork has it all. It’s equal parts ski village, lakeside resort and Wild West town. Resting on the shores of Flathead Lake, Flathead Lake Lodge is a family-owned and -operated Dude Ranch offering visitors endless recreation.
Take part in sailing, lake cruises, stand-up paddleboarding, wakesurfing, canoeing, kayaking, fishing and lakeside campfires, or explore the allure of the Rocky Mountains. Stop for a bite at Stone Hill Kitchen for local, fine dining cuisine, and be sure to kick back with a cold one at Flathead Lake Brewing Co.
14. Oakridge, Oregon
Where to stay: Westfir Lodge
Best time to visit: The main attraction in the area is Salt Creek Falls, the second highest waterfall in Oregon. The falls are the most magnificent in late spring and early summer when the mountain snow melts, making the falls their fastest and fattest.
The Experience: Oakridge, Oregon
Oakridge is situated 18 miles outside Waldo Lake, one of the purest lakes in the world. There are numerous alpine lakes and small mountain peaks around Waldo as well, making Oakridge a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
Within Oakridge itself, mountain bikers enjoy tackling the Alpine Trail. Rest your head at Westfir Lodge, the only ride-in, ride-out accommodations in the Westfir-Oakridge Area. Stewart’s 58 Drive-In is a favorite food stop along Hwy 58, offering drive-in fare prepared to order, using local, natural and organic ingredients.
13. Galena, Illinois
Where to stay:The Cottage on Lake Galena
Best time to visit: Between May and October, the mild-to-hot temperatures make for the most enjoyable time outdoors.
The Experience: Galena, Illinois
Rich with history, rolling hills and outdoor recreation, Galena is a small but booming town. Among the area’s most prized amenities is the scenic, 225-acre man-made Lake Galena.
Main Street is another hit. Here, you can sign up for a ghost tour to see a spookier side of the area. Amelia’s Galena Ghost Tours offers historical and paranormal tours through a haunted pub crawl, vineyard tours or a shuttle bus ghost tour. When in town, be sure to grab a meal at the delicious Fried Green Tomatoes restaurant. A stay at The Cottage on Lake Galena offers a private lakeside retreat, complete with hot tubs, fireplaces and more.
12. Frisco, Colorado
Where to stay:Frisco Lodge Bed & Breakfast
Best time to visit: Winter thrives with winter sports, and we recommend heading to nearby Keystone Lake to ice skate on 5 acres of ice. The lake is one of the largest Zamboni-maintained outdoor ice rinks in North America.
The Experience: Frisco, Colorado
Hugging Dillon Reservoir, Frisco is a nature lover’s playground. Take in the lake life at Frisco Bay Marina. Located at just over 9,000 feet, it’s a certified clean marina. There are sailboat lessons and rentals, a rowing center, a sandy beach, waterside dining and Marina Park.
Explore the cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails in the winter. Frisco Lodge even lends out snowshoes for winter exploration. The many breweries in the area are a big hit, including Outer Range Brewing Company. For deliciously fresh food, people flock to Pure Kitchen.
11. Bayfield, Colorado
Where to stay: Pine River Lodge
Best time to visit: Come between May and mid-June, when fish are plentiful at the lake. However, if ice fishing is more your thing, come for the annual ice fishing tournament held in mid-February.
The Experience: Bayfield, Colorado
Another Colorado lake town, Bayfield features a small historic district with a few shops and restaurants in town, but it’s the town’s Vallecito Lake that’s the star. Vallecito is one of the highest mountain lakes of its size anywhere, residing at 8,000 feet above sea level.
Live music, beautiful views and home-style cooking can be found at The Lake House Bar & Grill. The lake is full of rainbow trout, brown trout and northern pike, making it a big draw for fishing. Also, be sure to check out the Tour of Carvings — 14 carvings standing around 18-feet tall created after the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002 burned 70,000 acres.
10. Vergennes, Vermont
Where to stay: Basin Harbor Resort & Boat Club
Best time to visit: The fall foliage is not to be missed in Vergennes, so plan a trip in mid-October for crisp, yet enjoyable temperatures and fiery hues all around.
The Experience: Vergennes, Vermont
Situated on Lake Champlain, Vergennes is as picturesque as it gets. A stay at Basin Harbor Resort makes for an authentic Vermont experience on the shores of the lake.
Sip on local craft cider at Shacksbury Cider, stop by the Bixby Library to marvel at the stained-glass dome in its lobby, and picnic by the scenic falls at Vergennes Falls Park. Vergennes Laundry is a must for wood-fired baked goods.
9. Greenville, Maine
Where to stay: Greenville Inn
Best time to visit: Come during the “Moosemania” festival in spring when moose sightings are in the hundreds.
The Experience: Greenville, Maine
The small town of Greenville sits on stunning Moosehead Lake. The lake serves as the second-largest lake in New England and the largest mountain lake in the Eastern United States. A stay at Greenville Inn will put you just one block from Moosehead Lake and downtown Greenville restaurants.
All four seasons entice with activities, from the plentiful hiking trails and moose safaris, to dog sledding and snowmobiling. Hop aboard Maine’s last remaining steamboat, The Katahdin, for a leisurely cruise around the lake. Enjoy a beer and a view on the deck at Kelly’s Landing, and dine in style at The Lodge.
8. Lake Lure, North Carolina
Where to stay: Fox Run Resort
Best time to visit: Visit in October to comfortably enjoy a range of outdoor activities. The average temperature falls around 63 degrees Fahrenheit, and the air is moderately humid.
The Experience: Lake Lure, North Carolina
Checking into Fox Run Resort will put you in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills. Explore the resort’s 2,700 acres, two 18-hole golf courses and onsite water sports.
Stroll the shopping and restaurants in the village of Chimney Rock, and then check out Lake Lure Tours for guided boat tours and boat rentals when you’re not relaxing on the wide and sandy beach of the lake. Take a day trip to the renowned city of Asheville, located just 27 miles away.
7. Clarksville, Virginia
Where to stay: Magnuson Hotel on the Lake
Best time to visit: A mid-July visit will land you in town just in time for the Clarksville's Annual Virginia Lake Festival — named "One of the Top 20 Events" by the Southeast Tourism Society for many years.
The Experience: Clarksville, Virginia
Virginia’s only lakeside town, quaint Clarksville rests on the shore of the 50,000-acre Lake Kerr. Outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, swimming, camping and hiking, reign supreme.
Each year, dozens of fishing tournaments take place, while there are also various regionally famous festivals to attend. Check into Magnuson Hotel on the Lake for breathtaking views of Lake Kerr. The hotel puts you near Prestwould Plantation, Occoneechee State Park and MacCallum More Museum and Garden as well.
6. Mackinac Island, Michigan
Where to stay: Mission Point Resort
Best time to visit: Events are in full swing come summer, including the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival, which celebrates the area's collection of some of the oldest, most lush French lilacs in the nation.
The Experience: Mackinac Island, Michigan
Fairytale land is alive and well on Mackinac Island. Surrounded by Lake Huron, the small lake town bans motor vehicles. The only modes of transportation permitted are walking or horse-and-buggy.
When you’re not attending a festival or lounging on the expansive waterfront lawn of Mission Point Resort, order up the Planked Whitefish at Cawthorne's Village Inn, located just off of Main Street downtown.
5. White Lake, North Carolina
Where to stay: An eco cabin on Airbnb
Best time to visit: Come in May to enjoy the annual White Lake Water Festival, which includes tractor pulls, firemen Olympics, beach bands, a classic car show, arts and crafts, a parade and a 10k run.
The Experience: White Lake, North Carolina
The white, sandy bottom and crystal clear water of White Lake make it a burgeoning resort scene. The lake features some 1,200 acres that visitors can take advantage of for swimming, boating, wakeboarding, jet skiing and water skiing opportunities.
Snag an Airbnb rental, like an eco cabin featuring an extensive decking area, a private fishing pier and floating dock, to enjoy supreme lake time. The Cork Room is a delightful dining experience immersed in nature and offering locally sourced food and wine.
4. Saugatuck, Michigan
Where to stay: Lake Shore Resort
Best time to visit: The small lake town thrives in the summer, when visitors and locals enjoy their pick of six pristine beaches for sunbathing and swimming.
The Experience: Saugatuck, Michigan
Lay back on a lounger and take in the sound of the lapping lake beneath you at Lake Shore Resort. Minutes away, downtown Saugatuck offers an eclectic mix of shops, including the iconic outdoor clothing and equipment store, Landsharks. The town is known for its fine art in every medium as well as finely crafted goods.
Adventure seekers love Saugatuck Dunes State Park for its 13 miles of sandy trails. As far as culinary adventures go, you’ll find seasonal food, craft beers, unique spirits and homemade desserts at Borrowed Time.
The Experience: Blairsville, Georgia
Tucked into the Chattahoochee National Forest and the Blue Ridge Mountains, Blairsville is home to three sparkling lakes: the 18-acre Lake Winfield Scott, the 20-acre lake and beach at Vogel State Park, and the 4,180-acre Lake Nottely with 106 miles of shoreline.
When you’re not lakeside, summit Georgia’s highest peak, Brasstown Bald. Check out the locally made wines at places like Odom Springs Vineyards. Lodge in a cozy cabin with a hot tub and mountain views at the 35-acre Paradise Hills Winery Resort & Spa. And for some of North Georgia’s best barbecue, dine at Jim's Smokin' Que.
2. Aurora, New York
Where to stay: Inns of Aurora
Best time to visit: Upstate New York gets frigid in the winter, so to truly enjoy the charm that comes alive in this 19th century small lake town, make your trip in the summer.
The Experience: Aurora, New York
This storybook village is set on Cayuga Lake. Situated in the Finger Lakes region of central New York, the town offers easy access to 11 pristine lakes and 40-plus waterfalls. Check into the Inns of Aurora for a 180-degree view of Cayuga Lake.
There’s plenty of nearby wineries and craft breweries in town to enjoy when you’re not hiking Watkins State Park or fishing in the lake. Go to the seasonal Wheelhouse Restaurant, located on the lake, and order up the Fisherman Platter.
1. Grand Lake, Colorado
Where to stay: Overlook at Grand Lake
Best time to visit: With an average of 130 inches of snowfall per year, winter is an ideal time to visit for winter sports enthusiasts.
The Experience: Grand Lake, Colorado
This teensy town is filled with natural grandeur. Situated on the pristine shores of the largest natural lake in Colorado, the village is your gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. A stay at Overlook makes for a unique mountain lodging experience, complete with unobstructed views of the lake and beyond.
Grand Lake offers access to hundreds of acres of backcountry terrain where deep powder promises world-class snowmobiling, snowshoeing and skiing. The area is also known for its supreme ice fishing, ice hockey and ice skating. During the warmer months, an al fresco dining experience among the rapids at the Rapids Restaurant is a must.