A lake vacation in the USA is an excellent option for seeing some lesser-known destinations away from the coast. The best lakeside towns in America are favoured by nature enthusiasts, families and couples looking for some time away from the big cities. 

    While there are over 200 lakes across the USA, our top picks are known for incredible nature walks, excellent fishing spots and plenty of sandy beaches where you can dip into the clean waters of many of the nation’s finest lakes and reservoirs.

    1

    Lake Tahoe, CA

    Stunning in every season

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    Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America, lies on the border of California and Nevada. With the snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada mountain range flowing into the lake, the water is a stunning cobalt blue and impressively clean.

    In summer, you can relax on many beaches on the edge of Lake Tahoe town, with a wide range of water sports to enjoy. The Nevada side of the lake has casinos and more resorts and beaches. In winter, head up the mountain overlooking Lake Tahoe and enjoy skiing or snowboarding. Shuttle buses from Reno-Tahoe International Airport will bring you to all sides of the lake. The wider area is best explored by car, though you can take a water shuttle to hop between docks along the shores.

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    2

    Chelan, WA

    A quiet town on the edge of a tranquil lake

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    Lake Chelan is a secluded nature spot in Washington popular with hikers and anyone looking for a restful few days away from the big city. Measuring 55 miles long, the lake's dimensions are hemmed in on both sides by the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest mountain range. The bracing glacial run-off from the mountains feeds into the Chelan River.

    A highlight of a trip to Chelan is the Lady of the Lake boat trip that visits the Rainbow Falls – 321 ft of stunning natural beauty, fed by over 100 glaciers. With over 30 wineries in the region, an afternoon of wine tasting is a popular activity for couples.

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    3

    Lake Geneva, WI

    Beaches, hiking trails and Victorian splendour

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    Lake Geneva has long been a summer escape for wealthy Chicago families and is now a full-fledged resort town with a host of activities for the whole family. Enjoy a relaxing day at a spa, go for a round of golf or take the kids on a zipline adventure – or all 3.

    If you’re looking to relax and soak up the sun, head to Riviera Beach in the middle of town. For something more adventurous, book a wakeboarding session. If the weather is being unkind, head for Timber Ridge Lodge & Waterpark, which has indoor and outdoor sections of fun rides to enjoy.

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    photo by atramos (CC BY 2.0) modified

    4

    Lake Powell, AZ

    Photograph spectacular sandstone landmarks

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    Lake Powell is a manmade reservoir in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. The red sandstone landscape is stunning and there are plenty of activities to enjoy. Kayaking and hiking – particularly the Rainbow Bridge North trail – are always popular here, as well as fishing and stargazing. This area of the USA is ancient Navajo land, so hire a local guide to learn more about the sacred landmarks scattered all around Lake Powell.

    Photographers should certainly take a day trip to the iconic spots, such as Antelope Canyon and the Horseshoe Bend of the Colorado River. You’ll find plenty of hotels in this popular tourist town, but you can also camp or even stay on a houseboat.

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    5

    Lake Charles, LA

    Experience classic southern charm down in Louisiana

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    Lake Charles is one of America’s finest lakeside towns with a proud Cajun history. Locals are proud of their unconventional and down-to-earth lifestyle, which you can enjoy in the restaurants and bars in Lake Charles Town. 

    There’s plenty of fun to be had on the lake, including fishing and dinner cruises, while hunting, golf and gambling are huge dryland attractions. If you want to get away from it all, embark on the Creole Nature Trail to explore the rich Louisiana wildlife. If hiking seems like too much hard work, take the Southwest Louisiana Boudin Trail – this route passes through the town's shops, restaurants and bars. 

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    photo by David Wilson (CC BY 2.0) modified

    6

    Coeur D’Alene, ID

    Enjoy a range of water sports on a scenic lake

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    Coeur D’Alene is a lakeside town in northwest Idaho that's home to a fantastic range of sports and adventure activities. You can go wakeboarding or kayaking on the lake, enjoy a swim from several sandy bays, or even take a scenic tour of the area by seaplane.

    Within the town, Coeur D’Alene has tennis courts and golf courses, art galleries and theatres. The range of restaurants is impressive with all regional cuisines found in a cluster along Sherman Avenue. With its own regional airport, flying in and out of Coeur D’Alene is simple and straightforward.

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    photo by David Taylor (CC BY 2.0) modified

    7

    Lake of the Ozarks, MO

    Go fishing on the winding reservoir

    • Families
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    Lake of the Ozarks spans over 1,000 miles of shoreline and wilderness. The unique landscape in central Missouri was formed by sealing off the Osage River to form a huge reservoir. Fishing trips are popular here – several species of catfish thrive in the area – as well as boating trips with the family.

    Hiking and mountain biking through the oak woodland is a good way to explore the land, and you might even grab a torch and head into the maze of tunnels underground known as the Ozark Caverns. Accommodation options range from log cabins to campgrounds and plenty of local guesthouses.

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    8

    Crater Lake, OR

    Take a boat trip out to Wizard Island

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    At almost 2,000 ft deep, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in America. The water is a special cobalt blue with incredible clarity. Hike along the Cleetwood Cove Trail past evergreen trees to find the only easily accessible swimming spot on the lake. Wizard Island is a volcanic cone poking out of the water, acting as a landmark in the area. Take a boat trip out to the island and hike to the top for amazing views.

    Summer activities at Crater Lake include salmon fishing and visiting a series of waterfalls, while cross-country skiing is popular throughout the winter months. Due to extreme changes in the weather in this part of Oregon, what you do will depend on the time of year. 

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    9

    Branson, MO

    Bring the whole family to this lakeside tourist town

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    Branson is a popular lakeside town that has a proud history of live music and now boasts plenty of family-friendly attractions. 76 Country Boulevard is a popular thoroughfare where you’ll find restaurants, theatres and a decent selection of shopping options. 

    Families will enjoy a day out at Silver Dollar City, which has wild-west themed rides and attractions. For more extreme rides, head to Bigfoot Fun Park, also in the centre of Branson. To get a bird’s-eye view of the town and surrounding area, Shepherd of the Hills Inspiration Tower is a 230-ft-tall viewpoint that you can climb.

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    photo by www.kspradleyphoto.com (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    10

    Lake George, NY

    Combine beautiful nature with fascinating history

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    Lake George is a quaint town tucked into the mountainous Adirondack region of New York state. Spend your time exploring the historical attractions in town, such as the Fort William Henry Museum & Restoration, a restored British fort dating back to 1755. There’s also a spooky-themed waxworks attraction called the House of Frankenstein Wax Museum.

    Head to Million Dollar Beach along the shore of Lake George. It’s within 1 20-minute walk of the town and has plenty of activities. Rent a boat for the afternoon or simply enjoy a picnic and soak up the wonderful views.

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    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller

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