The 10 Best Lake Towns in the U.S.
Whether you're hopping in a kayak or lying in a hammock, here's where to relax by the water.
The U.S. is filled with charming small towns nestled along majestic lakes that offer unforgettable adventures, serene escapes, and cultural experiences. From Coeur d'Alene's picturesque views to Traverse City's beach waterfront, each location offers a unique experience for enjoying a breeze by the water.
With so many stunning lakes, we spoke to several travel experts on the best lake towns in the U.S. and why you should book your next vacation there.
10. Big Bear Lake, California
Surrounded by the rugged San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear has a crystal blue lake that's perfect for boating and fishing. Between the glorious mountain views, great hiking, and water sports, Big Bear offers a serene setting for taking in nature.
For accommodations, there are many vacation homes, Airbnbs, and few hotels. The Marina Riviera Hotel offers guests both gorgeous lake views and all sorts of water sports, such as wake surfing, waterskiing, tubing, and boating.
"Big Bear is beautiful in the summer with the wild flowers in bloom and fireworks over the lake for July 4th," says Carolyn Schneider, co-founder of Casetta Group. "Skiing in the winter is amazing at the surrounding San Bernardino Mountains."
9. Burlington, Vermont
Located on the eastern shoreline of Lake Champlain, Burlington, Vermont has a little something for everyone. There are farm-to-table restaurants, eclectic art galleries, and a vibrant nightlife scene, including live music venues. The park system features well-kept bike trails, plenty of hiking, and water sports on Lake Champlain.
"Progressive and artsy, Burlington has an active lake culture that includes scenic boat tours, kayaking, and lakefront parks that often host live music and festivals," says Amy Hartle, owner and editor of New England With Love. "You also have the Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Factory just outside of town."
8. Lake Blackshear, Georgia
Two and a half hours from Atlanta, 8,700-acre Lake Blackshear, located in the city of Cordele, showcases a tree-lined landscape dotted with Spanish moss. It's a favorite of Georgia residents, says travel blogger Annita Stokes Thomas, who explains that it "was constructed in 1930 by damming the Flint River to provide power for the residents of Crisp County."
Thomas suggests travelers visit the Lake Blackshear Resort & Golf Club, which features several well-regarded restaurants. "The course runs along the banks of the lake," she says. Cordele is also home to the Georgia Veterans State Park, an annual national bass fishing tournament, and the SAM Shortline historic train.
"Boating on the lake is a great way to explore the area from the water, with a tour around to see natural spaces and beautiful homes too," Thomas says.
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7. Lake Chelan, Washington State
More than 50 miles of pristine glacier-fed lake, Lake Chelan is just a three hour drive from Seattle. The lake is surrounded by vineyards and mountains, and it boasts scenic mountain biking, hiking, and golf.
"It's like a slice of heaven with the mountains reflecting in the glass lake," says Adam Duckworth, president and founder of Travelmation. "Water sports are a favorite by day, and wineries are a favorite by night—you can't go wrong."
6. Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Coeur d'Alene Lake, the second largest lake in northern Idaho, is fed by two rivers—the Coeur d'Alene River and St. Joe River. Known for its stunning mountain range and crisp water, "the lake provides a picturesque backdrop for various outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, swimming, and kayaking,"says Jane Jones of SeeSight Tours. That may be why Kim Kardashian chose the locale for a vacation home.
While its peak tourist season is during the summer months when the weather is ideal for outdoor activities, "spring and fall can offer pleasant weather and fewer crowds," says Jones. Its downtown has a lot on offer, according to Jones, including "boutiques, art galleries, specialty shops, farmers markets, and festivals."
5. Sister Bay, Wisconsin
With just a population of 1,180 people, Sister Bay—located on the Door Peninsula of Wisconsin—features a charming waterfront, with quaint shops, boutiques, and galleries, says Mark Stoneman founder of HelloDoorCounty.com.
"Sister Bay offers a rare combination of historic charm, arts, and culture, and quirky attractions along the idyllic shores of Lake Michigan," says Mark Stoneman. "Explore the captivating beauty of Sister Bay's marina, where you can rent a boat, go fishing, or simply revel in the peaceful atmosphere while admiring the bobbing sailboats and serene vistas."
He also recommended travelers visit local wineries and breweries, as as well as Al Johnson's, a Swedish restaurant with goats grazing on the grass-covered roof.
4. Laconia, New Hampshire
At 72 miles, Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire, and Laconia is the largest city in the region, with a bustling downtown. "Fresh mountain air, pristine lakes, and incredible views are why the New Hampshire Lakes Region is a magical vacation spot," says Casey Philbrick of travel agency Fora. "Two hours from Boston and nestled at the foothills of the White Mountains, [the lake has] water sports, fishing, hiking, and amazing views."
Philbrick says there are also mini golf, arcade games, and plenty of local breweries around town. And locals know to call it "Lake Winni."
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3. Traverse City, Michigan
The largest city in the Northern Michigan region, Traverse City is famous for its annual cherry festival, scenic highway, vineyards, and lake with sandy beach shores. "Traverse City is a booming wine destination, producing the majority of Michigan's wine and boasting over 40 wineries," says travel blogger Kaitlyn Rosati of No Man Nomad. She recommends staying at the Chateau Chantal Winery & Inn and visiting local favorites Sleder's Tavern (one of the oldest bars in Michigan) and Moomers Homemade Ice Cream.
"In Traverse City, year round, you can find cherry-flavored anything, from cherry BBQ rub to cherry almond butter to cherry cookies to cherry wine," says Rosati of the city's commitment to its reputation for cherry trees.
2. Lake Placid, New York
"The best lake town in the U.S., in my opinion, is Lake Placid, New York," says travel blogger Becca Siegel of Half Half Travel. "It's in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains of Upstate NY and makes a great jumping-off point for exploring so many hikes. The town itself is great for couples and families alike, with shopping and restaurants and bars for every taste."
The town, which hosted the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic Games, boasts the Lake Placid Olympic Museum, as well as complexes for both ski jumping and bobsledding. (Amateurs can opt for the toboggan chute in the winter.) With 46 peaks, it's also stunning when the fall foliage comes in.
1. Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
Straddling the border of California and Nevada, freshwater Lake Tahoe, tucked in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, welcomes an average of 15 million travelers annually, according to the Lake Tahoe Visitors Bureau. In addition to world-class skiing in the winter, Lake Tahoe also features a wide range of hiking trails and beaches in the summer.
"An absolute highlight of my summer visits was the enchanting Sand Harbor State Park, which showcased pristine turquoise waters and magnificent boulders that served as a captivating backdrop," says Brittanie Harbick, co-host of the Travel Squad podcast, who grew up in the area.
To get the most out of your trip, Harbick suggests taking a least three days and renting a car to drive around to breathtaking scenic viewpoints and stops around the lake.