23 Spectacular Lakes in America You Never Knew About
Turquoise lagoons, alpine pools, and secret shores await.
Sure, you've probably heard of—or even visited—America's most popular lakes, such as Lake Michigan or Lake Tahoe. But this big and beautiful country contains so many underrated gems worth exploring. From a jade green lagoon in Colorado's alpine forests to a tranquil fishing spot in Kentucky, here are the most jaw-dropping lakes hidden in your own backyard. And for more tranquil oases, check out the 21 Swimming Holes So Magical You Won't Believe They're in the U.S.
Lake Jocassee, South Carolina
To access Lake Jocassee, you'll have to start at Devils Fork State Park in Salem. Whether you're into camping, glamping, or luxury lodging, the park offers plenty of places to make your homebase. While Lake Jocassee is massive (7,500 acres, to be exact), much of its shoreline is underdeveloped. Its crisp and clean water is fed by cascading rivers from the Appalachian Mountains.
The Blue Lakes, Colorado
The Blue Lakes, with their wildflower-covered meadows, teal blue water, and snow-kissed mountains, are reminiscent of Glacier National Park or the Maroon Bells. There is the Upper Blue Lake and Lower Blue Lake, and to access either requires a strenuous hike through the Mt. Sneffels Wilderness Area. For adventurous travelers though, it's hard to beat the view, especially during the fall months when the fields of Aspen trees shimmer in shades of gold.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Michigan
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore makes up 35 miles of windswept coastline along Lake Michigan and features 450-foot bluffs that you can scale, if you're careful. Many travelers visiting Sleeping Bear Dunes will choose to make Traverse City their home base. With its cherry orchards, wineries, and renowned food scene, it's an ideal vacation town to explore this portion of the Lower Peninsula. And for more waterfront escapes within your reach, check out the 17 Stunning Islands That Americans Are Allowed to Visit Now.
Moosehead Lake, Maine
Maine has no shortage of beautiful coastal beaches and woodsy swimming holes. Moosehead Lake, the largest in the state, is the source of the Kennebec River and is surrounded by lush forests in the Maine Highlands. Known for whitewater rafting, fishing, and moose-watching, it's the perfect place for camping and eco-tourism.
Fallen Leaf Lake, California
While the masses flock to Lake Tahoe, Fallen Leaf Lake lies blissfully under the radar. Just one mile from Lake Tahoe, this hidden dip is tucked away in the mountains of Eldorado National Forest, near the California-Nevada border. It's worth exploring not only for the breathtaking scenery, but also for the excellent hiking trails and serene cascades—like Fallen Leaf Lake Waterfall.
Kekekabic Lake, Minnesota
Minnesota may be the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but Kekekabic Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is an exceptional one. Though Canada is currently closed to American travelers, you can still paddle or hike around the 150 miles of water along the international border. With thousands of campsites, this remote and underdeveloped Northern Minnesota locale is an ideal spot for a rustic trip. And for more remote getaways, check out the 50 Beautiful Off-the-Grid Places in the U.S. You Should Visit.
Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire
A gem of New Hampshire's Lake Region, Lake Sunapee offers something for every type of traveler. Kayaking and watersports reign supreme, but adventurers can also hike the nearby Upper Valley of the Appalachian Trail. Meanwhile, culture vultures will love poking around the quaint town of Hanover—home to Dartmouth College—browsing for arts and antiques, and exploring the many surrounding apple orchards and cideries.
Hanging Lake, Colorado
Imagine a scene from Jurassic Park: a jade green oasis with waterfalls built into a steep canyon. That's exactly what Hanging Lake looks like. To access the magical lake, visitors must walk the three-mile loop from Glenwood Springs into Glenwood Canyon, but the trek is well worth the effort for a refreshing dip in the end. While you're there, you can swim around and even walk behind Spouting Rock Falls. And for more glorious cascades, check out the 15 Waterfalls So Magical You Won't Believe They're in the U.S.
Lake Crescent, Washington
There are plenty of reasons to visit Olympic National Park: the Hoh rain forest, a stretch of craggy Pacific coastline, and peaceful Lake Crescent. The entire lake is located inside the national park, and it's known for its exceptionally turquoise, translucent water. There are a handful of family-friendly trails around the lake such as The Spruce Railroad Trail and Pyramid Mountain Trail. If you visit during the summer months, make sure to visit Marymere Falls or jump in Devils Punch Bowl.
Cranks Creek Lake, Kentucky
This 219-acre reservoir on the Martins Fork River is located in Harlan County, Kentucky, near the state's border with Virginia. Boating at a reduced speed is permitted, but Cranks Creek is most popular for fishing in the calm waters, where you'll find everything from rainbow trout to bluegill and largemouth bass.
Priest Lake, Idaho
Lovingly referred to as the crown jewel of Idaho, Priest Lake is one of those stunning landscapes you'll wish you discovered sooner. Located at the very northernmost tip of the Idaho Panhandle, Priest Lake extends almost to the Canadian border. The lake is fed by streams from the Selkirk Mountains, which account for the seriously stunning, bright blue waters as well as an abundance of natural water slides for people to splash down.
Big Bear Lake, California
Big Bear Lake is both the name of a lake and the town it's named after in Southern California. Just 100 miles north of Los Angeles, Big Bear is bordered by the San Bernardino National Forest, with its rugged trails and scenic peaks. Big Bear Lake forms the centerpiece of this resort town, which is favorite among hikers, boaters, and skiers (yes, even in SoCal).
Walden Pond, Massachusetts
You might recall the name Walden Pond from Henry David Thoreau's transcendentalist book, Walden. It was written during the American writer's time living near Walden Pond, surrounded by nature, in Concord, Massachusetts. Located within Walden Pond State Reservation about 20 miles from Boston, the glacial lake is covered in fiery colors during the fall and features a replica of the cabin where Thoreau lived and wrote.
Beaver Lake, Arkansas
Known for its limestone bluffs, natural caves, and almost 500 miles of shoreline, Beaver Lake draws in tourists to northwest Arkansas for fishing, hiking, birdwatching, and boating. This man-made reservoir is nestled just beyond Eureka Springs, a crunchy little vacation town in the Ozark Mountains, where you can bed down for the night in one of the area's many treehouse cottages.
Lake Chelan, Washington
An oenophile's dream, Lake Chelan is in the heart of a verdant wine region and is one of Washington's designated American Viticultural Areas. The shores of Lake Chelan are neighbored by vineyards and tasting rooms, so you can spend your days swimming, sailing, and fishing, followed by wine tasting and exploring the friendly, artistic small town that Chelan has to offer.
Lake Martin, Alabama
Spanning more than 40,000 acres between both Birmingham and Montgomery, this enormous lake contains several large islands, a lighthouse, a golf resort, and most notably, Chimney Rock, a 60-foot-tall formation and one of the region's most picturesque spots. Throughout the year, Lake Martin hosts sailing clubs, jazz festivals, and other activities for everyone to enjoy.
Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
Though it's technically a reservoir, Smith Mountain Lake is often called the Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's one of the largest freshwater bodies in the state of Virginia and a fantastic mid-Atlantic lake getaway, close to both Roanoke and Lynchburg. It even makes for an easy day trip from Washington, D.C. and Richmond. Surrounding the lake is Smith Mountain Lake State Park, a paradise for swimming, fishing, and canoeing. And for more charming hamlets, check out the 17 Best Secret Beach Towns in America.
Williams Lake, New Mexico
When you think of the New Mexican landscape, your mind probably conjures images of deserts and sand dunes rather than alpine lakes. But then again, you've probably never heard of Williams Lake. It's located in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Taos, and to access it visitors must trek along a four-mile trail. It's one of the most picturesque spots in the state, and even if you visit in the summer, you'll find Williams Lake surrounded by snow-coated peaks.
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Sitting at the foothills of the White Mountains, Lake Winnipesaukee's crystal blue water reflects the towering ridges above it. Many outdoors enthusiasts adventure to the 365 islands around the lake for camping or a secluded retreat in nature. There are also a handful of adorable towns lining the 200-mile shoreline, including Wolfeboro, Center Harbor, Alton, and Laconia.
Dale Hollow Lake, Tennessee
This reservoir is bordered by the Cumberland and Obey Rivers, right on the Kentucky-Tennessee line. There are a handful of resorts around the lake, such as Mary Ray Oaken Lodge, and for travelers who prefer a more outdoorsy experience, there are campgrounds including those on Geiger Island, which was historically used as a Boy Scouts campsite. Fishing is especially fruitful on Dale Hollow Lake, especially for smallmouth bass.
Echo Lake, Maine
Set on the western side of Mount Desert Island, Echo Lake Beach is one of the highlights of Acadia National Park. Because Echo Lake is freshwater, it's much more temperate and comfortable for swimming than the frigid Atlantic Ocean. The lake is neighbored by Beech Mountain's steep cliffs, so you can spend the morning hiking before cooling off in the water.
Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
Covering nearly 70 miles of shoreline in Maryland, Deep Creek Lake is a convenient year-round destination. While watersports and rafting are the main allures during the summer, in the fall months the whole area glistens with a kaleidoscope of autumn foliage. And during the snowy winter, skiers and snowboarders head to Wisp Resort, which hugs the edge of Deep Creek.
Table Rock Lake, Missouri
Located in southwestern Missouri's Ozark Mountains—just a quick trip from Branson—Table Rock Lake is one of the top fishing spots in the state. Avid anglers cast their lines to catch bass, bluegill, and paddlefish from the shore and by boat. For landlubbers, there's also hiking and biking on the trails around the lake, as well as plenty of spots for swimming. In the evening, don't miss the spectacular sunset from the Chapel of the Ozarks at Big Cedar Lodge, which sits atop a hill overlooking the lake's twisting coves. And for more surprising stateside destinations, check out the 13 Secret Islands in the U.S. You Never Knew Existed.