Chances are you don’t need to drive far to arrive lakeside. The United States boasts thousands of lakes, giving travelers a range of choices from large freshwater lakes to clear alpine lakes nestled in the mountains.
While we know travel is difficult right now, we still want to inspire your future travel plans so you can get back out there when the world fully opens up again. When you’re ready to hit the road, head to the best lakes in the U.S. to cool off. Check out our top recommendations, from getaways for families to the most Instagram-worthy lakes.
Most beautiful lakes to enjoy with the family
Lake Anna, Virginia
This is one of the largest freshwater inland reservoirs in Virginia. Boat rentals at the northern end of the lake are popular and allow you to create your own oasis away from others. Try your hand at fishing to catch bluegill, channel catfish, walleye, white perch, and yellow perch.
Off the water, you can picnic on the shoreline and spend the afternoon hiking or biking. The Boardwalk on Lake Anna is fun for kids, with arcade games and mini golf. Adults will enjoy a visit to the wineries and breweries that dot the area.
Closest big cities: Situated between Washington, DC and Richmond, Lake Anna is about a 90-minute drive to either city.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
There’s much for the whole family to enjoy around Lake Geneva, from water sports to boat rentals to golfing. Williams Bay Beach is ideal for kiddos, with shallow waters and lifeguards on duty.
Bring the family on a walk around the Lake Geneva Shore Path. This trail covers 26 miles and passes historic estates, cuts through wooded areas and offers picturesque views of the lake.
Closest big cities: Milwaukee (1-hour drive) and Chicago (90-minute drive).
Most beautiful lakes for swimming
Newfound Lake, New Hampshire
Newfound Lake has a perfectly rustic setting, surrounded by tall trees and towering mountains. It’s ideal for a quiet, relaxing getaway. This pristine lake boasts 22 miles of shoreline and is said to be among the cleanest in the world, fed by 8 springs. It’s an ideal spot for a summer swim.
The lake gets pretty deep, with a maximum depth of 183 feet, so little swimmers should stay close to the shore. Wellington State Park sits on the west side of the lake and is where you can find the state’s largest freshwater swimming beach.
Closest big cities: Boston (2-hour drive) and Portland, ME (2.5-hour drive).
Lake Chelan, Washington
There are many sandy stretches of beach along this 50.5-mile lake, and just as many great swimming holes. Some of the best spots for swimming are found in local parks, like Don Morse Park Lakeside Park, Beebe Bridge Park and Lake Chelan State Park, to name a few.
The Cascade mountains surround Lake Chelan, making for a dramatic and beautiful backdrop. Around the valley are fruit stands and farmers markets where you can taste freshly picked produce, like stone fruits, cherries and pears.
Closest big cities: Seattle (4-hour drive) and Portland (6.5-hour drive).
Most beautiful lakes for an escape
Walden Pond, Massachusetts
Yes, this is that Walden Pond. Made famous by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, this lake is part of a 335-acre wooded state park. Walking paths and hiking trails pass by peaceful spots that will help clear your mind.
There are also many nice areas for swimming, sunbathing, canoeing, and hiking. Fishing for trout is also a popular activity at Walden Pond.
Closest big cities: Boston (30-minute drive) and Providence (1-hour drive).
Jackson Lake, Wyoming
Wyoming may be landlocked, but it still has beautiful shorelines. Jackson Lake, a glacial lake in Grand Teton National Park, stretches for 15 miles and is surrounded by the jagged mountains of the Teton Range.
Rent a boat for the view or to spend the day water skiing, wakeboarding or fishing. Inside the lake, there are more than 15 islands you can explore or just relax on. For a unique stargazing opportunity, you can actually camp on the largest of them, Elk Island.
Closest big cities: Jackson Hole (less than a 1-hour drive), Bozeman, Montana (4-hour drive) and Salt Lake City (under a 6-hour drive).
Most beautiful lakes for water sports
Lake Erie, Ohio and Pennsylvania
Lake Erie is one of five Great Lakes and the most shallow among them. It stretches 241 miles long, 57 miles wide and has 871 miles of shoreline.
It’s easy to find things to do around this expansive lake. Swimming, fishing for walleye and yellow perch, and water activities like kayaking and jet skiing are always popular. In Ohio, the adults can follow the Lake Erie Shores & Islands wine trail. In Erie, Pennsylvania, the whole family will enjoy Presque Isle State Park’s beaches, trails and bird-watching opportunities.
Closest big cities: Detroit, Cleveland and Buffalo all practically sit on the lake.
Lake Lure, North Carolina
Water activities abound on this lake in the foothills of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. For an adrenaline rush, try water skiing, wakeboarding or speed tubing. If you want to paddle at your own pace, cruise the lake on a kayak or stand-up paddle board (SUP). Pontoon boat rentals are also available and are a great way to relax while enjoying a nice view of the lake and surrounding mountain scenery.
Closest big cities: Atlanta (just over a 3-hour drive), Charlotte (under a 2-hour drive) and Knoxville (2.5-hour drive).
Most beautiful lakes for Instagram
Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona
This breathtaking lake is actually a man-made reservoir on the Colorado River that snakes from northern Arizona to southern Utah. As part of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Lake Powell offers unparalleled views of incredible rock formations. One must-see attraction is the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, said to be the world’s highest natural bridge at 290 feet tall.
A common way for visitors to enjoy the lake is to rent a houseboat. There are also resorts, lodges, campsites and RV parks nearby.
Closest big cities: Flagstaff (5.5-hour drive) and Las Vegas (7-hour drive).
Crater Lake, Oregon
Formed by a collapsed volcano, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States. Sheer cliffs surround its sapphire-blue waters, making it a gorgeous, Instagram-worthy sight.
Swimming is allowed, but beware that it’s awfully cold since the lake is fed by rain and snow. Out of the water, you can take in the view during a boat tour or from great heights on one of many hiking trails. Local wildlife can be shy, but you may be lucky enough to spot elk, foxes, marmots and even bald eagles.
Closest big cities: Portland (4-hour drive) and Sacramento (just over a 6-hour drive).
Frequently Asked Questions
The number of lakes in the United States is still up for debate because of the methodology being used to count them. Expert estimates now say that there are 117 million lakes in the world. There are 3 million in Alaska alone. Minnesota has nearly 12,000 and Wisconsin has more than 15,000. Those states are known for their lakes, so it’s possible that in total there are between 3-5 million lakes throughout the United States.
Lake Superior is the largest lake in the United States at 31,700 square miles.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at a depth of 1,949 feet.
Alaska is home to more than 3 million lakes.
1. Lake Superior, 31,700 sq mi
2. Lake Huron, 23,000 sq mi
3. Lake Michigan, 22,300 sq mi
4. Lake Erie, 9,910 sq mi
5. Lake Ontario, 7,340 sq mi
6. Great Salt Lake, 2,117 sq mi
7. Lake of the Woods, 1,679 sq mi
8. Iliamna Lake, 1,014 sq mi
9. Lake Oahe, 685 sq mi
10. Lake Okeechobee, 662 sq mi
Whether you’re aiming for an adrenaline-pumping or relaxing waterside vacation, take steps to help make your getaway as stress-free as possible. Consider disconnecting from anything that stresses you out, whether it’s work or the news. And take time for yourself, doing activities you love. A little self-care goes a long way, and lakes in America are the perfect setting for your next carefree escape.
Discover where you can go
Making plans to get back out there? Find out which borders are open with our interactive global map. You can also sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen.
Want to read more?
You may be interested in Skyscanner’s latest coronavirus updates as the world slowly reopens to travelers:
- Tips for flying during coronavirus: essential face mask information
- Coronavirus travel questions: Your COVID-19 queries answered
- The new world of hotels: What your hotel stay will be like during coronavirus
- 8 post-coronavirus trends that are about to hit your Insta feed
Our coronavirus travel advice is updated daily with changes to travel restrictions.