Top 10 best lakes in the U.S.

Published Date: October 9, 2023

A photo of Lake Tahoe, California, one of the best spots for fall vacations.
Depending on how you count, there are somewhere around 100,000 lakes in the United States, from tiny spots to the iconic Great Lakes, and everything in between. With so many bodies of water, it’s no wonder so many of us dream of lakefront living. The lakes offer a myriad of charms: indescribable natural beauty, endless water sports and sandy beaches. Check out 10 of our favorite American lakes, then learn how you can discover your lakeside home away from home with Pacaso. 

1. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Surrounded by the stunning Sierra Nevada mountains, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. Known for its crystal-clear waters, in some places the visibility is more than 70 feet.In the summer months, waterfront towns on both the California and Nevada shores of the lake are hubs of activity. Watersports outlets are everywhere and sunbathers work up the nerve to go for a swim — even in the heat of summer, the water temperature can take your breath away. When snow falls and Tahoe’s many ski resorts open up, the beauty of Lake Tahoe is best seen from the side of a mountain. Take in gorgeous lake views from high atop ski runs at Heavenly, Homewood and Diamond Peak

2. Lake Arrowhead, California

Lake Arrowhead is less than two hours from Los Angeles, but it’s a world away. Sitting among the San Bernardino Mountains in what’s affectionately known as the “Alps of Southern California,” this lake is the perfect escape for people who want all of the perks of life on the lake without the crowds you’ll find on bigger, more centrally located lakes. This is due, at least in part, to the fact that much of its shoreline is privately owned. Buy a second home or stay in accommodations with lake access and enjoy unfettered access to the lake’s deep blue waters. On the southwest side of the lake, Lake Arrowhead Village has been a hub for lake activity since the 1920s. It features charming Swiss architecture, plenty of seasonal events and over 50 shops and restaurants. For those not staying on the lake (or without watercraft of their own), the village is the departure spot for the Lake Arrowhead Queen, a one-hour guided on-the-water tour. 

3. Flathead Lake, Montana

As the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, Montana’s Flathead Lake is known for its rugged natural beauty and over 185 miles of shoreline. With almost 200 square miles of water, there’s room to explore on Flathead Lake. Renting a boat or taking a guided fishing trip departing from the towns of Polson, Bigfork or Somers are popular ways to see the lake. It may be a fish tale, but it’s been said that lucky anglers have caught trout as large as 50 pounds. For a truly memorable experience, take a boat or ferry to Wild Horse Island. The largest island in the lake, this pristine natural area is home to wild horses, bighorn sheep, mule deer and bald eagles. Many visitors to Flathead Lake leave time to visit another famous Montana destination: Glacier National Park. Less than an hour north from the lake, this national park features endless hiking trails, historic lodges and yes — more lakes. 

4. Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

When the last glaciers receded from the Pacific Northwest almost 15,000 years ago, Lake Coeur d’Alene was born. A crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest, the lake is at the center of all the action in this area. Beautiful beaches and an award-winning resort line the shore, and the Coeur d’Alene Resort’s golf course features a famous floating green — so bring extra golf balls! In the summer months, explore the 25-mile body of water on your choice of watercraft, from relaxing chartered boat cruises to the adrenaline-pumping fun of a jet ski excursion. Stand-up paddleboards and kayaks are also popular. Want a birds-eye view of the beauty of Idaho? Take a scenic flight on a seaplane. 

5. The Finger Lakes, New York

As the name suggests, this vacation destination isn’t a single lake, but rather, a collection of eleven long, narrow lakes in picturesque upstate New York. Within driving distance from New York City, Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia, the Finger Lakes region is big on natural beauty. In addition to the lakes themselves, nature lovers will find themselves in awe of the local gorges, waterfalls, state parks and swimming holes. While the Finger Lakes put on a beautiful show every month of the year, the fall is an idyllic time for a visit. Think warm days, cool nights and a rainbow of fall colors on the hillsides that surround the lakes. Still need convincing? The Finger Lakes area is also New York’s premier wine region, with more than 100 different vineyards and wineries and a reputation for a great riesling. 

6. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

You may very well have to ask a local how to pronounce its name when you arrive, but Lake Winnipesaukee is worth the effort. The largest lake in New Hampshire is home to more than 250 islands and plenty of charming small towns. Movie buffs may be interested to know that parts of the 1981 Katharine Hepburn and Henry Fonda film ”On Golden Pond” were filmed here. The lake was also the setting of the less serious but also memorable Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss movie “What About Bob.” Every summer, vacationers from the Eastern Seaboard flock to this 72-square-mile lake for boating, fishing, beachcombing, hiking and generally enjoying life at a slower pace. Return in the winter for ice fishing, snowmobiling, dogsledding and more.  

7. Crater Lake, Oregon 

Perhaps the most unique lake on our list, Crater Lake in Oregon is a destination you simply need to see to believe. Created as a result of a volcanic eruption roughly 8,000 years ago, the 1,943-foot-deep lake (the deepest lake in the United States) is a caldera that was filled over thousands of years with rainfall and snowmelt. Because no streams or rivers feed into the lake, it’s considered among the cleanest bodies of water in the world — that’s also why it has become a popular destination for scuba divers, who enjoy visibility of up to 100 feet for exploring underwater lava formations. Unlike other lakes on the list, accessing the water in Oregon’s only national park is part of the adventure. It features steep cliffs on all sides, so you’ll need to take a two-mile hike down the Cleetwood Cove Trail, descending 700 feet of switchbacks to the shoreline. From there, you can board a boat tour that tells you all about the lake’s history and stops on storied Wizard Island, a volcanic cinder cone. 

8. Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah

Sure, Lake Powell may be a human-made creation —  it’s the second-largest reservoir in the United States, created by the damming of the Colorado River at Glen Canyon — but that doesn’t make it any less majestic. Easily one of the most beautiful lakes in the country, Lake Powell wows with orange and red-hued sandstone cliffs and impossibly blue water. Rent a houseboat or a speedboat and spend long summer days exploring the twists and turns of some 90 side canyons that make up this massive lake. Be sure to find your way to Rainbow Bridge National Monument. This 33-foot-wide natural sandstone arch is simply stunning. After all, it’s considered the world’s longest natural arch. 

9. Lake Lanier, Georgia 

Also the result of the damming of a river — the Chattahoochee River, in this case — Georgia’s Lake Lanier is a weekend playground within an hour’s drive of Atlanta. More than 10 million people visit the lake every year, enjoying more than 20 different beaches and lush islands. Despite the large number of visitors, there’s plenty of space, thanks to 700-plus miles of shoreline. Stop by a local marina to rent a pontoon boat, houseboat or jet ski. Book a fishing excursion in search of bass and walleye. Or enjoy food truck fare and live music every Friday at Lake Lanier Olympic Park, which hosted events during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games. 

10. Lake Champlain, New York and Vermont

It’s not every day that you can splash around in a lake that has played a pivotal role in not one, not two, but three American wars. But you can do it on Lake Champlain, located on the border of New York and Vermont. Pop into the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum for a crash course on the lake’s storied history, then pick your activities based on the season. In the warm weather months, enjoy a kayak excursion, cast a line for largemouth bass or swim from the shore of a sandy beach. Intrepid winter travelers return for ice fishing, snowmobiling and even a classic game of pond hockey. 

Discover lakefront luxury

Pacaso makes it easy to become a second home owner in a lakeside destination, giving you ample time to explore, adventure and relax. Pacaso co-owned second homes are available in Lake Tahoe, Lake Arrowhead and other dreamy lake destinations. Check out our fully furnished, professionally decorated and managed luxury homes and start living the lake life today.

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