Daydreams of summer on the water—canoeing adventures with the family, fishing jaunts with friends, sunset barbecues and shorefront picnics—are what get many of us through the winter. But, hey, it’s now time to pack up the kids, hitch the boat trailer and get your fix at one of these gorgeous lakefront communities.
Widely considered to be the loveliest of the Finger Lakes, the Y-shaped, 20-mile-long Keuka Lake is the backdrop for this charming village. Its small-town pleasures include quaint museums, boutiques and ice cream shops, while nearby wineries and breweries turn out big-league libations. On the water, there’s sailing, kayaking and fishing for abundant lake trout and smallmouth bass.
Known as the rock-and-roll hub of the Ozarks, this town at the eastern end of the sinuous, nearly 80-mile-long Table Rock Lake is home to dozens of live music and performance venues. That means whether you like your daytime activities peaceful (swimming, canoeing) or adrenaline-pumping (parasailing and roller- coaster rides), you’ll find plenty of honky-tonk action after dark.
South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
If you’re going to go big with your lake vacation, go here. The largest alpine lake in North America, Tahoe delivers some of the most dazzling scenery and diverse vacation amenities in the country—and basing yourself in this small city (population 21,000) gives you access to all of it. Want canoeing, mountain biking and rainbow-trout fishing by day, nearby casinos and fine dining at night? No problem.
Set on the eastern shore of North Carolina’s largest man-made lake (Lake Norman covers nearly 50 square miles), this bustling college town has all the attractions a liberal-arts student might require (like cool art galleries, live-music clubs, cafés and bars). But it also offers access to some of the state’s best boating, paddling, and fishing—especially for perch, as well as striped and largemouth bass.
Who knew you could take an island vacation in Ohio? Just a few miles from the mainland, three Lake Erie islands feature gorgeous views, historic homes and even wineries. Return to landlubbing in Sandusky; the town’s main attractions may be the famous amusement and water parks, but wander downtown to take in the growing number of restaurants and shops, dripping with small-town charm.
Don’t let Washington’s reputation for rain deter you. This lively Cascade Range community, set along the edge of 50-mile-long Lake Chelan, is known for its sunny summers. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for swimming, waterskiing, catching lake views along more than 250 miles of trails, and tasting stellar wines, ales and ciders at local vineyards and breweries.
Grand Lake, Colo.
The body of water that shares its name with this town isn’t just the largest natural lake in Colorado—it also serves as the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park, a 265,000-acre wonderland of alpine trails, waterfalls, aspen forests, and herds of elk and bighorn sheep. The town also has plenty of historic Wild West charm. Along the lakefront promenade, you can poke into shops, pubs and restaurants whose buildings date to the early 1900s.
At the northern tip of the wide, nearly 200-square-mile Flathead Lake, this idyllic community swells with visitors every summer. Not only is it a paradise for water-sports enthusiasts—local outfitters offer everything from stand-up paddleboard rentals to jetpack- or board-powered flying thrills—but it also hosts a summer series of theater and live-music performances.
Occupying a swath of land that borders not one, but two glittering lakes (the vast expanse of Lake Michigan to the west and the much smaller, calmer Lake Charlevoix to the east), this town has a coastal feel: There are beaches, dunes, even a lighthouse. There’s also a network of trails for biking, hiking and birding; shops and restaurants; and for architecture buffs, an early 20th-century castle and a collection of quirky “mushroom houses.”
What should you pack before heading out to spend the day on the water? Here’s our essential checklist.