When summer temps blaze, nothing beats running off the end of the dock and plunging cannonball-style into the lake. These 10 iconic American lake destinations, from the sand dunes of Lake Michigan to the red-rock canyon coves of Lake Powell, are perfect escapes. Read on to find out where you can go fly boarding, sandbar socializing, winery hopping by boat, and other on-the-water fun that will keep you wearing flip-flops right into the last days of this glorious season.
Echo Lake, Acadia National Park, Maine
What We Love: Set within Acadia National Park, this gorgeous freshwater swimming hole is only a few miles from the ocean and within a 20-minute drive of Bar Harbor’s charming restaurants and shops. The lake gives you a taste of the Maine summer-camp experience without putting you too far from resort-town amenities.
What to Do: Go swimming in water that’s much warmer than the ocean. Lifeguards are on duty throughout summer at Echo Lake. Fishing for brook trout is also popular. Motors of more than 10 horsepower aren’t allowed, making this a quiet place for paddling. Need a canoe or kayak? You can rent one in Bar Harbor.
On Shore: Stay at a waterfront cottage or B&B in Bar Harbor, and catch the free park shuttle to Echo Lake’s beach and other sites in the park. There are two campgrounds at Acadia, one close to Bar Harbor and the other near Echo Lake. After a weekend here, the kids might be begging to go away to summer camp next year.
Finger Lakes, New York
What We Love: Storybook towns and more than 100 vineyards are tucked between these 11 pristine lakes that spread like fingers across the central New York countryside. Each of the Finger Lakes takes on a different personality. Some are outdoorsy types, others are playful with fun educational experiences, and yet others are food fanatics boasting upscale dining and wine experiences.
What to Do: On Cayuga Lakes, the Water-to-Wine Tour takes you winery hopping by boat. Skaneateles Lake offers mail-boat cruises, and you’ll find stand-up paddleboard yoga classes on Canandaigua Lake. Walk along the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, or try a human water ball (think hamster ball) at Seneca Lake.
On Shore: Sample the Cheese Trail, Apple Trail, Wine Trail, or Beer Trail. Families love the National Museum of Play and driving their own car around the Watkins Glen Grand Prix racetrack. New this summer is an aerial adventure course at Bristol Mountain Ski Resort.
Lake George, Adirondack Mountains, New York
What We Love: Lake George’s gorgeous mountain setting and endless miles of undeveloped shoreline make it a soul-soothing respite from life on the East Coast. Thomas Jefferson said, “It is the most beautiful water I ever saw.’’ Over the past 100 years, this quintessential summertime vacation spot has attracted countless families, the Rockefellers and Roosevelts among them.
What to Do: Beyond the cotton candy, arcades, and mini golf is the most compelling reason to visit: the 32-mile-long lake itself. Each week throughout summer, there are fireworks over the lake. Parasailing and paddle-wheeler cruises are some of the more unique water-based activities.
On Shore: In town, you’ll find big-city-caliber resorts, restaurants, and shops. Art museums house pieces from van Gogh and O’Keeffe, and nearly every town in the area has a local history museum. The Adirondack Craft Beverage Trail, new this summer, leads from the village of Lake George to the surrounding Adirondack foothills.
Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair, Lake Country, Georgia
What We Love: An hour east of Atlanta, Georgia’s Lake Country is the perfect escape for urbanites who want to cool off in two sprawling lakes and ease into the pace of small-town living. Here, four historic award-winning towns ooze with Southern charm. Milledgeville recently earned a Great American Main Street award, and Madison was ranked among the World’s Top 16 Most Picturesque Villages.
What to Do: Jet Skiing, wakeboarding, and water-skiing are longtime favorites on Lake Oconee and Lake Sinclair, but this summer, a new activity debuted on Lake Oconee: fly boarding. The boaters who aren’t gawking at this water-propelled device that allows you to hover above the water are socializing at the sandbar while sunbathing and playing water football. They often meet up at the Harbor Club’s Marina Boathouse for down-home barbecue.
On Shore: Save time to peruse antiques and boutiques in Greensboro. Take a trolley ride in Milledgeville to see the antebellum mansions and gardens.
Lake Michigan, Saugatuck, Michigan
What We Love: A lake that feels like an ocean, giant sand dunes, and art everywhere make this stretch of Lake Michigan shoreline a classic summer-vacation destination for Midwesterners. When you’re not sunbathing in Saugatuck, you can brush the sand off your toes and easily lose yourself in unique shops and galleries and watch the sunset from upscale restaurants.
What to Do: Take a long walk along the water at the popular Oval Beach, then stretch out on the sand and relax. The waves are sometimes big enough for bodysurfing. Nearby, where the dunes soar to 200 feet, you can take a dune buggy ride.
On Shore: The opening of some cool, revamped 1920s and ‘30s motels and auto courts heralds the newest trend in Saugatuck: a return to a retro vibe. In nearby Fennville, don’t miss the chance to eat fresh-fruit pie at Crane Orchards & Cider Mill or fuse glass in a 19th-century barn at Express Yourself Art Barn.
Lake Vermilion and Boundary Waters, Minnesota
What We Love: When you visit a state nicknamed the “Land of 10,000 Lakes’’ (actually 11,842), you’re bound to find one that has exactly what you’re looking for. In the remote lakes tucked alongside northern Minnesota’s national forest, the real world feels miles away. And that’s what makes it an ideal destination for fishing in Lake Vermilion, one of the state’s largest lakes, and taking the canoe trip of a lifetime in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
What to Do: Lake Vermilion is a renowned fishing destination for anglers looking to hook walleye and musky. There are hundreds of bays and islands to explore in this massive lake, and in summer, you can ride along on the boat that delivers mail to the remote islands. Paddlers can access the Boundary Waters directly from this lake.
On Shore: Nearby, the cool little lake town of Ely is home to the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center.
Table Rock Lake, Ozark Mountains, Missouri
What We Love: This huge serpentine-shaped lake hemmed by oak and hickory trees is the absolute antithesis of Missouri’s “Little Vegas’’ city of Branson, just 15 minutes away. Since it’s a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-created reservoir, Table Rock Lake has very little development on its shoreline. You can escape commercialism and have a nostalgic vacation swimming in hidden coves, doing cannonballs off the end of the dock, and making s’mores around a campfire.
What to Do: Go on a fishing charter; the lake is ranked one of the top 100 bass-fishing lakes in the world. Skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing are also popular here, and you can rent a boat and water-sport gear from one of several marinas. The new Bass Pro Shops Long Creek Marina has a ski school and SCUBA classes.
On Shore: Check out Big Cedar Lodge’s new “Top of the Rock’’ overlook, with a natural history museum, cave, and waterfall. Hike several miles of trails around the lake.
Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona
What We Love: This 186-mile-long reservoir on the Colorado River is a water highway that twists and turns through red-rock canyons that will leave you speechless. Lake Powell’s sandy beaches and cool blue water beckon boaters. You can be part of the social scene at the marinas and beaches, or you can find complete solitude in a distant canyon’s tucked-away cove.
What to Do: Rent a houseboat or take a tour, cruising beneath canyon walls to the impressive Rainbow Bridge rock formation. See silhouetted cliffs at sunrise, and after dark, watch shooting stars while lying on the top deck. Water-skiing, wakeboarding, kayaking, and fishing are popular pastimes at the lake.
On Shore: Tour Glen Canyon Dam to learn how this controversial desert lake was created. There are several places to go hiking, but the Cathedral in the Desert slot canyon is big on the wow factor.
Lake Washington, Seattle, Washington
What We Love: This huge urban lake with views of the skyline and Mt. Rainier is a soul soother for stressed-out Seattleites, who make the 15-minute drive to go wakeboarding or Jet Skiing after work. Eleven towns (including Seattle) rim Lake Washington, with several waterfront restaurants and shops that are accessible by boat.
What to Do: Jump off the swimming raft at Madison Park’s beach, a popular spot with a grassy shore that fills with summertime sunbathers and concertgoers. Every Labor Day weekend sees the return of a Pirates of the Caribbean movie-set ship and other tall ships to the lake’s Carillon Point at the Woodmark Hotel. On a three-hour battle sail, you hear booming cannons and get to raise the sails.
On Shore: Drive across the lake’s three floating bridges. Join locals at an outdoor spinning or yoga class at the lakeside. Seward Park has a great waterfront biking and walking path.
Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
What We Love: Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada range, Lake Tahoe’s big deep blue glitters in countless sapphire shades around the lake, each depth a different hue. It’s a stunning playground for all kinds of water sports and nightlife that rolls on until dawn. The SUP craze has taken hold in South Tahoe, and nearly anywhere you go, you’ll likely see a stand-up paddleboard strapped to the roof of a car or pulled behind a bike on a trailer.
What to Do: On the south shore, enter the weekly SUP race on Wednesdays or watch the pros at the newly landscaped El Dorado Beach. You can hop on a party boat or take a dinner cruise on one of the lake’s paddle wheelers. Sailing, kayaking, Jet Skiing, parasailing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing are also popular.
On Shore: Worth the splurge at least once is the glass-cabin gondola ride at Heavenly Resort. Live entertainment, bar hopping, and casinos are part of the lake culture here.