The United States has an endless amount of natural and man-made outdoor playgrounds. From snowy mountain tops perfect for skiing down to amusement parks full of stomach-dropping roller coasters, you’re sure to find an entertainment destination in all 50 of the United States.
One of the most popular places to play outdoors – especially in the summertime – is the lake. The best lakes in the U.S. offer stunning views, miles of shoreline, and water sports activities.
Whether you prefer the beauty of the natural lakes, the history surrounding the body of water, or what the lake offers for adrenaline-filled fun, the United States has multiple lakes you need to visit.
14 Best Lakes in the U.S. in 2023
For those that enjoy exploring what’s under the water instead of riding the top, fishing and scuba diving offer another dimension to lake time activities.
Lakes across the United States offer differing types of fish that call for an exciting day on the lake. The marine life and drowned infrastructure create an exciting underwater adventure for the adventurous souls ready to test their scuba gear.
Whether you’re visiting the lake for the exciting adventures it offers or the relaxing atmosphere, the best lakes in the U.S. are closer than you think!
1. Table Rock Lake, Missouri and Arkansas
Nestled in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks, you will find Table Rock Lake. Table Rock Lake gets its name from the layers upon layers of thin, flat rock that mark the shoreline of the lake, creating an excellent spot to sit back and relax as you watch the boaters float by.
It’s no wonder Johnny Morris decided to build his premier resort on Table Rock Lake! Throughout the lake towns upon Table Rock Lake, you will find a plethora of marinas offering boats, jet skis, and water sports, with your heart’s content in fishing gear.
Annual fishing tournaments bring fishermen from all over to try their hand at fishing the gorgeous lake, making it a popular mid-western destination.
One of the best parts about Table Rock Lake is its family atmosphere, as the area attracts young families for ample entertainment, including theme parks, go-kart tracks, shopping, and live entertainment.
If you’re looking for a lake in the U.S. to retire to, Table Rock Lake is already an established retiree destination.
2. Lake Michigan, Michigan
Lake Michigan is most well-known for its stunning addition to the beauty of Chicago. While its flowing waters create a unique feature of Chicago, it offers much more than that.
Soak up the sun on the city beaches as you look forward to the seemingly endless lake and look back to see the Chicago skyline. Lake Michigan is the second largest Great Lakes by volume and the third-largest by surface area.
The size and convenience of the lake make it a highly sought-after destination for those looking for some like-time fun. Enjoy your everyday lake activities by renting a boat at one of the many marinas along the shoreline.
Don’t forget to reserve extras like tubes, water skis, and wakeboards to ensure your lake experience is full of action. If your budget allows, renting a yacht on Lake Michigan is another way to enjoy the waters but in pure luxury.
3. Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada
Sitting on the state line of California and Nevada, you will find the beautiful Lake Tahoe. The lake sits low as the expansive peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains create a breathtaking scene for the lake.
While the height of the peaks makes the lake look insignificant, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the United States at a 1,645 average depth.
In the warm summer months, Lake Tahoe attracts lake goers as sunbathing along the shoreline is a popular attraction.
Although the lake does stay cold throughout the year, you will find parasailers and boaters scattered across the lake. The lake stays relatively bare in the wintertime due to the frigid temperatures.
However, the sparkling water creates a stunning panoramic scene for skiers and snowboarders traversing the snowy trails on the mountainside. Hiking trails and beautiful drives around the lake offer visitors an additional way to enjoy the lake.
4. Crater Lake, Oregon
While swimming in Crater Lake is allowed, the frigid waters often deter visitors from jumping in for a swim. Crater Lake is a part of Crater Lake National Park in Oregon and was created by a volcanic eruption causing the collapse of a tall mountain peak.
The lake’s vibrant blue hues pay tribute to the water’s depth and cleanliness. Crater lake is the deepest lake in the United States and offers stunning views.
Fed only by rain and snow, the pure nature of Crater Lake has awarded it the title of the clearest large body of water in the world. Take a drive on Rim Road, which travels along the rim of the lake and offers drivers over 30 scenic pullouts.
These scenic overlooks offer everything from frozen volcanic ash to the spot where John Hillman first discovered Crater lake. The 33-miles of Rim Road is the perfect way to enjoy the lake and the natural beauty it offers.
5. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Nestled in the foothills of the White Mountains in New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee covers 72 square miles and has a maximum depth of 180 feet. The lake is surrounded by quaint villages, lakeside attractions, public beaches, and boardwalks to further entice visitors to the area.
Lake Winnipesaukee is most well-known for its annual Ice-Out Contest, where locals guess the earliest date that Mount Washington can safely leave her home port and travel to ports Weirs Beach, Alton Bay, Wolfeboro, and Meredith.
Four fun-filled seasons of vacation are possible at Lake Winnipesaukee as the plethora of launch sites and boat excursions are available.
Whether you enjoy participating in the annual Ice-Out Contest or prefer to indulge yourself in the area’s attractions, Lake Winnipesaukee is a New Hampshire diamond.
6. Caddo Lake, Texas and Louisiana
The average depth of Caddo Lake is eight to ten feet, making it the shallowest lake on our list of best lakes in the U.S. While it is shallow, it is an excellent spot to take a dip and escape the humid and hot southern weather.
If you choose to swim in Caddo Lake, beware of the alligators that call the lake home. One of the most popular features of Caddo Lake is the cypress trees.
The abundance of the trees makes for a cypress wonderland as they cast shade on the waters. Along with the cypress trees, Caddo Lake has an abundance of fish, with over 70 species calling the body of water home.
Paddling is a popular activity on Caddo Lake as various trails are outlined and traversed by adventurous explorers.
The most known spot to access Caddo Lake is via Caddo Lake State Park, a 484-acre landmark. Explore the unique beauty of the southern lakes by visiting Caddo Lake and taking in all it offers.
7. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
While many lake goers may not have heard of this lake until the release of the hit show Ozark on Netflix, Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri is buzzing with excitement.
Known as Missouri’s “Party Lake,” Lake of the Ozarks has everything you need for a fun-filled lake adventure. World-class boating, dining, and lodging are what visitors will find on Lake of the Ozarks.
The 84 square miles of the lake create an expansive playground for those that enjoy the challenge of watersports or those looking for a quiet cove to anchor in.
Marine life, water parks, and natural beauty are additional draws to the Lake of the Ozarks. While the lake itself keeps visitors entertained for hours, the towns that border the lake also provide ample activities to ensure you don’t run out of things to do on land or water.
Annual events like concerts, festivals, farmers’ markets, and seminars bring in visitors from every corner of the United States. More regular activities include dance classes, wine tasting, trivia nights, and dance parties.
8. Hanging Lake, Colorado
The unique nature of Hanging Lake in Glenwood Canyon, Colorado, makes it a popular destination. While accessing the lake requires a permit due to the fragile ecosystem and a 1.2-mile hike, hikers are rewarded with stunning views of one of the prettiest lakes in the United States.
The hike, while it may seem intimidating, is mild and eventually transforms into a boardwalk that was created to further sustain the ecosystem.
When you reach the lake, you are rewarded with crystal clear turquoise waters that will make you think you’ve reached a hidden, tropical paradise. Further natural beauty is emitted from the waterfall that gently feeds Hanging Lake below.
Don’t expect to treat Hanging Lake like a recreational lake as swimming is prohibited to preserve the lake. If you’re looking to explore a hidden gem not easily accessed, consider visiting Hanging Lake in Colorado.
9. Lake Superior, Wisconsin
The statistics of Lake Superior are impressive as it is the largest of the Great Lakes, the largest freshwater lake by surface area, and the third-largest freshwater lake by volume.
One of the most impressive features is that it holds 10% of the world’s surface freshwater. The clear water of Lake Superior makes it a safe swimming destination as the shoreline beaches are open most of the year.
To add to its swimming desirability, the lake’s visibility reaches 100 feet, making it known as one of the cleanest of the Great Lakes.
At the bottom of the lake, the Atlanta – a 172-foot barge – rests as it sank more than 130 years ago during a terrible storm. The history surrounding the lake and its pristine waters make it a popular destination for visitors and locals alike.
10. Flathead Lake, Montana
Montana is full of expansive mountain ranges, tranquil valleys, and breathtaking scenery. Flathead Lake adds to the stunning beauty of the state as the 200 square miles of peaceful waters sparkle along the 185 miles of shoreline.
Flathead has 13 public access points that are maintained by Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, which all offer public restrooms, a boat launch, camping, swimming, and picnic facilities.
The activities on Flathead Lake are endless, as sailing, powerboating, fishing, and waterskiing are only some of the entertainment the lake offers visitors.
If you’re visiting Flathead Lake and you need to do some shopping, Kalispell, Bigfork, and Polson are populated areas that offer grocery stores, restaurants, and retail shopping options.
You don’t want to miss the crystal clear waters of Flathead Lake and the entertainment that’s waiting to be had.
11. Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming
The expansive 136 square miles of Yellowstone Lake ensure it doesn’t get overlooked by visitors to Yellowstone National Park. The 10 miles of shoreline create a picturesque scene as the snow-tipped mountains in the distance peak through the low floating clouds.
A variety of fish call Yellowstone Lake home, like longnose dace, cutthroat trout, redside shiners, lake chubs, and longnose suckers.
While you can find several species of fish in the lake, only the cutthroat trout and longnose dace are native to Yellowstone Lake. Because of the pristine fishing conditions and stunning beauty, Yellowstone Lake is a popular fishing destination.
Unfortunately, due to the thermal activity of Yellowstone National Park, the lake is closed to swimmers. This means you have to enjoy the lake from the shoreline, which isn’t a bad way to do so.
12. Lake Cumberland, Kentucky
Lake Cumberland is your go-to lake for a good time with your best friends. Also known as, “The Houseboat Capital of the World,” Lake Cumberland is a top destination for those looking to have a good time with an abundance of water sports.
Harmon Creek Party Cove on Lake Cumberland is known by locals and visitors as being the best party cove not only on the lake but in all of the United States.
The cove even holds a Guinness Book of World Records title of “largest boat tie-up,” with a total of 1,651 watercraft participating in the challenge.
While boating reigns supreme on Lake Cumberland, fishing is another popular activity on the lake as an abundance of largemouth, smallmouth, and white and Kentucky bass call the waters home. You will also find bluegill, crappie, rockfish, and walleye navigating the water.
13. Crescent Lake, Alaska
Deep in the Chigmit Mountains of Alaska, Crescent Lake sits peacefully, creating a spectacular view for all those lucky enough to witness it.
Fishing opportunities on Crescent Lake are outstanding as sockeye and silver salmon find their way to the lake by swimming up Crescent River. The wooded areas surrounding Crescent Lake have an abundance of wildlife, including bears, making the lake the perfect spot to do some bear watching.
While the lake is known for its natural beauty and surrounding wildlife, it is the most popular spot in Lake Clark National Park, meaning you’re bound to run into other visitors.
Getting to Crescent Lake is another adventure in and of itself, as there is no road leading up to the body of water. Therefore, access to the lake is limited to water landings via small planes.
14. Fingers Lake, New York
Fingers Lake in New York is a thriving destination for all-out family fun. The luxurious setting of the lake and the laid-back atmosphere make it a popular destination for lake-time activities and relaxing near the sparkling water.
Boat rentals and tours are the perfect way to enjoy a day out on the water. From sailing and luxury boat tours to pontoon rentals, marinas along the lake provide visitors with precisely what they need to fit their vacation style.
If you prefer to stay on land, Fingers Lake provides a variety of freshwater beaches and set apart swimming areas in the water. When not enjoying the refreshing water, enjoy the seemingly endless wineries and vineyards scattered along the shorelines.
Fingers Lake is a popular destination for special events and annual festivals, which means there is always something exciting going on in the area. Book a lakefront hotel or reserve a campsite for your visit to Fingers Lake in New York.
Things to Consider
When visiting a lake, it is vital to prepare in advance as you never know what outdoor weather will bring or what will happen while at the lake.
If you’re hiking to a remote lake that doesn’t allow swimming, ensure you pack lots of snacks and drinks and wear the proper shoes. You may also consider packing some bug spray and sunscreen.
If your lake destination is packed full of summertime lake activities, you’ll want to ensure you pack a towel, sunglasses, and plenty to drink. Also, keep in mind transportation to the lake and ensure you understand the swimming policy.
Some lakes are remote and require special transportation to get there, while others offer parking lots just steps away from the shoreline. Some lakes offer stunning views but have a very limited swimming policy.
Make sure you research the lake in advance before expecting to come and swim for the day. Even swimming lakes may close for a day due to an E. coli breakout or bad weather. Even if you don’t plan on swimming, be sure to pack an extra set of clothes when visiting a lake.
Accidents happen, and if you unintentionally fall into the water, you will be glad you packed those dry clothes. Lastly, if your lake vacation includes a boat or water sports equipment rental, ensure you reserve in advance.
Especially during the hot summer months, these water activity rentals can be snatched up quickly. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment. Plan and book your rentals in advance.
Frequently Asked Questions
When it comes time to choose a destination lake, it is vital to understand what you are looking for in a lake and which lakes offer those qualities. Here are some frequently asked questions regarding United States lakes:
What are the most beautiful lakes in America?
The most beautiful lakes in the United States are more often found in the northern region of the United States. Crater Lake in Oregon, Lake Tahoe in California and Nevada, and Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois are known as some of the most beautiful lakes in the United States.
Which U.S. state has the best lakes?
While it is a matter of opinion, based on what lake-time activities you’re looking to enjoy, Missouri and Michigan are known as popular lake states. Missouri and Michigan lakes offer stunning views and multiple lake activities.
What is the cleanest lake in the USA?
The depths of Lake Tahoe make it the cleanest lake in the United States. The depth also contributes to the crystal-clear waters.
What is the largest lake in America?
The largest lake in the United States is Lake Superior. Lake Superior expands across three states – Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin – and one Canadian Province, Ontario. Lake Huron and Lake Michigan follow Lake Superior in size.
Which United States lake is the biggest party lake?
If you’re looking for a party lake, Lake Cumberland in Kentucky is the lake to visit. Harmon Creek Party Cove on Lake Cumberland holds the Guinness Book of World Records for “largest boat tie-up,” with 1,651 boats participating.
So, What’s the Best Lake in the U.S.?
Whether you’re interested in the expansiveness of Lake Superior, the uniqueness of Hanging Lake, or the party vibes of Lake of the Ozarks, the United States is full of desirable lake destinations.
When choosing the best lake in the United States for your personal preference, consider your preferred method of travel to the lake and what lake activities you want to accomplish, before making your decision. Most importantly, have fun and enjoy what the United States has to offer!