From alpine lakes to man-made reservoirs to the ancient remains of extinct volcanoes, lakes offer some of some of nature’s most beautiful landscapes—and some of the best places to vacation. Here are the top ten most beautiful lakes in the U.S.
Visitors to Lake Tahoe have long been drawn to its azure-blue waters, its wide sandy beaches, and its dense evergreen forests—an exquisitely beautiful setting for boating, paddleboarding, fishing, and water skiing. But with a towering wall of perennially snow-capped mountains lining its shoreline, Tahoe’s appeal doesn’t end with the water. Take to the land to find incredible downhill skiing, mountain biking, and ziplining, all accompanied by sweeping views of the lake below. With such an array of options, it’s no surprise that America’s second-deepest lake has become one of its favorite vacation spots.
Encompassing the entire northwestern corner of Vermont, the massive Lake Champlain is best known for the pastoral and largely undeveloped islands scattered across its 490 square miles: North Hero, South Hero, and Isle La Motte. Crisscrossed with bicycling trails, dotted with wineries, and home to the world’s oldest coral reef, these pristine New England islands are the perfect spot for anyone hoping to slip away from civilization for a spell. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for Champ, the resident Lake Champlain sea monster!
If it’s great fishing you’re after, you’d be hard-pressed to beat a vacation at Montana’s breathtaking Flathead Lake, whose famously clean waters lie less than an hour from the gates of Glacier National Park. The lake is filled to the brim with perch, whitefish, and three varieties of trout—which can weigh up to an impressive 50 pounds—making it the ideal destination for anyone whose ideal summer vacation involves a fishing rod and line. And there’s plenty for the rest of the family to enjoy, too, from whitewater rafting to floating across water so clear it’s like you’re flying.
Created almost 15,000 years ago, when the last glaciers covering the Pacific Northwest receded and carved out the area as we know it today, Lake Coeur d’Alene is one of western Idaho’s most alluring hidden gems. From island golf courses to tree-lined bicycle trails to downtown Coeur d’Alene’s thriving Art Walk, this Idaho lake’s winding shores and sun-dappled waters are home to a year-round supply of activities—and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the Northwest.
Cutting a narrow, 55-mile swath through the eastern hills of the Wenatchee National Forest, Lake Chelan has long been one of central Washington’s favorite outdoor playgrounds. From scuba diving to 18-hole golf courses to the dozens of wineries and cideries scattered along its shore, Chelan’s glistening waters and forests of evergreen provide a gorgeous backdrop for a day in the Northwest sun. And, if anything, the lake only becomes more beautiful in the winter, when the hills are frosted with snow and open for tubing, snowmobiling, and nordic skiing.
You can look at pictures of Crater Lake all day long and it still won’t do justice to its incredible size. The remains of an enormous volcano that collapsed almost 8,000 years ago and has since filled with rain and snowmelt, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the ninth-deepest in the world: a caldera of deep, resonant blue, cupped within a circle of cliffs like wine in a goblet. Drive down from the nearby town of Sunriver in the summer for the backpacking and unrivaled stargazing. But if you want to beat the crowds, visit in October, when the slopes are white with the season’s first foot of snow and the entire landscape lies in a mesmerizing stillness.
Deep Creek Lake’s 69 miles of shoreline are tucked away in the dense western forests of Maryland, with four state parks and forests in a 15-mile radius. With just about any outdoor activity you can think of at your fingertips (hiking, skiing, canoeing, swimming, and waterskiing, to name a few), the Deep Creek area has become known as a recreational mecca. And that’s not even to mention the lake itself, whose winding arms and calm waters offer ample opportunities for exploring—especially in the fall, when the lush green trees transform into a dazzling tapestry of reds and golds.
Lake Tohopekaliga—Lake Toho to the locals—lies directly adjacent to the popular tourist town of Kissimmee, providing a peaceful natural alternative to its neighbor’s bustling shops and amusement parks. Kissimmee’s Lakefront Park offers a broad promenade and splash area for the kids, but if you head south, you’ll quickly leave the crowds behind. Rent a boat for a quiet day of bass fishing, or bring your binoculars and keep your eyes peeled for alligators, turtles, egrets, ospreys, and herons!
Maine’s second-largest lake, Sebago Lake holds nearly a trillion tons of water and provides fresh drinking water for the nearby city of Portland. In the winter, the lake frequently freezes solid, creating a veritable wonderland for skating, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing. And when the ice melts, it leaves behind a shoreline filled with hiking trails and sandy beaches, making for a delectable retreat from the city heat. Splash about in the warm, shallow waters, glide a canoe out into the depths, or simply relax in the shade and bask in the sound of its gentle waves lapping the shore.
One of the most spectacular (and photographed) lakes in the entire country, Maroon Lake lies just 10 miles west of the popular ski town of Aspen, flat as a mirror and cradled between the alpine peaks of Maroon Bells. Although its tranquil waters are a sight to behold at any time of year, the best time to visit might be the fall, when the aspens clambering up the surrounding slopes erupt into a vibrant, fiery yellow. Together with the white strips of snow above them, they reflect undisturbed across the water in a stunning display of autumn color.