There’s nothing quite like spending a day, a week, a childhood or, if you’re lucky, even a lifetime living next to a lake. While most people dream of owning a beach home when it comes to waterside dwelling, there’s a certain magic to lake towns that’s uniquely alluring. They’ve got a small town vibe even if hoards of tourists descend upon them each summer and their scenery, no matter where they’re located in the United States, is always uniquely breathtaking.
Let us not forget the lakes themselves—if you’re looking for bodies of water on which you can kayak without the fear of getting swept out to sea, form innertube islands without battling waves and in which you can swim with virtually no fear of being ingested or harmed by an aquatic creature, the shimmery emerald basins will make your heart sing. With great difficulty, we picked out eight of the best lake towns in America to spend your next vacation at based on their watery offerings, scenery and vibe alike. Happy trails!
Lake Ozark, Missouri
If the sound of that aforementioned innertube island appealed to you but you’d prefer to join it with a beer (or two) in hand, Lake Ozark will be your watery wonderland. Known for its rowdy atmosphere, it’s home to Party Cove, a known meeting spot where boats, floaties and the like gather to hang out. Boasting more than 1,100 miles of shoreline, the lake is quite sizeable too. If you’re looking for something nearby that’s a bit more family friendly try Table Rock Lake.
South Lake Tahoe, California
This destination is a paradise for anyone who likes to adventure in the great outdoors. The lake itself is a breathtaking sight, with rocky, tree-dotted shoreline and crystalline water that will leave you temporarily stunned. Along with a gorgeous landscape, Tahoe also offers a web of hiking trails, mountain biking terrain, waterfalls to discover and a party friendly atmosphere.
Grand Lake, Colorado
Nestled within the Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Lake is Colorado’s largest natural body of water. It’s surrounded by a ring of beautiful peaks and boasts a temperate crispness, even during summer months. It’s another great destination to do some hiking at and the town itself, which TK of the Wild West, is filled with quaint cabins and restaurants. If you’re looking to get a relaxing Rocky Mountain high, this is the place.
Situated on Lake Michigan, Saugatuck is a uniquely scenic spot for its vast sandy dunes. It’s home to the renown Oval Beach, which could confuse you for a stretch of oceanside shoreline. An especially LGBTQ-friendly town, Saugatuck has been called the Fire Island of the Midwest and is an excellent getaway spot for Detroit and Grand Rapids-dwellers looking for some watery refuge.
Lake Lure, North Carolina
If you’re looking for a spot with a very small town vibe, look no further than Lake Lure. Located at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s surrounded by hilly and tree-rich scenery and is a mere hour’s drive away from Asheville. Movie buffs, you might recognize Lake Lure—it’s where the 1987 hit Dirty Dancing was filmed.
Lake Placid, New York
Five hours north of Manhattan by train, Lake Placid is a popular getaway for city dwellers. Having hosted two winter Olympics it’s got some interesting history to explore for you sports fans. If you prefer to be doing the physical activity yourself, you can go for a scenic hike up Whiteface Mountain or kayak across Mirror Lake. With plenty of quality restaurants and lodging options to choose from, it’s the perfect vacation spot to splurge
Lake Havasu City, Arizona
Here’s another option for you partiers. Like Lake Ozark, Lake Havasu is home to regular floating celebrations except here, they can be followed up with nights spent dancing at clubs (some of which have pools). The lake also offers a ton of watersports like boating, water skiing, and paddle boarding, and the nearby Sonoran Desert is a beautiful place for a walk. Just make sure to make it a quick one—temperatures can reach an ungodly 128 degrees in the summer so hydrate and apply sunscreen (*link to sunscreen post?) accordingly.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Popular with vacationers from Milwaukee and Chicago, Lake Geneva boasts a shoreline dotted with mammoth historic mansions that give the town a swanky and old-timey feel. Take a stroll down the 26-mile Lake Geneva Shore Path to see some of the residences and their beautiful gardens up-close and personal, or head out onto the water for an array of activities. Whether you simply want to chill on a sailboat or go parasailing or fishing, this lake town’s got something for you.
Puffer coats, plaid shirts, wool socks, and crackling fires are all great ways to combat the season’s dropping temperatures, but when it comes to warmth that’s both effective and indulgent, a holiday cocktail is where it’s at.