Searching for the best boating lakes across America? Each region of the U.S. has a different lake experience to offer. Whether you’re searching for the best wind for sailing, the clearest waters for fishing, or the largest lake for speed boating, our guide will help you find the recreational lakes of your dreams!
Best Lakes on the West Coast
The West Coast is home to some of the most beautiful and deepest freshwater lakes in the U.S. But just because there are plentiful, breathtaking waterfronts doesn’t mean they’re all suited for your next weekend getaway or family boating vacation. Check out the four best lakes for boating on the West Coast!
- Location: Straddles border of California and Nevada
- Popular Lake Activities: Windsurfing, water skiing, scuba diving
Get your fill of water sports at one of the clearest lakes in the U.S. The strong mountain winds make Lake Tahoe a destination for windsurfing and sailing, but you can also find great spots for paddleboarding, water cycling, and kayaking. If you’re into wakeboarding, water skiing, or tubing, take your speed boat to Zephyr Cove. The most beautiful lake in the U.S. is perfect for swimming or scuba diving adventures as well since it’s so clear. In fact, visibility of up to 75 feet also makes Lake Tahoe a hub for sport fishing. Explore Vikingsholm Castle, or go hiking and geocaching at Emerald Bay State Park. While in South Lake Tahoe, grab dinner at Riva Grill, or try a new beer at Outpost Brewing Company.
- Location: Chelan County, Washington
- Popular Lake Activities: Wakeboarding, snorkeling, fishing
It might be narrow, but Lake Chelan‘s 50-mile length makes it a dream for recreational boaters. Wakeboarding, water skiing, canoeing, and kayaking are all common activities here. Hoping to sail? Head to Lucerne Basin to catch the wind. The glacier-fed waters also make Lake Chelan one of the clearest lakes in the U.S., so it’s a perfect spot for snorkeling and swimming. Vacationers in the north can enjoy the view of the North Cascades. In the south, Lake Chelan State Park offers a place to camp, build sandcastles, and join in a game of horseshoes. Dock your boat and settle in for a tasting with a view at one of the 30 wineries in the valley. Mountain biking is also popular among both novice and seasoned riders in the area.
- Location: Flathead County/Lake County, Montana
- Popular Lake Activities: Sailing, speed boating, fishing
Spend summer vacation at one of the top lakes in the U.S. As one of the largest freshwater lakes on the West Coast and clearest lakes in the U.S., Flathead Lake is an ideal spot for sailing, speed boating, and fishing. Thirteen public access points make it easy for you to get on the water from any direction. Visitors on the southern part of the lake need to buy a tribal recreation permit, however, as this half of the water lies on Flathead Reservation boundary. If you’re near the west shore, be sure to explore Wildhorse Island. Home to hiking trails that provide an excellent view of bald eagles and wild horses, this state park is only accessible by boat. Looking for a longer hike? Visit Flathead National Forest for biking, nature viewing, or hunting, or head north to Glacier National Park.
Big Bear Lake
- Location: Big Bear Lake, California
- Popular Lake Activities: Paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing
If you’re looking for a lake with endless recreational activities in Southern California, look no further. With an average 320 days of sunshine each year, launching your boat at Big Bear Lake can happen in the spring, summer, and fall. This is one of the best lakes near Los Angeles for jet skiing. Kayaks, pontoon boats, and fishing boats are also popular here. Head out on your own to catch trout, bass, and catfish or take a fishing charter. When you’re ready to go back to dry land, enjoy dining and shopping at The Village. This charming town center hosts seasonal community festivals and offers great stops like Big Bear Mountain Brewery or Sister My Sister Bake Shop.
Best Lakes in the Midwest
Trying to decide where to go boating in the Midwest? You’ll have your pick of the Great Lakes as well as smaller state-side options. Choose which Midwest water experience is right for you and your family!
- Location: Between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario
- Popular Lake Activities: Kayaking, canoeing, sailing
With 1,300 miles of shoreline, Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes in North America and the largest freshwater lake in the U.S. Adventurous, highly-skilled boaters will love taking speed boats out on the vast and unpredictable waters, but keep in mind that venturing out on “The Big Lake” isn’t for novices. In fact, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recommends taking a boating course before launching. The beautiful views along the rocky coast are just a few reasons why visitors take kayaks, canoes, and sailboats on a circle tour of Lake Superior. Other great sightseeing can be found at the Grand Marais Lighthouse in Minnesota, Crystal Falls waterfall on the Ontario border, and unbeatable views along Isle Royale. Just remember that Lake Superior’s northern location creates a fairly short boating season, so it’s best to get your fix of Great Lakes water sports in high summer!
Lake of the Ozarks
- Location: The Ozarks, Missouri
- Popular Lake Activities: Speed boating, tubing, water skiing
Situated in the heart of Missouri, Lake of the Ozarks is nicknamed “The Magic Dragon” because of its slithering shape. Lake of the Ozarks is a prime vacation destination for families and University of Missouri students, and it’s frequently rated as the best recreational lake. Whether you want to go tubing, water skiing, or wakeboarding, there’s plenty to do at this huge manmade reservoir. Try standup paddleboarding, rent a boat or jet ski, or take a sightseeing charter. Once you’ve gotten your fill of water sports, go hiking, biking, or bird watching at Lake of the Ozarks State Park. Explore sinkholes and caves at Ha Ha Tonka State Park. Or travel to Bagnell Dam Strip to experience “The Heart of the Lake of the Ozarks,” where you can find local shops, great barbecue, ice cream parlors, and more.
West Okoboji Lake
- Location: Okoboji, Iowa
- Popular Lake Activities: Parasailing, fishing
Lake Okoboji is one of the best lake vacations for boating, thanks to its depth and striking blue color. Deep water also makes it a coveted location for water sports. Vacationers and locals can be found boating, water skiing, and sailing on the glacier-fed lake. Try something more extreme with parasailing or flyboarding. West Okoboji Lake is also a prime destination for fishing boats. From bluegill to walleye, anglers can be found reeling in major catches. Come off the water on the weekend and catch a free concert at Preservation Plaza, or ride the Ferris wheel at Arnolds Park. Head to Gulf Point State Park to rent a yurt, go hiking or biking, or try geocaching. Fuel up on a hearty brunch from O’Farrell Sisters or grab a beer at Okoboji Brewing Co.
- Location: Harrison County, Ohio
- Popular Lake Activities: Water skiing, wakeboarding, fishing
Looking for a less crowded, more scenic boating vacation? Plan a trip to Tappan Lake! With a 399-horsepower limit, the 350-acre lake is an excellent spot for water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing. You can dock your boat at the marina while you camp, play basketball, visit the nature center, explore the hiking trails, or play sand volleyball on the beach. Public hunting is also a popular activity around Tappan Lake. Less than an hour away sits Schoenbrunn Village, the site of the first Ohio settlement and a great spot for history buffs. If you’re looking for high-stakes fun, drive one hour south to the Wheeling Island Hotel-Casino-Racetrack. Place your bets or grab shrimp tacos at The Pointe Sea & Steak inside.
Best Lakes in the South
When you imagine boating on a hot summer day, the looming trees and vast bodies of water of the South likely come to mind. Whether you’re choosing your next family trip or a weekend getaway with friends, check out the best lakes in the South for boating below!
- Location: Russel County/Wayne County, Kentucky
- Popular Lake Activities: Fishing, wakeboarding, houseboating
As one of the largest reservoirs in the U.S., Lake Cumberland is paradise for boaters looking for recreational fun. If fishing is your passion, Kentucky is home to some of the best lake vacations in the U.S. Bass, trout, and walleye are just a couple of the record-holding fish caught at Lake Cumberland. Fishing boats aren’t the only thing you’ll see out on the water. Speed boats pulling tubes, wakeboarders, and water-skiers are also popular. If you own a houseboat or have dreamed of renting one, Lake Cumberland State Dock is the place to do it! Go hiking, explore historic sites, or try horseback riding at Lake Cumberland State Park. You can also find camping at General Burnside Island. This park in the middle of the lake is home to good golfing and picnic spots. Need a drink after a day in the sun? Check out Fountain Square downtown, and grab a beer at Jarfly Brewing Co.
- Location: Hall County, Georgia
- Popular Lake Activities: Jet skiing, houseboating, speed boating
Mountains, waterfalls, and 700 miles of shoreline help make Lake Lanier one of the most beautiful lakes in the U.S. Rowing, canoeing, and houseboats are popular ways to take in the breathtaking views. Many visitors opt for more high-speed thrills on motorboats and jet skis. Don Carter State Park is one of the many campgrounds and parks offering a place to hike, swim, or spend the night near the water. Don’t want to rough it? If your ideal lake vacation doesn’t include camping, there are plenty of resort-style lodging options. Take a ride down the waterslide at LanierWorld, or enjoy dinner with a view at Sidney’s. With so much to do on and off the water, it’s no mystery why millions of vacationers flock to Lake Lanier each year!
- Location: Okeechobee County, Florida
- Popular Lake Activities: Fishing, air boating
If you’re looking for a place to take your fishing boat, look no further. Lake Okeechobee is one of the best fishing lakes in the U.S., and it’s world-renowned for its largemouth bass population. The largest freshwater lake in Florida is a hot spot for airboats and pontoon boats. Nearby Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail is perfect for hiking, biking, or rollerblading near the water. Make your way into the town for the annual Clewiston Sugar Festival in March. This celebration at the end of sugarcane harvest features live music, a pageant, and lots of sweet treats! Clewiston is also the closest town with the most to do year-round. Stay the night at the historic Clewiston Inn or spend an evening out at Scotty’s Tiki Bar.
- Location: Travis County/Burnet County, Texas
- Popular Lake Activities: Swimming, speed boating, sailing
The center of Texas is home to one of the clearest lakes in the state. Lake Travis is a popular destination for wakeboarding, standup paddleboarding, and sailing. If you’re looking for a party, venture to Devil’s Cove, where you’ll find people anchoring their boats and spending the day floating and drinking. There’s also plenty of family fun to be found on the water with kayaks, jet skis, and houseboats. Or you can climb out of the water and go zip lining for a new perspective on the canyon. Check out Oasis for live music and the best view of the sunset with your dinner. Find unlimited entertainment at Beachside Billy’s Lake Travis Restaurant & Water Park. On an extended vacation? Lake Travis’ close proximity to Austin means you can squeeze in adventures in the city as well!
Best Lakes on the East Coast
While the East Coast might not be the first region you think of for boating, it’s home to some of the most beautiful lakes in the U.S. Explore the unique offerings of each location, and discover the best lake vacations on the East Coast for you and your family!
- Location: Adirondack Mountains, New York
- Popular Lake Activities: Canoeing, fishing, tubing
On the southeast side of the Adirondack Mountains sits the majestic Lake George. Nicknamed the “Queen of American Lakes,” Lake George offers picture-perfect views and clear, deep waters, making it one of the best mountain lakes in the U.S. Take the whole family tubing or put your jet skis in the water at one of the many launch sites. Looking for a quieter swim? Wayside Beach is the best spot to take a dip or go canoeing and kayaking. Experience the lake’s beauty by parasailing or taking a shoreline cruise. Opt for a different vantage point when you hop into a hot air balloon. Lake George is also an ideal place to indulge in the arts. Catch a show from the Adirondack Shakespeare Company, or stop by the Adirondack Film Festival in October.
- Location: Lake Placid, New York
- Popular Lake Activities: Water skiing, cliff diving, tubing
Tucked among the Adirondack Mountains is one of the cleanest lakes in the U.S. Lake Placid provides a freshwater getaway where you can launch your speed boat, sailboat, or pontoon. Test out your water skiing skills with a slalom course near the main island. Daredevils can boat over to Pulpit Rock to try cliff diving. Looking for rougher waters? Go to the Hudson River Gorge for whitewater rafting. While Lake Placid is known for its crisp boating waters, it’s arguably more famous for its magnificent hiking trails. Families can take a leisurely stroll at Cobble Hill, while hikers and bikers looking for a challenge should head to the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. Once you’ve had your fill of outdoor adventure, you can see the work of regional artists at Lake Placid Center for the Arts or explore the nightlife downtown.
- Location: Pike County/Wayne County, Pennsylvania
- Popular Lake Activities: Fishing, wakeboarding, kayaking
Looking for lake vacations on the East Coast with plenty of recreational activities? Located in the beautiful Pocono Mountains, Lake Wallenpaupack offers fun in the sun with an incredible view. Speed boating, tubing, sailing, and jet skiing are all great ways to spend the day. Largemouth bass, walleye, and pickerel are just a few of the popular catches on the lake. Hoping to say goodbye to summer in an epic way? Enjoy three days of food, music, and waterside amusement at the Wally Lake Fest. Don’t forget to spend time among nature while you’re here! View whitetail deer and a variety of birds as you hike around the water or climb into the mountains. Ready for dinner? Get some seafood with a view at Boat House Restaurant.
- Location: Belknap County/Carroll County, New Hampshire
- Popular Lake Activities: Sailing, fishing
Enjoy the clear, glistening waters of the largest lake in New Hampshire! Boaters can enjoy all sorts of recreational activities on the expansive Lake Winnipesaukee. Launch your own boat at one of the many marinas or take a guided sunset cruise. The large size of the lake creates a great wake for those water skiing and wakeboarding. There are also quieter areas if you’re looking to take a scenic kayak ride or try paddleboarding. Many nearby towns offer different experiences based on your interests. Weirs Beach is a popular destination for family fun. There’s everything from arcade games to go-kart rides on shore. If you’re looking for a drink where you can keep your toes in the sand, visit the Town Docks in Meredith.
What are you waiting for? Start planning your next U.S. boating vacation today! Prefer fishing to boating? If you’re a novice or master angler, check out our guide to the best fishing lakes in the U.S.!