Searching for the best boating lakes across America? Each region of the U.S. has a different lake experience to offer. Whether sailing, speed boating, or fishing is your passion, this guide will help you find the best recreational lakes for all of your outdoor recreation needs!
Best Lakes in the West
The West is home to some of the most beautiful and deepest freshwater lakes in the U.S. If you’re looking for your next weekend getaway or family boating vacation, check out the five best lakes for boating in the West!
Big Bear Lake
- Location: Big Bear Lake, California
- Popular Lake Activities: Paddleboarding, kayaking, jet skiing
Want a lake with endless recreational activities in Southern California? Look no further than Big Bear Lake. With an average of 320 days of sunshine each year, launching your boat at Big Bear Lake can happen in the spring, summer, and fall. Jet skiing, kayaking, and paddleboarding are all popular recreational water activities at Big Bear Lake. Head out on your own adventure to catch trout, bass, and catfish, or take a fishing charter onto the deep waters. When you’re ready to go back to dry land, enjoy dining, shopping, and entertainment 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.
- Location: Flathead County/Lake County, Montana
- Popular Lake Activities: Sailing, speed boating, fishing
Spend summer vacation at one of the best lakes in the Northwestern United States! As one of the largest and clearest freshwater lakes in the U.S., Flathead Lake is an ideal spot for sailing, speed boating, and fishing with over 200 square miles of water and 185 miles of shoreline. 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 the Flathead Reservation boundary. If you’re near the west shore, be sure to explore Wild Horse Island by boat, which is home to hiking trails and breathtaking views of wildlife. Wanting to go on a longer hike? Visit Flathead National Forest for biking, nature viewing, or hunting. If you head north, Glacier National Park has over 700 miles of trails.
- Location: Lake Havasu City, Arizona
- Popular Lake Activities: Boating, jet skiing, fishing
Lake Havasu is known as Arizona’s playground! With over 400 miles of shoreline, this Western Arizona lake is surrounded by serene waterfalls, sandstone cliffs, and side canyons—and it’s home to the original London Bridge. The marinas and launch ramps on Lake Havasu make it easy for anyone to reach the lake via watercraft. It’s also the ideal place to enjoy waterfront activities like boating, jet skiing, fishing, and kayaking. Its clear turquoise water, beaches, and good climate make it a popular vacation destination for nature lovers and boating enthusiasts! After you’re done on the water, explore Lake Havasu City, which has a variety of shopping, dining, and entertainment spots.
- Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Utah
- Popular Lake Activities: Paddleboarding, kayaking, water skiing
Located on the border of Arizona and Utah, Lake Powell is a manmade reservoir with beautiful crimson sandstone cliffs surrounding the turquoise and emerald-hued water! With over 90 side canyons to explore, Lake Powell is a great spot for a houseboat vacation during the summer. There’s plenty of waterfront activities to enjoy like wakeboarding, water skiing, fishing, and even boat tours. Surrounding Lake Powell, the Kaiparowits plateau is 1,600 square miles and has a stunning red rock landscape that you’ll want to check out. Take a boat to see one of the world’s largest natural bridges—the Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Stop by the Driftwood Lounge for dinner and cocktails with a stunning lake view. Head out on a houseboat or go camping or swimming on the Wahweap Marina. After a fun day on the lake, stay at the Lake Powell Resort.
- Location: California-Nevada border
- Popular Lake Activities: Windsurfing, water skiing, scuba diving
Get your fill of water sports at one of the clearest lakes in the U.S.—Lake Tahoe! Since it’s surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, 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 located on the southeast shore of Lake Tahoe. This beautiful U.S. lake is perfect for swimming or scuba diving adventures due to its crystal clear water. The gorgeous blue hues of the lake change with the weather, which makes Lake Tahoe beautiful year-round. 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 visiting South Lake Tahoe, grab dinner at Riva Grill, or try a new beer at Outpost Brewing Company.
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. Give one of these top five Midwest lakes a try!
- Location: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin
- Popular Lake Activities: Kayaking, fishing, lake surfing
Lake Michigan is the third largest of the Great Lakes and connects to the Atlantic Ocean from the St. Lawrence River. This top U.S. lake is near main cities like Chicago and Milwaukee, so you have access to all kinds of things to do while on your lake vacation. Lake Michigan is a popular place to go diving, kayaking, fishing, and lake surfing. Its expansive shoreline has several beautiful dune regions like the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Nordhouse Dunes, and Warren Dunes State Park where you can enjoy scenic views while hang gliding or hiking. You can also spot the 59 lighthouses that stand on the beaches of Lake Michigan and serve as a symbol of the centuries-old shipping industry. The Michigan Maritime Museum is worth a visit to see boat models and learn more about Michigan’s maritime history. And located less than a mile away in Chicago, Harry’s Tavern Navy Pier offers a waterfront view with a good selection of local craft beer and house-smoked barbecue.
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 a manmade lake nicknamed “The Magic Dragon” due to its slithering shape. Lake of the Ozarks is a prime summer vacation destination for families and University of Missouri students, and it’s frequently rated as the best recreational lake for boating. 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, which has Missouri’s 12th largest spring. 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 arcade games.
- Location: Between Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario, Canada
- 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 biggest freshwater lake in the U.S. Adventurous and highly-skilled boaters will love taking speed boats out on the vast 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. Fishing is big at Lake Superior and you can catch whitefish, salmon, and trout. 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. Lake Superior is one of the best boating lakes in the Midwest and has a fairly short boating season, so it’s best to get your fix of Great Lakes water sports in high summer!
- Location: Harrison County, Ohio
- Popular Lake Activities: Water skiing, wakeboarding, fishing
Looking for a less crowded and more scenic boating vacation? Plan a trip to Tappan Lake! With a 399-horsepower limit, the 2,350-acre lake is an excellent spot for swimming, water skiing, wakeboarding, and tubing. You can dock your boat at the marina while you camp, play basketball, visit the nature center, or play sand volleyball on the beach. If you’re looking to venture outside of the lake, take the Turkey Ridge Trail or Buckeye Trail to go hiking or biking. 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.
West Okoboji Lake
- Location: Okoboji, Iowa
- Popular Lake Activities: Parasailing, water skiing, fishing
Lake Okoboji is one of the best lake vacations for boating, thanks to its depth and striking blue color. The deep water also makes this lake 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 catfish to walleye, anglers can be found reeling in major catches. Come off the water on the weekend and catch a free movie at Preservation Plaza, or ride the Ferris Wheel at Arnolds Park. Head to Gulf Point State Park to camp, go hiking, biking, or view wildlife. Fuel up on a hearty brunch from O’Farrell Sisters or grab a beer at Okoboji Brewing Co.
Best Lakes in the South
Looking for the best lakes in the South for your next getaway? Whether you want to fish or enjoy a relaxing boat ride out on the water, check out these top southern lakes that offer a variety of waterfront activities!
- 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 a 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 at Lake Cumberland. 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 and an 18-hole golf course at General Burnside Island. This park in the middle of the lake is home to plenty of golfing and picnic spots.
- 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
Nicknamed “The Inland Sea,” Lake Okeechobee is one of the best fishing lakes in the U.S., and it’s world-renowned for its largemouth bass population. Covering 730 square miles, Lake Okeechobee is the largest freshwater lake in Florida and a hot spot for both 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 the 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, where you can go on rides, soak up the sun, or cool off at the waterfall fountain. Check out Waterloo Adventures, an on-the-water Lake Travis playground that has 20 obstacles, balance beams, and climbing walls. On an extended vacation? Lake Travis’ close proximity to Austin means you can squeeze in adventures in the city as well!
- Location: Norris, Tennessee
- Popular Lake Activities: Fishing, tubing, water skiing
Spanning over 800 miles, Norris Lake has a picturesque shoreline and is a great lake destination for water sports with its deep clean waters. Whether you enjoy fishing, waterskiing, jet skiing, or tubing, there’s plenty of things to do while enjoying a lake vacation here. Norris Lake is surrounded by stunning mountains east of Tennessee and extends up the Powell River and Clinch River. It’s a popular destination for fishing, and you can catch bass or walleye on the lake if you have a Tennessee fishing license. Norris Lake even has hydrobike rentals if you’d like to cruise across the lake. There are 22 marinas located at Norris Lake like Sequoyah Marina and Stardust Marina that offer boat rentals and lakeside restaurants. After a day on the lake, you can spend the night underneath the stars at nearby campsites like Norris Dam State Park.
Best Lakes in the East
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. Discover some of the best lakes on the East Coast with the list below!
- Location: Between New York, Vermont, and Quebec
- Popular Lake Activities: Sailing, fishing, canoeing
Lake Champlain is a historic body of water that offers scenic views that span from New York’s Adirondack Mountains to Vermont’s Green Mountains. Whether you’re interested in sailing, canoeing, or paddling, Lake Champlain has it all. Fishing is popular in the summer, while ice skating is a fun activity to do on the lake in the winter. If you’re a newcomer, you can take a sailing lesson with Captain Mike’s Sailing to explore the waters of Lake Champlain. The Champlain Area has over 87 trails that are the perfect spot for nature lovers and hikers. There are sandy beaches along the shoreline and great restaurants to dine at like The North Hero House and the Lake Champlain Room at Shore Acres Inn & Restaurant. While in Vermont, you can explore the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum to learn about the history and archaeology of the lake. Or you can experience boat building, live music, and sample local fare at the Lake Champlain Maritime Festival.
- Location: Adirondack Mountains, New York
- Popular Lake Activities: Canoeing, fishing, tubing
On the southeast side of the Adirondack Mountains sits the majestic 32-mile long 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 that offers historic sightseeing. Opt for a different vantage point when you hop into a hot air balloon, which will take your breath away with its gorgeous views. 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. Take a vacation to Lake Placid to enjoy its fresh mountain air and majestic views of the water. This lake is a perfect destination for 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 catch a show or see the work of regional artists at Lake Placid Center for the Arts. Explore the nightlife downtown by going to a wine tasting or dancing the night away at lively local clubs.
- Location: Pike County/Wayne County, Pennsylvania
- Popular Lake Activities: Fishing, wakeboarding, kayaking
Looking for lake vacations in the Eastern United States with plenty of recreational activities? Located in the beautiful Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains, Lake Wallenpaupack offers fun in the sun complete with breathtaking views. This lake is 13 miles long and a great place for fishing, cruising, tubing, sailing, or jet skiing. You can catch popular fish on the lake like bass, walleye, and trout. 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 in 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 located in the town of Hawley. the town of Hawley.
- 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. Visit Ellacoya State Park in Gilford to go camping, canoeing, or sunbathe on the sandy beach. 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 dry land. 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.!
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