Come summer, what could be more all-American than escaping your everyday routine and holing up in a cozy retreat by one of the country’s picturesque lakes?
The U.S. boasts thousands of lakes, so no matter where you live, there’s likely one situated within driving distance, making them more accessible than ocean beaches. Other pluses for a lakefront beach getaway over an oceanfront one? The calm waters of lake beaches are easier to kayak, canoe, and fish on, and they’re especially well-suited to families because kids can splash around without worrying about tides. From the Adirondacks to Lake Tahoe, these eight idyllic American lakefront beaches will inspire you to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Stretching across California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the nation (after Oregon's Crater Lake) and its shoreline extends over 70 miles, so visitors have ample beaches to choose from. In some places, like Secret Cove on the Nevada side, the turquoise water is so clear, you could almost mistake it for the Caribbean. You can go swimming and even snorkeling here—if you can reach it, that is; there’s a fairly steep trail leading down to the beach, though a new three-mile bike route to its shore, opening this July, will ease accessibility. (Note its remoteness is only one reason you might not want to bring the kids: There’s also a clothing-optional policy on the shores of this “secret” sandy beach, which is surrounded by woods—though going au naturel is certainly not required.)
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
It may not look exactly like its Swiss namesake, but Lake Geneva in Wisconsin has long been a retreat for Chicagoans and other Midwesterners who flock to its shores to make the most out of summer. About two hours from Chicago, the small city of Lake Geneva’s historic downtown is right on its eponymous lake, so you can shop for antiques or stroll the streets with an ice cream cone in hand while watching jet-skiers and sunbathers at Riviera Beach, the most popular of the four sandy beaches on the lake. Kids play in the sand and build sandcastles here, while teenagers and adults can try stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking. There’s also golfing and a handful of wineries and breweries in the area.
South Haven on Lake Michigan, Michigan
About two hours from Chicago, the city of South Haven boasts seven public beaches stretching five miles along Lake Michigan’s shores. South Haven calls itself “the blueberry capital of the world,” and it holds a blueberry festival complete with a pie-eating contest every summer on the second weekend of August. The lakefront here offers plenty of other all-American delights, too, like volleyball pits and bonfires. If you go, be sure to visit South Haven’s historic lighthouse, between North Beach and South Beach. South Beach is your best bet for beach time, with amenities aplenty, including grill, picnic, and play areas, as well as public restrooms.
Lake George, New York
Million Dollar Beach
Dubbed the “Queen of American Lakes,” Lake George is about four hours north of New York City in the Adirondacks, where gilded age tycoons like the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilts vacationed in the late 1800s and early 1900s. This picturesque lake is home to Lake George Beach, better known as Million Dollar Beach, a sandy stretch of lakefront that opened in 1951 at a cost of—you guessed it—a million dollars. The state-run beach has plenty of public facilities, including a boat launch, picnic tables, and grills. Down the boardwalk, in Lake George Village, you can go parasailing, take a cruise aboard the Lake George Steamboat Company, or try your hand at water-skiing, wakeboarding, or tubing with Ski Air Watersports. There are affordable places to stay, as well as upscale options, like the Sagamore Resort.
Lake Travis, Texas
Bob Wentz Park
Come summer, Lake Travis, in Texas Hill Country (about an hour northwest of Austin), is the perfect place to cool off in the water and enjoy activities like sunbathing, fishing, swimming, and ziplining. Its lakebed, made of limestone, lends the water a crystal-clear appearance. At Sandy Creek Park on Lake Travis, you can go camping and spot birds and other wildlife in an area that’s removed from the heavy boat traffic found along other parts of the lake, while Bob Wentz Park is popular for water sports like sailing, scuba diving, and windsurfing. The former is good for nature enthusiasts but has a rocky shoreline, while the latter wins points for its sandy beaches and covered picnic area.
Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Nestled up against New Hampshire’s White Mountains, Lake Winnipesaukee spans 72 miles and contains 264 islands, making it the state’s largest lake. Visitors come from all over New England and beyond to enjoy the scenic landscape, hike Mount Major, stay in quaint bed-and-breakfasts, and cruise along the lake aboard the M/S Mount Washington, which departs from Weirs Beach, the most popular of the lake’s handful of beaches. It’s a very family-friendly area, with a long sandy strip, shallow water, a picnic area, public restrooms and dressing rooms, and a playground.
Flathead Lake, Montana
If you want to get out in nature and immerse yourself in the Wild West, there might be no better place than Montana. With 185 miles of shoreline, Flathead Lake dwarfs every other lake west of the Mississippi in the lower 48 states. Campgrounds and rental cabins are scattered along the shore, and in the summer, roadside stands sell fresh cherries, plums, and other fruit. Most of the lake’s shoreline is rocky, not sandy, but Yellow Bay has a wide gravelly beach where you can fish for lake trout, water-ski, swim, boat, and even camp.
Lake Chelan, Washington
Lake Chelan State Park
About four hours from Seattle lies Lake Chelan, an idyllic spot for hiking, swimming, fishing, and camping. Many families return year after year to Lake Chelan State Park, which opened in 1943 and is located on land associated with the Chelan Indian tribe. With a long, sandy beach surrounded by a heavily wooded area and good amenities—including a full-service concession stand, shaded picnic tables, a volleyball court, and stand-up paddleboard rentals—the park is extremely popular in the summer. (If you want to camp there, note that you’d better make a reservation well in advance.)
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