Skip the Coast This Summer and Go to One of These Beautiful Lake Beaches Instead

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?

Secret Cove viewed from shore of Lake Tahoe, with snowy mountains in background

Lake Tahoe’s turquoise water could stand in for the Caribbean.

Photo by Shutterstock

The United States 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 for most people in the country. 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 U.S. lakefront beaches will inspire you to get out and enjoy the great outdoors.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Round Hill Pines

Stretching across the border of 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. It’s also easy to reach—a three- to four-hour drive from San Francisco and less than an hour from Reno-Tahoe International Airport.

On the Nevada side of the lake, Round Hill Pines Beach and Marina is a less-crowded alternative to some of Tahoe’s more famous beaches. It’s great for families because there’s convenient parking, a paved bike path, and amenities and activities like lounge chairs and umbrellas, beach volleyball, kayaks, pedal boats, stand-up paddleboards, and parasailing. You can even get food delivered right to your spot on the beach.

An aerial view of Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva is just two hours from Chicago but might as well be a world away.

Courtesy of Visit Lake Geneva

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Riviera Beach

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 clothes, jewelry, home decor, art, and gifts or stroll the streets with an ice cream cone in hand while watching tour boats and sunbathers at Riviera Beach, the most popular of the four sandy beaches on the lake. Kids build sandcastles here, while teenagers and adults can try stand-up paddleboarding or kayaking. There’s also golfing and more than a dozen wineries and breweries in the area. Visit Lake Geneva has a list of recommended options.

Aerial view of South Haven's lighthouse at the end of two long piers

South Haven’s lighthouse is at the end of a long pier.

Photo by Frederick Millett / Shutterstock

South Haven on Lake Michigan, Michigan

South Beach

About two hours from Chicago, South Haven boasts 10 public beaches stretching six 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 concession stands. If you go, be sure to visit South Haven’s historic lighthouse, “the beacon that guides us home,” between North Beach and South Beach. South Beach is your best bet for lakeside beach time, with amenities aplenty, including a splash pad, kayak and paddle board rentals, picnic, and play areas, as well as public restrooms.

The sandy swath at Lake George Beach with green hills in background

The sandy swath at Lake George Beach—better known as Million Dollar Beach—fronts New York’s Lake George.

Courtesy of Amanda Metzger/Lake George Regional Chamber of Commerce & CVB

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 or take a cruise with the Lake George Steamboat Company, where three ships offer tours from May to October. There are affordable places to stay, as well as upscale options, like the Sagamore Resort in Bolton Landing. Here, accommodations include rooms in a former 19th-century carriage house as well as stand-alone houses and lodges; there are eight dining options, one offering Italian cuisine and another a New York–style steakhouse, among more casual options.

Aerial view of Lake Travis

Lake Travis is a favorite spot for Austinites beating the summer heat.

Photo by Roschetzky Photography / Shutterstock

Lake Travis, Texas

Bob Wentz Park

Come summer, Lake Travis, in Texas Hill Country (about 40 minutes northwest of Austin), is the perfect place to cool off in the water and enjoy sunbathing, fishing, swimming, zip-lining, and more. Its lake bed of limestone gives 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. 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

Weirs Beach

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, viewed from rocky shoreline, with mountains in background

Flathead Lake’s immense shoreline is dotted with camping sites.

Photo by tusharkoley / Shutterstock

Flathead Lake, Montana

Yellow Bay

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.

Steep green hills meet shore of Washingston's Lake Chelan; short pier in foreground

Washington’s Lake Chelan State Park is a haven for hiking, swimming, fishing, and camping.

Photo by Bill Gozansky / Alamy Stock Photo

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 offering beverages, ice cream, and hot food, shaded picnic tables, a volleyball court, hydro bikes, and stand-up paddleboard rentals—the park is extremely popular in the summer. (If you want to camp there, you’d better make a reservation well in advance.)

Lake Powell on the Colorado River

Lake Powell boasts almost 2,000 miles of shoreline.

Photo by kavram/Shutterstock

Lake Powell, Arizona and Utah

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

Straddling the Utah-Arizona border, Lake Powell is home to dramatic red-rock scenery and desert landscapes, which contrast with the deep blue water. It’s a popular vacation spot for camping and houseboating, especially on holiday weekends like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. There are plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation, both on the water and on land. In addition to boating, kayaking, or fishing, you can hike or go off-roading with an ATV.

Technically, Lake Powell isn’t a lake, but a reservoir. It was created when the Colorado River was dammed in the 1960s, flooding the region’s sandstone gorges. Accessibility varies due to changes in the water level, so check the website of the National Park Service before going.

This article originally appeared online in 2019; it was most recently updated on May 2, 2024, to include current information.

Laura Itzkowitz is a freelance journalist based in Rome with a passion for covering travel, arts and culture, lifestyle, design, food, and wine.
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