11 Top Vacation Lakes in America: Expert Review (2023)

What are the most popular vacation lakes in the United States? We’re sure you have your favorites, but what about the big picture?

We took a deep dive into the most-visited pages on LakeLubbers.com, then used search engine data to reveal lakes with the largest number of vacation-related webpages.

Our search was a bit complicated by lakes that share the same names (Lake Placid, Lake Geneva, Crystal Lake and Lake George, for example). We excluded the Great Lakes because each one includes so many vacation destinations.

So what are the most popular vacation lakes in the U.S.? The following 11 lakes, listed in alphabetical order by state, dominated our results. Follow each link for lake vacation information and photos!

1 – Lake Havasu, Arizona/California

Lake Havasu is a 20,400-acre gem in the arid desert terrain of the Arizona/California border. The most recognizable sight around Lake Havasu is the London Bridge, moved piece-by-piece to this unlikely location in 1971.

ondon Bridge in Lake Havasu, old historic bridge rebuilt with original stones in America
travelview via canva

The lake stretches out about 45 miles along the meandering Colorado River that forms the border between the two states.

Parker Dam, the genesis of Lake Havasu, was built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation between 1934 and 1938 for hydropower, drinking water, and irrigation water. Since then, Lake Havasu has become a recreational mecca for boaters, jet skiers, and sailing enthusiasts.

Because too many boaters were getting lost or beached at night without navigation lights on such a large lake, the Lake Havasu Lighthouse Club began to place navigation markers on top of lighthouses in the late 1990s.

Today, Lake Havasu has 27 workable lighthouses that provide navigational aid to boaters. All but one are smaller replicas of famous North American lighthouses.


2 – Big Bear Lake, California

Sunset with sunburst rays shines through a pine tree at Big Bear Lake, California
Ron and Patty Thomas via canva

Located just 100 miles from Los Angeles, 3,000-acre Big Bear Lake sits in the middle of the San Bernardino National Forest at an elevation of nearly 6,750 feet above sea level. The lake was named in the mid-1800s for the grizzly bears in Big Bear Valley, where the California gold rush began.

Big Bear Lake’s first dam was built in 1884 to impound snow-melt water for irrigation, followed by a larger dam in 1912. Tourism followed, and the area’s first hotel opened in 1888; the first ski resort was inaugurated in 1949.

Today the tradition of tourism continues for this popular vacation lake. Big Bear Lake is an aquatic playground, welcoming power boats, jet skis, canoes, and kayaks. Scenic hiking trails follow the footsteps of early settlers and turn to cross-country ski trails in winter.

Mount San Jacinto rises 10,804 feet in the San Bernardino National Forest, providing spectacular views of the valley and mountains.

Big Bear Lake turns into a winter wonderland when the weather turns cold, offering world-class downhill skiing and snowboarding. Bear Mountain is the top mountain resort in Southern California.


3 – Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Woman enjoying view of Lake Tahoe from atop a rock
KDickinson via canva

When it comes to vacation lakes, Lake Tahoe is the quintessential four-season destination, with winter vacations just as popular as summer getaways.

Tucked into the Sierra Nevada Mountains and straddling the California/Nevada line, 122,000-acre Lake Tahoe is the second deepest lake in the USA with a maximum depth of 1,645 feet.

Lake Tahoe gained international recognition when it hosted the 1960 Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley. Although Lake Tahoe is a natural lake formed about two million years ago, it is also is a multi-purpose reservoir for hydropower generation, water storage for agriculture, fish and wildlife protection, drought protection, and recreation.

More than 80% of the Lake Tahoe Basin is under public ownership through the U.S. Forest Service and the State Parks of California and Nevada, providing an incredible array of outdoor activities.

D.L. Bliss State Park and Emerald Bay State Park provide six miles of spectacular shoreline with panoramic views. Picturesque Emerald Bay was recognized as a National Natural Landmark in 1969, and was designated as an underwater state park in 1994.

With hundreds of inches of snow each year, numerous world-class alpine ski resorts, and spectacular snow-covered views, Lake Tahoe is a premier destination for winter vacation fun.


4 – Deep Creek Lake, Maryland

Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
ralph_bean. Licensed with CC BY 2.0

Deep Creek Lake is the largest inland body of water in Maryland. Like all Maryland lakes, this 3,900-acre reservoir is man-made. It is a haven for many freshwater fish species, aquatic birds, and black bears.

Deep Creek Lake was created by damming the Youghiogheny River for hydropower, filling to capacity in 1929. The lake slowly evolved into a popular recreation lake and tourist destination during the 20th century.

The State of Maryland purchased the lake in 2000 from Pennsylvania Electric Company, transforming this western Maryland mountain reservoir into a summer and winter vacation destination.

Deep Creek Lake State Park offers a sandy swimming beach and hiking trails, ranging from easy to difficult. The Park’s Discovery Center features please-touch exhibits for both young and old on local flora, fauna, history, culture, and the lake’s habitat. Hiking trails transform into snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and snowmobile trails in winter for year-round recreation.


5 – Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Quaint buildings dot the shoreline of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire
DenisTangneyJr via canva

New Hampshire’s Lake Region is well known for its beautiful four-season scenery: covered bridges, old red barns and church steeples, all accented by mountain overlooks.

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire, spanning almost 44,600 acres with 385 islands dotting its surface, 274 of them inhabitable.

Boating is a year-round activity, even in the winter when ice sailing takes center stage. Scenic lake cruises are available during summer months, including a floating U.S. mailboat that delivers mail to the lake’s islands.

Public beaches are scattered around the 240-mile shoreline, including Ellacoya State Park with a 600-foot long sandy beach and RV campground. The lake also boasts four castles near its shores: Kimball Castle, Roxmont Castle, Graystone Caste, and Castle in the Clouds (open to the public).

When you visit, keep your camera ready for sightings of Winnie, Lake Winnipesaukee’s fabled monster.


6 – Finger Lakes, New York

Clouds form over Skaneateles Lake, Skaneateles, a popular vacation destination in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, USA, before sunset on a winter day.
Jonathan W. Cohen via canva

Eleven long, narrow glacial lakes form the Finger Lakes Region of New York.

The 11 vacation lakes, from largest to smallest are: Seneca Lake (43,243 acres), Cayuga Lake (42,956 acres), Keuka Lake (11,584 acres), Canandaigua Lake (10,553 acres), Skaneateles Lake (8,960 acres), Owasco Lake (6,665 acres), Conesus Lake (3,420 acres), Otisco Lake (1,878 acres), Hemlock Lake (1,800 acres), Honeoye Lake (1,772 acres), and Canadice Lake (649 acres).

These 133,480 acres of water serve to moderate the temperature of the entire area, allowing the Finger Lakes Region to develop a major grape-growing industry. The region includes over 100 wineries, making it the largest concentration of wineries in the United States outside of the Napa Valley.

Related >> 5 picturesque U.S. lakes that pair well with wine

The river gorges carved by glaciers provide scenic hiking trails, waterfalls, and white-water rivers. Autumn ‘leaf-peeping’ tours are popular.

The Finger Lakes Region offers 17 state parks, 11 on the water, and a variety of city and county parks. Farmers markets, historical sites, golf courses, and every possible recreational activity can be found on or around the Finger Lakes.


7 – Lake George, New York

Boats and parasail on Lake George in New York
Majicphotos via canva

Sitting pretty at the base of New York’s majestic Adirondack Mountains, Lake George’s nickname is “Queen of American Lakes.” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1791 that “Lake George is without comparison, the most beautiful water I ever saw.”

Surrounded by mountains, islands dot the surface of this 28,000-acre lake, and rock formations jut from the shoreline. A trip out on the lake is a must during warm weather, whether by speedboat, pontoon boat, kayak, canoe, or cruise boat.

Miles of biking and hiking trails weave through the Adirondack Mountains along the lake’s shoreline with breathtaking views. Prospect Mountain offers panoramic lake views and is accessible to hikers, bikers, and motorists.

And when the weather turns cold, Lake George gears up for its annual winter carnival, a month-long celebration featuring games, children’s activities, a chili cookoff, outhouse races, an ATV poker run, bonfires on the beach, fireworks, a polar plunge and much more.


8 – Lake Placid, New York

View of Lake Placid from Veteran's Memorial Highway
Ronald Hancey Jr via canva

The most famous Adirondack Lake is 2,170-acre Lake Placid, the host of two Winter Olympics (1932 and 1980), bringing a variety of winter sports venues in the area into the wider public eye.

Visitors arrive in all seasons and from all corners of the world to enjoy Lake Placid and its smaller sister, Mirror Lake.

Whiteface Mountain treats sports enthusiasts to superb alpine skiing. Snowmobiling, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, bobsledding, tobogganing, dog sledding, or a leisurely chairlift ride up the mountain are great ways to experience the snow-covered beauty of the Adirondacks.

These vacation lakes are just as popular during warmer weather. Boating, canoeing, kayaking, cruise tours, swimming, camping, golf, and autumn ‘leaf-peeping’ drives are popular.

The Village of Lake Placid is a fun place to browse the talents of local artists and craftsmen. Another popular attraction, the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park, provides thousands of miles of wooded hiking, biking, and equestrian trails with panoramic summits.


9 – Lake Lure, North Carolina

Trees and clouds reflected on the calm waters of Lake Lure in North Carolina
NikonShutterman via canva

Although small in size with just 720 surface acres, Lake Lure’s picturesque setting at the base of western North Carolina’s mountains has beckoned movie crews since the 1950s. Famous movies filmed here include Dirty Dancing (1987), Last of the Mohicans (1992), and My Fellow Americans (1996).

Related >> 9 lake movie locations you should visit in real life

National Geographic once named Lake Lure one of the 10 most beautiful man-made lakes in the world. Panoramic views over Lake Lure and Hickory Nut Gorge from Chimney Rock State Park extend 75 miles on clear days.

The Park offers seven main trails that vary in difficulty, promising amazing views, incredible rock formations, and a maze of stairways that will amuse and challenge. And, whether your preference is speed boat, pontoon boat, bass boat, canoe or kayak, be sure to spend some time cruising the sapphire blue waters of Lake Lure.


10 – Lake Buchanan, Texas

Aerial view of Lake Buchanan, Texas, in the summer
Ryan Conine via canva

Lake Buchanan is the oldest, northernmost, and second-largest of the Texas Highland Lakes, known as “Big Buc” to locals.

Created by damming the Lower Colorado River, Lake Buchanan stretches out over 22,335 acres when full, but can drop significantly during periods of drought.

Located about 60 miles northwest of Austin, visitors enjoy scenic drives and cruises around the lake. The eastern shore is rugged and hilly with granite cliffs, deep water, waterfalls and cactus, while the western shore has nice granite pebble beaches for swimming, fishing, water skiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, and picnicking.

The Lower Colorado River Authority maintains three parks on Lake Buchanan: Cedar Point Recreation Area, Black Rock Park, and Canyon of the Eagles. Every season offers its own spectacular sights.

American Bald Eagles migrate south November through March. Canyon of the Eagles nature preserve provides an eco-friendly location to view these magnificent creatures. April through June turns the lake area into a wildflower delight. And don’t miss the Lake Buchanan Regatta held every April.


11 – Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia

A red and white sailboat glides along the shoreline of Smith Mountain Lake in Virginia
SML Regional Chamber of Commerce

20,600-acre Smith Mountain Lake, known as the “Jewel of the Blue Ridge,” is located in the foothills of southwest Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It is the home base of LakeLubbers!

SML hosts special events throughout the year, including bass tournaments, fireworks on the water, a wine festival, fall chili and craft festival, charity home tour of lakefront homes, and a Christmas boat parade. Several movies have also been filmed at Smith Mountain Lake, including the cult classic “What About Bob?”.

Smith Mountain Lake State Park and SML Community Park feature beautiful sand beaches and miles of hiking trails. The parks, plus four golf courses, provide plenty of opportunities for outdoor recreation. The paddlewheel cruise ship, the Virginia Dare, offers scenic lunch and dinner cruises.

With 500 miles of shoreline to explore, Smith Mountain Lake welcomes all types of watercraft – runabouts, pontoons and tritoons, bass boats, wake surf boats, jet skis, canoes, kayaks and paddleboards – making it stand out among vacation lakes you should visit.

girl on a SUP on a lake
Share your lake love