Summer isn’t complete without dipping in a lake—at least, that’s my personal sentiment. While the days are hot and you’re looking for ways to cool off, might I suggest seeking out a body of water to swim in? Maybe you’re brave enough to plunge into frigid alpine lakes, or maybe you’d prefer jumping off floating docks in a temperate desert reservoir. Or maybe you’d rather cast out your fishing line, launch a paddleboard, or hike around the perimeter. Lakes have it all.
Whether you’re sneaking in a final trip before summer ends or you’re already bookmarking ideas for next year, here are our top five lake destinations in every region of the country.
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Top 5 Lake Destinations
Pacific Northwest: Crater Lake in Oregon
Best for scenic drives, adventurous hiking to swim
See that nearly perfect blue circle on the map of Oregon? That’s Crater Lake, the country’s deepest body of water plunging 1,943 feet into the abyss. This flooded caldera is the remnants of an ancient volcano called Mount Mazama, which collapsed in on itself 7,700 years ago.
Most visitors admire this gem from the road that circumnavigates the lake, but for an immersive experience in Crater Lake’s waters, head to Cleetwood Cove. This is the only place where swimming and wading is allowed in the lake, limited to 100 yards of the cove and Wizard Island. Hiking experience is recommended. The steep 1.1-mile trail drops 700 feet and ends near the boulder lakeshore, where you can sun and swim and appreciate the lake’s size more closely.
Check the National Park Service’s list of things you can and can’t bring to the lake to prevent the spread of invasive species. Also take note: Dogs are not allowed on the trail or in the water.
West: Lake Powell in Arizona and Utah
Best for boats, both motorized and human-powered
Water levels are dropping year over year at Lake Powell, one of the most popular lake spots in the southwest, part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Add this one on your list to see before the water dries up. Stretching 186 miles long, the rocky red shoreline contrasts with the teal blue waters and weaves in and out of side canyons.
It’s no wonder that these placid waters are highly coveted for water skiing, boating, fishing, and swimming. Because of the rocky and cliffy shoreline, it’s not as easy to jump in or launch off the beach, and most beaches are best accessed with a boat—motorized or human-powered.
Lone Rock Beach Campground, off Utah Highway 89, is one of the few spots you can drive directly to the water’s edge and set up camp. This is a primitive first-come, first-served campground—perfect for RVs.
Midwest: Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois
Best for sightseeing, quick access to nature from the city
With 1,400 miles of shoreline spanning four states, Lake Michigan (the one that looks like a sock) is more oceanic than lake-like. Travel this Great Lake’s length and dip into all kinds of environments—from the big city of Chicago to the rolling hills of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
No surprise: Camping opportunities abound with RV parks and natural areas situated nearby the lake. Ludington State Park has three campgrounds popular for their proximity to the striped Big Sable Point Lighthouse. Silver Lake State Park is much smaller but provides shade, a swimming beach, and access to off roading. And Indiana Dunes National Park has a big campground with a path that leads straight to the beach.
Once you find a spot to set up camp, landmarks along the lake’s banks include the Navy Pier, Grant Park, Shedd Aquarium, and Grant Park.
South: Caddo Lake in Texas and Louisiana
Best for paddling and Bigfoot sightings
At 26,810 acres, Caddo Lake is a massive cypress bayou that straddles Texas and Louisiana. Spanish moss drips from the sunken cypress trees and the swamps create winding paths through the wetland—a perfect setting for Bigfoot searches. The North American Wood Ape Conservancy has recorded about a dozen sightings around the lakeshore. More likely though, you’ll spot an alligator hiding in the shallow, shadowy waters.
Recreationally, when you’re not looking for Bigfoot, you can hike, boat, fish, and camp. The 2.5-mile Caddo Forest Trail leads up steps through the trees to a pavilion. Or, you can rent canoes or bring your own to explore the bayou. Texas Parks & Wildlife maintains the campground along the lake, and reservations can be made online.
Northeast: Finger Lakes in New York
Best for a culinary experience in the outdoors
It’s the perfect pairing: More than 400 wineries and vineyards are located within reach of the pristine Finger Lakes in the heart of upstate New York. This area is a haven for foodies who also enjoy outdoor recreation between their meals.
You could spend a lifetime exploring this region, but here’s what’s on our list. At Watkins Glen State Park, waterfalls plunge dramatically into gorges. In Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge, the Main Pool Observation Tower has a telescope for watching the animals. And in the Finger Lakes National Forest, five acres are managed for blueberry picking.
As for where to stay, free camping is allowed throughout the forest. You can also find campgrounds at state parks, and Harvest Hosts has numerous locations at farms, breweries, and wineries/vineyards for your imbibing, vibing needs.
Perhaps your favorite lake didn’t make the list. With thousands of swimming holes out there, narrowing a list down to five of the best is a tall order. We picked the most epic ones in our book, but we might’ve missed some from yours. Whether you head to our favorite lakes or yours though, we hope we’ve inspired you to take an aquatic-based vacation in a trusty rental RV.
Ready to swim?