Summer Fun at Lakes
There is nothing more refreshing on a hot summer day than cooling off in a lake. There are lakes scattered across the country that offer a variety of experiences to take the heat off when temperatures soar. Here is a list of more than a dozen lakes in just as many states that feature plenty of amenities to please everyone in the crowd, not to mention provide scenic backdrops to enhance your water experience. And while you enjoy these outdoor adventures, please be safe in and around the water. Visit our article from National Safe Boating Week for tips on boat and water safety. Life jackets save lives!
Search By State: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming
Both the Chugach and Tongass National Forests in Alaska offer numerous wild and remote lakes for fishing and boating. Many of these lakes are near a Forest Service cabin, available for advance reservations on Recreation.gov (search for lodging in Alaska and then select “cabins”). If remote and rustic is your thing, try Juneau Lake Cabin. Overlooking Juneau Lake, those wanting to fish will find rainbow trout, whitefish, burbot and grayling in these waters. Getting here is an adventure in itself – access is by hiking, biking, float plane or horseback riding.
Area (Keith Fields/Share the
Lake Mead National Recreation Area is 40 minutes southeast of Las Vegas and offers a myriad of recreation opportunities. Formed by the Hoover Dam, which is one of America's Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders (try the amazing tour), Lake Mead is the largest reservoir in the United States. Five marinas offer access to Lake Mead (and Lake Mohave formed by Davis Dam, below Hoover), with year-round activities including boating, water skiing, canoeing, kayaking and scuba diving. Along the shores you’ll find opportunities to camp, bike and hike. Read more in our Spotlight on Hoover Dam and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Arizona and Utah
It’s hard to say whether Glen Canyon National Recreation Area is better known for its waters or for its spectacular red rock shoreline and canyons. Find out all there is to do here when you plan your visit and enjoy everything from boating, to swimming, to fishing to backcountry hiking (check the parks eHikes). Join a guided boat trip to Rainbow Bridge, tour Glen Canyon Dam, rent a houseboat or just relax and enjoy the scenery. Visit the park’s YouTube channel to watch videos about all there is to see and do at Glen Canyon.
If you want to take a break from wine tasting and feasting at the many world-class vineyards and restaurants in famous Sonoma wine region, refresh yourself at this picturesque lake just a few miles north of Geyserville and Healdsburg. Visitors can go for a dip in the lake at numerous designated beaches or rent a boat. Sport fishing enthusiasts seek out Yorty Creek on the north end of the lake, where there is a launch for small boats that do not require trailers; perfect for non-motorized boaters who like to fish or paddle far from motorboats.
Situated between Reno, Nevada, and Sacramento, California, with 72 miles of shoreline and over 1,600 feet deep, outdoor enthusiasts can escape the city heat to the cool elevations of Lake Tahoe in over an hour’s drive. Whether paddle boarding from south shore, relaxing on the beach and swimming in the clear blue waters off west shore, waterskiing or sailing from north shore, or even catching a Shakespeare play with Tahoe as your back-drop from the east shore – the Lake Tahoe area has something for everyone.
As the largest body of water in Colorado, Blue Mesa Reservoir offers nearly 100 miles of shoreline and is the largest trout and Kokanee salmon fishery in the United States. Blue Mesa is a popular destination for fishing, as well as other water sports, and with three distinct basins there is room for all activities. There are four boat ramps and two marinas available through the end of the season on October 15. Be aware, there is a mandatory boat inspection by Colorado Parks and Wildlife personnel to help prevent the spread of invasive species. There is plenty of camping and cabin rentals available in nearby Curecanti National Recreation Area; Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests; Rio Grande National Forest; and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.
Come try wake surfing at beautiful Lake Sidney Lanier just north of Atlanta. You start in the water with a rope tied to a boat, but once you get up on your surfboard you toss the rope back and simply ride the big wake. Boaters place ballast in the boat in order to create an extra large wake, and navigate the boat more slowly than for waterskiing. For safety, be sure to wear a life vest. Book a campsite in advance at one of the lake's six campgrounds.
Just because a lake has steep, inhospitable sides and inconsistent water levels doesn’t mean you can’t have a pleasant place to congregate on the lake. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at this Idaho reservoir north of Boise partnered with local officials to come up with an innovative idea for a destination dock, an anchored, floating social patio where boat owners can tie off in the middle of this very picturesque lake and gather with their friends. The rectangular design with the open center allows swimming without “mixing people with propellers,” creating a safe environment. Dworshak Reservoir now hosts six destination docks — all of which were funded by Idaho Parks and Recreation. Camping reservations are available on the lake at Dent Acres.
Just minutes from Boise, Lucky Peak Lake is a popular destination to enjoy all kinds of water sports like fishing, jet skiing, wakeboarding, waterskiing and more. Camping, picnic areas, hiking and biking trails, beach areas, playgrounds and five boat ramps offer plenty of access and options. The lake is managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is flanked by federally owned land along this 12-mile lake. The Lucky Peak State Park offers another fun water alternative at the base of the Lucky Peak Dam which forms the Boise River.
Above St. Louis near Grafton, where the Illinois River and Mississippi River meet, lies the Riverlands, one of America’s best-kept recreational secrets. The Upper Mississippi has only 25 percent of the flow that it has further downstream, making for a far more serene experience. Kayakers and canoeists can linger in the quiet byways of the river along islands where wildlife abounds; indeed the area is one of the most important parts of the migratory birds’ flyway. Visitors will see wildlife galore here, including waterfowl such as pelicans and terns, plus bald eagles, beaver and deer. There are kayak rental shops nearby; make sure to rent a life vest as well. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage the river here, and host the Riverlands Migratory Bird Sanctuary with the Audubon Society near Alton, Illinois. Birders may enjoy our Spotlight article on the Riverlands Bird Sanctuary.
Why travel to the ocean when you can visit the largest sandy beach in the state of Iowa? It’s located at the North Overlook Beach Facility at Lake Red Rock, located along the very popular Volksweg Trail for hikers and bicyclists (the People’s Trail). Beach designers brought in 10,000 tons of sand to create the impression of a spacious ocean beach. Visitors can bicycle to the beach from other Lake Red Rock recreation sites, or even nearby Pella, they can also play volleyball at two courts and rinse off at indoor and outdoor showers. Campers can book sites in advance at four campgrounds on the lake. Read more about Lake Red Rock in our Spotlight article.
Crupi/Share the Experience)
We hope one day you get a chance to visit our nation’s first national park east of the Mississippi River. The park is home to many interesting plants and animals and has the tallest mountain on the Atlantic coast. Ponds and lakes dot the Acadia landscape where you can enjoy fishing, boating, or hiking the granite peaks. Grab your bike and pedal near or around one of the lakes or ponds on a carriage road, a type of brokenstone road commonly used at the turn of the 20th century or go swimming at Echo Lake Beach.
Lakeshore (Jeremy Hendzel/Share
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers 65 miles of sand beach, bluffs that tower 450 feet above Lake Michigan, clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna, immense sand dunes, lush hardwood and conifer forests, meadows, wetlands, streams and bogs. It is topped off with a huge helping of history – abandoned farm sites, U.S. Life-Saving Service stations, an island lighthouse and countless shipwrecks to explore. Sleeping Bear was voted the “Most Beautiful Place in America” on ABC Television’s Good Morning America – and it’s not hard to see why. A visit to Sleeping Bear is bound to make even the most traveled visitor feel the wonder of our natural world. Book your advance camping reservations at Platte River or remote South Manitou Campground, a tent-only, backcountry facility on South Manitou Island reached by a 1.5-hour ferry or boat ride. Read our Spotlight on Sleeping Bear Dunes.
Boaters and swimmers seeking relief from the Mississippi summer heat head for Enid Lake, 150 miles north of Jackson. After the low water levels of previous years, plentiful rainfall in spring 2013 means the lake’s four designated beaches and four reservable campgrounds are back in business. Volunteers of the Chickasaw Hills Volunteer Organization host “Physically Challenged Fishing Day” in September, treating wheelchair-bound fans of the sport to a day on the lake, including a fish fry at the end of the day.
In just over an hour from Missoula, Montana, visitors can enjoy the multitude of outdoor activities at the Seeley Lake Area in the Lolo National Forest. Start your day off with fishing – both motorized and non-motorized boats are welcome with a boat ramp located at Seeley Lake Campground (first-come, first-served only). Families will enjoy a cool dip on a hot day or welcome a lakeside picnic.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area is an oasis in Oklahoma — an idyllic retreat just 90 miles from Oklahoma City or 140 miles north of Dallas, Texas. The lake is divided into two districts: the Platt Historic District and the Lake of the Arbuckles District where visitors can enjoy a variety of outdoor activities like swimming, boating, hiking and bicycling. Picnic areas and campgrounds offer a chance to reconnect with family and friends.
Nearly 30 miles long and up to eight miles wide, Upper Klamath Lake is the largest freshwater body west of the Rocky Mountains; certainly the largest in Oregon. Fishing, wildlife viewing, canoeing, kayaking and charter tours provide abundant recreation opportunities along these scenic shores. The Upper Klamath National Wildlife Refuge protects habitat for more than ten species in this area and a canoe trail offers an excellent way to experience the refuge from the water. In the spring and fall seasons, one to three million ducks, geese, swans and other migrating birds flock to this area as they journey along the Pacific Flyway.
Formed when a massive eruption of Mount Mazama—7700 years ago—caused the mountain to collapse, leaving a caldera filled with centuries of rain and snow, Crater Lake in western Oregon is a wonderfully cool place for families to picnic and enjoy other outdoor activities. For a few months the lake provides the best opportunity to plan a comfortable visit. Find out things to do and places to go to enjoy interpretive programs, fishing, hiking, bicycling, swimming or go on a boat tour of the lake. Try camping in the park and note that weather may impact the opening and closing dates of the campgrounds. Both in-park lodging and out-of-park lodging options are available. Since winter rules Crater Lake National Park, the summer season is short and the first snowfall is often in September through June or July—be prepared for the weather. Crater Lake is also the highest fresh-water lake on the west coast at a depth of 1,943 feet (592 meters), the deepest lake in the United States. The caldera rim ranges in elevation from 7,000 to 8,000 feet (2,100 to 2,400 meters). See our article on Avoiding Altitude Sickness.
(Francis Marion Sumter/USFS)
This small 12-acre lake is a quiet retreat for those looking to fish, swim and paddle. Lick Fork Lake allows non-motorized boat access and offers a fishing pier and bathhouse for your convenience. Surrounded by piedmont pines and hardwoods, this little lake nestled in the Francis Marion and Sumter National Forests is worth a visit!
Recreation Area (NPS)
Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is a reservoir formed by the Sanford Dam on the Canadian River located about 30 miles (48 km) northeast of Amarillo, Texas. The area is within the dry, windswept high plains and is a hidden oasis for wildlife and humans in the Texas Panhandle. While drought in recent years has affected lake levels, you can still go fishing or boating (on a reduced scale), in the recreation area. Horseback riding is a popular outdoor activity on many roads and trails including areas like Plum Creek and McBride Canyon. A designated area is set aside for off-highway-vehicles, recreation and hunting—seasons for deer and other animals varies during the year—check the park for current hunting dates and regulations. Many of the campgrounds offer tables and shade shelters for picnicking. Spring Canyon (Stilling Basin), a day use only area has picnic tables, fishing, bird watching and swimming. Start your visit here for Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Have a little extra time? Explore Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument just a few miles away.
Recreation Area (USFS)
Located in the northeast corner of Utah and the southwest corner of Wyoming, Flaming Gorge NRA is a mecca for a variety of water sports. The Flaming Gorge Dam was built in the early 1960’s to form this area of colorful deep canyons cut by the Green River, and is co-managed by the Ashley National Forest and Bureau of Reclamation. Five full-service marinas offer plenty of opportunities for boating, skiing, jet skiing, house boating and more. Plenty of campsites are available (more than 700) along with 27 group sites spread over nearly 91 water miles.
Enjoy a family gathering at Hapgood Pond! Bring your fishing poles and pack a picnic lunch – Hapgood Pond offers an accessible fishing pier as well as a day-use area. Hapgood Pond is restricted to non-motorized boats like kayaks and canoes – appealing to those looking for a quiet escape. Be sure to pack your swimwear for the beach and swimming area. If you’re looking to camp, be sure to visit Hapgood Pond Campground.
Baker Lake in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is a nine-mile reservoir featuring swimming, boating and fishing. Sockeye season brings fishing enthusiasts from near and far. Swimming is a must at Baker Lake with excellent locations at Horseshoe Cove Camprgound, Shannon Creek Campground, and Swift Creek Campground.