The 20 Best Lake Towns in the United States

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Best Lake Towns in the United States - A group of children float in colorful inner tubes on a lake.
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Jetting off to far-flung destinations certainly has its perks—just take it from someone who traveled the world for a year, continues to galivant around the globe and developed some tried-and-true tips to combat travel stress along the way (me, I’m that person). But there’s also something to be said for exploring your own backyard—and by that, I mean this great nation. You’ll find idyllic lake towns scattered all across the country, from California to New York. Regardless of the season, the promise of outdoor adventure, lounging on Adirondack chairs, roasting s’mores over the fire and staying in rustic cabins are compelling reasons to visit. Whether you’re planning a last-minute trip or a long-weekend getaway down the line, these waterfront domestic getaways (no need to pack a passport) should definitely be on your shortlist.

The Most Serene Spot in Every State

1. South Lake Tahoe, California

One of the best four-season adventure destinations in the country, virtually everything in the town of South Lake Tahoe centers around the giant freshwater lake. Besides waterfront recreation and beaches, visitors have access to the mountains for scenic hikes, winter ski resorts, and year-round entertainment.

2. Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid has hosted the Winter Olympic Games twice (1932 and 1980). But the allure of this beloved town in the Adirondacks doesn’t allure doesn’t disappear when the snow melts. In the warmer months, travelers will find plenty of opportunities for boating, fishing and hiking. It’s also one of the prettiest places to see fall foliage near New York City.

3. Greenville, Maine

Greenville sits on Moosehead Lake. Between the largest freshwater body in the state and Big Squaw Mountain Ski Area, there’s no shortage of outdoor recreation. And what’s a trip to Maine without scarfing down some seafood? Kelly's Landing is our pick for a classic lobster roll.

4. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

The Gilded Age mansions that line the 23-mile shore path have earned the town of Lake Geneva the nickname “Newport of the West.” Boating, beaches and golf courses make it a favored summer escape. Not to be overlooked, the quieter winter offers ice skating and cozy vibes.

5. Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

Situated beside the 72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee (pronounced win-ah-puh-sockey), Wolfeboro bills itself as “America’s oldest summer resort” and boasts a bevy of activities for every season, from swimming to ice skating. It’s also home to the New Hampshire Boat Museum.

6. Branson, Missouri

With its live shows, theme parks and quirky attractions, Branson ranks high on the family-fun-o-meter. Don’t let a chance of showers rain on your parade. Bee-line it to Fritz's Adventure, an indoor amusement area with a ropes course, climbing walls and zip lining, and book tickets to Dolly Parton's Stampede Dinner Show Attraction.

7. Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Eureka Springs is nestled in the heart of the Ozark Mountains. Founded in 1879, it charms travelers with its well-preserved Victorian houses and healing waters. Fans of spooky stuff can do an after-dark tour of the haunted Crescent Hotel—or even stay overnight.

8. Wasilla, Alaska

Do yourself a favor: ignore the fact that Sarah Palin put Wasilla on the map and judge this Alaskan gem based on its own merits. Lake Lucille is the main drawcard. While in town, explore Independence Mine State Historical Park and check out Gold Rush artifacts or visit the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Museum.

9. Okoboji, Iowa

Speaking of expanding your travel horizons, Okoboji—one of the top vacation destinations in the Iowa Great Lakes region—should definitely be in your consideration set. How many other places can you ride gentle waves, hit the water park, sample monster-sized cookies and play mini golf all on the same day?

10. Lakeland, Florida

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Lakeland serves up serious Old Florida vibes. Catching a film at the 1928 Polk Theatre is the perfect complement to an afternoon of peeping original plans at the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center. Round out the weekend with a lavish brunch. Eggs Benedict, anyone?

11. Sandpoint, Idaho

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Idaho is totally underrated. Take Sandpoint, for example. It has a wonderfully walkable downtown with excellent restaurants and cute stores plus friendly folks. And we’ve even heard the term “life-changing” thrown around in regards to the huckleberry lemonade.

12. Lake Lure, North Carolina

Seeking a scenic escape to a charming small town in Carolina? Head to Lake Lure (which film buffs might recognize from the 1987 film Dirty Dancing.) When the weather is nice, it’s pure magic. Spend the day splashing in the refreshing water or wakeboarding. Afterward, take a sunset pontoon cruise.

13. Elmore, Vermont

Named for Colonel Samuel Elmore, this tiny town in the southeastern part of Lamoille County touts forests and a 219-acre lake with sandy beaches among its natural blessings. (And we’d be inclined to agree.) Upping the outdoorsy appeal is a recreational area with campsites, charcoal grills and picnic tables.

14. Meredith, New Hampshire

Meredith is considered the ultimate Granite State getaway—and for good reason. Hugging a protected bay on the western edge of Lake Winnipesaukee, the town provides year-round recreation—from hiking and fishing to cross-country skiing—plus a winery, brewery and playhouse. While historic buildings lend an air of nostalgia and New England charm.

15. Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Breaux Bridge dates all the way back to 1829. Residents—many of whom are of Cajun descent—are proud to live in the "Crawfish Capital of the World.” No surprise, you’ll find flavorful cuisine. Poche Restaurant & Market and Cafe Sydnie Mae are beloved eateries. Bird watching, live music and antiquing are great ways to pass the time between meals.

16. Bigfork, Montana

Perched at the north end of Flathead Lake, this thriving arts community is known for its art galleries, live music and theater. Don’t leave without catching a show at the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, a Western Montana institution for more than 50 years. On the outdoor side of things, there’s horseback riding, llama trekking (yes, that’s a thing) and whitewater rafting.

17. Oakridge, Oregon

An adrenaline junkie’s dream, Oakridge is the "Mountain Biking Capital of the Northwest." If cycling isn’t your thing, you can still experience plenty of outdoor thrills—canoeing, trout fishing, snowmobiling and trekking to the second-tallest waterfall in Oregon.

18. Lakeway, Texas

Located on the shore of Lake Travis, this affluent resort community lures vacationers and daytrippers from nearby Austin (the city that keeps it weird is just 25 miles to the east) with its laid-back lifestyle. Leisure activities include golf and tennis. Lakeaway also has marinas, walking trails and over 500 acres of greenbelts. 

19. Saugatuck, Michigan

Beautiful beaches and candy-colored sunsets over Lake Michigan make this Midwest resort town of Saugatucka must. Saugatuck Dunes State Park draws adventure seekers with its massive mounds and 13 miles of sandy trails. Sailing, fishing and kayaking are also popular pursuits.

20. Blairsville, Georgia

Blairsville supplies the best of both worlds: majestic mountains and mesmerizing lakes. This means you don’t have to choose between trekking expeditions and fishing excursions. Guests can get a taste of true Southern hospitality at the friendly local restaurants, lodges and inns.

21. Grand Lake, Colorado

Two hours northwest of Denver lies Grand Lake, a small mountain town with just 500 residents. Don’t let its diminutive size fool you, the western gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park has loads to do for all seasons, whether it’s paddleboarding in the summer or snowmobiling and snowshoeing in the winter.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Lindsay Cohn is a travel writer and serial trip planner who has visited 46 countries across six continents (and counting). When not globetrotting, she’s most likely either doing...