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The best US lakes for recreation

By Laura Brown
March 15, 2021
Recreation Lake Powell Gi
The United States has a ton of great recreational lakes around the country, that provide opportunities for all different types of activities. Here are 10 of the best lakes for recreation.

Lake Powell

Lake Powell is a reservoir in Glen Canyon National Recreational Area near the Utah and Arizona border. The water is a crisp blue, and snakes through the red rock canyon, offering plenty of opportunities for water sports and recreation. Visitors to Lake Powell can take a boat tour, go waterskiing and visit Cathedral in the Desert, a stunning rock monument located in Lake Powell. Its location near the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley provides an amazing opportunity for adventurers to have the road trip of a lifetime.

Lake Lanier

Lake Lanier is located in North Georgia, about an hour from Atlanta and a short drive from Chattanooga. It is a man-made reservoir made by damming the Chattahoochee River to provide electricity and flood control for nearby Atlanta. More than 10 million people visit Lake Lanier annually, with many of them using the Lanier Islands as a recreational hub. The Lanier Islands have plenty of lodging and dining options for all budgets, including tent camping and an RV park.

Lake of the Ozarks

Missouri's crown jewel of a lake sits in the middle of the state and offers a world-class destination. Visitors can find a plethora of land-based activities, restaurants and accommodations. In addition, there are countless marinas available to rent or store a boat. There are also 32 hiking trails near the lake, along with four caves to explore. There is inexpensive camping available nearby at Ozarks State Park and Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

Recreation_Lakes_Pickwick_LB.jpg
Pickwick Lake © Laura Brown / Budget Travel

Pickwick Lake, Tennessee

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) created a series of 9 major dams across Tennessee during the 1930s and 1940s to bring affordable electricity and jobs to an area stricken by the Great Depression. Today, all the TVA lakes are great for water sports and recreation, but our favorite is Pickwick Lake, on the border of Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, just outside Memphis. Yellow Creek Cove on the lake is a constant party for boaters in the summer and features a rope swing into the water below. There is a great camping spot at Pickwick Landing State Park, where there is also a marina and available boat rentals.

Big Bear Lake

Big Bear Lake in Southern California, the ‘Jewel of the San Bernardino National Forest,’ prides itself on being open all four seasons for water recreation. Located 100 miles northeast of Los Angeles, it also can be accessed easily from Las Vegas or Phoenix. Big Bear offers a mountain atmosphere, with hiking trails, winter skiing, and summer swimming. The heart of Big Bear Lake is at Big Bear Village, a charming small town that serves as the region’s hub for dining and lodging. Make sure to check out the local festivals at The Village at Halloween and Christmas.

Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe © MariuszBlach / Getty Images

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe sits on the border of California and Nevada, near Reno. It is the second deepest lake in the United States (after Crater Lake) and is known for its incredibly clear water and vibrant colors. Tahoe is known as a gateway for recreational adventure. Visitors can access hundreds of miles of beautiful hiking trails, as well as rent paddleboards and kayaks to explore the lake.

Lake Mead

Lake Mead lies outside of Las Vegas, and is the largest reservoir in the United States, formed by the Hoover Dam. Boating in Lake Mead is a popular activity, with four separate marinas available to rent or store boats. Lake Mead Cruises also takes a nightly cruise to the Hoover Dam and back. Lake Mead is heaven for fishing and offers some of the best sport fishing in the United States.

Morning on Mirror lake
Lake Placid © Chuck Robinson Photography / Getty Images

Lake Placid

Lake Placid in the Adirondacks is a classic New York mountain town, with views so legendary the town was selected to host the Winter Olympics in 1932 and 1980. In the winter, Lake Placid has amazing opportunities to snow ski and snowboard. In the summer, Lake Placid is a utopia for waterboarding and tubing. For those who own their own boat, there are several public launch points. For those on a budget, there are hostels off the lake for low rates or camping in nearby campgrounds or in the Adirondack backcountry.

Lake Winnebago

Lake Winnebago is a glacial lake in eastern Wisconsin, north of Milwaukee near Appleton and Oshkosh. It is a relatively shallow lake, known for great fishing in both the summer and the winter, with a prominent ice fishing industry. The lake’s most abundant fish are the Walleye, Perch, Sturgeon and Bass. Boats are readily available for rent at nearby Marinas. Boaters have access to more than 18,000 acres of water, including Lake Butte des Morts and the Fox River.

Lake Winnepesaukee

You can explore more than 250 different islands in New Hampshire’s Lake Winnepesaukee, or hike in the nearby White Mountains. There are a plethora of small villages on the shores of the lake, which can be reached by either boat or car, and each offers an individual flavor. Rent a boat and go waterboarding in the summer or plan a snowboarding adventure in the winter. When you’re ready to go indoors, check out one of the many breweries nearby, such as the Woodstock Inn Brewery in Woodstock. The nearest major city is Manchester.


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Carefully crafted collaboratively between GEICO, Lonely Planet and Budget Travel. Both parties provided research and curated content to produce this story. We disclose when information isn’t ours.



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