The Best Lake Towns in America
These seven destinations are the perfect summer base camps, with plenty of adventure on and off the water
Nothing screams summer like having a big swimming hole in your backyard. We’ve rounded up some of our favorite lake destinations that pair water-bound adventures with a getaway-worthy town where you can find a decent bite to eat and a place to rest your head.
June Lake, California
Nicknamed the Switzerland of California, this tiny mountain town five hours from Los Angeles sits on a string of lakes along a 16-mile section of scenic roadway known as the June Lake Loop. Start with coffee and a breakfast sandwich at the Lift, then rent a paddleboard or kayak (from $30 an hour) from Mammoth Kayaks. June Lake Brewing’s outdoor beer garden offers tasting flights, plus bites served from a rotating cast of food trucks out front. Pitch your tent at Oh Ridge Campground (from $26) or book a room at Lake Front Cabins (from $123), a short walk to the water’s edge, and you’ll score views of 10,908-foot Carson Peak from your door.
Two hours north of Boise, McCall is an under appreciated summer hideaway, with hiking in Payette National Forest, biking at Brundage Mountain, and relaxing at Payette Lake, a glacially carved reservoir that’s minutes from town. Half of the lake is part of Ponderosa State Park, where you can camp (from $37) or book a cabin (from $67). Or stay in McCall at the recently renovated Scandia Inn (from $150). Backwoods Adventures rents canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards (from $30). Afterward, grab an IPA at one of three local breweries, and don’t leave town without a milkshake from My Father’s Place.
An 18-foot-tall statue of famed lumberjack Paul Bunyan, along with his companion, Babe the Blue Ox, greets you when you pull into Bemidji. Located near the headwaters of the Mississippi River, three hours from Minneapolis, the area features hundreds of remote bodies of water scattered throughout the state’s Northwoods. Start at Lake Bemidji, which borders downtown and has plenty of sandy beaches. Rent bikes (from $5 per hour) at Lake Bemidji State Park to pedal the waterfront paths that eventually connect to the 115-mile Paul Bunyan State Trail, the longest paved rail trail in the country. Stay at one of the park’s 95 campsites and four cabins, or reserve a lakefront cottage at Ruttger’s Birchmont Lodge (from $190). End your day with a beer and a soft pretzel from Bemidji Brewing.
Scuba divers, boaters, paddlers, and anglers love Lake Chelan, which runs 50 miles long and plunges to depths of 1,500 feet. Stay at the Lodge at Stehekin (from $154), which is only accessible via ferry boat or hiking trails and adjoins North Cascades National Park. If you have a motorized craft, opt for one of the many boat-in camping spots around the lake. The town of Chelan, at the water’s southern tip, has a year-round population of around 5,000 and a growing wine-tasting scene, with some 20 vineyards.
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Lake Winnipesaukee has been a favorite summer resort getaway for generations. The town of Wolfeboro, two hours from Boston or five from New York City, makes for an ideal Winnipesaukee base camp. The ten-room Pickering House Inn (from $455) opened in 2018 in a restored historic building steps from the shoreline. Run or pedal the 12-mile Cotton Valley Rail Trail, and learn the history of the local maritime industry or take a sailing lesson at the New Hampshire Boat Museum. Come dusk, grab a pint at Lone Wolfe Brewing Company and dinner on the deck of La Boca.
In Blairsville, two hours north of Atlanta, you’ll have easy access to several nearby lakes, including Lake Nottely’s 106 miles of shoreline. Also nearby, in Vogel State Park, the 20-acre Lake Trahlyta is popular for its miles of hiking trails within the Blue Ridge Mountains and its waterfront campsites. Copperhead Lodge (from $109) has cabins for rent and trail access from the property.
Aurora, New York
New York’s Finger Lakes region is packed with options, but the quaint village of Aurora, registered as a national historic district, is just the place to stay while exploring scenic Cayuga Lake. Stay at the palatial Inns of Aurora (from $352), which includes five historic homes. Paddleboards and bike rentals are included in the rate. Farm-to-table dinners are served overlooking the water at the 1833 Kitchen and Bar. Wine production is big here—you’ll find several tasting spots around town—but there’s also a growing number of craft breweries, like Lunkenheimer Craft Brewing Co. in nearby Weedsport or Next Chapter Brewpub in Auburn.