The United States is full of amazing travel destinations, but one category that often goes unnoticed is the country's lakes. When you examine some of the country's greatest lakes, a huge diversity of bodies of water are represented. There are enormous freshwater lakes filled with fish and huge salty lakes with a higher salinity than the ocean. There are gorgeous natural lakes nestled high in the mountains or reservoirs that become local gathering places with lots of activities. Traveling the country one lake at a time is definitely not a bad way to see the United States.
In a state that's not short on stunning scenery, Crater Lake in Oregon still stands out thanks to towering cliffs and amazingly blue water. The deepest lake in the United States, Crater Lake was formed when an ancient volcano, Mt. Mazama, collapsed in on itself to form a large volcanic crater called a caldera. It's located in Crater Lake National Park, which is open to visitors year-round, though most choose to visit during the warmer months due to the park's high elevation.
Nestled snugly in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Lake Tahoe is a sought-after vacation destination for athletes, adventure seekers, and everyday travelers alike. Located both in California and Nevada, Tahoe is famous worldwide for ski resorts like Squaw Valley and Diamond Peak. However, this crystal clear blue lake also has beautiful beaches, great trout fishing, and a network of excellent hiking trails.
No summary of great American lakes would be complete without at least one of the Great Lakes. Of the five lakes (Superior, Huron, Erie, Ontario, and Michigan), only Lake Michigan rests entirely in the United States. Known colloquially as an "Inland Sea," Lake Michigan is a wonderful spot for lighthouse lovers. Nearly four dozen lighthouses dot the dunes, creating picturesque vistas for sunset shots. Take a ferry ride, go kayaking, or try fishing for salmon while you are visiting.
Often named one of the top recreational lakes in the United States, the Lake of the Ozarks boasts no shortage of attractions for visitors. Located in Missouri's heartland, this large reservoir lake is a great spot for a family vacation thanks to popular activities like camping, fishing, and boating. However, for those looking for a little more luxury, the area also boasts a great selection of spas, golf courses, and lots of shopping and dining options. Don't miss nearby Thunder Mountain Park, which features underground tours of Bridal Cave.
Utah's Great Salt Lake proves that there's just something special about salt water. It leaves a tang in the air and makes your body buoyant as you float along. Though it's far from any ocean, this landlocked lake, a remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville, provides an excellent day at the beach. Visit white sand beaches at Antelope State Park, or try your hand at sailing with help from the friendly folks at the Great Salt Lake State Marina. Try kayaking or go on a wildlife spotting tour while you are there - sharp eyes might see bison, deer, antelope, or elk around the lake's shores.
Lake McDonald, one of the most stunning spots in Glacier National Park, was formed in a pretty spectacular way. Ice age glaciers clawed their way across the landscape to gouge out a deep basin, ten miles long and 472 feet deep. This basin eventually filled with pure rainwater and snowmelt to become Lake McDonald, Glacier's largest lake. The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road winds its way around the lake, providing gorgeous views with spectacular mountains surrounding the lake on three sides. Keep an eye out for wildlife at this serene spot; bighorn sheep, elk, and black bears are all known to visit the lake.
Straddling the border between Utah and Arizona, Lake Powell is a major tourist destination with over two million visitors each year. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline and warm, sunny weather, it's not hard to see why this lake -technically a reservoir - is so popular. Located on the Colorado River, Lake Powell features steep sandstone walls that create a stunning contrast with the blue lake waters. Part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, waterskiing, swimming, hiking, and camping. Not sure where to get started? Try booking a boat tour to interesting destinations like the Rainbow Bridge National Monument or Antelope Canyon.
Enjoy the great outdoors at New York's Lake Champlain. Located on the Adirondack Coast, this large freshwater lake is perfectly situated to welcome waters from both the upstate Adirondack Mountains as well as Vermont's Green Mountains. The lake area offers many scenic parks including Cumberland Bay State Park and Point Au Roche State Park. While you are there, you can rent a canoe or kayak to get up close and personal with the water, or simply enjoy the many picturesque hiking trails and camping spots.
Though Lake Winnipesaukee may have a name that is challenging to pronounce, visitors don't have to learn to say it right in order to fall in love with this charming New Hampshire lake. Dotted with islands and boasting 72 square miles of clear blue water, this lake destination has something for everyone. During the summer you can try a scenic lake cruise, Segway tour, or a horseback ride around the lake. Winter visitors can get adventurous with ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing, or snowboarding. Lake Winnipesaukee even boasts the world's largest arcade, Funspot, which has over 600 games to bring out your competitive spirit. Don't miss a visit to the Castle in the Clouds, a mountaintop mansion that dates from the early 1900s and boasts incredible views of the lake and the scenery beyond.
Looking for a way to cool down during a hot Texas summer? A visit to Lake Travis may be just what you need. Located just north of the perpetually cool capital, Austin, Lake Travis is actually a reservoir on the Colorado River formed by Mansfield Dam. The area around the lake is humming with activity, with dozens of bars, lounges, pubs, and restaurants ready to entertain visitors. However, if you're looking for a little more quiet rest and relaxation, try camping or a boat rental to find a peaceful spot. For those into fishing, the lake has a variety of fish types including largemouth bass, striped bass, catfish, and sunfish.
If you're in the mood for a little Southern hospitality, pay a visit to Lake Martin. Located in central Alabama, Lake Martin is often nicknamed "Alabama's Living Room" thanks to its fun, friendly vibe. Charming pine cabins are nestled all along the lake's shoreline, and many families live there year-round. If you want to visit, it's a good idea to try VRBO or Airbnb to find a comfortable rental. Rent a pontoon boat and join the party at Chimney Rock, where Lake Martin's depths can plunge to 150 feet. Dozens of boats will float side-by-side on sunny days, allowing friends and visitors to play some music, swim, drink, and dive together.
If you're up for a little adventure, you could pay a visit to Alaska's largest lake, Lake Iliamna. At 77 miles long and up to 22 miles wide, this enormous lake in southwestern Alaska reaches an almost spooky maximum depth of 988 feet. One of the most popular activities there is sport fishing, with trout, salmon, and grayling all common targets for avid anglers. If you visit, you are also likely to spot a seal, since Lake Iliamna is home to one of the largest populations of freshwater seals in the world. Rumor has it that you might even spot the lake's elusive monster. Like Nessie at Loch Ness in Scotland, Lake Iliamna is home to Illie, a mysterious creature described as a large, dark-colored fish. Though no one knows for sure, scientists suggest it could be a white sturgeon or Pacific sleeper shark.