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Best Midwest Lake Vacation Spots

Lakes have a magical quality that seems to make time slow, children laugh, and couples fall in love. Maybe it’s the sound of water lapping at the shores, or perhaps it’s the recharging effects of nature. A lake vacation can help us to reconnect with life, loved ones, and mother nature.

The Great Lakes often receive all the attention; however, the Midwest is full of thousands of lakes. Each Midwestern state has lake vacation options that include virtually every adventure sport available, fishing, birdwatching, and so much more.

Whether you're looking for a Great Lake, or a hidden lake that is great, the Midwest has some of the coolest lake vacation spots.

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01Beach State Park, Illinois

A lake vacation doesn’t always require leaving the city and heading into insolation. How about a Great Lake and a great city? Providing access to Lake Michigan and the heart of Chicago, this state park offers the coolest option for both. Imagine water sports on Lake Michigan by day and Chicago dining and nightlife when the sun goes down. Millennium Park and Navy Pier are within walking distance, and the rest of the Windy City is within reach. Beach State Park is a couples compromise that checks off wish-list items for both.

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02Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota

Child Roasting Marshmallow Beside Lake Layne Kennedy / Getty Images

The only thing cooler than one lake is a 218,000-acre national park that contains 30 lakes! Voyageurs National Park is a boaters paradise. To enjoy a fraction of what is available, a boat is the coolest way to go. Anchoring at one of the 900 islands and camping offers the solitude that many lake vacationers seek. On the Canadian border, this national park often thrills vacationers with the occasional view of moose. For those that are looking for a more luxurious experience, International Falls and Ranier offer resorts.

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03Lake McConaughy, Nebraska

"Alright, alright, alright." Not named after the famously cool actor, but this lake vacation is more than just all right. This bigger-than-life lake is the largest in Nebraska. During the warmer seasons, enjoy windsurfing, sailing, and hiking around the lake. During the winter months, the lake features ice fishing and snowmobiling. When not enjoying the lake, Boot Hill Cemetery in Ogallala is a time machine for cowboy history buffs. This is a year-round travel destination that is sure to please.

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04Patoka Lake, Indiana

As the second largest lake in Indiana and only two-and-a-half hours from Indianapolis, it is surprising that Patoka Lake remains a hidden gem. Those that are looking for privacy enjoy over 500 campsites along Patoka’s shore. Featuring everything that one would expect in a lake vacation: birdwatching, world-class fishing, camping, and water sports. The Great Lakes are, well... great. Lake Michigan often eclipses other lakes as a giant of a big brother. However, for those looking for something away from the crowds, Patoka Lake is calling.

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05Okoboji Lake, Iowa

210 miles northwest of Des Moines, there are 15,000 acres that are known as “Iowa’s Great Lakes.” Families have been coming here for generations for a reason. Arnolds Park offers a cool retro theme park experience that is reminiscent of the turn-of-the-century. Family fun abounds in Okoboji: glass-bottom boats, swimming beaches, playgrounds, and fishing docks. There is no shortage of entertainment options for the whole family. They derived the name from the Dakota language and loosely interpreted it as “a place of rest.” Despite all the activity options available, Okoboji is a great place to rest and relax.

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06Smithville Lake, Missouri

Smithville Lake is a destination for many outdoor enthusiasts. Professional and amateur bird watchers flock to see the elusive snow owl that is often spotted around this 7,200-acre lake. Anglers frequent the waters of Smithville Lake because it's stocked with a variety of fish. Fishers will be glad to learn that Smithville Lake has two marinas that also offer boat rentals. In addition, the lake has one marina that is exclusively dedicated to sailboats. If birdwatching and fishing aren't high on your list, don’t worry. Smithville also has two beaches for swimming, campgrounds, hiking, biking, and horse trails.

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07Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

Isle Royale, Michigan, national park in the middle of Lake Superior Per Breiehagen / Getty Images

Places that are difficult to get to are better preserved. Isle Royale National Park is one of the coolest bastions of virtually untouched wilderness. This 45-mile long rocky island is in Lake Superior and has no roads. Not to worry, as Doc said, “Where we are going, we don’t need roads.” Renting a kayak helps to access remote campsites and all 165 miles of hiking trails. This remote lake vacation option is the next best thing to buying a private island.

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08Branson, Missouri

Two men in motorboat on lake, rear view, Table Rock Lake, Branson Missouri, USA Per Breiehagen / Getty Images

Branson has historically positioned itself to be a travel destination for world-class entertainment. Well marked on the circuit of famous singers and entertainers; however, Table Rock Lake draws nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. The lake is unique in offering cruises on the Showboat Branson Belle. Whether interested in taking in a music show, visiting the Silver Dollar theme park, or hooking a big-mouth bass on the lake, Branson has a way to keep the whole family happy. Branson has worked hard to position itself as the coolest family-friendly vacation spot.

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09Horse Thief Lake, South Dakota

Nestled in the Black Hills of South Dakota, this is the closest lake to the national monument of Mount Rushmore. This lake has more than just an interesting name; it's surrounded by towering granite rock formations and native spruce trees. Avid hikers place this lake and the surrounding area at the top of their list for its breathtaking views of the largest peak in the state, Harney Peak. Although horse riders enjoy renting cabins at Custer State Park, the horse-thieving gangs after which they named the lake are long gone.

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10Apostle Islands, Wisconsin

Sailboats in the marina in Bayfield Wisconsin, with Lake Superior and Apostle Islands in the background zimmytws / Getty Images

These 22 islands are rugged and for the adventurous at heart. In Lake Superior, about 80 miles from Duluth. Madeline Island is the only commercially developed island, making the other 21 islands up for exploration by boat. People know Lake Superior for amazing sailboating and kayaking. Where the vastness of the lake meets the blue sky lives the coolest sweet spot that lake vacationers seek.

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