From sailboating to fishing to kayaking to competitive racing events, 87 million people take part in recreational boating each year in America. Florida, Minnesota, and Michigan have the highest number of boaters, likely because there are so many lakes and waterways in those states. From one coast to the other and dozens of points in-between, America has some of the best boating lakes in the world, and some are in places you’d never suspect.
Just 10 miles north of Redding, Shasta Lake, AKA Lake Shasta, is a beautifully scenic and peaceful lake. With its 365 miles of mountainous shoreline, it’s the largest manmade lake in the Golden State. Both the Shasta-Trinity National Forest and the Whiskeytown-Shasta-Trinity National Recreation Area surround the lake, creating an abundance of activities on and off the water. There are several full-service marinas here for boat owners, plus visitors can rent kayaks, wakeboards, and other water vessels. Boating enthusiasts will find excellent fishing here and can easily access the many picturesque waterfalls around the lake.
With more than 1,150 miles of shoreline and a surface area of 55,000 acres, this lake in central Missouri in the Ozark Mountains is truly a boater’s paradise. This may be a manmade lake, but the spectacular scenery is some of Mother Nature’s best work. Waterfront condos, RV parks, and resorts line much of the coastal area around the lake, but there are also quiet coves perfect for fishing and enjoying a quiet day on the lake. Speedboating is a popular sport here, with major boating events, such as AquaPalooza and The Shootout, attracting thousands of boaters each summer.
You’ll find this 5700-acre gem stretching 13 miles long and straddling the border of Pike and Wayne counties in the Pocono Mountains. Lake Wally, as some fans call it, is just 30 miles west of Scranton and has four boat launches available. The state stocks the lake with Striped Bass, Walleye, and Brown Trout, making this a prime locale for anglers. Wally Lake Fest is an annual end-of-the-summer celebration with boat shows, a floating live music stage, and lots of food, fun, and frolic on and off the water.
More than six million people visit this scenic lake each year. Covering about 75,000 acres, with 550 miles of shared shoreline across six counties in Texas and Oklahoma, there’s plenty of room for you to explore your favorite boating activities. Seventy fish species inhabit the lake, and fishing enthusiasts come from all over the country to test their skills in these waters. There are also two dozen marinas available where you can park your powerboat or sailboat, along with plenty of public and private boat ramps on both the Oklahoma and Texas sides where you can launch.
The clear, tranquil, blue waters of Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Mountains has been one of the top freshwater boating lakes in the country for generations. Lake Tahoe is the nation’s largest alpine lake, meaning it sits at a high altitude of around 10,000 feet, plus it’s the second deepest lake in America. It borders California and Nevada. National forest land surrounds this picturesque lake, and it’s a major tourist attraction. To protect the lake from pollutants, there are some restrictions against two-stroke engines. Otherwise, boat enthusiasts explore fish and even sleep aboard their boats here.
Smaller than the city’s other major body of water, Lake Washington, Lake Union is unique. It’s smack-dab in the middle of downtown Seattle. You’ll see seaplanes taking off from the lake, with kayakers and paddleboarders exploring its shorelines. Enjoy the traditional Tuesday evening events during the summer months, when sailboats from far and wide participate in the chaotic-but-fun Duck Dodge race; if you don’t have your own boat, no worries. You can rent all types of boats here, including traditional vessels, hot tub boats, and other unusual-but-sea-worthy rigs.
Although the U.S. shares this lake with our northern neighbors in Quebec, the parts that cross over into Vermont and New York offer a scenic backdrop like no other in the country. It lies in the Lake Champlain Valley and is the sixth-largest lake in America. There’s a huge array of sailing tours, fishing adventures, and cruises available for boating fans. Camp at one of the state parks along the shoreline. According to legend, there’s the possibility of catching sight of the frightening — but harmless — horned serpent, Champ, who some say lives in the lake’s waters.
During the high season, there are as many as 1500 houseboats on Lake Cumberland, earning it the title “Houseboat Capital of the World.” Not only are these houseboats a unique type of lodging, but they also provide visitors a comfortable way to cruise the lake and explore its natural beauty. Fans of this popular recreational area say the fabulous sunsets and calm waters make it the perfect place to relax and recharge. Summer is a busy season, but many prefer to visit in the fall to see the foliage change colors. Kayak, jet ski, and small speed boat rentals are also available.
Around two million people head to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area every year to visit Lake Powell. More than two dozen local marinas offer a full range of services for boat owners, plus ski tube, wakeboard, water ski, kayak, and kneeboard rentals. No boat of your own? Rent a powerboat or a pontoon boat and explore sites like the Rainbow Bridge National Monument, a 33-foot sandstone bridge that spans 275 feet across the water.
Spanning 30 miles in every direction, Lake Okeechobee is a boater’s dream. Whether you enjoy fishing from a boat, sightseeing, or just a relaxing ride under the Florida sun, you’ll love exploring this amazing recreational area. Lake Okeechobee offers a connecting water route between the Atlantic and Gulf sides of the state, making for a unique adventure for boating fans.
Head southeast of Las Vegas to find the country’s first and largest recreational area, Lake Mead. This massive lake spans the border of Arizona and Nevada, has four marinas, and unique on-the-water activities like paddlewheel cruises. Hop aboard a boat to explore the lake’s 290 square miles of open water, coves, harbors, and beaches. Rent fishing vessels, ski boats, patio boats, or houseboats to create the perfect lake getaway.
The third largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Michigan, is the only one of the five that lies entirely within U.S. borders. With a water surface of more than 22,000 square miles, it is a port city for Chicago, Illinois, Milwaukee and Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Gary, Indiana. A variety of bird and fish populations make their homes here, along with eel, crawfish, and sea lamprey. This lake offers endless boating opportunities, from day trips to Chicago’s North Pier Docks to cruising to the hundreds of marinas and beaches along Lake Michigan’s shores. And, you can visit popular beach towns like St. Joseph, Grand Haven, and Holland.
The largest lake in New Hampshire is a 72-square mile playground for boaters. The open water areas are perfect for experiencing full-throttle boating, but there are also quiet coves where you can sit back and take in the splendor of the rolling foothills and surrounding White mountains. The lake has year-round activities available, including ice boating and ice fishing in the winter. Troll fishing is popular here, with bass fishing at its best from May to early July. In the summer, you can catch the New Hampshire Open Water Ski Tournament here.
There are no motorboat restrictions here on West Okoboji Lake, so boat lovers head to this lake in the northwest part of the state for some time on the water. It’s the deepest lake in Iowa and covers an area of around 3,800 acres, making it a popular spot for not only boating and sailing but snorkeling and swimming as well. Its yellow perch, bluegill, and walleye fish populations have led to it becoming a well-known fishing destination in angler circles. Scientists, visitors, and mariners alike marvel at this lake’s exceptional water quality and color.
With 20 marinas, 20 boat ramps, 30 square miles of surface to boat across, and 271 miles of shoreline, this reservoir on the Colorado River in central Texas has just about everything a boater would dream of. Lake Travis is one of the most popular freshwater recreational destinations in the state. There are hundreds of access points, with a huge variety of bars, craft breweries, live music, restaurants, and lakeside parks around the lake to choose from. Rent a party barge, a houseboat, a pontoon boat, sailboat, or other types of water vessels to enjoy some fun on the water. Try the Lake Travis Pub Crawl, an on-the-water trek to eight food, drink, and live entertainment venues around the lake.