The Most Beautiful Lakes in America for Swimming
Beyond their pristine settings and peaceful waters, lakes act like time machines, taking us back to carefree summer days spent swimming from shore to shore, racing to the swim platform, and watching a perfectly reflected moon rise over the smooth surfaces.
Whitefish Lake, Montana
Set at the base of the snow-capped Rockies in Northwestern Montana, sparkling Whitefish Lake is scenic defined. And whether you choose to join the crowd at City Beach in Whitefish (where you can also rent paddleboats) or take a solitary swim at Les Mason State Park, you won’t be entering a frigid zone: Whitefish Lake is shallow enough to warm up, making it one of the best swimming lakes near you. Find the most scenic getaway in your state.
Lake Jocassee, South Carolina
Looking for a swimming lake near you? Speckled with islands and rimmed with waterfalls—even kids can swim under Wright Creek Falls as they tumble into the lake—Lake Jocassee keeps its cool during South Carolina’s sultry summers. It’s less crowded than other lakes, too, thanks to a single public access point at Devil’s Fork State Park. Lake Jocassee is particularly popular with scuba divers, who flock to the lake for its clean, clear water and cool sites like a sunken Chinese junk, a cemetery, and a basketball hoop.
Walden Pond, Massachusetts
It looks like a lake, but the moniker is correct: Walden Pond really is a pond—and here’s the difference between a pond and a lake. Still, offering up a sandy beach, forested shoreline and broad expanse of water, the deepest natural body of fresh water in Massachusetts is popular with swimmers, kayakers, and literary types looking to commune with nature the way Henry David Thoreau did in the 1840s.
Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
Twisting and turning through Western Maryland, this man-made lake brims with coves perfect for dropping anchor and bobbing about in deep water. Kids can dig in the sand and jump off rocks at Deep Creek Lake State Park, where there’s also a Discovery Center, which provides a home for injured owls, hawks, and other birds of prey no longer capable of surviving in the wild.
Crater Lake, Oregon
America’s deepest lake (1,943 feet to be exact) is also it’s cleanest: scientists believe that Crater Lake contains some of the purest water in the world. It’s also an otherworldly shade of blue, falling somewhere between sapphire and cobalt. Though cold—the average summer temperature of the surface water doesn’t get above 60—the lake is popular with swimmers cooling off after completing the mile-long hike to the access point.
Lake Erie, Ohio
Halfway between Cleveland and Toledo, the southwestern shore of Lake Erie is a watery wonderland for lake lovers in search of the perfect swimming spot. Day-trippers can head to city beaches in mainland coastal villages such as Vermillion, Marblehead, and Huron or Kelleys and Put-In-Bay Islands that offer access to the Great Lake. There’s even a beach for adrenaline junkies: Cedar Point Beach, where visitors to Ohio’s famous amusement park can cool off after a spin on one of its 18 roller coasters including the scariest in the state.
Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina
Like cool oases, southern mountain lakes lure the listless with the promise of refreshing water, pine-scented breezes, and calming views. Set within a particularly unspoiled stretch of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, an old-growth forest outside the town of Robbinsville (population: 620), Lake Santeetlah delivers all this and more, including campsites, hiking trails, a nearly undeveloped shoreline, and one of the best swimming lakes near you.
Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
Sometimes, at the end of a perfect day floating in a glistening blue swimming lake near you, nothing feels better than strolling into a modern, air-conditioned cabin, where cool drinks await in the fridge. Sound appealing? Then pack your beach towels and head to Lake Ouachita State Park, which offers cabin rentals on the shore of Arkansas’ largest lake. Explore the best state park in your state.
Lake Martin, Alabama
There’s a party on Lake Martin, and you’re invited. Attracting swimmers, boaters, and jet-skiers from all over central Alabama, who rent lakefront homes in the various towns scattered around this massive body of water, Lake Martin is the place to go when you want to celebrate summer with your crew. Constructed in 1926, the reservoir, which covers 40,000 acres and encompasses 800 miles of shoreline, was once the largest man-made lake in the world.
Shavers Lake, West Virginia
Supplying the water that, during the winter, is used to make snow at nearby Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, Shavers Lake is a swimmer’s paradise during the summer that comes complete with a sandy beach; paddleboards and kayaks; a swim platform, and a floating inflatable challenge course that, if you’re lucky, will end with a big splash in the lake. Snowshoe is one of many resorts that makes a great off-season vacation destination.