The Prettiest Lake in Every State
Searching for the perfect socially distanced trip—or just some daydreaming fodder? Embrace the majesty of the United States with a look at these beautiful lakes.
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Picture this: crystal-clear water lapping against a stony shore, the slight ripple of a lake’s surface as a lone kayaker winds through the water, a vintage lighthouse juxtaposed against a stunning, pine-studded cliff face. America boasts all these vistas and more within its massive borders. From the vast Great Lakes to small spring-fed wonders, and from alpine watering holes to man-made reservoirs, these are the prettiest lakes in the country—and some of the best-kept secrets in every state. Get your travel bucket list ready, because you’ll definitely find some inspiration on this list. Whether you prefer lakes known for their swimming, fishing, or charming surrounding towns, we’ve got you covered.
Alabama: Lake Martin
The sweetest spot in Alabama just may be this lake 80 miles southwest of Birmingham. When it was built in the 1920s, Lake Martin was the largest man-made body of water in the world; it stretches into three counties, covers a whopping 41,000 acres of water, and boasts 800 miles of wooded shoreline. These days, you’ll find locals escaping here for hiking, swimming, paddleboarding, waterskiing, boating, and fishing. Feeling particularly adventurous? Try cliff-diving at Acapulco Rock. Speaking of nature’s unique offerings, check out these heart-shaped lakes and islands around the world.
Alaska: Spencer Lake
Ensconced within the protected confines of the giant Chugach State Park, one of the four largest in the entire United States, is the famous Spencer Glacier. This formerly remote wilderness in southcentral Alaska is now accessible via the Alaska Railroad, one of the most scenic train rides in America. Visitors can enjoy a breathtaking 1.3-mile hike to an overlook that offers stunning views of the 3,500-foot-tall Spencer Glacier as it rises above a pristine blue lake of the same name. There are additional short hikes in the area as well, since hiking is the major recreational draw due to the lake’s cold temperatures. Pro tip: The Spencer Bench Forest Service Cabin sits right on the lake and can be rented in the summer.
Arizona: Lake Pleasant
Formed nearly 100 years ago when the Agua Fria River was dammed, this lake is located conveniently close to the Phoenix metropolitan area and welcomes many to its graceful shores. At roughly 10,000 acres in size, the lovely Lake Pleasant is famous for its cotton-candy sunsets and bevy of activities such as scuba diving, sailing, fishing, boating, windsurfing, and beyond. The greater Lake Pleasant Regional Park also boasts a historic crumbling fort, sandstone cliffs, and the ruins of a Hohokam Pueblo village. For more glimpses into our country’s past, check out the most historic landmark in every state.
Arkansas: Greers Ferry Lake
Get a two-for-one special at this man-made reservoir—it includes two lakes connected by a thin gorge passageway known as “the narrows.” Altogether, there are more than 40,000 acres of water and a combined 300-plus miles of picturesque shores. Nationally recognized for its clean and clear water, Greers Ferry Lake rests in the foothills of the Ozarks and is connected to the Little Red River, a blue-ribbon trout stream. In many areas, beautiful tree-filled bluffs hug the lakeshore, which welcomes fishermen, boaters, campers, and scuba divers. While you’re in Arkansas, you might want to swing by the aptly named Hot Springs, one of the best natural hot springs you can find around the country.
California: Lake Tahoe
North America’s largest alpine lake, the gorgeous 100,000-plus-acre Lake Tahoe, is also California’s prettiest lake. And while Lake Tahoe does straddle the border with neighboring Nevada, about two-thirds of the shoreline rests in the Golden State. This massive freshwater lake is also one of the world’s deepest and is known for its noteworthy aqua color. Due to local ordinances, much of the pristine lakeshore isn’t developed, making it an ideal place to try forest bathing. Depending on the season, visitors should be sure to check out the long-distance hiking route Tahoe Rim Trail and the nearby ski resorts that have even hosted the Winter Olympic Games. Lake Tahoe is the jewel of the Sierra Nevada mountain range and should be on your travel bucket list for its swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, boating, diving, and so much more. Take a tour of Lake Tahoe and 14 other amazing destinations right now with these panoramic webcams that let you virtually travel the world.
Colorado: Hanging Lake
Near Glenwood Springs in the majestic Rocky Mountains and the White River National Forest lies Hanging Lake. Named for the way the lake almost hangs in Glenwood Canyon on the edge of a cliff, its scenic eponymous trail remains one of the most popular hiking routes in the entire state. Now a designated National Natural Landmark, the otherworldly, turquoise, crystalline lake is surrounded by evergreen trees, waterfalls, and the steep, rocky trail route. For more waterfalls, check out our list of the most gorgeous waterfalls in every state, where unsurprisingly, Hanging Lake Falls was recognized as Colorado’s gold-medal spot.
An important note: No matter how much you want to jump into that perfect blue water, don’t. Due to the fragile lake ecosystem, no contact with the water is allowed, and a paid permit is mandatory to access the area. Do not be like the Instagram influencers who pose on the lake’s famous downed tree.
Connecticut: Candlewood Lake
Western Connecticut’s Candlewood Lake, also the state’s largest, was constructed in the 1920s to harness hydroelectric power from two nearby rivers. The result is a long, slim lake that is popular as a summertime tourist destination and a second-home spot for many New Yorkers. The lake was named for nearby Candlewood Mountain and the pretty trees of the same label. Interestingly, despite low visibility in its depths, Candlewood Lake is a noted scuba-diving stop famous for the flooded 18th-century town of Jerusalem that rests on its shadowy bottom. Swimming, fishing, and boating are additional popular activities in the area. While in Connecticut, you can also visit the real-life inspiration for the Gilmore Girls‘ Stars Hollow—and embark on one of the 50 best road trips in America.
Delaware: Trap Pond
Despite being the nation’s second-smallest state in terms of area, Delaware still contains some beautiful lakes. The prettiest of them all is Trap Pond, situated within Trap Pond State Park, in southwestern Delaware. The pond is just 90 acres, while the park is more than 3,000. Interestingly, the entire region used to be wetlands, and it’s home to the northernmost naturally occurring grove of Bald Cypress trees in the United States. Among the rare trees that are national treasures, these wooden beauties are generally found in the southeastern reaches of the country, but they’re no less stunning up north. The best way to see the grove is to kayak or canoe the pond or by hiking the nearly five-mile Boundary Trail. Visitors also picnic, camp, and play outdoor games like horseshoes and volleyball along the water’s edge.
Florida: Lake Kissimmee
Florida is best known for its long ocean shoreline (and a certain cartoon mouse, of course). However, there are also some beautiful lakes in the Sunshine State, especially in the area known as “the headwaters to the Everglades.” Our favorite is Lake Kissimmee, known for its impressive array of wildlife, incredible fishing, scenic equestrian trails, pretty waters, and cowboy culture. More than 13 miles of hiking trails can also be enjoyed within Lake Kissimmee State Park and along the state-designated Buster Island Loop Paddling Trail.
Georgia: Lake Oconee
This Central Georgia treasure is a luxe, family-friendly destination that boasts more than 350 miles of shoreline just two hours from Atlanta. The man-made reservoir, comprised of water from the Oconee River and Apalachee River, is even connected to another waterway, Lake Sinclair. Besides its stunning shores, Lake Oconee is also nestled within the greater Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, which cover some of Georgia’s most pristine wilderness. Popular activities in and around the lake include golf, tennis, camping, jet skiing, fishing, biking, hiking, swimming, hunting, and cliff jumping. Reserve a lake house near here and enjoy a beautiful day by the water!
Hawaii: Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden Lake
For a little slice of heaven, check out this Oahu lake and its lush surroundings. Located in the north end of Ho’omaluhia Botanical Garden, this 32-acre lake was built in 1982 to protect the area from flooding. On the weekends, you can catch and release tilapia and other fish here with the provided barbless bamboo poles, and on any day, you can simply enjoy the lake’s tranquil beauty. Bonus: You can enjoy both the lake and the gardens for free. We’re pretty sure you can’t go wrong anywhere in this Pacific paradise, but some people believe that Maui is the best Hawaiian island—here’s why.
Idaho: Lake Coeur d’Alene
Idaho’s prettiest natural lake is the second largest in its northern reaches. Adjacent to the resort town of the same name, Lake Coeur d’Alene is a stunning example of a Pacific Northwest alpine lake, complete with plenty of surrounding pine trees and a distinct cerulean hue. There are many ways to enjoy Lake Coeur d’Alene, with its 135 miles of stunning shoreline, including boating, fishing, and hiking on the Centennial Trail. Bird enthusiasts should pay special attention in late fall to winter when bald eagles, America’s unintended national mascot, flock to the area to feast on the seasonal spawning salmon.
Illinois: Lake Michigan
It might seem like a cop-out to choose this Great Lake for Illinois, since it also shares its shores with Wisconsin, Indiana, and Michigan. But anyone who has ever enjoyed the scenic views from Lakeshore Drive knows that Lake Michigan is Chicago’s quintessential outdoor playground. Its 26-plus miles of lakeshore, managed by the Chicago Park District, include a plethora of free beaches to enjoy swimming and wading. Bonus: You’ll even find dog-friendly beaches there. Boating, sailing, and kayaking are other popular lake-related activities, though adventurers should be sure to practice caution on this massive body of water. The second-largest lake in the whole country by volume and third-largest by surface area, Lake Michigan offers ocean-style vistas that make it the prettiest lake in the land of Lincoln.
Want to bring your pooch on your outdoor adventures? Parts of Lake Michigan will allow it, as will these other dog-friendly beaches.
Indiana: Winona Lake
Northern Indiana is home to a cute lakeside village and lake of the same name, Winona Lake. This small slice of heaven has roughly 570 acres of water, perfect for fishing, boating, swimming, kayaking, sailing, and more. Anglers will find an abundance of perch, bass, and bluegill in the lake’s watery depths, which stretch to 79 feet and have an average depth of 30 feet. The eponymous town is even listed on the National Register for Historic Places and contains a lakeside boardwalk and numerous green spaces to enjoy the views of Winona Lake.
Iowa: Clear Lake
Stunning sunsets are just the beginning of what you’ll find at this Iowa gem. Located 107 miles north of Des Moines, this natural spring-fed lake in Cerro Gordo County is known for its sandy shoreline, as well as activities like waterskiing, boating, and fishing. Anglers will find a plethora of walleye, yellow bass, and channel catfish here. If you fall in love with Iowa, you might want to move to Marne, about three hours away, which is one of the American towns that will pay you to move there. (Yes, you read that right!)
Kansas: Scott State Fishing Lake
Though only 100 acres in size, the pristine, spring-fed Scott Lake is the prettiest lake in the whole of Kansas. Its small size hides fish like walleye, catfish, and largemouth bass. Both hiking and equestrian trails wind around the region, which also offers ample picnicking and camping options. Even National Geographic thinks the Historic Lake Scott State Park is worth a look, calling it one of the country’s 50 must-see state parks. Animals like deer, turkeys, beavers, and bobcats can be found in the area, along with anthropological sites such as El Cuartelejo, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is the northernmost pueblo in the nation. Looking to sleep under the stars a little closer to home? Check out the best campsite in your state—and every other.
Kentucky: Laurel River Lake
Laurel River Lake is located in Southern Kentucky and the unspoiled wilds of the Daniel Boone National Forest. One of the state’s best paddling destinations, this pretty lake is more than 5,000 acres in size and boasts almost 200 miles of stunning shoreline. Camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, and birding are just some of the activities one can enjoy on and near Laurel River Lake. Birders will rejoice at the wintering bald eagles and Canadian goose populations, while just about everyone will be enchanted by the pristine blue waters of this clear lake.
Louisiana: Lake Pontchartrain
This massive shallow lake is actually categorized as a brackish estuary, a mix of both fresh and salt water due to the intermingling of waters from the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River. Stretching for a whopping 630 square miles, Lake Pontchartrain is also notable for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, one of the longest bridges in the world. Part of New Orleans rests on the lakeshore, and visitors can expect to see an abundance of aquatic birds, like pelicans, while they enjoy boating and water recreation. The best camping is available at the northern edge of the lake in Fontainebleau State Park.
Maine: Sebago Lake
Sebago Lake is Maine’s second-largest lake and also one of its deepest and prettiest. Located near Portland, which itself is home to one of the most beautiful lighthouses in America, this pristine lake covers nearly 30,000 acres prime for fishing and outdoor exploration. In fact, the water is so clear that anglers have to be extra crafty with their fish prey, as visibility is so high. Depending on the time of year, visitors can also enjoy boating, swimming, hiking, Nordic skiing, and snowshoeing here. Nearby Sebago Lake State Park offers excellent options for seasonal camping as well.
Maryland: Deep Creek Lake
The only U.S. state with no natural lakes, Maryland thankfully has beautiful bay shores as well as dammed rivers that form man-made lakes and reservoirs to make up for this fact. One of these is Deep Creek Lake, which clocks in at 3,900 acres and is actually the largest inland body of water in the state. The surrounding area is encompassed within Deep Creek Lake State Park and the Deep Creek Lake Natural Resources Management Area in Western Maryland’s Garrett County. The large lake (and land beyond) are prime destinations for fishing, boating, hunting, hiking, swimming, and camping. There’s even an indoor Discovery Center with animal exhibits, historic displays, and a gift shop. Deep Creek Lake’s high water quality and tree-lined shores make it the prettiest lake in the state.
Massachusetts: Walden Pond
Perhaps one of the most famous examples of nature-inspired literature is Massachusetts’ Walden Pond, which was memorialized by Henry David Thoreau. This 61-acre kettle hole (aka a small lake formed by glacial ice melt) can be found in Concord, Massachusetts, just 20 miles outside of Boston. The area is home to a Thoreau replica cabin and visitor center and is completely enclosed within the protected Walden Pond State Reservation. Swimming and hiking can also be enjoyed at this location. The beautiful Walden Pond also made the cut for our list of the coolest secret locations in every state.
Michigan: Torch Lake
Though Michigan is nestled between some pretty great lakes, its longest inland lake, Torch Lake, earns the distinction as its prettiest. This Northern Michigan gem, which covers nearly 20,000 acres, is the deepest inland lake in the state. Sometimes called a slice of the Caribbean in the Midwest, this stunning turquoise waterway boasts great fishing (for crappie, whitefish, pike, and more), plus tons of fun in the sun. Swimming, sailing, kayaking, boating, camping, picnicking, and windsurfing are popular area activities, along with gathering on its famous sandbars. Equestrian, biking, and hiking trails also wind through the region.
Minnesota: Lake Pepin
Minnesota is nicknamed the land of 10,000 lakes, and it’s easy to see why. This Upper Midwest dream destination actually contains more than 12,000 lakes, but who’s counting? Interestingly, our pick for Minnesota’s prettiest lake is Lake Pepin, the widest natural part of the Mississippi River. This large body of water, some 20-plus miles long and almost three miles wide, actually forms the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. Think: verdant bluffs that kiss the water’s edge, cliff faces that jut out of the otherwise rolling hills, and charming river towns that dot the edges of this outdoor paradise. Waterskiing was invented in Lake City, one of the many municipalities that call Lake Pepin home, and fishing, boating, windsurfing, sailing, swimming, kayaking, and more can be enjoyed within its massive beauty. Don’t miss these gorgeous river photos from around the world.
Mississippi: Grenada Lake
Whether you’re looking for an outdoor adventure or a chilled-out afternoon lounging on the beach, this is where you’ll want to be. Grenada Lake, a reservoir on the Yalobusha River, spans nearly 36,000 acres, making it the largest body of water located totally within Mississippi’s borders. More than two dozen recreation areas surround it, including Hugh White State Park, which has a campground if you just can’t pull yourself away.
Missouri: Table Rock Lake
The 40,000-plus-acre Table Rock Lake, a man-made spot created by damming the White River, is the prettiest lake in Missouri. Within the Ozarks, this large body of water boasts more than 800 miles of shoreline and earned its moniker from a large rock shelf that watches over the White River near the dam site. A popular recreational area, the Ozarks cover area in Missouri and neighboring Arkansas. Table Rock Lake is known for its high water clarity and quality, which helps make it a fishing, boating, and swimming destination. It’s also very close to Branson, the Ozarks entertainment capital, and the scenic Table Rock State Park.
Montana: Flathead Lake
Meet the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River in the lower 48 states. With almost 200 miles of shoreline and a whopping 126,000 acres of surface area, this gorgeous watering hole deserves some attention. The Flathead National Forest hugs the lake’s northwestern shore, and swimming, boating, fishing, sailing, kayaking, camping, and waterskiing are great ways to spend a day on the lake. Pro tip: Summertime visitors should look for the local food stands that dot the region, full of farm-fresh fare like stone fruits. While you’re in Montana, also consider driving to stunning Glacier National Park, one of the best national park road trips you can take.
Nebraska: Lake McConaughy
There’s more to the Cornhusker State than a storied college-football history and amber waves of grain. You won’t want to miss its largest reservoir, the man-made Lake McConaughy, nicknamed “Big Mac” for its massive surface size. With white sand shores and clear waters, Western Nebraska’s Lake McConaughy just can’t be beat. Visit the State Recreation Area of the same name to swim, hunt, fish, boat, windsurf, picnic, scuba dive, camp, and more. Here are another 25 spots around the country where you can camp on the beach.
Nevada: Lake Mohave
The stunning Lake Mohave straddles the border between Nevada and Arizona as part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Bounded by the Black Mountains, Eldorado Mountains, and Newberry Mountains, this picturesque reservoir is a haven for outdoor recreation. Anglers can catch fish like rainbow trout, crappies, and sunfish, and scuba divers can check out shipwrecks and Black Canyon features. Though it’s much smaller than its better-known neighbor to the north, Lake Mead, Lake Mohave’s 28,000 acres are the prettiest in Nevada.
New Hampshire: Lake Winnipesaukee
The foothills of the White Mountains are home to the Granite State’s most beautiful lake, Lake Winnipesaukee. Also the largest lake in New Hampshire, this 50,000-acre waterway is a glacial lake with an interesting history; it actually hosted the first-ever intercollegiate event, a regatta between Ivy League rivals Harvard and Yale. These days, outdoor enthusiasts can fish, kayak, swim, boat, sail, and more there. Lake Winnipesaukee is in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire, which is notable for its crystal-clear waters and hiking trails. While we’re on the topic, check out the best hiking trails in every state.
New Jersey: Sunfish Pond
This teeny glacial lake might be best known for its proximity to the famed Appalachian Trail, one of the best hikes in America, but that’s not all it has to offer. Situated within Worthington State Forest, the lake sits 1,000 feet above the surrounding area. It can best be enjoyed via a 10-mile hiking loop, but it’s also a natural swimming hole. At just 44 acres, Sunfish Pond packs a picturesque punch despite its small size, with pristine waters, rocky shores, and dense forest surroundings. After a trip here, you may want to go back again…and again. Here’s why one woman goes on the same vacation with her family every year.
New Mexico: Cochiti Lake
With views of the lofty Sandia Mountains, known for their glowing red color especially at sunset, Cochiti Lake is the very definition of paradise. About an hour from Albuquerque, it is situated on the Rio Grande and entirely located inside the borders of the Pueblo de Cochiti Indian Reservation. The lake is optimal for recreational activities like windsurfing, stand-up paddleboarding, fishing, and swimming, and its beaches are dog-friendly. Cochiti Lake was formed by the Cochiti Dam, one of the ten largest earth-filled dams in the entire United States, and it’s known for its multiple osprey-viewing platforms. The lake is also located just five miles from Tent Rocks National Monument, an otherworldly playground surrounded by water-sculpted sandstone hoodoos and soft cliffsides that offer views of deep canyons and ancient rocks—all of which makes for an unexpectedly scenic hiking adventure.
New York: Keuka Lake
One of New York State’s gorgeous Finger Lakes, Keuka Lake was formed in a unique Y shape, rather than the usual long skinny “fingers” of the rest of the group. Pristine waters from glaciers past flow both north and south, making this the only lake in the United States to do so. Scenic vineyards dot the shores and offer a fun excursion for visitors as they explore the Keuka Lake Wine Trail. In fact, this wine region was selected as a best-value substitute for the expensive Napa Valley in our list of cheaper alternatives to overpriced tourist destinations. Nicknamed “the jewel of the Finger Lakes,” Keuka Lake is also known for its swimming, fishing, boating, and camping, as well as wintertime activities like Nordic skiing and snowshoeing.
North Carolina: Lake James
At the base of the “Grand Canyon of the East,” Linville Gorge, you’ll find North Carolina’s prettiest lake, the Lake James reservoir. Set within the misty peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, this 6,000-acre lake—which also boasts more than 150 miles of scenic shoreline—should not be skipped. Nearby Lake James State Park also offers a bevy of hiking trails, roughly four miles or less in length, as well as lake activities like swimming, boating, and fishing.
North Dakota: Devils Lake
Despite its sinister name, North Dakota’s largest natural body of water has plenty of wholesome fun to offer visitors. With its scenic shores, and prime fishing grounds, this 200,000-plus-acre lake is a massive natural playground. The fishing is so great here that it’s even been called “the perch capital of the world,” though walleye and northern pike also call the water home. Devils Lake is equally enchanting in the quieter winter season, when fat-tire biking, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing take center stage. Plus, animal enthusiasts can check out the White Horse Hill National Game Preserve for glimpses of elk, bison, and prairie dogs. Here are more destinations that are even better in winter.
Ohio: East Fork Lake
Also called William H. Harsha Lake, this body of water can be found in southwestern Ohio, near Cincinnati. The area has a storied history including gold mining, but it now boasts a big recreational pull with this man-made reservoir that dates back to 1978. Eighty-five miles of hiking and equestrian trails abound in the verdant East Fork State Park, which hugs the water’s edge. The lake itself is small in size, with 2,100 acres of surface area, but it offers excellent swimming and boating options. There are also numerous campsites on the adjacent land. If you’re a camping newbie, make sure to read up on these 13 camping mistakes most first-timers make.
Oklahoma: Lake Murray
Southcentral Oklahoma is home to Lake Murray, a roughly 6,000-acre lake and attached state park. Lake Murray State Park was the first state park in the Sooner State, and now it also holds the distinction of being the largest. Numerous campsites are available, but for those who prefer a little more glamp than camp, check out the cabins for rent. And while you’re at it, check out these luxurious glamping excursions you can take this summer. Beyond overnights, Lake Murray offers golf, fishing, boating, swimming, picnicking, and paddling. Geology nerds should also make time to visit the Tucker Tower Museum, which contains one of the largest meteorites ever found.
Oregon: Crater Lake
It was easy to pick the unbelievable Crater Lake as Oregon’s prettiest; after all, it’s one of the 15 most crystal-clear lakes in the whole world. Protected within Crater Lake National Park, the namesake lake is actually the deepest in the United States and stretches to nearly 2,000 feet deep. While you’re there, consider checking out the historic Rim Drive, which features 30 overlooks for different views of the majestic water, towering pines, and islands rising from the depths. By the way, Crater Lake gets its name from the collapsed volcano crater it surrounds. Swimming is allowed in the area, though the startlingly blue water is usually too chilly to enjoy.
Pennsylvania: Lake Jean
In Northeast Pennsylvania, west of Scranton, lies Lake Jean. The 245-acre lake is gorgeous in itself, but what really puts Lake Jean over the top is that it’s encompassed in Ricketts Glen State Park. Picture old-growth timber, bright blooming mountain laurel, and beautiful blue water. The state park even includes waterfalls pretty enough to get a National Natural Landmark designation at Glens Natural Area; you can hike to them on the Falls Trail System. Lake Jean is also great for trout fishing and swimming.
Rhode Island: Great Salt Pond
The smallest U.S. state boasts a number of pretty waterways to choose from. Great Salt Pond on Block Island, about 13 miles off the main coast of Rhode Island, is arguably the most gorgeous of the bunch. It used to be an enclosed pond, but it now functions as a tidal harbor for boats and yachts. The Great Salt Pond and surrounding area is even on the National Register of Historic Places for its archaeological and historic interest. Besides the aforementioned harbor, the pond is also a great spot to fish, paddle, and swim in its protected northern sector, a designated no-anchor area. The southern sector remains a bustling yacht destination. If you’re road-tripping through Rhode Island, check out its strangest roadside attraction.
South Carolina: Lake Jocasse
South Carolina’s so-called Upcountry may be a far cry from its much-visited Lowcountry gem of Charleston, but it impresses in a totally different way. The far northwestern reaches of the Palmetto State boast the serene waters of Lake Jocasse, a 7,600-acre man-made lake tucked into the South Carolina mountains. Clear alpine water means scuba divers, swimmers, boaters, anglers, and more delight in the lake’s natural bounty. Plus, visitors can explore even more of Mother Nature at nearby attractions like Devils Fork State Park, the dense Sumter National Forest, and the Jocasse Gorges Wilderness Area.
South Dakota: Lake Poinsett
One of the largest lakes in all of South Dakota, Lake Poinsett is located in the central-eastern portion of the sparsely populated state. There’s a nearby museum with historical exhibits, as well as swimming, fishing, boating, and paddling on the lake itself. Lake Poinsett is also a prime camping spot, especially within the Lake Poinsett Recreation Area. The lake occupies a pleasantly scenic 7,900 acres amid South Dakota’s rolling prairies. A trip to Lake Poinsett just might cure what ails you—here’s why researchers say camping can help you sleep better.
Tennessee: Douglas Lake
The majestic Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee provide the backdrop for Douglas Lake, near Sevierville. It’s the perfect setting for a fall road trip, and birders will also enjoy the many bald eagles in the region, which are bred and released by the American Eagle Foundation. Well known for its bass and crappie fishing, Douglas Lake can also be enjoyed from a boat, kayak, stand-up paddleboard, or simply by swimming in its sprawling green depths. Formed by the damming of the French Broad River, this reservoir spreads out for 28,000 acres, making it the 10th largest body of water by surface area in Tennessee.
Texas: Hamilton Pool
A natural watering hole near Austin, Hamilton Pool lies within the protected Hamilton Pool Preserve and the greater Balcones Canyonlands Preserve. Though the pool itself is just 232 acres, the brilliant jade water fills a collapsed underground river basin and even includes a picturesque waterfall. Enjoy swimming in the cool waters, hiking the trails around the protected forest, and picnicking at the water’s edge. The preserve is one of the most scenic nature getaways in every state—and also a great spot for birding. If you visit, be on the lookout: The golden-cheeked warbler and black-capped vireo are just two of the noteworthy birds you can find here.
Utah: Lake Powell
With more than 150,000 acres of surface area, Utah’s Lake Powell is a massive blue wonder. This vast body of water also shares its shores with neighboring Arizona and is visited by millions every year. One of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country, Lake Powell has winding narrow waters with red rocks that shine in the distance. Formed by the dammed Colorado River, this reservoir is prime for waterskiing, swimming, and boating—all with the backdrop of Southern Utah’s stunning canyon landscapes in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Camping, hiking, picnicking, and stargazing are other popular activities here. Humans can create some pretty cool things. In addition to this reservoir, check out 35 of the most amazing man-made structures in the world.
Vermont: Lake Champlain
Sandwiched between New York, Vermont, and Quebec is the massive freshwater Lake Champlain. It’s so massive, in fact, that it’s actually the sixth-largest lake in the United States after the five Great Lakes. A surface area of 314,000 acres means there’s plenty of room to swim, boat, fish, paddle, and more. On Lake Champlain’s sunny shores, visitors can hike, bike, camp, and picnic. There are even rumors of an ancient lake monster named Champ to add a little folklore fun to this legendary region.
Virginia: Smith Mountain Lake
Known as “the jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Smith Mountain Lake is the second-largest freshwater lake in Virginia and can be found 40 miles from both Roanoke and Lynchburg. Its clear waters and 500 miles of winding shoreline make it a popular haven for swimming, fishing, boating, waterskiing, and wakeboarding. In fact, it’s the most-visited lake in the state. The adjacent Smith Mountain State Park offers many more opportunities to enjoy nature, as well as spots for camping. Nearby, you’ll also find Booker T. Washington National Monument. Here are another 12 American landmarks that celebrate Black culture.
Washington: Lake Chelan
Near the edge of the Okanagan-Wenatchee National Forest, this gorgeous lake occupies 33,000 acres at the gateway to the lesser-known North Cascades National Park, one of the practically secret national parks absolutely worth visiting. Lake Chelan was originally a large and deep natural lake, made larger and deeper with the addition of the Lake Chelan Dam. Today, the lake is more than 1,400 feet deep and remains the deepest in the Evergreen State. Visitors can sample the beautiful wineries in the region, as well as swim, fish, boat, and kayak Lake Chelan’s piercing blue waters.
West Virginia: Summersville Lake
Summersville Lake’s gorgeous clear water earned it the nickname “the little Bahamas of the East”—and a spot on this list. It also boasts stunning rock formations that can be enjoyed above water or even from a scuba dive below. Considered one of the clearest lakes in the East, it’s also a lovely destination for swimming, boating, fishing, and paddling. With 60 miles of shoreline and more than 2,700 acres of water, this man-made reservoir also happens to be the largest lake in West Virginia.
Wisconsin: Devil’s Lake
Bigger isn’t always better. For proof, check out Wisconsin’s prettiest lake, Devil’s Lake, which may be tiny in comparison to the state’s Great Lakes but is mighty in its own right. Its 500-foot-high bluffs are the result of an Ice Age glacier, and the views are breathtaking, whether you’re up high or on the lake itself. It’s an idyllic setting for hiking, mountain biking, kayaking, fishing, and just taking in the scenery, as well as a popular spot for scuba diving. Another gorgeous lake in the state, Elkhart Lake, is home to the Osthoff, one of the most beautiful lakeside resorts in the world.
Wyoming: Flaming Gorge Reservoir
As the name implies, this body of water is actually a man-made reservoir surrounded by beautiful rock walls. Wyoming’s biggest reservoir, Flaming Gorge is located inside a National Recreation Area of the same name and is also in the Ashley National Forest. The cool waters of the lake hide trophy trout and are also a paradise for swimmers, boaters, paddlers, and beyond. For those more interested in dry land, numerous hiking, camping, and picnicking options abound. For more travel inspiration, check out the most beautiful seaside towns in America.