lake town

23 Best Lake Towns in the US

There’s just nothing like escaping to the lake in the heat of the summer, complete with cookouts, water sports, and plenty of time with friends and family. Whether you’re headed across town or across the country, it’s a special type of getaway filled with nostalgia and perfect for making memories.

From booming cities alongside man-made lakes to tiny towns next to glacially-carved lakes that have existed for millennia, these are the most impressive, interesting, and beautiful lake towns in the United States. Found all around the country, these are the spots worth adding to your summer vacation itinerary or as a stop on your next fall road trip!

lake lure
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Lake Towns You’ll Love

1. Lake Lure, North Carolina

Lake Lure is a beautiful lake town located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Surrounded by lush mountain tops and sheer granite cliffs, it’s no wonder the town has been used as a filming location for many movies, including the iconic Dirty Dancing.

From Lake Lure, you can hike the Rumbling Bald Trail, rock climb, or take a relaxing walk on the boardwalk and cross the Flowering Bridge that inspired numerous travel quotes.

Other activities include swimming and water sports at the town-owned beach. The private company that maintains the beach and its amenities offers a water park, and a waterslide, making it a perfect destination for a hot summer day. You can also enjoy guided boat tours, allowing you to take in the scenic beauty of the town from the water.

If you know how to swing a golf club, then you may want to stop by the local Golf Club, which is open year-round. For those with children, a visit to the Toy Train Museum is a must.

Read More: Tail of the Dragon: Ultimate North Carolina Drive

2. Mount Dora, Florida

One of the best lake towns in central Florida is Mount Dora, situated on Lake Dora. The charming historic downtown and natural lake features make it the perfect place to visit any time of the year.

To get a sense of the ‘real’ Florida, take a guided pontoon boat tour of Lake Dora. The tour shares the history of Mount Dora and the central Florida area. As visitors glide through the Dora Canal, they will also get to see turtles, herons, and possibly alligators in their natural habitats.

Take a seaplane ride to get a bird’s eye view of Mount Dora and the chain of lakes attached to Lake Dora. These single-engine pontoon planes fly at low altitudes to give visitors a great view of the cities, wetlands, and lakes.

The historic Lakeside Inn is located right on Lake Dora and offers guests spectacular lake-view sunsets. Mount Dora is also known for its award-winning art festivals. Twice a year the entire downtown is blocked off and hundreds of vendors fill the streets with handmade art, jewelry, and crafts.

3. Mackinac Island, Michigan

There is a lake town in the midwest that feels like taking a step back in time. Mackinac Island, a city on the island of the same name, is situated between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsula and is home to a mere 600 residents.

The town is accessible only by air and water since motorized vehicles are not allowed and there are no bridges connecting it to the mainland. This means horse-drawn carriages and bicycles are the quickest modes of transportation to get around the four-square-mile lake town.

Mackinac Island has become known as the unofficial “Fudge Capital of the World”. Although not invented there, fudge became sought-after in the 1800s when candy-makers started making fudge out in the open for visitors’ entertainment. Fast forward to today, and there are over 10 fudge shops on the island, making fudge tasting a popular event.

Grand Hotel is the place to stay, but if not, then you must stop by. The expansive hotel opened in 1887 and its charm lies in its old-world style. You’ll find afternoon tea, croquet games, an ice cream parlor, and so much more available throughout the resort on this incredible island.

best lake towns
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4. Ithaca, New York

Located along Cayuga Lake in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Ithaca is s charming small town packed with things to see and do. Home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, it’s also among the nation’s best college towns, meaning there’s a great array of restaurants, cultural events, and more.

One of the best things to do in Ithaca includes visiting the Ithaca Farmers Market directly on the shores of the lake. The covered market area open every weekend has dozens of vendors selling delicious prepared foods and produce from local farms; make sure to get the apple cider donuts if you’re traveling in the fall!

Enjoy the stunning gorges characteristics of the Finger Lakes that surround Ithaca. Buttermilk Falls and Robert Treman State Park are both just south of Ithaca and are incredible spots for hiking among dramatic gorges and sheer cliffs. Taughannock Falls, located just 15 minutes from Ithaca, is by far the area’s most stunning waterfall, well worth the drive even if you only make it to the lookout.

Don’t forget to explore the numerous Finger Lakes wineries on Cayuga Lake and nearby Seneca Lake. We love Quarry Ridge Winery on the east side of Cayuga Lake and Ravines Wine Cellar, among the best Seneca Lake wineries with its delicious food to accompany a tasting.

5. Coeur d’Alene, Idaho

Coeur d’Alene, Idaho is a charming lake town sitting near the Washington-Idaho border with all the magic of the Pacific Northwest. Snuggled between beautiful mountains and the grand Lake Coeur d’Alene, its access to water sports and endless exploring.

Not only does Coeur d’Alene have the majesty of a clear mountain lake, but the heart of downtown sits at the lake’s edge. Sanders Beach, a great spot for a fun date idea, is a lovely spot to get your toes sandy and splash in the lake during the summer.

If you’re looking for a good lake town for your next summer getaway, Lake Coeur d’Alene and its namesake lake town is your perfect choice. Your access to adventure and fun is endless here. 

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6. Traverse City, Michigan

Traverse City is a beautiful lake town situated on the shores of Lake Michigan. With its stunning lake views, delicious restaurants, and vibrant culture, it’s no wonder why Traverse City is one of the most loved towns in Michigan. Whether you are looking for a quiet weekend getaway or an action-packed vacation, you’ll find it all in Traverse City.

No visit to Traverse City is complete without witnessing its majestic views from Grand Traverse Bay. Whether you take a boat tour or enjoy beach time at Cinch Park, you’ll appreciate the easy walkability from downtown to lake activities. 

For those looking for a more active adventure, you can rent kayaks or paddle boards to explore Grand Traverse Bay. If you are traveling by car, we highly recommend taking day trips to the charming nearby towns of Elk Rapids and Charlevoix. You’ll see some of the most beautiful scenery and fairytale architecture, such as the legendary mushroom houses in Charlevoix.

Another favorite destination is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, roughly 28 miles from Traverse City. Locals and tourists love the Dune Climb, with lookout vistas you can see for miles. With over 71,000 acres, you’ll have plenty of scenic places to explore, such as freshwater beaches, hiking trails, and remote islands. 

Traverse City has also quickly become known as a premier wine-producing location in Michigan. There are about 40 wineries located within the region that specialize in such varieties as Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc. Here you can enjoy wine tastings, vineyard tours, and vineyards with stunning lake views.

bonney lake washington
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7. Bonney Lake, Washington

Bonney Lake is a small, charming lake town that offers a unique blend of natural beauty and community spirit. Surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes, the town offers endless possibilities for outdoor enthusiasts to explore and engage with nature.

With easy access to the stunning Lake Tapps, visitors can engage in a variety of water-based activities such as fishing, boating, swimming, and paddling.

Apart from its natural beauty, Bonney Lake is known for its warm and welcoming community. The town’s vibrant atmosphere is reflected in its numerous sports parks, play areas, and community events that are held throughout the year.

These include the Bonney Lake Days Festival, an Easter Egg Hunt, Kids Club, the Outdoor Market, and the Christmas tree lighting ceremony, among others. These events provide ample opportunities for residents and visitors alike to come together and enjoy the town’s community-driven spirit.

Bonney Lake, Washington is an excellent destination for nature lovers and those seeking a warm and welcoming community atmosphere. With its stunning natural surroundings and lively community spirit, it’s no wonder that the town is a favorite among locals and tourists alike.

8. Seneca, South Carolina

Seneca is one of the cutest lake towns in the United States, located in the Upcountry of South Carolina. Seneca is situated on the southern end of Lake Keowee but there are two other lakes nearby as well – Lake Hartwell and Lake Jocassee.

South Cove and High Falls County Parks are popular places to enjoy swimming or picnicking at Lake Keowee but the gem of the area is Lake Jocassee. From Devils Fork State Park, you can take a tour with Jocassee Lake Tours either on a pontoon boat or through one of their kayaking tours.

Jocassee was named in “50 of the World’s Last Great Places—Destinations of a Lifetime” by National Geographic at one point so this is something you don’t want to miss!

As for Seneca itself, Ram Cat Alley is where you’ll find a concentration of locally-owned shops and restaurants. There are some amazing restaurants in Seneca like Vangeli’s Bistro and Dimas Brothers Cafe. Make sure to stop in at Keowee Brewing after a long day on the lake to pick up a pint and enjoy their outdoor patio!

9. Chelan, Washington

Located on the shores of the 50-mile-long fjord-like Lake Chelan in Washington State, the charming lake town of Chelan brings people far and wide to not only play in the crystal blue waters, but also tour the endless wine-tasting options.

There are over 40 wineries to visit, each with its own personality. If you are looking for chic and modern, try Sigillo Cellars. A Tuscan courtyard? Check out Tsillan Cellars. Because there is almost guaranteed good weather in the summer, you will be able to enjoy your glass of vino on a sunny patio overlooking the lake. 

If winery hopping isn’t your thing, there are plenty of water activities to occupy your visit. Rent yourself standup paddleboards, kayaks, jet skis, motor boats, water skis, tubes…pretty much anything you can think of! Or, find a spot on the beach to sunbathe at parks like Don Morse Memorial Park or Lake Chelan State Park.

lake towns
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10. Burlington, Vermont

Burlington, Vermont is a vibrant small city on Lake Champlain, the largest lake in New England. The view from the waterfront across to the Adirondack Mountains is a highlight for visitors, especially at sunset.

Stroll through the pedestrian mall of the Church Street Marketplace for charming shops, farm-to-table outdoor dining, and street performer shows. Try the craft beer Vermont is famous for at one of the lively Burlington breweries. Vermont’s iconic ice cream, Ben and Jerry’s, can be sampled at the Church Street parlor.

Outdoor enthusiasts can rent bikes to ride the waterfront rail trail. The Island Line Rail Trail rambles over 13 miles from downtown along the shore of Lake Champlain. Be sure to explore an in-town hiking trail, or take a dip at one of the two gorgeous, lifeguarded beaches within the city limits.

The thriving arts scene complements the natural beauty of Burlington. Catch a live show at the Flynn Center or enjoy live music at the many unique venues scattered over the town.

11. South Lake Tahoe, California

South Lake Tahoe is a beautiful lake town on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, which is one of the most beautiful and popular lakes in northern California.

Known for its recreational opportunities like hiking and water-based activities like swimming, fishing, boating, and kayaking, South Lake Tahoe is an easy weekend trip from San Fransisco and is a very popular summer and winter destination among California locals. 

During winter, South Lake Tahoe is a popular ski town, and the Heavenly Mountain Ski Resort offers excellent skiing and snowboarding opportunities. The town is surrounded by miles of hiking and biking trails, which wind through the Sierra Nevada mountains and offer breathtaking views of the lake and surrounding wilderness.

There are several amazing hikes to explore nearby in the summer, like the Eagle Lake and Eagle Falls hike, as well as the Vikingholm trail down to Emerald Bay. Lake Tahoe to Yosemite excursions are even popular. The town also has beaches and marinas to enjoy swimming and boating. 

There are several restaurants and resorts in South Lake Tahoe and the downtown area is always bustling with tourists. The Lake Tahoe Blvd street, which runs through the town, is lined with stores to shop and find your souvenirs and gifts. 

12. McCall, Idaho

Nestled on the shores of Payette Lake in the Cascade Mountains, McCall, Idaho is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream with endless things to do from paddling and whitewater rafting to mountain biking, skiing, and more. With a population of around 3,000 people, McCall has the perfect mix of small-town charm with plenty of things to do.

The area is surrounded by scenic vistas, pine forests, and rugged mountains, and with its unpretentious vibe and four seasons of outdoor recreation, there’s something for everyone. McCall also has a vibrant downtown area with shops, restaurants, and cafes, as well as a variety of cultural events and festivals throughout the year.

During the summer, try paddling the quiet, calm Upper North Fork section of the Payette River where you have the chance to see wildlife like moose and birds.

Visiting Burgdorf Hot Springs is a year-round highlight in McCall where you can buy a day pass or rent one of their rustic on-site cabins for an overnight getaway.

big bear california
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13. Big Bear, California

Big Bear, California is a picturesque lake town surrounded by San Bernadino National Forest and set in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. The area offers something for everyone and is a true four-season destination.

Big Bear’s proximity to major cities sets it apart from other destinations, as it’s located just 120 miles from Los Angeles and 160 miles from San Diego, making it an easy weekend escape.

During summer, visitors flock to Big Bear Lake for boating, fishing, and swimming, though the region also offers ample hiking trails and even an alpine slide. Come winter, the town’s focus shifts to its mountains, where outdoor enthusiasts enjoy skiing and snowboarding at Big Bear Mountain Resort and Snow Summit.

The town has a charming downtown area fondly referred to as ‘The Village’, with lovely shopping and dining options. Breakfast at Grizzly Manor Cafe is a must and Peppercorn Grill comes highly recommended for dinner.

In terms of lodging, most opt to self-cater and there are hundreds of lakefront and mountainside Big Bear cabins to choose from, ranging from rustic to luxury.

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14. Rangeley, Maine

Rangeley, Maine is one of the best lake towns in the United States, known for its unforgettable experiences and outdoor adventures. With plenty of recreational activities in the area, Rangeley is an ideal spot for those looking to get away from it all and reconnect with nature.

This quaint and charming lake town is one of the best places to visit in Maine and is surrounded by a stunning landscape full of rivers, ponds, and forests that draw people from all over to experience its unique beauty.

What makes Rangeley so unique is that it boasts some of the best fishing in New England. The town is neighbored by two of Maine’s largest lakes, Mooselookmeguntic Lake and Rangeley Lake, where you can cast a line for trophy-sized brook trout, landlocked salmon, lake trout, smallmouth bass, and more.

If fishing isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities in the area. Hiking, mountain biking, and kayaking are popular outdoor sports in Rangeley. The town itself has plenty to offer as well, including a vibrant downtown with restaurants, bars, and shops. The area also has abundant cultural attractions such as museums, art galleries, and theaters.

15. Lake George, New York

Lake George is a quaint, picturesque village surrounding the clear lake of the same name in the southeastern portion of New York’s Adirondack Mountains offering a mix of indoor and outdoor activities for visitors.

The historic village played a role in the French and Indian War, which is still evident in area attractions. While some of the village’s charm falls around the 32-mile-long lake, its beauty and allure do not end there. The village boasts a historic downtown, lakefront beaches, access to mountain trails, and plenty of shopping and entertainment attractions. 

Hiking is one of the top activities to do in Lake George, with plenty of options for any skill level. Shelving Rock Falls and Stewart’s Ledge are perfect for beginners while Pilot Knob and Black Mountain are excellent choices for more experienced hikers. Natural Stone Bridge and Caves are a natural wonder and one of the best reasons to visit Lake George

Visitors can also enjoy shopping along lakefront Canada Street for Lake George embroidered apparel, sweets, and maple syrup. Shepard Park, located off Canada Street, features some greenery and a lakefront beach. Whatever you choose to do at Lake George, you’re in for a memorable trip.

wolfeboro new hampshire

16. Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

Wolfeboro is the classic American lake town in New Hampshire located on the banks of Lake Winnipesaukee, known as “America’s Oldest Summer Resort.” This quaint town has a great similarity to New England. It has luxurious amenities quietly coexisting within the simplicities of town life, making it a favorite summer destination even among the rich and famous. 

Located two hours from Boston, Wolfeboro is easily accessible and its vast 72-square-mile freshwater lake is an incredible draw for visitors. You can enjoy your day by swimming, boating, or fishing in the lake. Sunset swims are extremely popular here in summer. 

Downtown Wolfeboro is always bustling with tourists browsing its many eclectic shops or delicious eateries, flower shops, and plenty of things to do. Explore the town museums, farmer markets, and local wineries while here, or spend a peaceful evening watching the boats return and leave the docks.

17. Bayfield, Wisconsin 

Walking along the scenic Lake Superior coast, it’s easy to see why the city of Bayfield on the northern tip of Wisconsin is one of the best lake towns in the U.S. Known as the “Gateway to the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore,” Bayfield offers small town charm with Great Lake views rivaling many ocean panoramas. 

Many Apostle Island adventures begin in Bayfield. The Lake Superior shoreline consists of unique rock formations, a highlight for paddleboarders and kayakers in the area. Paddling in and out of the rocky, red Apostle Island sea caves provides a thrilling way to get up close to the stunning scenery. There are hiking trails, beaches, and camping to enjoy while discovering even more unique lake views.

While the town is lively year-round, it truly comes alive in the summer with concerts, art, and festivals. A mix of shops, restaurants, wineries, and a brewery make Bayfield a fun getaway where there’s always something to do.

18. Joseph, Oregon

A quaint lake town off the beaten path, Joseph, Oregon keeps showing up on “best of” lists—and with good reason. At 4,100 feet in elevation, the town is surrounded by breathtaking scenery, including the stunningly blue Wallowa Lake and the towering Wallowa Mountains. 

Outdoor adventures are what this town is all about and many of them center around Wallowa Lake itself. Shoulder season is a great time to snag a campground at popular Wallowa Lake State Park or just visit for the day and enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, and paddle boarding, with rentals available at the marina.

Joseph’s Wallowa Lake has two free public access points with boat ramps and swimming areas in each. The County park sits at the north end, closest to town and the State Park is at the southern point of the lake. The best fishing is close to the mouth of the river inlet near the State Park.

Walk around the village south of the lake with summer activities for the whole family including putt-putt golf, horse rides, and go-karts. Then hop the Wallowa Lake Tramway to get a birds-eye view of the lake and surrounding areas from the top of Mt. Howard.

The town of Joseph is named after the beloved Nez Perce chief, and the tribe still thrives in the area. Take a scenic walk around Iwetemlaykin State Heritage Site and pay your respects at the Old Chief Joseph Gravesite.

page arizona / Depositphotos

19. Page, Arizona

Page, Arizona is one of the most picturesque and rustic lake towns in the United States. Situated on the banks of Lake Powell, this lake town boasts stunning red rock canyons, deep blue waters, and towering cliffscapes – all perfect backdrops to any exciting outdoor activity.

Page is renowned for its proximity to some of the most iconic landmarks in America, such as Antelope Canyon. This slot canyon features narrow pathways featuring a rainbow of shapes and hues that are truly breathtaking. Since it lies on Navajo Nation land, visitors must participate in an Antelope Canyon guided tour when visiting this spectacular site.

Another famous attraction, Horseshoe Bend overlooks the Colorado River from atop the edge of 1,000-foot high cliffs. Journey further upriver to explore the epic landscapes from Alstrom Point or challenge yourself with a 15-mile hike to Reflection Canyon.

Page also offers many other forms of water recreation activities. Boating on Lake Powell or kayaking to discover hidden slot canyons is a great way to spend a day outdoors on the lake. You can even camp along the banks of the lake to enjoy waking up to the view of nearby rock formations.

Travel Essential

Don’t think about traveling without a good VPN (Virtual Private Network). Using a VPN while connecting to the internet is an easy way to keep your personal information safe from hackers and trackers. We’ve used NordVPN for years and couldn’t recommend it more – it’s a must for safety online, at home or abroad. 

20. Put-in-Bay, Ohio

If you’re looking for the best lake towns in the US, then look no further than Put-in-Bay, Ohio. Located on Lake Erie near Sandusky, Ohio, this charming lake town has a big personality. It’s the perfect destination for a summertime vacation.

Put-in-Bay is home to a quaint restaurant and bar scene, rocky shorelines with swimming beaches, a plethora of water activities, and some very unique attractions. One of the top things to do in Put-in-Bay that you won’t find in any other lake town in America is to visit a Crystal Cave. This is the world’s largest celestine geode, and the cave is filled with green, white, and purple crystals. To top it off, it’s situated just below a winery, making it a perfectly delightful afternoon activity!

Aside from visiting this unique attraction, there are numerous water activities like kayaking and paragliding. Afterward, head downtown to catch some live music and surround yourself with beachy vibes with toes-in-the-sand restaurants and fabulous shops.

The island is small – just 3.7 miles by 1.5 miles – which means there are not a lot of accommodations. Book your stay far in advance or visit Put-in-Bay via a day trip from Sandusky or Port Clinton, Ohio.

21. Bemidji, Minnesota

Bemidji, Minnesota is among the best lake towns in the United States, truly everything you’d expect from small-town America, with a heaping dose of outdoor fun. A fantastic place for canoeing and boating, visitors can use this lake town as a base to explore Minnesota’s Northwoods region.

For those driving the Great River Road in Minnesota or canoeing down the Mississippi River, Bemidji is the first “major” town you’ll visit. Bemidji sits on the shores of the eponymous Lake Bemidji, right where the Mississippi River empties.

Paul Bunyan is said to have grown up to his gigantic stature in this small lake town. Right on the shores of Lake Bemidji you’ll find towering statues of Paul Bunyan and his trusty sidekick Babe. These two embody the character of the town: a simple approach to life and plenty of Minnesota nice.

22. Frisco, Colorado

At an elevation of 9097 feet, Frisco is a popular destination due to its location in the heart of the Rocky Mountains, which provides visitors with opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking, and more. The town also has a charming downtown area with shops, restaurants, and art galleries.

Frisco is known for its winter activities but this small town in the summer is stunning. Lake Dillion is a popular reservoir in Frisco that allows boating, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and sailing during the summer months. The Dillon Marina also provides boat rentals, sailing lessons, and other activities. The lake is also surrounded by several parks and hiking trails. 

Frisco is close to the area’s popular ski mountains like Breckenridge and Vail, which have year-round activities also including hiking. Try summitting Quandary Peak or conquering any of the area’s easier trails and treks.

23. Hammondsport, New York

Hammondsport, New York is an amazing small town that was recently voted the coolest small town in America. Located on the shores of Keuka Lake in the Finger Lakes region, it’s a great place to visit for wine tasting and outdoor activities.

One of the most popular attractions in Hammondsport is Dr. Konstantin Frank Winery, which offers a variety of wines from all over the world. This Keuka Lake winery also has a beautiful outdoor patio where you can enjoy your wine with some delicious food. Bully Hill Vineyards is another great option for wine tasting, and they offer a variety of red and white wines as well as sparkling wines.

If you’re looking for something unique to do in Hammondsport, why not take a seaplane ride? You’ll get stunning views of Keuka Lake and its surrounding area from up above. There are several companies offering seaplane rides in Hammondsport, so you can find one that fits your budget and schedule.

Overall, Hammondsport is an incredible destination for anyone looking to explore the Finger Lakes region or just relax and enjoy some good wine in NY State.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.