With summer approaching quickly, one of the most popular vacation destinations includes spending some time out on the lake with your family and friends.
The US has more than 125,000 lakes across the country, and a number of those locations make for excellent vacation spots. Some are more well-known, and others are hidden gems that you may have never heard of (those tend to be the best, in our opinion, I mean, they’re called hidden gems for a reason)!
We have narrowed down the list to our top 10 picks of the best US lake family vacation spots. Whether you are enjoying the day on a boat, swimming, sightseeing, or other water sports activities, your family will surely have an excellent time!
1. Lake Tahoe
Lake Tahoe is probably one of the most popular and well-known lakes in the US. It is the largest alpine lake in the country and is situated in the Sierra Mountains across the border of both California and Nevada. Lake Tahoe is known for its beautiful blue waters and sandy beaches, as well as ski resorts and winter sports, making it a popular destination for travelers all year round.
There are so many great options for activities and things to do in the Lake Tahoe area that you’re sure to find something that your family will love.
If you are someone that loves to be in nature and enjoy the outdoors, perhaps take an adventure along the hiking or mountain biking trails, spend a day out on the boat enjoying the views or doing some fishing, or maybe lounge around and soak up the sun on Kiva Beach or Nevada Beach.
For indoor activities or fun to enjoy in the event of inclement weather, you can relax at one of the local spas, enjoy some gaming at the Hard Rock Casino or Harvey’s Resort and Casino, or treat yourself to a shopping trip at the Village Center and many other shops in the area.
Places to Stay:
There is no shortage of options when it comes to choosing where to stay in Lake Tahoe. From secluded, private cabins to luxury beach resorts, there is something for everyone’s needs in the area, and where you choose to stay depends on the type of vacation you’re looking for.
Most of your lodging options you will find in South Lake Tahoe. Some popular choices include:
- Tahoe Beach Club
- Heavenly Inn (Pet Friendly)
- Almost Home Group Retreats Cabin Rental
- Tahoe Valley Campground
- Zephyr Cove RV Park & Campground
2. Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes and the only one of the Great Lakes that is located solely within the US. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume coming in behind Lake Superior.
Because Lake Michigan is so large, it is hard to narrow down all the fun activities and things to do because you are spanning four states with over 1,600 miles of shoreline to explore.
Depending on which state you visit will decide the local area activities, but typical activities amongst all four states include swimming, fishing, hiking, boating, and other outdoor activities.
Pro Tip: If you have a few days to spare, a great family vacation idea would be a road trip across Lake Michigan’s shoreline. You will hit popular cities such as Chicago, Green Bay, and Milwaukee along your drive.
Places to Stay:
Again because you are spanning multiple states, it is hard to say specifics on the best places to stay, but as you plan your trip, you may want to consider the area in which you are visiting from. You can enjoy Lake Michigan from a number of popular cities, including:
- Chicago, Illinois
- Green Bay, Wisconsin
- Gary, Indiana
- Traverse City, Michigan
3. Crater Lake National Park
If you are one that enjoys snow, a visit to Crater Lake is a must for you. Located in Crater Lake, Oregon, this National Park features Crater Lake. Crater Lake is a Lake covering an inactive Volcano. It was formed more than 7,500 years ago when an eruption of a volcano collapsed at a tall peak, and the lake was formed due to rain and snowfall.
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and an absolutely awe-inspiring sight to see. Because the lake is situated on the Cascade Mountain Range, the area is covered by rain or snowfall for the majority of the year, but you can catch warmer temperatures during the months of July-September.
While Crater Lake is not one that you will be able to swim in, there are plenty of fun activities to enjoy the sights in the area, including hiking trails, guided tours, fishing, bird watching, and camping.
Places to Stay:
If you plan to stay on-site, three lodging options are available to guests, including Crater Lake Lodge, and The Cabins at Mazama Village, or if you prefer traditional camping, you can stay at Mazama Campground.
Reservations are highly recommended as spots fill up quickly. Reservations can be made up to 365 days in advance by either booking online or by calling 866-292-6720.
Entrance Fee: $30 entry fee for private vehicles to enter the National Park
- Follow our incredible itinerary from Seattle to Crater Lake for a stunning scenic drive through the Pacific Northwest
4. Finger Lakes
Location: New York
The Finger Lakes are made up of eleven long and narrow lakes that, when looked at on a map, resemble fingers (hence the name).
When most people think of New York, they think of the city that never sleeps, New York City, but if you visit upstate New York, you wouldn’t believe that the two areas are located within the same state. Upstate is filled with beautiful scenery, quiet and calming surroundings.
Aside from the beautiful views and scenic drives around Upstate NY, there are a number of great activities that your whole family will love. The area features a number of museums nearby, including the Finger Lakes Museum, Corning Museum of Glass, and the Strong National Museum.
If you prefer to stay outdoors, you can enjoy hiking and biking trails, boating and fishing, as well as the beautiful scenery around you. Popular attractions nearby include the Seabreeze Amusement Park, Bristol Mountain, and a number of wineries and breweries making it a great place for all the family to enjoy.
Places to Stay:
There are a number of options for lodging nearby, including everything from RV parks and campgrounds to charming bed and breakfasts and hotels. Some popular cities to stay in include:
5. Lake Havasu
Lake Havasu City is located on the western border of Arizona with California and is known as “Arizona’s Playground.” There are a number of fun activities, things to do, and beautiful sights to see in the area, making it an excellent choice for a unique family lake vacation destination.
When visiting Lake Havasu, popular activities include fishing, water skiing, house boating, beaches, campgrounds, and hiking trails. Lake Havasu has been voted as one of the top 100 places to fish in the U.S. and offers year-round fishing to its visitors.
The city spans more than 400 miles of coastline, providing plenty of surface area to enjoy with your family. The most notable attractions and landmarks include the London Bridge, the Havasu 95 Speedway, the Aquatic Center, and the Lake Havasu Museum of History – no wonder it’s one of the best lakes in the US!
Places to Stay:
Lake Havasu City has various lodging options, including hotels, resorts, campgrounds, and vacation rental houses and condos. With the sun shining and beautiful weather nearly every day of the year, Lake Havasu is an excellent choice if you have been considering a camping trip. Popular campsites include Cattail Cove State Park and Lake Havasu State Park.
- Find more incredible hidden gems in Arizona, or extend your vacation with a stop at the Grand Canyon
6. Bear Lake
Bear Lake is a lesser-known lake in the US and is situated in the states of Idaho and Utah. The lake is absolutely beautiful and has been coined as the “Caribbean of the Rockies” due to the vibrant turquoise blue color that the water displays.
The summer months offer a number of fun water activities, including jet ski rides, boating, fishing, swimming, and beach fun. Popular attractions nearby include Bear Lake State Park, Bear Lake Renegade Raceway, and Minnetonka Cave.
Additionally, there are snow sports during the winter months, such as snowmobiling, skiing, snowboarding, and ice fishing. Check out the Beaver Mountain Ski Resort, an excellent winter family vacation destination.
Places to Stay:
Lodging is plentiful, and there are options to fit anything your family may need. The Bear Lake area has a number of hotels, bed and breakfasts, cabins, campgrounds, and RV parks. Popular choices include:
- Beaver Mountain RV Park
- Bear Lake Heritage Park Group Lodging
- The Sunrise Resort
- Bluebird Inn Bed & Breakfast
- Bear Lake is an ideal stop on your SLC to Yellowstone road trip
7. Yellowstone Lake
Yellowstone Lake is a part of Yellowstone National Park, one of the most notable national parks in the United States. A beautiful lake with approximately 141 miles of shoreline, it is the largest high-elevation lake in North America.
Yellowstone Lake, although beautiful during the summer, remains very cold year-round and is not a lake where you will swim or play water sports. Now, just because you can’t get into the water does not mean that you will want to skip it as a summer vacation spot.
A visit to the Lake is absolutely beautiful, and there are many fun activities to enjoy during your visit, including fishing, boating on the water, scenic boat cruises, and hiking trails to explore the sights.
- Don’t miss these Wyoming scenic drives to add to your Yellowstone Lake vacation.
Places to Stay:
Yellowstone National Park is absolutely beautiful, and there are so many places to stay, including campsites, hotels, resorts, and cabins. Here are a few popular options:
- Lake Yellowstone Hotel
- Lake Lodge Cabins
- Bridge Bay Campground
- Fishing Bridge RV Park
Fees: $35 entry fee for private vehicles to the national park
- Extend your trip to Wyoming with these stunning scenic drives in the Cowboy State
8. Lake Cumberland
Lake Cumberland is a part of the Kentucky State Parks and makes for an excellent choice for a family vacation spot.
Located in Southern Kentucky in the city of Jamestown, there is so much to offer when visiting Lake Cumberland, including boating, swimming, hiking, fishing, and many more outdoor activities.
There is something for everyone at Lake Cumberland to ensure that the whole family has a good time. For example, while fishing and boating may interest adults, activities such as mini golf, disc golf, and swimming may be more appealing to the little ones.
In addition to swimming in the lake, a temperature-controlled pool, hot tub, and game room are available to guests who choose to stay on-site.
Places to Stay:
If you do make a trip to Lake Cumberland, we highly recommend staying on-site. This allows you to be close to the fun and activities, and the accommodations are quite comfortable and impressive. Lodging options on-site include:
- Lodge Rooms
- Private Cottages
- Outdoor campsites
- Extend your journey to the Bluegrass State with these Kentucky scenic driving routes taking you to the Red River Gorge and beyond
9. Lake Erie
Another one of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, offers up a great family vacation spot. If you want the feel of an ocean vacation with a little bit less crowds, a visit to Lake Erie may be the perfect choice for you.
Presque Isle State Park is located in Pennsylvania and is a lakefront beach along Lake Erie. The beach is absolutely beautiful and makes for a great alternative to an oceanfront destination. In addition to the beach, there are also great attractions nearby, including the Erie Zoo and Waldameer Amusement Park.
Places to Stay:
There are a number of options for lodging nearby, varying from hotels, bed & breakfasts, campsites, and more. Popular options nearby include:
- Presque Isle Passage RV Park and Cabin Rentals
- Lakeview on the Lake, Lake Erie Hotel
- The Spencer House B&B
- You can capture many fabulous lakeside towns along Lake Erie on this Chicago to Niagara Falls road trip
10. Lake Lanier
Lake Lanier is the largest lake in Georgia and makes for the perfect place for a southern family vacation spot. The lake is situated near Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, ensuring plenty of beautiful sights to see.
Because of its location in Georgia, Lake Lanier makes for a beautiful destination at any time of the year, but it is particularly beautiful during the summer months.
The 690 miles of shoreline offer plenty of room for families to enjoy the day on the water, including boating, swimming, and fishing. Additional activities nearby include the Terminus Wake Park, Lanier Islands Waterpark, horseback riding, kayaking, and more.
If you are looking for a night of city life, Atlanta is just about 50 miles away, making it a great option for a day trip.
Places to Stay:
Lake Lanier Islands offers a variety of accommodations to its guests, including campgrounds, hotels, resorts, and more. Popular choices in the area include:
- Lanier Islands Legacy Lodge
- Margaritaville at Lanier Islands
- Old Federal Campground
- Extend your journey further with these stunning scenic drives in Georgia from the Chattahoochee National Forest to the Woodpecker Trail
Top Tips for Planning a US Family Lake Vacation
- Plan/Book in Advance: Great lake vacation spots are in high demand, particularly during the summer months, so if you intend to make a trip, it is recommended that you book well in advance to ensure that you are able to secure a reservation.
- Book boats/water sports equipment: If you are not one that is traveling with your own boat or water sports equipment, you will want to consider looking at rental options and booking those rentals in advance. Depending on the activity and time of year, you may very well run into the issue of limited availability for this equipment.
- Prep your equipment: If you do intend to bring your own equipment, such as boats, jet skis, fishing equipment, etc. It is important that you make sure that everything is in good condition and working well to ensure that you have a successful vacation.
- Family Sharing: A great cost-saving tip for families is to find a rental property or cabin that has room for multiple families. Not only will this help with the expenses of the rental, but it is always a bit more fun when you take a vacation with friends.
- Plan for Inclement Weather: At almost anywhere that you visit, there is always the chance of having an inclement weather day or two, and instead of allowing the weather to ruin your day, it is best to plan ahead and have backup activities planned in the event that you are not able to participate in outdoor sports and enjoy lake activities.
- Grocery Shop: A great money-saving tip when it comes to food is to make a grocery trip during your visit and make some or all of your meals within your rental property, hotel, or campsite. You may want to have a few nice meals out throughout your stay, but making as many of your meals from your temporary home will be a game changer for your vacation budget.
- Pack the Essentials: Depending on the lake site that you choose to visit, there may not be stores nearby to grab things when you need them, so it is important to be prepared and pack the essentials that you may need during your trip. Some of our go-to packing list items include:
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