Sustainability made simple

The Best Lakes in the US for Hiking, Kayaking, Bird Watching & More

best lakes in the us
Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Simon Hurry

No matter the weather, getting out and exploring what your country has to offer is always a good idea. To help you out, we’ve compiled a list of the best lakes in the US.

When the weather is nice, many of us can’t wait to be outside soaking up the sunshine. One of the best places to do that is by the lake! The United States is home to a huge number of lakes — Alaska has three million alone — so there are plenty of options to choose from.

How do you narrow it down? Whether you’re looking to explore your own state or venture a bit further, we’ll show you some of the best lakes in the US for a wide variety of activities. Grab your sunscreen, and let’s get exploring.

Best Lakes in the US for Kayaking and Canoeing

Where else can you paddle around and view giant rock formations?
Where else can you paddle around and view giant rock formations? (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Ilse Orsel)

Canoeing and kayaking are great ways to get your workout in while enjoying some of the best nature the US has to offer. There are plenty of waterways you can get out on, but some of the best lakes in the US for paddling include:

1. Shasta Lake, California

This reservoir is the third largest body of water in the country. This provides ample opportunity to find your own piece of the lake and paddle to your heart’s content. Tucked away in Northern California, it’s a 3-hour drive from Sacramento to get here.

2. Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah

This man-made reservoir on the Arizona/Utah border features incredible rock formations. It’s over 650km2 and has 1960 miles of shoreline, meaning there’s plenty of space to explore. Take a kayak out and see if you can spot the famous Padres Butte or Toilet Bowl rock formations. You can reach the south end of the lake in about 4 hours from Vegas or a 2.5-hour drive from Flagstaff.

Best Lakes in the US for Hiking

Diablo Lake is one of the best lakes in the US for hiking.
Diablo Lake is one of the best lakes in the US for hiking. (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / RC Victorino )

Not all lakes are easily accessible or visible from the road. Certain lakes require you to earn the view they provide, so strap on your hiking boots, pack your bag full of hiking snacks and hit the trail to see these stunners.

3. Icefloe Lake, Wyoming

Located in Grand Teton National Park, Icefloe Lake requires a 19.9-mile out-and-back hike. You’ll also get to enjoy another lake on your way, as this trail is only accessible via the Jenny Lake boat shuttle. If seeing the lake is your ultimate goal, the season is May through September. You can reach Jenny Lake in about 1 hour from Jackson.

4. Diablo Lake, Washington

You’ll find Diablo Lake in the North Cascade Mountains. It’s a year-round hiking destination with stunning blue waters due to glacial melt and should be added to any hiker’s bucket list. It’s a moderate 7.9-mile roundtrip hike, and you can reach the trailhead in about 2.5 hours from Seattle.

5. Dream Lake, Colorado

For those looking for a maximum reward for minimal effort, Dream Lake might fit the bill. This 2.2-mile out-and-back hike in Rocky Mountain National Park showcases a gorgeous alpine lake. You can hike all year round, though you’ll need to strap on some snowshoes for the winter months. You can reach the trailhead in approximately 2 hours from Denver.

Best Lakes in the US for Swimming

There are plenty of lakes to cool off in.
There are plenty of lakes to cool off in. (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Todd Quackenbush)

Wild swimming is defined as any swimming that occurs in natural bodies of water, and there are so many benefits to this practice. To help you keep cool this summer, we’ve found some of the best lakes in the US for swimming.

6. Whitefish Lake, Montana

Want to enjoy mountain views and pine forests while taking a dip in crystal clear waters? Whitefish Lake is the place to be. This popular lake also allows boating and other water activities, so you’ll have to be willing to share. Tucked in the north of the state, it’ll take approximately 4 hours to reach from Spokane.

7. Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Featuring 76 miles of shoreline and the Great Smoky Mountains as a backdrop, it’s no wonder Lake Santeetlah is one of the best lakes in the US for swimming. The surrounding area is not hugely developed, so you’ll enjoy a true nature experience when swimming here. It can be reached in less than two hours from Knoxville, making it an ideal weekend getaway.

8. Newfound Lake, New Hampshire 

Often overlooked due to its proximity to the much larger Lake Winnipesaukee, Newfound Lake is an ideal spot to take your family swimming. Surrounded by small hills and forests, this lake is tucked away and is not overcrowded as a result. It can be reached in less than an hour from Concord.

Best Lakes in the US for Bird Watching

Birds love being out near water, so lakes are a great spot for birdwatching.
Birds love being out near water, so lakes are a great spot for birdwatching. (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Diane Helentjaris)

What’s better than enjoying the surrounding vistas while visiting a lake? Getting to see a wide variety of birds while you do it. Check out some of the best lakes in the US for birdwatching.

9. Caballo Lake, New Mexico 

Due to its warm climate, Caballo Lake attracts plenty of birds in the autumn and winter. This reservoir is a haven for all sorts of birds, including grebes, phoebes, raptors, quail, sparrows, gulls, doves, owls, thrashers, wrens, thrushes, finches and woodpeckers. It’ll take you just over 2 hours to get there from Albuquerque, but it’ll be worth the drive.

10. Lake Michigan, Wisconsin

The Great Lakes are vast and share borders with many states and provinces. They are also a great place to go if you want to see birds. Head to the Schlitz Audubon Nature Center, which is 20 minutes north of Milwaukee, for your chance to see wild turkeys, cuckoos, owls, woodpeckers, nuthatches, marsh wrens, wood thrush, warblers, sparrows and orioles

Best Accessible Lakes in the US

One of the best lakes in the US in terms of accessibility is Lake Tahoe.
One of the best lakes in the US in terms of accessibility is Lake Tahoe. (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Mick Haupt )

Accessing nature isn’t always easy — although there are certain National Parks in the country that are working hard to change that, they’ve got a long road ahead of them. That said, there are a few spots that have removed many of the challenges, making them accessible for all.

11. Martha Lake, Washington 

If you wish to get into the water to cool down and splash about, Martha Lake in Washington has wheelchair ramp access that will take you straight into the lake. This small park is located just 30 minutes north of Seattle, making it an easy day trip.

12. Lake Tahoe, Nevada 

Loved by nearly everyone who visits, Lake Tahoe has a lot going for it. It borders both California and Nevada making it a popular getaway for a lot of people. If you head to Sand Harbor on the Nevada side of the lake (about 1 hour south of Reno), you’ll find a ⅓-mile wheelchair-accessible boardwalk/nature trail, a picnic area, and an accessible path to the beach. Beach wheelchairs are also available on a first-come-first-serve basis, so get there early if you want to use one.

13. Lake Placid, New York

Best known for hosting the Olympics back in 1980, Lake Placid is one of the best lakes in the US for various activities. One notable activity includes wheelchair-accessible narrated boat tours of the lake. It’s a great chance to get out on the water and learn more about the area’s history.

Best Lakes in the US for Scuba Diving

Get your scuba gear on and head to the lake.
Get your scuba gear on and head to the lake. (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / Maël BALLAND )

Getting out on the water is one thing, but getting right down into it is another. You’ll be amazed at what you can find at the bottom of the best lakes in the US for scuba diving.

14. Lake Jocassee, South Carolina 

Located in South Carolina, this clear mountain lake is the ideal spot for scuba divers. It features an underwater cemetery, a submerged forest, and even a hotel to explore. You can easily reach it in less than 2 hours from Ashville, so grab your gear and hit the road.

15. Table Rock Lake, Missouri 

A popular spot for scuba divers in the midwest, Table Rock Lake is located just 1 hour south of Springfield. The most popular months are January and February, despite the colder water temperatures, as people tend to go for refresher dives before heading down to the warm waters of the Caribbean. What makes this one of the best lakes in the US for scuba diving is the Enchanted Forest, an oak tree forest that hasn’t decayed after being covered in water for over 60 years.

16. Lake Huron, Michigan

While this Great Lake has an international border, it shouldn’t stop you from trying to explore it. Lake Huron has a long history of facilitating trade and also inclement weather. As a result, there is an area with many shipwrecks sitting below the surface, giving it the nickname Shipwreck Alley. It’s best reached from Alpena, nearly 4 hours north of Grand Rapids.

17. Clear Lake, Oregon

Located just 1.5 hours from Eugene, Clear Lake is an incredibly popular lake for scuba diving due to its high visibility levels — often up to 100 feet. Be warned — the water is cold, so you’ll want to choose your dive spots carefully. This lake also features preserved trees, so it’ll make for an interesting dive.

Read more: 

** Links to retailers marked with ** or underlined orange are partially partner links: If you buy here, you actively support, because we will receive a small part of the sales proceeds. More info.

Do you like this post?

Thank you very much for voting!