Top 25 Lakes in the US
Planning a summer vacation or a weekend getaway? Whether you want to relax under the sun with a book in your hand or take your kids along on a family vacation, you’ve come to the right place! Here’s a list of the best 25 lakes in the US with our top picks of lakes in Virginia and Richmond, lake beaches, and swimming lakes.
Lakes in Virginia Near Me
Smith Mountain Lake – Bedford, Franklin, and Pittsylvania Counties
Smith Mountain Lake is one of Virginia’s most popular recreational lakes, nestled in a valley. Its magnificent blue waves crashing into the emerald green shores has earned it the nickname “Jewel of the Blue Ridge”. It is located in South Central Virginia, surrounded by peaks. It was originally purpose-built as a source of hydro-electric power and to control flooding. Today, however, it is a popular location for water sports such as swimming, parasailing, fishing, and kayaking. It is known for its clean and safe waters except for two areas with high levels of E.coli. The waters are dotted with small-mouth bass, catfish and crappie, etc. You can also camp at a spot nearby called Smith Mountain Lake State Park.
Lake Anna, Louisa
Lake Anna is the third largest lake in the state of Virginia which spans over 200 miles of shoreline. The construction of the dam on North Anna River began in 1971, and it is a source of cooling water to the North Anna Nuclear Generation System. The public side of the lake is the ‘cold side’ which provides cooling water for the powerplant, whereas the ‘hot side’ receives the hot water waste from the plant. The lake is a popular fishing spot especially because of its large-mouth bass, and also for motor-boating, jet skiing, and paddleboarding. Lake Anna State Park, previously known as “Gold Hill” has cabins for camping. There are several retail shops and small markets, as well as a local eatery with warm food and hospitality.
Briery Creek Lake, VA
Briery Creek Lake is owned by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Located in Central Virginia, it is a popular recreational and fishing spot. The fish habitat has been created as a result of timber and brush left in the reservoir at the time of construction. Today the lake is a source of a variety of fish for anglers, including catfish, crappie and redear sunfish. In order to ensure the conservation of the fishery, a regulation limit of five basses per day is implemented, and each can not be larger than 24 inches. The lake is safely tucked in the middle of Piedmont hills and is a favorite spot for sunbathing and picnics.
Claytor Lake, Pulaski County
Claytor Lake, the centerpiece of Claytor Lake State Park, is nestled southwestern Virginia’s Blue Ridge Highlands region. It was originally created by the construction of a dam by Appalachian Power Company, as a source of flood control and hydroelectric power. Its accessible location makes it an ideal recreational spot for activities including hiking, boating, kayaking, and fishing. The park’s scenic landscape inundated with flora and fauna is an ideal location for observing wildlife. It is all-encompassing in terms of activities for all adventure lovers, with hiking trails, swimming beaches as well as cabins for camping enthusiasts. And there’s good news for dog lovers! It is a pet-friendly park, as long as you keep your dog on a leash and clean up after him.
Fairy Stone Lake, Patrick County
Fairy stone lake is renowned for its rare diamond-shaped crystals called “fairy stones”. There is a myth around a story of dancing fairies and the death of Christ surrounding the lake. It is one of the first 6 lakes created during the Depression Era in 1936. It was constructed as a centerpiece of the state park by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is a popular spot for recreational activities in the summer including swimming, fishing, boating, and kayaking, etc. It has a wide variety of fish including black crappie, bluegill, and large-mouth bass. Riding horses, hunting, and hiking up trails are also activities available for adventure seekers. Thus with its abundance of recreational activities, eye-catching scenery, and intriguing mythic history, it is an attractive location for tourists, especially in the summers.
Hungry Mother Lake, Smyth County
Located in the 2180 acre Hungry Mother State Park, and surrounded by magnificent peaks, the lake is a popular tourist destination. Much of the land has been donated by local landowners in Smyth County. The lake has been named after a native legend, with a story revolving around Molly and her young child. That is why the mountain behind it is named “Molly’s Knobb”. A notable feature includes its sandy beach, bathhouse, and fishing pier. Hiking and walking trails are also a major attraction, with exclusive bird watching locations. Stocked with trophy muskies, channel catfish and crappies, is a popular fishing spot for those who enjoy it as a pastime. It is also surrounded by galleries and museums such as the Black Rooster Gallery and Smyth Country Museum
Philpott Lake, Bassett
Safely tucked between the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Philpott Lake has 8 campgrounds, 6 beaches, and 9 boat launches. With a beautiful row of peaks surrounding it, the lake makes a scenic oasis. It is an irregular-shaped lake located in southern Virginia’s counties: Henry, Franklin, and Patrick. It was created as a source of hydroelectric power and flood control by constructing a dam on the Smith River. The lake’s shoreline is an ideal spot for recreational activities such as fishing, kayaking, etc. You can also explore the waters to visit Bowens Creek Park which has a boat ramp and a courtesy dock.
Lake Gaston, South Hill
Lying on the border of Virginia and North Carolina, Lake Gaston is amongst the chain of 3 lakes formed by damming River Roanoke, between Kerr Lake and Roanoke Rapids Lake. It is spread across 3 counties in North Carolina (Halifax, Northampton, and Warren) and 2 in Virginia. The relaxing blue waters attract scores of visitors each year for land and water-based activities such as sailing, paddle-boarding, and zipping on jet skis. There are huge waterways, with more than 350 miles of shoreline to explore. There is also a public access beach for Lake Gaston which opens seasonally from sunrise to sunset. With horseshoe pits, a fishing pier, a public boat ramp, and children’s playground, it is an ideal spot to set up your picnic table, barbecue grill, or fishing rod. However, there are three dangerous species of snakes found in the lake, so you should go swimming at your own risk.
Lake Fairfax, Reston
If you want to plan a vacation beside a lake with your kids, look no further! Lake Fairfax is the place you want to be. It was built in the 1950s as a private recreation facility. Covering a mere 18 acres, this lake might seem small but offers ample activities to cater to the whole family. The biggest attraction for children is the Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole, the star of Lake Fairfax Park. With water slides, playgrounds, and relaxing river waters for lazy floating, this activity pool is every child’s dream water park. Toddlers can also enjoy a splash at the Tenderfoot pond which is a customized water area built for them. Clyde’s of Reston and Maple Ave Restaurant are popular eateries in the area. The park’s campground is transformed in the festive winter season each year with a magical winter light show. Participants can enjoy a North Pole Winter Wagon Ride.
Lakes in Richmond
A Richmond destination, Fountain Lake is located in 200 acre William Byrd Park. You can find catfish and largemouth bass in the waters, so there is always someone fishing. There is so much to see in the colors and the scenery at the lake. Or you can enjoy sunbathing or pedal boat rides on summer afternoons. There are several recreational activities you can enjoy near the lake such as the Magic Springs Theme and Water Parks and Escape Pizza. Or if you’re a history lover you could venture a small detour to Hot Springs Carriage Company. Fountain Lake Monument is also a good stop if you want to buy some souvenirs or postcards you might want to send back home.
Westhampton Lake in Richmond, Virginia is just 1.4 miles from Tuckahoe. The lake is a perfect fishing spot with its variety of species such as Redbreast Sunfish, Bluegill and Largemouth Bass. There is also a picturesque gazebo on the lake, which is a part of the campus of the University of Richmond. The reservoir is a prominent landmark of the university campus which is why it is considered the crown jewel of these beautiful grounds. You can relax by the lake and watch steamboats glide across the sun-kissed waters. Unfortunately, pollution has become a growing concern in the lake for the last few years but strict measures have been put into place to contain the effects. Back in the 1950s, the lake was the venue of the Water Carnival for university students and in the 1920s when the lake would freeze over, students would use it for ice skating. That is why the recent ban on swimming came seemed unfortunate, but students still use it for light-hearted revelry.
Located in Byrd Park in downtown Richmond, Shields Lake is owned by the City of Richmond Byrd Park. The lake can be accessed via Harrison Trail. It is a 14-km scenic route to Grass Lake and then onto Shields lake which is a much larger reservoir. Starting off as an old gravel road, the trail gets progressively challenging until you reach Grass Lake after which the path becomes wider and much easier to brave.The hike is ideal for summers and the lake at the end of it is well worth the effort! Fishing opportunities may be limited, but you can get good catches in some seasons, with Bluegill and Walleyes present in the waters. Recreational fishing is not allowed in the lake as per the provisional regulations. Unfortunately due to high nutrient levels, the lake is currently subject to fish stocking, chemical rehabilitation, and aeration.
If you’re packing your bags for a family getaway with your kids, Swan Lake should be your destination! The breathtaking lake is tucked away in the scenic Seeley-Swan valley. Swan Lake State park is the ideal spot for picnicking, enjoying a swim or walking trails. You can also enjoy large gatherings because they have facilities and activities available such as volleyball, horseshoes and a private shelter. The lake has many kid-friendly attractions to pick from, starting with the Historic Site of 1969 Woodstock Festival. Splashdown Vernon is a water park where you could enjoy a fun splash on a hot summer afternoon. With 10 slides and a huge hot tub, it is perfect for all age groups/ The town receives visitors all year round for hiking, fishing and even dogsledding.
Rock Creek Park Lake
The reservoir is located in Chesterfield County. Anglers can get their hands on bass, crappie, and catfish, and the lake is also perfect for ice fishing. Sunbathing at the beach or swimming are also reasons why this lake is so popular. It is an ideal location for picnics and you can easily reserve a spot online. You can bring your kids here because there’s a playground in the campground as well. There are several trails around the park for you to enjoy horseback riding, snowmobiling, and hiking. There are various species of wildlife present in the park such as teals, and also ducks who take to the lake as their summer breeding grounds. You can enjoy birdwatching or simply a stroll in the park because there’s so much to see!
Lake Tahoe, Nevada
Straddled between California and Nevada, Lake Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America. It enjoys mild temperatures all year round and is sunbathed 80% of the time. This inspires beach days and water sports such as kayaking, paddling, and skiing. It is the second deepest lake in the US, and its land was previously used as a transcontinental route. Adventure seekers can enjoy high-flying at the Tree-top Adventure Park which is an outside obstacle course. It has 3 locations in North Lake Tahoe. Another must in every traveler’s bucket list is the Winter Wonder Grass which is a music festival on the mountains of North Lake Tahoe. With its coral blue waters and scenic serenity, the lake is a dream destination at any time of the year.
Lake George, NY
The “Queen of American Lakes” is a great location for a getaway. Cat Mountain is a highlight of the lake’s hiking trails with mesmerizing views of the lake from the summit. The site has two historically significant forts, Fort William Henry and Fort Ticonderoga, and both attract large volumes of the public each year. The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Festival will take place next year in 2021, an event no one should miss! An annual Art Festival also takes place every year which has children’s activities and art demonstrations. For adventure seekers, Adirondack Adventure Center is only a short drive away which offers various activities like whitewater rafting, ziplining, and even lazy river tubing for children. You can enjoy a relaxing lake cruise in the calm waters or go for activities like fishing, kayaking, parasailing, mini-golf, and horseback riding.
Lake Willoughby, Vermont
Lake Willoughby is a breathtaking natural beauty which is why it is considered the crown jewel of the North East Kingdom. The 1687 acres glacial lake is a stunning sight with its clear blue waters, thereby earning its place in the list of National Natural Wonders. It is surrounded by lush green state forest and also has a public beach at the South Bay of the lake. The waters are known to be chilly so you should brace yourself for a chilly dip! The waters contain Lake trout, rainbow trout, and Atlantic salmon. The lake is also known for its steep and magnificent ice lines, with the largest concentration of hard ice routes. Whether you want to lay back and soak in the beauty or take up an adventure in the mountains, Lake George is the place you should be packing your bags for!
Tenaya Lake, California
A jewel of Yosemite’s National Park, Tenaya lake is an alpine beauty that lies between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. The stunning lake is fed by natural creeks and springs and was initially formed by the Tenaya Glacier. Not only is it picturesque, but also easily accessible. This makes it the perfect spot for you to mark on your maps, whether you plan on going kayaking, swimming, or soaking some sun on the beach. You can also go exploring on the trails, and the best part is that you can take your family along! The trail is an easy route with only a few rough patches, making it an exciting leisure activity for you with your kids. The trail can be accessed via the east shore from main Tenaya Lake, or along the west shore from May through November. Small non-motorized boats are permitted in the lake, and there are several picnic areas surrounding it.
Lake Michigan, Michigan
Titled one of the 5 Great Lakes of America, Lake Michigan is the only one entirely located within the borders of the United States. The lake has enough beaches for it to be considered the “third coast” of the US. Although they are a rarity, bull sharks have been spotted at the lake. The sandy beaches have soft and off-white grains that make a squeaking noise, which is why they are called the “singing sands”. The sand dunes on the east shore are expansive and unique and some even have dune beach grass and sand cherries. Lake Michigan offers a variety of sunny beaches for you to lie under your umbrella, whether it is St. Joseph in the south or Silver Lake in the north. Located on the west shore, South Haven is the perfect beach vacation spot where you can enjoy long walks along the coast, or even go shopping in the downtown. It is the most family-friendly beach with lots of activities including a skate park.
Echo Lake, CA
Echo Lake is near Lake Tahoe in California. The glacial lake is one of the most popular lakes for swimming. You can also do snow tubing and sledding at the Echo Lake Sno-Park. Dog sledding and cross-country skiing are other popular winter-time activities. Echo lake is the ideal location for a peaceful escape. Surrounded by lush green mountains and beautiful scenery, it is a sight to see. The hiking trails with mesmerizing views, mini waterfalls, and magnificent rock formations. There is a traditional camping facility in the summers, with an exclusive section for kids. Boating is also a popular leisure activity in both the upper and lower lakes, but skiing is not allowed on the upper side. The trails surrounding the lake are ideal for hiking lovers and offer scenic viewpoints. An overnight trip in the Desolation Wilderness is also an ideal activity for adventure seekers.
Horse-Shoe Lake, Arkansas
With topaz blue waters, Horse Shoe Lake is a magnificent lake and the best natural swimming spot in the area. It is ideal for hot sunny days, with its chilly waters where you can also enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. However, you have to swim at your own risk, as there are no lifeguards on duty. Spread over 22 acres, the water body has been named after its horse-shoe shaped island. A notable feature is the 1.5 km hiking loop surrounding it, dotted with striking cliffs and scenic view spots. The clear waters of the lake often reflect Mount Adams, which is a stunning view. The lake also offers an 11-site campground which is a popular summer destination. Not only does it attract bird watchers, but also wildlife lovers owing to the abundance of species such as grasshoppers and fireflies. It is the perfect location for couples’ weekend getaways and short trips with friends.
Walden Pond, Massachusetts
The glacial lake was formed 10,000 years ago in Massachusetts. It is popular because of renowned writer Henry David Thoreau who resided on its northern shores briefly and wrote Walden. One can also see a replica of his house on their visit. The lake is an ideal location for swimming, as well as other activities such as kayaking, hiking, and even trail running. In the summer months, the lake attracts scores of visitors due to its sunny beaches. There are two main beaches for families that have several activity spots, but if you want to venture further, you can discover the ‘hidden’ beaches. There are intimate coves tucked away in the scenery on the trails. The swimming spots are much smaller than the main beaches but the breath-taking views they offer make up for the lack of length. You can avoid noisy crowds and lay under the sun with your favorite book, or enjoy a sunny afternoon on your kayak. The tranquility of these coves scattered around the park and the sounds of nature make it a perfect relaxation spot during a retreat.
Crater Lake, Oregon
The blue beauty is the deepest lake in the United States. It is also one of the snowiest places in with 1.4 inches of snow every day all year round. It is no wonder, therefore, that it is called one of the 7 Wonders of Oregan. The lake is enveloped by a curtain of magnificent peaks, and it rests in the belly of a dormant volcano. The volcano later collapsed due to its eruption, leading to the formation of the lake. According to mythical stories, legend says that the collapse happened as an aftermath of a battle between the spirit of the sky and the mountain. This story alone gives the lake its rich history. The vast skies above the lake offer stunning views on moonless nights, with constellations illuminating the darkness. Crater Lake is also an excellent place for cyclists. The hilly terrain makes the sport enduring and adventurous, but the breathtaking view makes it worth it. On the annual Rim Road event, cyclists from all around the globe participate in the two-day event.
Fallen Leaf Lake, California
The oval-shaped lake near Lake Tahoe is an excellent swimming spot. It is a deep lake that dips quickly after the shore-line. While most of the lake has private ownership, certain parts have public access too. Like Lake Tahoe, it does not freeze over in the winters but the water has extremely low temperatures. You can go swimming in the clear cold water and enjoy the view of Mount Tallac. In fact, you may also take your dog along for swimming. Dogs are allowed at the campground but they must be kept on a leash. High-speed winds make sailing difficult, but other popular recreational activities include kayaking, canoeing, fishing, and rowing. Kokanee salmon and Mackinaw trout are popular species found in the lake.
Spring Lake, Michigan
Located inside Spring Lake Regional Park, this lake is fed by an underground spring and is a popular swimming spot. The swimming lagoon is open during the summers, and also seasonally from Labour Day to Memorial Day. There are designated swimming areas, as well as an inflatable playground suitable for kids aged 6 and above. The 10 miles of trails are a popular hiking destination, as well as for horseriding and cycling. The campground also homes tents, trailers, and RVs every summer. A huge bonus is the wheelchair accessibility of picnic spots, campsites.
We hope you found our list of the 25 best lakes of the US interesting! These are the post popular categories of lakes and each one is a dream destination of its own.