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10 of the Top US Lake Towns To Visit This Summer

With charming downtowns, antique stores, and good food to boot, these lakeside destinations are popular for good reason.

A view of Portsmouth, New Hampshire
Hi, I'm Lori!

Lori Zaino is a bilingual, Madrid-based freelance writer and editor with bylines in CNN, NBC, Business Insider, and The Points Guy. An avid traveler, she’s visited more than 60 countries—and has written about most of them.

With 27 of the 50 United States landlocked, getting to the seashore this summer may not be possible. But you don’t need to be oceanfront to dip into a refreshing body of water (and we aren’t talking about your neighbor’s pool).

According to the US Department of the Interior, the US has about 250 large freshwater lakes that are 10 square miles (25 square kilometers) large or more, and some of them also happen to be the location of the most charming waterfront towns. This summer, check out some of the best lake towns in the US where you can cool off with a swim, enjoy a lakeside picnic, and enjoy noteworthy local attractions, too.

1. Saugatuck, Michigan

Boats docked on Lake Michigan at the lake town of Saugatuck, MI.
Charming Saugatuck is the perfect gateway to Lake Michigan.Foto: Kenneth Sponsler / Shutterstock

The ideal spot for a summertime break on Lake Michigan.

From sandy beaches and waterfront dining to a thriving art scene and LGBTQ+-friendly culture, Saugatuck is the best lake town for a summer escape on the shores of Lake Michigan. Enjoy a vintage paddleboat experience out on the water or wander through the town’s Art on Center, home to six different art galleries. The Saugatuck area, just 45 minutes from Grand Rapids by car, is also home to four wineries, which offer tastings and tours for visitors and locals, as well as combo boat and wine-tasting adventures.

2. Lake Havasu City, Arizona

A boat heads out onto the water at Lake Havasu City, surrounded by the Mojave, in Arizona.
Lake Havasu is an eden in the heart of the Mojave Desert.Foto: Pamela Au / Shutterstock

Head to Lake Havasu City for fishing and outdoor adventures.

Although Lake Havasu is ideal for youthful party animals that want to enjoy boozy boat trips, Lake Havasu City is also the perfect place nature lovers and fishing enthusiasts looking to explore the famed 19,000-acre (7,690-hectare) water oasis in the Sonoran Desert.

A few hours away from Las Vegas by car, the town’s landmark is the famous London Bridge, which originally spanned the River Thames in London, England. Besides boating and fishing, visitors can also tour the 28 replica lighthouses along Lake Havasu’s shores, many of which can only be reached on foot or by boat. No matter what activities you're interested in, Lake Havasu is undoubtedly one of the best lakes in Arizona, and Lake Havasu City is the perfect hub for lakeside shenanigans.

3. Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

A pavilion looks out on the lake water on a moody day at Wolfeboro, NH.
View of the lake from the gazebo on Wolfeboro Marina, New Hampshire.Foto: Pernelle Voyage / Shutterstock

Take the kids to Wolfeboro to enjoy a family-friendly summer by the lake.

Wolfeboro is that quintessential east coast, lakeside town, just an hour north of Portsmouth, with plenty of fun happening in the summer months. From community lakefront concerts to storytelling sessions for children and boatbuilding classes for adults at the New Hampshire Boat Museum, there are numerous activities to do if you tire of lake swims and picnics.

Officially known as “The Oldest Summer Resort Town in America,” Wolfeboro has a charming downtown area that features peaceful bookshops, inviting boutiques, and even the Yum Yum Bakery, which still bakes from scratch. Some of the other best things to do in Wolfeboro include visiting the Wright Museum of World War II and the Lone Wolfe Brewing Company.

4. Bayfield, Wisconsin

A summer sail boat explores the placid lake waters of Bayfield in the US.
Bayfield is known as America's Best Coastal Small Town.Foto: Mark Herreid / Shutterstock

A lakeside destination for all seasons.

Although Bayfield is located in Wisconsin, it’s less than two hours away from Duluth, Minnesota. And while Bayfield is known for being “America’s Best Coastal Small Town” and the “Berry Capital of Wisconsin”—accolades aside—its verdant foliage and historical buildings perched on the shores of Lake Superior are also decidedly picturesque. So in addition to enjoying Lake Superior’s chilly waters in the summer, definitely plan a trip to Bayfield during the fall as it's just as beautiful after Labor Day. Visitors can explore nearby orchards to pick berries, apples, and vegetables; view the leaves change hues; and attend fall festivals.

Related: 9 Incredible Leaf-Peeping Trips That Aren't in New England

5. Put-in-Bay, Ohio

Boats docked on Lake Erie in the lake town of Put-in-Bay, Ohio.
Put-in-Bay, Ohio is one of the best lake towns on Lake Erie.Foto: LukeandKarla.Travel / Shutterstock

For remote lakeside living, where there are no cars allowed.

A short drive and ferry ride away from Cleveland, Put-in-Bay is located on South Bass Island in Lake Erie. Although cars are allowed on the island, renting a golf cart is the best way to get around the area and the family-friendly island offers a variety of things to do, from discovering underground caves and taking winery tours to cruising around the island by tourist train. For water activity enthusiasts, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy water sports. You can rent a boat, paddleboard, jet ski, and even go parasailing or kayaking at various points around Put-in-Bay.

6. Eustis, Florida

Wekima Springs State Park is a nearby attraction to Eustis, Florida.
Oceans aren't the only draw for visitors to Florida.Foto: Cody Board / Unsplash

This lakeside spot boasts the longest-running celebration in the entire US.

Located near the ever-popular Orlando and Wekiwa Springs State Park, Eustis is known for its historic district, antique shopping, and small-town charm. While you’re here, don’t miss a walk around Ferran Park, located along the shoreline of Lake Eustis, a popular spot for outdoor activities that's just a few blocks off the town's main shopping streets. And if you’re here the last week of February, make sure to check out the community events surrounding GeorgeFest, the longest, continuously running celebration in the US, held in honor of George Washington’s birthday.

7. Geneva, New York

Golden hour at Seneca Lake in the popular lake town area of Finger Lakes in New York state.
The sun sets over Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes, New York.Foto: Jay Yuan / Shutterstock

Geneva seems to be a popular name for lake towns.

The old-world town of Geneva, New York (not to be confused with Geneva, Switzerland or Geneva, Wisconsin, also lake towns) is located on one of the largest of the Finger Lakes in New York—Seneca Lake. The region is known for having more than 100 wineries, and Geneva itself is home to many quaint shops and cafés, while waterfront activities include swimming and picnicking on the lake’s shores. For visitors wanting to see more of the region’s natural wonders, Geneva is but two hours away from Niagara Falls by car.

8. Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake, California on a sunny day.
Big Bear Lake is a freshwater lake with a charming lakeside town near Los Angeles, CA.Foto: Joshua Chun / Unsplash

An easy day trip from LA that’s full of charming lakeside possibilities.

Known for its clear waters and mountain backdrop, Big Bear Lake is located in the San Bernardino mountains, just 90 miles (144 kilometers) from Los Angeles. And while you can visit in just a day, there's enough to do in Big Bear that you could spend an entire weekend (or longer) here.

The freshwater lake is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and is the spot for fun, water-based activities such as kayaking, paddleboarding, boating, and fishing. For those who prefer land, hiking and mountain biking trails abound for every skill level in the surrounding mountains. Once you’ve had your outdoor fill, plan to spend some time eating a meal or two in the charming town of Big Bear—you’ll find some of the best restaurants outside of LA.

9. Bigfork, Montana

A sunny, early summer day at Bigfork, Montana's Flathead Lake.
Use Bigfork, Montana as your jumping-off point for Flathead Lake.Foto: tusharkoley / Shutterstock

Few lake towns offer such recreational opportunity as Bigfork.

Perched on the shores of Flathead Lake with Montana’s Rockies in the distance, Bigfork is one of the most idyllic mountain towns in the United States. Just 40 or so miles (65 kilometers) from Glacier National Park, the town offers plenty of outdoor recreational activities both on and off the lake, from hiking, camping, cycling, horseback riding, and hunting to fly fishing, kayaking, and paddle boating.

While visiting this ideal lake town in the summer is brag-worthy thanks to the green pines and clear lake waters, winter trips to Bigfork are just as exciting, as you can dogsled, ice fish, ski, and snowboard in the area. The town also puts on festivals year-round, including arts events, film festivals, holiday celebrations, and farmers markets.

10. Marble Falls, Texas

Bluebonnets bloom alongside a pond near Marble Falls, Texas.
Bluebonnets are a spring attraction that draws loads of visitors from all over Texas.Foto: Bryan Dickerson / Unsplash

Big country charm in the Lone Star state.

Considered the gateway to Texas Hill Country, one of the best lake towns in Texas is located just 47 miles (76 kilometers) from Austin, and offers city slickers various outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, and other on-the-water pursuits. When you aren’t on the lake, the historic town, established in 1887, is full of restaurants, shops, and small-town community events. Don’t miss a chance to stop at Bluebonnet Cafe, known for its homemade pies.

Once you’ve had your fill of Marble Falls (and pie!), head into Texas Hill Country, where you’ll find state parks full of hikes and trails, wineries where you can take a wine tour and explore the local wine scene, stargazing thanks to the lack of light pollution at night, and, in the spring, experience Texas’ famous Bluebonnet Trail to see the wildflowers.

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