3 of the Best Outdoor Traveler Lake Vacations in the United States

mountain lake

Imagine waking up to a cloudless morning with a perfect view of a crystal-clear lake. Lakes have distinct advantages over ocean retreats. Not only is fresh water more, well, refreshing, it comes without pesky seaweed, sea-sickness, or threats of underwater predators.

lake powellThe United States has many lakes to enjoy; chances are, you’re probably living in fairly close proximity to a lake oasis, even in you live in the Southwest desert. There are an estimated 3 to 4 million lakes in the U.S., Jonathon this phrase here is confusing to me, from the Great Lakes to local duck ponds. Minnesota, otherwise known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” has almost 12,000 lakes, with Michigan coming in at a close second and Florida in third place.

Henry David Thoreau himself was a lover of American lakes, one of which inspired him to write Walden (or, Life in the Woods). Lakes can inspire quiet contemplation and reflection, but they also compel an undeniable excitement for activity, whether that activity is swimming, water skiing, boating, or fishing.

Outdoor Traveler offers multiple breathtaking lake destinations in the United States. Here are the top three lake destinations Outdoor Traveler offers:

Ozark Mountains, Missouri

The Ozark Mountains in Ridgedale, Missouri, are surrounded by crystalline lakes and marked by commanding waterfalls.

Covering 1000 miles of shoreline in Missouri (and Arkansas), Table Rock Lake is adjacent to numerous small towns, fields, and forests. The expansive lake is home to over 20 species of fish and has even been ranked 46 out of 100 bass fishing destinations in the world. Fishing tournaments in warmer months are frequent, and many of them are held within the Ozark Mountains region. With average water temperatures ranging from 56 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, the lake is also ideal for other fun water activities such as parasailing, jet skiing, and even scuba diving.

A direct inflow from Table Rock Lake, the White River is perfect for tubing and canoeing, providing the ultimate river floating experience. As you get closer into Branson, the White River turns into Lake Taneycomo, a man-made lake that provides trout fishing and numerous water-based activities. The White River isn’t the only river nearby, however. America’s first National River, the Buffalo National River, is about an hour away and offers canoe rentals and a scenic view.

Boyne Country, Michigan

Boyne Country is situated in Boyne Falls, Michigan, not too far from Boyne City. Boyne Falls has many rivers running through it, including South Branch Boyne River, North Branch Boyne River, and Boyne River. Boyne Falls and Boyne City have collectively been called a lake paradise, a place where “life meets the lake.”

Lake Charlevoix
Image courtesy Michigan Municipal League | Flickr

Adjacent to Boyne Falls is Deer Lake, a moderately-sized, clear lake that is suitable for both fishing and boating. Located right on the cusp of Boyne City is Lake Charlevoix, named one of USA Today’s Best Lakes in America. Lake Charlevoix is home to numerous sailboats and is ideal for a sunny afternoon spent swimming, taking a boat ride, or leisurely watching the boats pass by.

Whether you’re spending an afternoon floating along the Boyne River or watching the exciting, high-performance boating competition called the Boyne Thunder event, there is never a dull moment on the water in Boyne Falls.

Shenandoah Valley, Virginia

In Gordonsville, Virginia, is the beautiful Shenandoah Valley, an area known for its local cuisine and world-renowned wineries. In addition to providing spectacular views of the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains, the Shenandoah Valley is home to a variety of nearby lakes and rivers.

The Shenandoah River is one of the many rivers in the area and extends over 55 miles with two forks about 100 miles long. A popular river for whitewater recreation, like rafting and kayaking, the Shenandoah River is also ideal for other water sports like canoeing and river tubing.

There are two major adventure parks in the area that are predicated on river fun: Massanutten Adventures and Shenandoah River Adventures. Located on the South Fork of the Shenandoah River, Massanutten Adventures offer canoes, kayaks, and tubes for the ultimate river adventure. With different sections of the river dedicated to different skill levels, visitors can experience the challenge of navigating through Class I and II rapids or take a leisurely cruise down other sections with picturesque views of farmland. Shenandoah River Adventures is situated near Shenandoah National Park, Luray Caverns, and the George Washington National Forest, and offers river trips for both beginners and seasoned water experts.

Dream Lake, which is located snugly inside of Luray Caverns, is a hidden spring of water with a remarkably reflective appearance. Because of the rock formations high above the water, the lake appears to be exceptionally deep, creating the illusion of a gorgeous, bottomless lake.

There are several other lakes and reservoirs in the Shenandoah Valley region, each offering water activities and the chance to spend a relaxing day, or even week, lounging by fresh, crystalline water.