Lakes are the perfect liquid playground. Whether your dream day involves swimming, diving, fishing, paddling, sailing, wakeboarding or just dangling your feet from the dock, there’s sure to be a lake out there to match your family’s summer style.
Tucked into the mountains just 100 miles from Los Angeles and surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, seven-mile-long Big Bear Lake offers big alpine adventures — from hiking, fishing, and mountain biking, to scenic chairlift rides, flyboarding, and floating tours on a pirate ship replica. The family-friendly Big Bear Discovery Center boasts an exploratory nature classroom where kids age 2-7 can learn while they play.
186-mile-long Lake Powell is the second-largest manmade lake in America, straddling Arizona and Utah with almost 2,000 miles of shoreline and 96 canyons. Part of the 1.25-million-acre Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Lake Powell is surrounded by a spectacular red rock landscape, including majestic Rainbow Bridge National Monument. This is the perfect place to rent a family-size houseboat at a local marina or try glamping in a luxury Airstream.
Lake Coeur d’Alene is a wild treat for families in northern Idaho’s panhandle. Adventure outfitters can set you up for a day of fishing, kayaking, biking, or rafting on a nearby river. Hop on a sightseeing seaplane flight, catch a musical at Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre, grab a bite at The Cedars Floating Restaurant (It weighs 1.2 million pounds!), or tee off at The Coeur d’Alene Resort’s golf course, with its famous floating 14th green.
You can only reach Mackinac Island by ferry or by flight, and once you arrive there are no cars allowed. Time slows down on this historic island graced with Victorian cottages and lodges, including the magnificent (and super-kid-friendly) Grand Hotel. Walk, bike or take a horse-drawn carriage—over 80% of the island is designated as a state park. And no doubt about it, Mackinac Island is sweet: Island candy-makers produce five tons of fudge per day during the peak summer season.
Measuring 28-by-15 miles, Montana’s Flathead Lake is the biggest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. Surrounded by the Mission and Swan mountain ranges, this is a picturesque spot for fishing, kayaking, scenic cruises or excursions to the boat-access-only, 2,165-acre, Wild Horse Island State Park to glimpse Rocky Mountain big horn sheep, mule deer, or maybe one of the island’s five wild horses.
Lake Rabun offers old-fashioned outdoor fun within 90 miles of Atlanta. Part of a six-lake chain nestled into the Chattahoochee National Forest of north Georgia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Lake Rabun hosts a popular 4th of July wooden boat parade and a regular Sunday morning floating Boat Church (going strong since 1972). Rent a pontoon or grab a snack at historic Hall’s Boathouse, visit nearby Tallulah Falls, or spend a night at the rustic 1922 Lake Rabun Hotel which offers a family-friendly, five-cottage Fish Camp.
72-square-mile Lake Winnipesaukee is a time-honored New England vacation getaway, with 264 islands and 182 miles of shoreline connecting charming villages. Weirs Beach, with a 1300-foot-long boardwalk, is especially popular. You’ll find plenty of fun parks and adventure courses nearby, plus the Weirs Drive-In Theater, and the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad, built in 1849 and still chugging. Hop aboard the Mount Washington boat tour or help deliver letters to islanders aboard America’s oldest floating post office.
Lake Placid is a jewel in New York’s six-million-acre Adirondack mountain and forest preserve. As a two-time host of the winter Olympics (in 1932 and 1980), Lake Placid offers medal-worthy adventures, including the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience (open all-year-round for a half-mile of zoom) and Saturday Night Ice Shows featuring world-class skaters. Head to the hills for hiking, rock climbing or mountain biking, or get floaty and cast a line for trout. The Lake Placid Center for the Arts hosts a free summer performance series called Young & Fun, with week-long, half-day art and theater camp programs, too.
By Laura Beausire