Houseboats—usually more floating Winnebagos than luxury liners—are becoming status symbols with the debut of the 75-foot Odyssey (888/486-4665; www.lakepowell.com ; packages from $3,813 for three days ) on Lake Powell, in Utah and Arizona's Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Rather than bothering with tour groups or sightseeing cruises to explore the 2,000 miles of cliffed waterfront and peaceful canyons (many accessible only by boat), travelers can take the helm and enjoy the lake at their own pace. And on the Odyssey , spacious staterooms have replaced traditionally cramped quarters. The six-bedroom vessel comes equipped with queen-sized beds, a fireplace, hot tub, home-theater system, satellite TV, and enough tableware to serve up to 12 people. After a hands-on tutorial at the marina (no prior experience neccessary) even novice boaters can navigate the cobalt blue water and anchor for the night along the coast. Spend the days hiking around natural stone bridges, admiring Anasazi ruins, and swimming in the near 80-degree waters off Antelope Island. Thrill seekers can also rent Jet Skis, a wakeboard, and an 18-foot powerboat that makes shore excursions a breeze. DON'T MISS Building a campfire on the beach between Kane Wash and the pristine bay, then watching the sun set behind red canyon walls.
You don't have to play captain to enjoy a lake. Instead, check out one of these three quintessential American retreats. At Little Beaver Creek Ranch (Glimpse Lake, Quilchena; 250/371-7664; www.relaischateaux.com; doubles from $680), an adventure lodge in British Columbia, you can ride horseback through pine forests, spying on elk and black bears. Its three cabins (with seven suites total) are a study in cowboy chic, with sturdy timber walls, Native American blankets, and the occasional rack of antlers.
Rooms with a view are the norm at the wood-and-stone Crater Lake Lodge (541/830-8700; www.craterlakelodges.com; doubles from $126), a 1915 hotel which hugs the bank of the vast volcanic lake in the heart of Oregon's Crater Lake National Park. Guests can explore by boat, hike up the mountains, or simply take in the scenery from the serene back porch.
The Manor on Golden Pond (Squam Lake, Holderness, N.H.; 800/545-2141 or 603/968-3348; www.manorongoldenpond.com; doubles from $225), a 14-acre compound nestled within the granite-streaked mountains of New Hampshire's Lakes Region, has wood-burning fireplaces in most rooms, and a restaurant serving regional dishes such as crab-stuffed filet mignon with sweet-potato pancakes and Maine duck confit.