Diving off a dock. Casting a fishing line from a boat. Sitting on a warm rock with your toes dangling in the cool water. This is the stuff that summer memories are made of—and it all happens at the lake.
With thousands scattered across the country, chances are good that you’re no farther than a tankful of gas away from a great lake. But not all are created equal: some lakes won Mother Nature’s lottery when it comes to natural good looks.
Take, for example, the impossibly blue, deep water of Oregon’s Crater Lake, encircled by an extinct volcano, or clear, cold Lake Superior, as it laps against dramatic sandstone cliffs. Even Mark Twain was so moved by the scene at Lake Tahoe that he put aside his typical dry wit, declaring it “the fairest picture the whole earth affords.”
Related: America's Best Lake Vacations
Man has also played a part in creating some pretty spectacular lakes. When Glen Canyon was dammed to provide electricity downstream, the Colorado River rose to form Lake Powell, which snakes its way through red slickrock canyons on the Utah-Arizona border. In California, meanwhile, the striking limestone formations of Mono Lake are visible now because its water sources were diverted, and the lake shrank.
But don’t just take our word for it: hit the road to seek out these beautiful watery wonders.