Houseboats—usually more floating Winnebagos than luxury liners—are becoming status symbols with the debut of the 75-foot Odyssey (888/486-4665; ; 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.
—Litty Mathew

>>Steer Clear

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;; 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;; 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;; 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.
—Andrew Collins

The Manor on Golden Pond

Katharine Hepburn and a doddering Peter Fonda may have made Golden Pond famous, but it's this New Hampshire Lakes District inn that keeps Squam Lake (the pond's real name) on the map. In the shadow of the White Mountains, on 14 acres enveloped by sentinel pines, the manor—which was a private home until the 1940's and an art colony for photographers in the 50's before it opened its doors to guests—is modeled after an English country estate. Beyond its Tudor architecture and carved oak corbels, many of the inn's antiques, as well as its traditional afternoon tea and dark-wood-paneled Three Cocks Pub, are straight from the other side of the (bigger) pond. The 23 tasteful rooms and two private cottages (19 of which are open in winter) feature chintz and country gingham fabrics, sleigh beds, working fireplaces, and fulsome baths stocked with L'Occitane products. Dinners are elaborate candlelit affairs; the kitchen swings in both directions, offering Chateaubriand for Two as well as special dishes for vegans. Extracurricular activities include the inn's cleverly named "Fork in the Road" cooking classes, and spa treatments with a local twist (think botanical mud wraps infused with pure NH maple syrup).

Insider Tip: Ask the concierge to book a scenic horse-drawn sleigh ride. Afterward you'll sip hot cocoa by a bonfire built by your sleigh driver.

Coziest Room to Book: Ask for the blue-and-white Churchill Room, complete with king bed and Jacuzzi tub, which, thanks to an ingenious sliding wall, can be hidden in the bath for privacy, or opened for a full-frontal view of the room's wood-burning fireplace.

Crater Lake Lodge

Little Beaver Creek Ranch