11 Most Beautiful Lakes in the United States

Red rock-lined waterways in Arizona and crystalline craters in Oregon make up some of the best lakeside views in the U.S.

Clear blue Lake Tahoe water with pine trees and snowy mountains
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With thousands of lakes 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, so we've rounded up some of the best lakes in the U.S.

Take, for example, the impossibly blue, deep water of Oregon's Crater Lake, created by a volcano, or clear, cold Lake Superior, as it laps against dramatic sandstone cliffs.

But don't just take our word for it: hit the road to seek out the best lakes in the U.S.

Lake Willoughby, Vermont

Lake Willoughby in Vermont
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From majestic peaks to storybook fall foliage, Vermont is full of picturesque landscapes. So it's no surprise that one of the clearest, bluest lakes in New England is found in Willoughby State Forest near the town of Westmore. Situated between Mount Pisgah and Mount Hor, Lake Willoughby is sometimes called "America's Lucerne,” and its clear waters allow you to see all of its 300-foot depth. Visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, and swimming (though take note this is a glacial lake, so be prepared for brisk waters that can get down to 32 degrees). There are kayak, paddleboard, and canoe rental options as well as lakefront cabins for any overnighters. There’s also the Willoughby Lake Store which sells bait, food, and drinks.   

Lake George, New York

People enjoying the Lake George, New York State.
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The so-called "Queen of American Lakes" was a playground for Gilded Age robber barons, many of whose original waterfront stone mansions still line a 10-mile stretch known as Millionaires' Row. The Sagamore Resort, which dates back to the 1880s, still welcomes guests today. At The Narrows, the southern Adirondacks squeeze the lake into a thin stretch dotted with islands of all sizes.

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Lake Santeetlah in Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina
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Deep within the Nantahala National Forest and surrounded by the Great Smoky Mountains, Lake Santeetlah's forested 76-mile shoreline is almost completely protected from development. The result is an oasis of quietude for fishing, paddling a canoe or kayak, or just relaxing on the beach at Cheoah Point. This nearly 3,000-acre man-made lake, formed when the Cheoah River was dammed in 1928, remains remarkably pristine. Keep an eye out for otters, beavers, bald eagles, and hawks.

Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming

Steam Rising from Yellowstone Lake at sunrise
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Clear, deep, and cold, Yellowstone Lake is found in one of the world's most geologically active areas, under the watch of the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains. Around 4 million visitors pour into the national park each summer, but winter could very well be the best time to see the lake; the bubbling geysers along the West Thumb shoreline appear as colorful cauldrons in the snow, steam rising eerily from the icy landscape.

Lake Superior, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin

Split rock lighthouse on Lake Superior.
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The name speaks for itself: Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake (by surface area). And there's a lifetime's worth of views around every corner of its 2,800-mile majestic shoreline. Natural attractions include the 200-foot sandstone cliffs, beaches, and waterfalls that tumble into the lake at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; the sea caves on the Apostle Islands; and the isolated ruggedness of Isle Royale, with its wolves and moose. You can hike, drive, kayak, or take a ferry to your preferred destination. This lake is so vast it can feel more like an ocean — just ask the intrepid surfers of North Shore.

Flathead Lake, Montana

Woman standing up paddle boarder paddling on Flathead Lake, Montana, USA
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Flathead is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, with clean, crystalline waters cradled in the Flathead Valley by the Mission Mountains to the east and the Salish Mountains to the west. The lake is blessed with an unusually mild climate for an area so far north and inland, allowing for surrounding fruit orchards and vineyards on its east side. There's even a Flathead Lake Monster, which, judging by some accounts, may have a close cousin living in Loch Ness. It's more likely, however, that you'll spy wild horses roaming the state park.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Scenic view of Wizard Island amidst Crater Lake against sky
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Crater Lake's birth story is inscribed by its nearly circular six-mile diameter. It formed nearly 8,000 years ago when volcanic Mount Mazama blew its top and left a smoldering caldera that would eventually fill with rain and snowmelt. At 1,943 feet, America's deepest lake is cut off from any incoming streams or rivers, so it remains extraordinarily clear. Visibility averages 103 feet and sunlight penetrates nearly 400 feet down. For an even more dramatic effect, two islands rise from the lake's deep-blue surface: forested Wizard Island and the much smaller, nearly barren Phantom Ship.

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Yellow raft on the shore of Lake Tahoe

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Ringed by the snowcapped Sierra Nevada mountains and bathed in an Impressionist's palette of blues, Tahoe is the largest alpine lake in North America and the second deepest (1,645 feet) in the U.S. With visibility of more than 70 feet in places, the lake's clarity is so remarkable that — if it weren't for the year-round chilly water — you could swear you were swimming in the Caribbean. During winter, the nearby ski runs offer exhilarating views down to the lake.

Caddo Lake, Texas and Louisiana

Tall trees reflecting in the water of Caddo Lake in Texas
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Of the handful of towns on Caddo Lake, none sums up the feel of this place better than Uncertain, Texas. Mystery seems to shroud the lake's 27,000 acres, where Spanish moss hangs like drapery from tree limbs in the world's largest cypress forest. In fact, this is not so much a lake as an interconnected maze of bayous, swampy marshes, and backwaters. (Beer boats hid out here during Prohibition.) Alligators lurk under barely-submerged tree roots, frogs pull up on lily pads, and Bigfoot has allegedly been sighted here. About the only way to appreciate Caddo's primordial beauty is by boat or canoe — but by all means, don't forget a map.

Mono Lake, California

Tufa at Mono Lake in California
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Amid a forbidding landscape of dusty desert, dry hills, and volcanic craters on the eastern flank of the Sierra Nevada, Mono Lake was nearly destroyed by Los Angeles' thirst for the waters that fed it. When the water level plummeted, it exposed eerie-looking tufa towers. These limestone columns form underwater when calcium-rich underground springs react with the carbonate-heavy lake water.

They remain on view today, despite nearly three decades of strict regulation to restore the water level of "California's Dead Sea." Yet dead is a misnomer: each year, trillions of tiny brine shrimp and alkali flies hatch in Mono's fishless, hypersaline water (three times saltier than the ocean), nourishing millions of birds at one of North America's most important migratory stops.

Echo Lake, New Hampshire

Franconia Notch and Echo Lake, New Hampshire in autumn. Beautiful vibrant fall colors in the foliage.
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In a southeast corner of the White Mountain National Forest, Echo Lake rests under the shadow of Whitehorse Ledge, whose reflection nearly covers the 16 acres of water. Whitehorse and the nearby 700-foot cliffs of Cathedral Ledge are popular rock-climbing destinations; both reward hikers with gorgeous views of Echo Lake below and the distant mountains. Fall is particularly lovely when those slopes erupt in brilliant reds, yellows, and oranges; get an up-close look along one of the numerous hiking trails.

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