The 15 Best Lake Towns in America

Welcome to your next waterfront escape.

There are few things more relaxing than the quintessentially American lake vacation. This is a country chock-full of picturesque lakes, from the northeastern shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire and Rangeley Lake in Maine, all the way to the southern California shores of Big Bear Lake. However, there's also a lot to be said about lake towns in America. These lakeside communities help travelers pinpoint exactly where to book a week-long rental or a charming inn for their next lake vacation.

These places are not only right on the waterfront of the country's clearest and most sought-after lakes, but they also have bustling town centers and lively culture within — and isn't that what makes the best lake towns in America shine? Think beyond boat and paddle board rentals to consider that these lake towns are also destinations with exciting restaurants, hotels, shopping, and plenty of non-water-based activities.

Whether you're renting a lake house for the summer, or looking for a lakeside long weekend to book this fall, these are the 15 best lake towns in America.

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

A school bus rumbles down a road in the New Hampshire lake town of Wolfeboro.
Getty Images/Aurora Open

On Lake Winnipesaukee, Wolfeboro is fast becoming the best lake town in the Northeast. The drive to Wolfeboro is about two hours from Boston and a little over six from New York City. The town center of Wolfeboro is actually positioned directly on Lake Winnipesaukee, which offers an expansive 72 square miles of water. Your time in Wolfeboro will be filled with sunset swims at Brewster Beach, ice cream cones at Wolfeboro Dockside Grille & Dairy Bar, and beers at Lone Wolfe Brewing Company. Treat yourself to a boat tour aboard the M/S Mount Washington, which has been cruising the lake for more than 150 years, and if you're looking for a charming hotel, Pickering House Inn is just the place.

Greensboro, Georgia

Lake Oconee, Georgia
The Ritz-Carlton, Reynolds, Lake Oconee

About 75 miles outside of Atlanta sits one of the most charming lake destinations in the South: Lake Oconee. Greensboro is situated right on the 19,000-acre lake and is home to a posh golf community (there are six courses within Reynolds Lake Oconee). Scout a rental property to live out your Southern lake dream sequence, or stay at The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee in Greensboro for waterfront five-star accommodations.

Bayview, Idaho

Aerial view of lake in Bayview, Idaho
Jeff T. Green/Getty Images

Bayview, Idaho, is a floating village — yes, that's a real thing — on the southern shores of Lake Pend Oreille, and on the other side of the water are the Coeur d'Alene Mountains. The area is home to the 4,000-acre Farragut State Park, and in Bayview, you have the best of land and sea activities in the area, from hiking trails and wildlife spotting opportunities to boating and swimming along 42 miles of shoreline. You can rent a cabin with a private dock and a boat at MacDonald's Resort in Bayview.

Aurora, New York

Inns of Aurora
William Hereford

The Finger Lakes region is a pristine part of upstate New York with 11 glistening bodies of water, each lined by towns with character. Aurora sits on Cayuga Lake, one of the largest lakes, known for its stunning wine trail. Here, you're not too far from wineries and can even make a day trip to Seneca Lake for a different perspective. The beauty of Aurora, apart from the gorgeous sunsets on Cayuga Lake, is that you have culture, incredible food and wine, and water activities at your fingertips. Drive a half-hour up the highway to Ithaca, New York, for dinner at Maxie's Supper Club, visit Heart & Hands Wine Company in nearby Union Springs, and, of course, stay at Inns of Aurora for a luxurious lakeside escape at one of its five beautifully curated inns.

Bigfork, Montana

Aerial view of Bigfork, Montana
Frank Jackson/EyeEm/Getty Images

Flathead Lake is the largest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi, boasting 200 square miles of water. Along the 185-mile shoreline, you'll find the town of Bigfork, Montana, which has old Western resort town energy, not unlike the ski towns you'd find in Colorado mining country. The actual town of Bigfork has a growing arts scene — with an impressive array of galleries, a notable theatre presence, and an annual Festival of the Arts — and it is known for great hiking, with many trails offering unique views of the lake. Rent a house right on the shores of Flathead Lake, or book a cabin at the all-inclusive Flathead Lake Lodge for a memorable dude ranch experience.

Clermont, Florida

Lake shore in Clermont, Florida
Karen Harrison/EyeEm/Getty Images

The Clermont chain of lakes is a system of interconnected lakes in Florida, but the historic village of Clermont is specifically nestled on Lake Minneola. About half an hour from Orlando, Clermont is the heart of this multi-lake community and is also close to Lake Louisa, the largest of the Clermont chain of lakes. When you're not exploring the surrounding lakes, enjoy the small-town charms of Clermont, from the Downtown Clermont Farmers Market every Sunday to the shopping along Montrose Street in Clermont's Historic Village.

South Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe is one of the most popular year-round destinations in California — and when you see the sunshine ricochet off the lake in the summer months, you'll see why it's just as enticing in June as it is at the height of ski season. From summer to fall, the weather is perfect for renting a boat, hiking the scenic Rubicon Trail, dining al fresco at Boathouse on the Pier, and sunsets savored with a bottle of wine. Rent a house along the water or stay at Edgewood Tahoe, the only resort right on the water with gorgeous architecture, golfing, and an idyllic pool overlooking the lake.

Lakeway, Texas

Aerial view above Lake Travis and Lakeway Homes along Water's Edge
Getty Images

On the outskirts of Austin is Lakeway, near the southern shores of Lake Travis. The light turquoise waters attract vacationers from all over the country. You can drive 45 minutes to Austin to go out for a meal or take in some live music, or unwind in the quieter suburb of Lakeway, where you'll still find great barbecue and Tex-Mex. Lakeway Resort & Spa is the place to be in the area — not just for those looking for a lovely lakeside hotel, but for those renting in the area who want to book a spa day or dinner at the resort.

Charlevoix, Michigan

Aerial view of Round Lake in Charlevoix, MI
Getty Images

Charlevoix is the perfect getaway to Lake Michigan. While Charlevoix offers both waterfront attractions and inland charms, beach-going visitors will love the six miles of shoreline at Fisherman's Island State Park and Beach. For those who aren't as keen on sinking their toes into soft white sand, Charlevoix is also home to Lavender Hill Farm, with idyllic fields packed with 30 lavender varieties, and Castle Farms, an actual stone castle in northern Michigan. This lake town is brimming with charming accommodations, too, from the modern Hotel Earl to the waterfront Edgewater Inn & Suites.

White Lake, North Carolina

View from between shadowed trees at White Lake during sunrise with dock on lake.
Courtesy of

Supported by natural spring and rain water, White Lake is a 1,200-acre body of water in North Carolina that welcomes 200,000 tourists each summer. It's all about the water sports in the town of White Lake, and tourists come to swim, boat, tube, Jet Ski, wakeboard, and the like. That said, you'll also find a water park in town and a picturesque 18-hole golf course in nearby Elizabethtown. Come for the entire summer or just for the annual White Lake Water Festival held in May.

Rangeley, Maine

Forest Landscape Along Rangeley Lake
James L. Amos / Getty Images

When it comes to American lakes, Maine's got game. Maine is home to thousands of lakes and ponds, from its largest lake, Moosehead, to lakes like Portland-adjacent Sebago Lake and Rangeley Lake near the northwest corner of the state. Rangeley Lake is known for terrific fishing — it's a trout and salmon hub — swimming, canoeing, and kayaking. Rangeley Lake State Park boasts 869 acres of mountainous terrain, making the area a perfect hiking destination as well. Beyond water sports, Rangeley itself is a tiny town, but you can find fabulous cabins in the surroundings and fun shops to peruse in town, like the lovely bookstore Books, Lines, and Thinkers. Don't leave without dining in at Parkside & Main.

Osage Beach, Missouri

Boats on the lake in Ozark, Osage Beach, Missouri
Courtesy of Missouri Tourism

If you're looking for the perfect vacation town on Lake of the Ozarks, look no further than Osage Beach. The famously human-made lake is known for speed boating and waterfront resorts, but Osage Beach claims a shorefront that's particularly inviting for families keen on a beach vacation. While the town of Osage Beach has only about 5,000 residents, there is a variety of restaurants, bars, and parks that attract visitors every summer. Consider the Margaritaville Lake Resort for a family-friendly vacation in Osage Beach.

Chelan, Washington

Chelan Air floatplane takes off from Chelan to fly up Lake Chelan, Washington USA
Kevin Schafer/Getty Images

The Pacific Northwest is filled with pine tree-lined bodies of water, but in terms of lake towns that offer both water activities and mainland charms, Chelan is one of the best waterfront enclaves in the PNW. On the southeast shore of Lake Chelan, this resort town is nestled on the water, not far from the Cascade Mountains. There's something for every travel palette in this town, from the boutique shops and locally owned restaurants to the surrounding 9,000-foot-plus peaks boasting hiking and mountain biking trails and water sport opportunities galore on the clear blue water of Lake Chelan.

Vergennes, Vermont

Waterfall in the town of Vergennes
John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Vermont's first and smallest city, Vergennes, is a short drive to both Burlington and Middlebury. Vergennes and the area bordering Lake Champlain have an old-world New England feel, which stands to reason, as Vergennes was founded in 1788. Those looking for history and a well-preserved downtown will enjoy exploring the heart of this city, while those keen on a lake vacation can head straight to Basin Harbor, a resort on Lake Champlain that's been around for more than a century.

Big Bear Lake, California

View of Bear Lake through trees

Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure

Big Bear Lake is a year-round California destination because, much like Tahoe in Northern California, it doubles as a ski town in the winter and a lake town in the summer. Big Bear is less of a hotel town, and the name of the game here is renting a house on the water and spending your days fishing, hiking, swimming, and mountain biking. Visitors will find endless entertainment within the village of Big Bear, from brunch at Teddy Bear Restaurant to midday microbrews at Big Bear Lake Brewing Company.

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