While the white sand beaches along America’s coastlines might be the star of the show when it comes to summertime hangouts, the US also has dozens of gorgeous lakes that offer a welcome reprieve. For those that don’t have access to the oceanfront property (which is most of the country, after all), lakes provide endless entertainment, and many are just as beautiful as the stretches of shoreline on the country’s east and west coasts.
There are hundreds of thousands of lakes in the United States, and the options for freshwater fun are endless. That being said, not all lakes were created equally, and some are simply just more stunning than others. From massive glacial carved lakes, ones created by volcanoes and man-made swimming holes to even some preserved swampland, here are the top 30 most beautiful lakes in the USA.
Table of Contents
- 1. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
- 2. Crater Lake, Oregon
- 3. Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah
- 4. Avalanche Lake, Montana
- 5. Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming
- 6. Lake Michigan, Wisconsin/Michigan/Illinois
- 7. Mono Lake, California
- 8. Flathead Lake, Montana
- 9. Finger Lakes, New York
- 10. Maroon Lake, Colorado
- 11. Hanging Lake, Colorado
- 12. Lake Eklutna, Alaska
- 13. Santeetlah Lake, South Carolina
- 14. Lake Jocassee, South Carolina
- 15. Lake Superior, Minnesota/Wisconsin/Michigan
- 16. Jenny Lake, Wyoming
- 17. Lake George, New York
- 18. Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho
- 19. Lake Chelan, Washington
- 20. Lake Havasu, Arizona
- 21. Lake Willoughby, Vermont
- 22. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
- 23. Lake Martin, Louisiana
- 24. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
- 25. Lake Tenkiller, Oklahoma
- 26. Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
- 27. Lake Norman, North Carolina
- 28. Geneva Lake, Wisconsin
- 29. Lady Bird Lake, Texas
- 30. Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota
1. Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Located along the California-Nevada border, Lake Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA. It’s also the largest alpine lake in the country, with crystal clear water and an average clarity of a whopping 75 feet. The lake itself is stunning all on its own, but the panorama views of the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance make it all the more beautiful.
This natural splendor hasn’t gone unnoticed, and people flock to Lake Tahoe year-round to take in the stunning views. In the summer, you’ll find tourists enjoying water sports, hiking, and mountain biking around the lake shores – and in the winter, skiing, snowmobiling, and horseshoeing are popular escapades.
There are also lots of restaurants, casinos, and clubs around the lake the cater to the large swaths of tourists, in addition to a lovely collection of state and national parks.
Some of the best views of Lake Tahoe can be found in Emerald Bay State Park (California), and if you don’t have time for a hike, just pull off at one of the many scenic overlooks along Highway 89.
2. Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US and is also one of the most stunning. This beautiful Oregon lake was created nearly 8,000 years ago when a volcano collapsed into itself – and after centuries of being filled with rain and snowmelt, the crater is now one of the most beautiful lakes in the country.
As the lake is fed with pure, natural resources, the visibility here is unmatched. On a bright sunny day, you’ll be able to see nearly 400 feet down into the 19420-foot deep lake. The massive cliffs surrounding Crater Lake add to the scenery, so it’s no wonder that this is one of Oregon’s top tourist attractions.
Popular activities on the lake include fishing, swimming, and scuba diving.
Not only humans are drawn to this beautiful area; a wide variety of wildlife call this area home, and if you’d like to see some of these critters or just take in some epic views of the lake, head to Crater Lake National Park.
3. Lake Powell, Arizona/Utah
Lake Powell stretches nearly 2,000 miles across southern Utah and northern Arizona, and you may be surprised to learn that this stunning lake is a man-made one. Known for its clear blue water and the colorful canyons that surround it, Lake Powell is one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA.
The lake was created when Glen Canyon was dammed, and although there was sweeping public outcry at the time, the results are now celebrated by both locals and the nearly three million tourists that visit the lake each year.
The gorgeous sapphire water comes from the Colorado River, and the contrast of the orange-colored canyons around the lake creates an ethereal landscape that is not to be missed.
Lake Powell is lined with gorgeous beaches and hiking trails, and popular activities around the lake include water sports, fishing, and swimming.
The lake is surrounded by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and while you’re here, don’t miss your chance to see the Rainbow Bridge National Monument – which is one of the world’s largest natural bridges!
4. Avalanche Lake, Montana
Surrounded by towering mountains and filled with pristine glacial water, Avalanche Lake is one of the most beautiful in America. Its location inside of the stunning Glacier National Park in northern Montana when combined with its icy glacial source makes Avalanche Lake a chilly one (and one with an appropriate name) – but even if you don’t dip your toes in, a hike up to the lake will leave you breathless (in more ways than one).
The hike is a bit strenuous, though the incredible views are what truly take your breath away. The clear yet verdant water reflects the mountainous surrounding perfectly, and if you’re lucky, you might even see some wildlife on your journey up to the lake.
Unfortunately, this gorgeous area hasn’t gone unnoticed, and crowd sizes are known to swell in the summer. That being said, remember that the water is cold- and few choose to brave it even in the heat – so you should be able to snap some photos without tourists impeding your view.
5. Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming
Yellowstone Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in the United States, and its location within Yellowstone National Park means that its surroundings are just as beautiful as the lake itself. The lake is one of the largest highly elevated freshwater lakes on the continent, and while the icy water is much too cold for swimming (even in the summer), there are plenty of other ways to enjoy the lake.
If you’d like to get on the lake, you can explore it with a motorized boat or paddle along the perimeter with a kayak or canoe. Fishing is another way to enjoy the idyllic surroundings, and although there are just two species in the lake (cutthroat and lake trout), it’s a popular way to spend the day.
Of course, the national park also offers tons of hiking trails around the lake, and these paths boast some of the best views of the water.
6. Lake Michigan, Wisconsin/Michigan/Illinois
The Great Lakes are mostly known for their vastness, but they are also some of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Lake Michigan is arguably the most scenic of the five, and it’s the only one that is located entirely inside of the US.
This massive lake is home to surrounding cities both large and small, in addition to numerous state and national parks, islands, and thousands of sandy beaches. Access to the lake is possible from three different states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois), and while views of the lake are lovely no matter where you take them in, Michigan is known for boasting some of the most scenic shorelines.
For the most epic views, head to the small town of Arcadia and climb up to the scenic overlook known as Inspiration Point, or hike the 1.5 mile Empire Bluff Trail along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
7. Mono Lake, California
Thought to be nearly a million years old, Mono Lake is one of the most unique lakes in the country, if not the world. Unlike most lakes, Mono Lake has a high salinity, and the salty water here is even denser than the ocean – making it incredibly buoyant.
It’s not just the easy floating that makes this lake one-of-a-kind. The rugged calcium-carbonate spires (also known as tufta towers) make Mono Lake feel like it belongs on another planet – although the beautiful surrounding views make us glad that it’s on this one.
Besides hiking, biking, and bird watching along the miles of trails that surround the lake, swimming and picnicking along the lake are popular activities in this area as well. You could also rent a boat or launch your own to explore every nook and cranny of this scenic lake, though if you’re looking for the most epic views, you will find them from the shore.
8. Flathead Lake, Montana
Flathead Lake is as beautiful as it is big, and it’s the largest freshwater lake west of the Mississippi. The area surrounding the lake is made up almost entirely of reservations and state and national parks, and you can bet that this unspoiled area is one of the most beautiful in America.
One of the state parks near the lake is actually inside of it. If you make the trek out to Wild Horse Island, you’ll find one of the most beautiful areas of the lake – which is home to wild horses, bighorn sheep, and miles of scenic hiking trails.
Flathead Lake also boasts white sand beaches, public boat launches, picnic areas, and campgrounds all along its shoreline. Sports rentals, grocery stores, and even a brewery can be found in the nearby area.
9. Finger Lakes, New York
The east coast also has its fair share of beautiful lakes too, and the Finger Lakes of New York are the cream of the crop. These long and narrow chains of lakes are aptly named, and the popular surrounding area draws tourists to upstate New York throughout the year.
There are eleven of these massive fingers (erm, lakes), providing visitors with endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. You’ll find everything from upscale resorts and fascinating museums to gorgeous beaches and picturesque waterfalls along the shores of these magnificent lakes. Of course, you can always find options for common lakeside activities like swimming, fishing, boating, and hiking too.
Wine lovers will be pleased to know that the Finger Lakes region is home to some of the state’s best wine-producing crops, and there are hundreds of great vineyards and wineries all around the lakes’ shores.
10. Maroon Lake, Colorado
It stands to reason that one of the most photographed lakes in the country is also one of the most beautiful, and Maroon Lake in western Colorado certainly is a sight to behold.
The crystal clear water perfectly reflects the domineering Maroon Bells above, and these two massive mountain peaks are also extremely photogenic. The lake is protected – so swimming is prohibited – but you can fish from the shoreline if you possess a Colorado state fishing license.
The best views of Maroon Lake can be found from hiking along its perimeter, and while you won’t be able to trek around the whole lake due to the mountainous terrain, you’ll be able to snag some epic shots as you walk the well-beaten path.
Because of its location high in the mountains, the weather around Maroon Lake can change drastically. Be prepared for sudden dips in temperature, even in the summer. It might not be a bad idea to pack a rain jacket, too.
11. Hanging Lake, Colorado
While you’re in Colorado, don’t miss your chance to see another one of America’s most beautiful lakes. Hanging Lake is an otherworldly gem that was named a National Natural Landmark back in 2011.
The emerald green water, wispy waterfalls, lush hanging gardens, and stark silhouette of the cliffs that surround it all make Hanging Lake one of Colorado’s most popular areas to hike. However, you’ll need to do a bit of planning if you hope to lay eyes on this mystifying lake.
Access to the lake is only possible with a permit (which you can buy online), which helps protect the fragile ecosystem that thrives in this area. You’ll also need to complete a steep and rigorous backcountry hike to get to the lake. Those who make the daunting trek will be rewarded with absolutely breathtaking views.
As this is a protected area, swimming, fishing, and otherwise disturbing the lake and its surroundings is strictly prohibited. That being said, the views alone are worth the journey – and Hanging Lake is stunning in all four seasons (just be aware that the trail may be icy if you decide to visit during the winter).
12. Lake Eklutna, Alaska
Just outside of Anchorage, Alaska you’ll find one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA. Lake Eklutna is fed by a nearby glacier, and while the water is icy cold, it’s some of the clearest in the country.
The lake is located inside Chugach State Park, surrounded by the endless Alaskan wilderness. The snow-capped mountains make a beautiful backdrop to Lake Eklutna, and you’ll find over 15 miles of shoreline from which to take in these scenic views.
Popular pastimes here include picnicking and camping, and anglers can also cast out for trout and salmon. You could also rent a kayak from the boathouse or explore the trail that runs parallel to the lake via bike, ATV, or your own two feet.
13. Santeetlah Lake, South Carolina
Located on the border of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Nantahala National Forest, Santeetlah Lake is no stranger to lists of the most beautiful in the USA. The lake is man-made by way of a dam created in 1928, but the natural beauty that surrounds it is what really makes Santeetlah stand out.
The lake boasts 76 miles of shoreline and over 200 miles of nearby hiking trails, and much of the surrounding land is unspoiled and uninhabited (by humans, that is). If you’re not into hiking, one of the best ways to explore the lake is by boat; you’ll find rentals for kayaks, pontoons, and ski boats at various spots along the shore.
Anglers also love Santeetlah Lake. Common catches include bluegill, bass, and trout. If you feel like connecting with nature for more than just a few hours, there are a couple of campsites along the shore complete with picnic areas and swimming beaches.
14. Lake Jocassee, South Carolina
Located in Devils Fork State Park in the Appalachians of South Carolina, Lake Jocassee is one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Although the reservoir is man-made, you’d never guess that the lake is anything but natural due to its crystal clear and clean water.
This 9,000-acre lake is fed by waterfalls and streams that make their way down from the mountains, accounting for both the clarity and the coolness of the water.
If you’re brawny enough to take on its chilly depths, swimming and diving are both popular activities – but you could always enjoy the lake from the safety of a boat or cast out for delicious lake trout that live in these cool waters.
Due to the mountainous terrain, boating is actually one of the best ways to explore the hidden nooks and crannies of the lake. You could also explore via the many miles of hiking trails that surround Lake Jocassee, and if you’re exploring in the spring, keep your eyes peeled for the rare Oconee bell wildflowers that bloom during this time.
15. Lake Superior, Minnesota/Wisconsin/Michigan
The greatest of the Great Lakes is Lake Superior, and it’s the largest freshwater lake in the entire world. Needless to say, it would be impossible to explore even half of this massive body of water – but there are definitely some areas around the lake that are not to be missed.
Lake Superior has real estate in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, and even stretches up into southern Canada. The greater Duluth area in Minnesota is known as the gateway to Lake Superior, and the “North Shore” offers everything from bustling cities and quaint small towns to scenic cliff-top lighthouses and a string of state parks along the coast.
If you’ve got the time, the best way to see the lake in Wisconsin is by taking the self-guided Lake Superior Circle Tour. The route starts just over the bridge from Duluth in Superior, Wisconsin, and you’ll pass by thundering waterfalls, charming small towns, picture-perfect bays, and lots and lots of state parks.
In Michigan, the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is arguably the most scenic spot on the lake – although, for the best panoramic views, you should take a scenic drive along the Keweenaw Peninsula.
16. Jenny Lake, Wyoming
Located at the base of Cascade Canyon in Grand Teton State Park, Jenny Lake is one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA. Jenny Lake is the less popular sibling of the often overcrowded Jackson Lake to the north, and the pristine waters and verdant shorelines draw hikers and boaters from all around.
If you’re really looking to escape the crowds, the northern section of the lake is usually more tranquil, offering little more than a single boat launch, a picnic area, and a trailhead (albeit it a scenic one). The southern shore boasts more amenities (and therefore more crowds), including a ranger station, visitor center, and plenty of docks from which to launch your watercraft.
Jenny Lake is one of just two in the Jackson Hole area that allows motorboats (the other being the aforementioned Jackson Lake), and it also offers a scenic shuttle service across the glassy water for those who show up without a boat.
17. Lake George, New York
Lake George has been dubbed the “Queen of American Lakes”, and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is it extremely beautiful, but it also boasts fun activities throughout the year.
Lake George is known for its incredible mountain views, clear waters, and many hiking trails from which you can take it all in – but it’s not just active tourists that the lake caters to. You’ll also find a large swath of guided boat tours, lakeside dining opportunities, plenty of boutique shopping, and even a hot air balloon festival that takes place each September when the fall foliage is in full bloom.
Other popular activities on Lake George include water sports, whitewater rafting, swimming, and fishing. The lake and the surrounding area are best enjoyed for more than just a few hours – so you’ll find plenty of ritzy resorts and charming campgrounds in the vicinity.
18. Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho
Lake Pend Oreille is Idaho’s largest, deepest, and without a doubt, most magnificent lake. Located in the northern panhandle of the state, the lake is surrounded by epic views of the Cabinet and the Selkirk Mountains, in addition to parks, beaches, and plenty of hiking trails.
The natural history of this area is astounding; the lake was likely dug out by glaciers during the Ice Age. Today, Lake Pend Oreille is a hot spot for boating, fishing, and wildlife viewing – but it’s also famous for the small town located on its northwestern shores.
Sandpoint has been named one of the best small lake towns in America, and it’s best known for its ski slopes, extensive trail network, and a hefty dose of small-town charm. You’ll also find a brewery and a few wineries here, in addition to a historic museum and lots of access to the lake – which makes it the perfect home base for exploring the Lake Pend Oreille area.
19. Lake Chelan, Washington
Lake Chelan is one of Washington’s best-kept secrets, but it’s no wonder that this beautiful lake has made it onto our list. This small natural lake is glacier-fed and surrounded by the peaks of the North Cascades, and not only is the area incredibly picturesque, but it also has tons of activities for those who choose to visit.
The lake itself is great for boating and water sports, but if you’re looking for a little variety, you’ll find miles of gorgeous hiking trails, a collection of beautiful resorts, and tons of wineries and gourmet restaurants in the nearby area.
While it would be easy to assume that the area around Lake Chelan is exclusive and pretentious, it has somehow managed to maintain some friendly small-town charm that entices people of all backgrounds to visit.
20. Lake Havasu, Arizona
The lovely Lake Havasu is located along the Colorado River between Arizona and California and is known both for its beauty and for being home to one of the most famous bridges in the US. The London Bridge connects Lake Havasu City with an island in the river, and this historic connection is one of the main attractions to the lake.
While you may come for the bridge, you’ll likely stay for the lake, as it’s one of the most beautiful in the entire country. The emerald green waters are surrounded by towering sand dunes, protected wilderness areas, and rugged canyons, and you’ll find plenty of trails around the lake from which to explore it all.
You could also stick to the lake itself and boat around the perimeter, and fishing, water sports, and swimming are popular pastimes here as well.
21. Lake Willoughby, Vermont
Often referred to as the “Lucerne of America” due to its fjord-like appearance, Lake Willoughby is one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. Located in northern Vermont and surrounded by Willoughby State Forest on its southern half, the lake is a premier outdoor area with incredible scenic views and plenty of hiking trails from which to enjoy them.
There are also tons of campgrounds, cabin rentals, and vacation homes available along the shore, enticing travelers from near and far to come to enjoy the lovely lake for more than just a few hours.
Although the lake is fairly cold, swimming is a popular activity – and you’ll find a few beaches along the perimeter (there’s even a nude beach along the southern shore).
Lake Willoughby is Vermont’s second deepest lake, but it still manages to freeze over most winters. This paves a trail for ice fishers to reel in a wide variety of species, including yellow perch, chub, and a few different types of trout.
22. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
If you’re looking for the most beautiful lake in the USA and the one that has the most outdoor recreation opportunities, look no further than Lake of the Ozarks in the heart of Missouri.
This is the state’s main claim to fame, and thousands of tourists flock here each year to enjoy the endless activities that the lake provides. You’ll find world-class resorts all along its perimeter, most of which offer fun pursuits like boating, water sports, scuba diving, and sportfishing.
There are also some famous golf courses around the lake, so if you’d like to take a few strokes off your golf game while you’re on vacation, you can make a tee time at one of these top-notch clubs.
If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the Ozarks without breaking the bank, numerous state parks border the lake where you can park an RV or pitch a tent for a few nights.
23. Lake Martin, Louisiana
Known more for its bayous and swamps than any other type of water, you may be surprised to learn that one of the most beautiful lakes in the USA resides in the southern state of Louisiana.
The lake (read: glorified swamp) is part of the 9,500-acre Cypress Island Preserve. While Lake Martin may not be your best bet for swimming, this massive preserve is a true ecological gem, known for the eclectic variety of plant and animal life that call it home.
The best way to experience Lake Martin is via a guided boat tour on which you’ll have an experienced guide to tell you all about the preserve and the animals that live in it. You’ll likely see some for yourself during your tour – including alligators, egrets, cottonmouth snakes, bullfrogs, and more. This is prime swamp country!
More-daring visitors can explore the lake via paddleboat, while those hoping to keep both feet on solid ground can stick to the boardwalk and admire the cypress trees that line it.
24. Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire
Situated at the base of the White Mountains in central New Hampshire, Lake Winnipesaukee is the state’s largest lake and one of the most beautiful in the entire country.
Lake Winnipesaukee is home to nearly 400 islands, and while the smallest is only a quarter of an acre, some of the larger islets are large enough to boast moderate-sized communities and all the infrastructure that comes with it.
With so many islands, the best way to explore the lake is by kayaking, but there are also plenty of boat tours and ferries that’ll take you between the islands if you’d like to spend some time on their shores.
You’ll also find three nature preserves, a variety of hiking trails, and a string of charming small towns around Lake Winnipesaukee, and other popular activities in this area include swimming, picnicking, and fishing.
25. Lake Tenkiller, Oklahoma
Located in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in eastern Oklahoma, Lake Tenkiller is one of the most beautiful yet underrated lakes in the country. Lake Tenkiller (officially “Tenkiller Ferry Lake”) was created by damming the Illinois River, and this large lake now boasts over 13,000 acres of water and over 130 miles of shoreline.
Much of that shoreline is covered in lush vegetation that turns a brilliant hue of orange once fall rolls around, but no matter what time of year you are visiting these dogwood forests are sure to inspire.
The lake itself is pristine and clear, making it a popular place for scuba diving enthusiasts and swimmers. Boating and camping are also popular activities in the area, and there are tons of biking and hiking trails on the perimeter of this hidden gem as well.
26. Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
Lake Ouachita is one of the most beautiful lakes in the United States, and at 40,000 acres, it’s also Arkansas’ biggest. Although the lake is man-made, the area around it has been protected from development, resulting in a pristine sanctuary of flora and fauna.
The lake is fed by a mountain stream, making its crystal clear waters the perfect place to swim, scuba dive, and fish. Boating is also popular on Lake Ouachita, and both kayaking and motor boating are allowed as well. If you fancy a paddle, the lake is home to the National Trail System’s first interpretive geo-float trail.
If you’d like to admire the natural beauty of this place for longer than a day, you’ll have your choice of campsites along the lakeshore.
27. Lake Norman, North Carolina
Aside from being one of the most popular lakes for water sports, Lake Norman is also one of the most beautiful lakes in the United States. Swimming is popular here, as are all the most popular lake activities like boating, fishing, and paddleboarding.
There are tons of rental shops, parks, ritzy resorts, and some of the most charming small towns in America along the lake’s perimeters. The quaint towns of Cornelius, Davidson, and Huntersville all call Lake Norman home – and each one is worthy of its own day trip if you’ve got the time.
If the resorts are all booked for the summer or if you’re just looking for a more budget-friendly option, you’ll find 9 RV campgrounds around the lake, and tent camping is available at Lake Norman State Park.
28. Geneva Lake, Wisconsin
Located on the border of Wisconsin and Illinois, Geneva Lake is one of the most beautiful in the Midwest, and really in the entire USA. Natural springs feed this 5000-acre headwater lake, and the most popular activity at this summer hot spot is boating.
Geneva Lake is located in the quaint town of Lake Geneva (only slightly confusing), and this charming community caters to the summer tourists with beautiful beaches, lakeside restaurants, plenty of shopping opportunities, and a 23-mile pathway along the lakeshore.
While many choose to rent a lake house for the entire summer, there are plenty of public access points around the lake if you’d like to bring your boat for a day trip. You could also come back when the weather turns cold and witness Lake Geneva transform into a winter wonderland.
29. Lady Bird Lake, Texas
Much different than most of the other bodies of water on our list of the most beautiful lakes in the USA, Lady Bird Lake is located right in the smack dab of one of the country’s largest cities, Austin, Texas.
While the lake was originally carved to accommodate the city’s power plant, today it is a popular area for locals and tourists alike. While swimming is prohibited due to pollution, you’ll find plenty of water-side activities to keep you busy including hiking, biking, and paddling (no motorized boats allowed).
Although the lake is artificial and polluted, it is filled with fishies for those looking to do a little catch and release. Just make sure you have a valid Texas fishing license before you cast out.
30. Lake Mille Lacs, Minnesota
Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes, and while this nickname is well deserved, not every single lake is the epitome of natural beauty. Lake Mille Lacs does deserve a spot on our list, however, and this massive lake is a favorite amongst local anglers.
You can do all kinds of fishing here, from shallow reef top fishing to shoreline break fishing, and even ice fishing once the lake freezes over. There are tons of different species in Lake Mille Lacs, but common catches include walleye, perch, and tullibee.
It’s not just anglers who enjoy Lake Mille Lacs. Many Minnesotans choose Lake Mille Lacs for their summer home, and you’ll see plenty of quaint lake cabins lining the shores.
In the center of this large lake, there are a pair of islands that are home to the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge.