After a long winter cooped up inside, it’s time to create some lasting vacation memories this summer. Experiencing a houseboat vacation is guaranteed to be a memorable bonding experience, plus it’s easy to stay safe and healthy within your pod. You can spend time with your friends and family on a lake or river and have fun swimming and fishing, hiking and biking, and exploring old-fashioned towns and villages.
From Pennsylvania to Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains to California’s Shasta Lake, there are bargains to be had for those that want to give houseboat rental vacations a try.
Grown-ups and kids alike will enjoy the adventures, from jumping off the aft swim step for a dip to kayaking or canoeing to tossing in some fishing line with the hopes of catching dinner. Watch wildlife scamper on shore during early morning or evening hours and stargaze at night without city lights to interfere.
Houseboating is an ideal outdoor adventure that is safe and won’t cost a fortune for family reunions or group get-togethers—something many of us are craving right now. Depending on the boat model, for a flat rental fee you can get multi-bedroom accommodations with kitchen facilities, so you can bring aboard groceries and cook meals or go ashore to dine out whenever you wish. Most home houseboat rentals are also equipped with all kinds of recreational gear, such as snorkel fins and masks, inner tubes and other floating devices, fishing rods and even bicycles for when you feel like getting off the boat for a while.
Large groups can split the cost of one boat or rent multiple vessels, which can be tethered together to maintain a community feel without crowding each other.
Modern houseboats generally sleep from six to 14 people and are well equipped with all the amenities you expect in a vacation accommodation: central air conditioning and heating, full baths, more storage space than a typical cruise ship cabin, clothes dryer, fully furnished kitchen, a gas grill, multiple televisions, hot tubs and outdoor furniture for lounging.
You don’t need any previous sailing or boating experience in order to rent a houseboat. All that’s required is a valid driver's license. The marina will teach you everything you need to know during a brief training session. It’s very similar to piloting a pontoon boat with a steering wheel and throttle that controls your speed, as well as forward and backward momentum.
In addition to being an all-inclusive floating resort, many houseboats allow you to go ashore at spots that are accessible only from the water, providing families with opportunities to explore nature in new ways. Hiking canyons, searching for petroglyphs and exploring archaeological sites can add exciting learning experiences to a family houseboat vacation.
Two-thirds of U.S. states have at least one lake that is suitable for houseboating so there are plenty of location options. Plan ahead several months (early spring is not too early to book for a summer escape) to find the size and model of houseboat that best fits your needs and lock in the cheapest rates. Otherwise, you’ll only find the most expensive options available at the height of summer.
Here’s a sample of houseboat rental availability in five geographical regions in the U.S. Houseboat rental fees vary according to the size of the boat and season but below you’ll find approximate per night cost for six to 10 people using this pricing key: under $400 = $, $400 to $549 = $$, $550 and up = $$$.
Raystown Lake ($), located in the mountains of South Central Pennsylvania, has 118 miles of natural wooded shoreline studded with many coves. Fishing, swimming and spotting wildlife are prime activities.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to Harrisburg International Airport (MDT) to get the best prices, and then it’s about a 2 hour-and-15-minute drive to the lake.
Erie Canal ($$$), stretching from Albany, New York to Buffalo, New York, the Erie Canal System is home to 365 miles of waterways for cruising. Along the way, stop at 19th-century canal towns, wineries, and waterfront restaurants.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) to get competitive prices, then it’s just 30 minutes to Erie Canal Adventures Macedon Landing
Smith Mountain Lake ($) spreads out in a valley of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Striped bass fishing is a favorite pastime, and the lake’s many inlets create an interesting and diverse coastline, which is more than 500 miles long. In September, check out the annual Smith Mountain Lake Wine Festival.
NEA member travel benefits: The closest airports are Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport (ROA) and Lynchburg Regional Airport (LYH), which are each about an hour’s drive away. Or for more options, buy tickets into Richmond International Airport (RIC), which is around a 3-hour drive to the lake. Either way, book through NEA Travel: Airfare for great deals.
St. Johns River ($$) in East Central Florida is perfect for cruising leisurely and is known as being one of the “laziest” rivers in the world. The clear, north-flowing river—the longest in Florida—has currents that move slowly, allowing plenty of opportunities to search for manatees, alligators, turtles and dozens of bird species. It actually stretches from Jacksonville in the north to south of Melbourne but Holly Bluff Marina in DeLand, between Daytona and Orlando, makes an ideal starting point for houseboating.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to get the best prices to Orlando International Airport (MCO) or Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB), which are both under an hour’s drive away from the marina.
Everglades National Park ($), the world-renowned destination is ideal for spotting diverse wildlife in the largest subtropical wilderness. Birth watchers will particularly love the setting.
NEA member travel benefits: Search for flights through the NEA Travel Program to get the best deals to Miami International Airport (MIA), which is only 90 minutes away from Flamingo Marina.
Lake Cumberland ($) in Kentucky, between Louisville and Nashville, Tennessee, is known for its 1,200 miles of lush shoreline foliage (with gorgeous colors in fall) that shade thousands of coves. Anchor in one of these coves for your own private vacation spot or explore the more than 100 square miles of water.
NEA member travel benefits: For great prices on airfare, reserve tickets through the NEA Travel Program to Louisville Muhammad Ali International Airport (SDF) or Nashville International Airport (BNA), which are between 2 and 2.5 hours away. You may also be able to find a flight into Lake Cumberland Regional Airport (SME) in Somerset, about an hour away.
Lake Ouachita ($$$), the largest lake in Arkansas, has 970 miles of tree-lined shore overlooking 40,000 acres of pristine water, and is part of Lake Ouachita State Park. Explore several of the 100-plus uninhabited islands while cruising on the lake, fish for striped and large-mouthed bass and scuba dive to see non-stinging freshwater jellyfish.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to get great airfare deals to Memorial Field Airport (HOT) in Hot Springs, which is about an hour’s drive away, or Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport (LIT) in Little Rock, which is about an hour and 45 minutes away.
Lake Travis ($$$) is the largest of the Texas Hill Country Highland Lakes and only 20 miles west of Austin. This long and deep lake offers a variety of scenery as it curves around numerous bends, some buffeted by limestone cliffs.
NEA member travel benefits: Fly into Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (ABIA), which is about a 40-minute drive from the lake. You’ll find great prices on airfare at NEA Travel: Airfare.
Lake Vermilion ($$$), famous for glowing red sunsets, is located in a beautiful wilderness area of Minnesota that includes Superior National Forest. With 1,200 diverse miles of shoreline and 365 islands to explore, majestic landscapes abound.
NEA member travel benefits: Head to NEA Travel: Airfare and search for flights into Duluth International Airport (DLH), which is about 88 miles south of the lake.
Rainy Lake ($), touching the borders of Ontario, Canada and Minnesota, the lake is known for its miles of untouched shoreline and top-notch fishing. Hop off at one of the many inlets for a private hike or try catching the area’s famous smallmouth bass.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight via the NEA Travel Program into Falls International Airport for a quick 20-minute drive to Rainy Lake.
Shasta Lake ($) in Northern California offers houseboaters beautiful scenery and pleasant weather for many months of the year. Even if air temperatures rise to 3 digits, the water stays a perfect 78 degrees. Hike offshore in the surrounding Shasta-Trinity National Forest.
NEA member travel benefits: Book a flight through the NEA Travel Program to get great airfare deals to Redding Municipal Airport (RDD), which is a 20-minute drive away, and Sacramento International Airport (SMF), which is about 2.5 hours away.
Lake Powell ($$$) stretches through Utah and Arizona and is a vast, photogenic body of deep blue water surrounded by spectacular red cliffs. Summer recreational opportunities in the warm water contained by Glen Canyon Dam are plentiful. Swim, water ski or fish in the lake, or head ashore to hike in the rugged Glen Canyon Recreation Area.
NEA member travel benefits: The closest airport is Page Municipal Airport (PGA), which is just 3 miles away from Glen Canyon, but for more options you can fly into the Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas, which is 4.5 hours away. Either way, book through NEA Travel: Airfare to get the best prices.