It’s time to create some lasting vacation memories. Spend time with your friends and family on a lake or river and have fun swimming and fishing, hiking and biking, and exploring old-timey 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 houseboating a try.
Act like a kid again as you take part in all manner of adventures, from jumping off the aft swim step for a dip, to kayaking or canoeing, to tossing in your fishing line with hopes of catching dinner. Watch wildlife scamper on the shore during early morning or evening hours, and stargaze at night without city lights to interfere.
Houseboating is an ideal outdoor adventure that won’t cost a fortune for family reunions or group get-togethers. For a flat boat rental fee, you 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 boats 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, multiple televisions, hot tubs and plentiful outdoor furniture for lounging. Add in prime fishing opportunities and gas grills to cook your catch, and it’s easy to see why houseboats are gaining popularity.
You don’t need any previous sailing 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 learning experiences to a houseboat vacation.
Two-thirds of U.S. states have at least one lake that is suitable for houseboating. It’s an affordable vacation option, especially if several couples or families share the cost of a boat. Plan ahead several months (winter is not too early to book for a summer escape) to guarantee finding the size and type of houseboat that best fits your needs. Lock in the cheapest rates by booking four to eight months in advance. Otherwise, you’ll find the most expensive options available at the height of summertime.
Here’s a sample of houseboat availability from five different geographical regions. Houseboat rental fees vary according to the size of the boat and season. Approximate per night cost for six to 10 people: Under $400 = $, $400 to $549 = $$, $550 and up = $$$.
Photo courtesy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Tourism/Evan Wheelie
Raystown Lake ($), located in the mountains of South Central Pennsylvania, has 118 miles of natural wooded shoreline studded with many coves. Fishing, swimming and spotting wildlife are prime activities.
Photo courtesy of Georgia Department of Economic Development
Smith Mountain Lake ($) spreads out in a valley of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Bass fishing is a favorite pastime, and the lake’s many inlets create an interesting and diverse coastline.
St. Johns River ($$) in East Central Florida is perfect for cruising leisurely. The clear, north-flowing river currents move slowly, allowing plenty of opportunities to search for manatees.
Lake Lanier ($), just outside Atlanta, is Georgia's largest and most popular lake. With 692 miles of shoreline, it doesn’t feel crowded, even when summer boaters come in droves to enjoy its natural beauty.
Lake Cumberland ($) in Kentucky is known for lush shoreline foliage (gorgeous colors in fall) shading thousands of coves. Anchor in one of these coves for your own private vacation spot.
Lake Ouachita ($$$), the largest lake in Arkansas, has 970 miles of tree-lined shore overlooking pristine water. Explore several of the 100+ uninhabited islands while cruising on the lake.
Lake Travis ($$$) is the largest of the Texas Hill Country Highland Lakes. This long and deep lake offers a variety of scenery as it curves around numerous bends, some buffeted by limestone cliffs.
Lake Vermilion ($$$), 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.
Photo courtesy of Illinois Office of Tourism
Illinois River Valley ($$$) is a heavily forested valley in Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. It features 18 canyons with moss-covered walls. Pilot the houseboat into these canyons to see flowing waterfalls.
Shasta Lake ($) in California offers houseboaters beautiful scenery and pleasant weather for many months of the year. Even if air temperatures rise to 3 digits, the water stays a perfect 78 degrees. (This lake is a great bargain for summer rentals.)
Photo courtesy of the Utah Office of Tourism
Lake Powell ($$) in Utah is a vast body of deep blue water surrounded by spectacular red cliffs. Summer recreational opportunities in the warm water contained by Glen Canyon Dam are plentiful.
Lake Mead ($$$), 30 miles south of Las Vegas, is the largest man-made lake and reservoir in the United States. Deep canyons, sheer cliffs and stunning rock formations provide a gorgeous background for the lake’s clear, blue water.