Summer’s here: It’s time to make a break for the lake! Cast a line, launch a cannonball, dip a paddle or simply float along with a favorite novel. These lakes across the country are sure to add some sparkle to your next vacation.
1. Rainy Lake, Minnesota
Straddling the Minnesota-Ontario border, Rainy Lake anchors what feels like a world of water. Nearly 60 miles long, it’s the largest of hundreds of inland lakes scattered across Minnesota’s northeastern corner. It’s also the gateway to Voyageurs National Park, a woods-and-water wilderness that encompasses much of the lake’s southern shore.
Boating is an ideal way to explore Rainy Lake—and the only way to reach the national park’s 200-plus campsites. The National Park Service offers an array of boating adventures departing from the Rainy Lake Visitor Center. (Advance reservations are recommended.) You can cruise with a naturalist aboard the Voyageur or Borealis passenger boats on wildlife-viewing cruises, or visit the 1910 Kettle Falls Hotel, which originally housed lumberjacks and drew a reputation for gambling and bootlegging.
Outside the park boundaries, lakefront resorts such as Island View Lodge and Sha Sha Resort have on-site boat rentals, as well as launch facilities and slips. Fishing boats commonly purr across Rainy Lake, a world-class fishery for walleye, small-mouth bass and northern pike. Endless protected bays and coves make the lake ideal for exploring by houseboat, pontoon boat, canoe and kayak, too. You’re almost sure to find a quiet spot to float in silence and listen for the whistle of a loon—a true sign of northwoods solitude.
NEA member travel benefits: The closest airport to fly into is Falls International Airport (IFL), right by the Canadian border and only a 15-minute drive away, but with limited flights. Otherwise, Duluth International Airport (DLH) is about 3 hours away. Check NEA Travel’s portal for the best prices on airfare. You’ll also find great car rental deals there. Check the hotels page to find summer deals like the AmericInn by Wyndham International Fall, which is around $110 per night, or the Days Inn by Wyndham International Falls for $76 per night, or to get a little closer to the lake, book a room at Cantilever Hotel, Trademark Collection by Wyndham, which has its own distillery and averages around $144 per night.
2. Lake Powell, Utah and Arizona
Long and windy, the massive Lake Powell covers 250 square miles and straddles Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. Steep and colorful canyons surround many of its twisty fingers and its bright blue color contrasts majestically with the red and orange canyons. The lake was created by the Glen Canyon Dam in Utah, which was built in 1963 to dam the Colorado River. It actually took 17 years for the lake as we know it today to be created, with the water flowing in through the desert cracks over the years.
While there are a few places to hike on its shores, the best way to explore the lake is by going on a boat tour or by renting a houseboat, a popular pastime. Once aboard a boat, you can have access to the windy fingers of the lake that are enveloped in the towering canyon walls.
You can get to the lake for various points of entry; the most popular marinas are Wahweap Marina and Antelope Point Marina, which are near the town of Page, Arizona, a good base. Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon, two popular natural wonders, are also accessible from Page. On the Utah side there is Dangling Rope Marina, Halls Crossing Marina and Bullfrog Marina.
NEA member travel benefits: Page Airport (PGA) is the closest airport by far, but for more flight options you can fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International (PHX) or Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS), which are both about 4.5 hours away. Check NEA Travel’s portal for the best prices. If you’re not renting a houseboat, booking a hotel in Page is your best bet, so check NEA Travel’s hotels page for deals such as $149/night at Best Western View of Lake Powell Hotel and around $134/night for Wingate by Wyndham Page Lake Powell. For $207/night you can get a room at Hyatt Place Page Lake Powell.
3. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
South of Columbia, Missouri, it seems all roads lead to the Lake of the Ozarks. No wonder: Formed by a dam on the Osage River, the flowage twists and curls for more than 100 miles through the Osage Valley, skirting more than 1,000 miles of shoreline. On a map, its sinuous route looks like a mythical beast, earning it the nickname “the Missouri Dragon.”
But rather than breathing fire, Lake of the Ozarks offers cool respite for summer fun. Marinas, resorts and summer cottages line the lake’s wooded shores. Along US-54, Lake Ozark serves as a hub for the region, with shops, restaurants and arcades for the kids. You can also find plenty of ways to get out on the lake here, from marina boat rentals to leisurely lake cruises aboard a modern yacht or old-timey paddle wheeler. These waters are renowned for bass and catfish, attracting anglers year-round to cast from boats and docks.
A few miles south, Lake of the Ozarks State Park spreads out for thousands of acres on both sides of the lake. The big draws include its swimming beaches, marina and campgrounds. Trails weave through oak and hickory forest, native grasslands, and along the lake’s sandy shores and high bluffs. For an additional fee, rangers lead tours through the park’s limestone Ozark Caverns.
NEA member travel benefits: Visit NEA’s Travel portal for top deals on flights to Springfield-Branson International Airport (SGF), which is about 1.5 hours’ drive away. You can also book your car rental on the portal, and then head over to the hotels page to reserve a place to stay. For $118/night you can get a room at Holiday Inn Express Osage Beach-Lake of the Ozarks, or for $91/night you can sleep at Baymont by Wyndham Osage Beach. For a bit of an upgrade, book a room at Camden on the Lake Resort and Spa for $202/night. All rooms have kitchenettes and balconies and there is a pool with swim-up bar, spa and marina on site.
4. Lake Chelan, Washington
A leggy sliver of blue, Lake Chelan spills through a mile-wide valley gouged out by glaciers and surrounded by the snowy peaks of the North Cascades. With a shoreline of steep-sided rock walls and a depth of nearly 1,500 feet, Lake Chelan looks more like a fjord than a lake. In fact, it ranks as the largest natural lake in Washington and the third deepest lake in the nation.
The resort town of Chelan sits at the lake’s southern tip, about 160 miles east of Seattle. Summer days center on the water: Sailboats skim by on the breeze as kayaks and paddleboards cruise along the shoreline. Powerboats hum past, towing wakeboarders and sky-high parasailors. Swimmers head for sand beaches at Willow Point Park or one of the many other public beaches. The water is so clear that local shops sell snorkel equipment.
Beyond the lake, hiking and biking trails wind through the surrounding Lake Chelan Valley. Golfers can tee off at more than a half-dozen area golf courses, including a few that come with lake views. A growing number of wineries make this a popular region for touring and tasting.
But to truly experience the wild beauty of Lake Chelan, include a visit to the northern end of the lake. Inaccessible by road, you can reach Upper Lake Chelan only by foot, boat or seaplane. The Lady of the Lake offers daily trips in summer, an all-day adventure that ventures up the lake through a wilderness that’s home to shaggy mountain goats and 9,000-foot peaks.
NEA member travel benefits: A bit remote, the closest airport to lake Chelan is Pangborn Memorial Airport (EAT), about 2 hours away, with the only service from Alaska Airlines. Otherwise, it’s about 4 hours to either Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) or Spokane International Airport (GEG). For the best deals on airfare, check NEA Travel’s portal. Then go to NEA Travel’s hotels page to reserve a room for around $144 per night at SpringHill Suites by Marriott Wenatchee or for about $100 per night you can stay at Comfort Suites Wenatchee Gateway.
Plan your itinerary: Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center | Experience Washington the State | Lady of the Lake
5. Seneca Lake, New York
One of the 11 Finger Lakes in Upstate New York, Seneca Lake is also the largest of them, and the deepest lake entirely within New York State. Long, and well, finger-like, Seneca Lake is known for its lake trout, surrounding wine trail and plethora of water sports.
The charming town of Geneva is on its northern shore and makes an ideal base camp, thanks to its lauded restaurant scene, multiple acclaimed wineries, a 2.5-mile trail that connects downtown to Seneca Lake State Park, and its status as “the lake trout fishing capital of the world.” At the southern end of the lake is Watkins Glen, home to a quaint downtown and a racetrack, but more importantly Watkins Glen State Park, which has 19 waterfalls, a spectacular gorge and stunning rock formations.
In between the north and south ends of the lake lie countless charming villages with vineyards and wineries every few miles. Follow the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, which has 31 wineries to discover.
On a windy day, windsurfers and kiteboarders are a common site on the lake, but if you’re not ready to try them out, there’s also kayaking, canoeing, sailing and stand-up-paddleboarding, as well as boat tours and dinner cruises to enjoy. Captain Bill’s Seneca Lake Cruises in Watkins Glen has a variety of cruises to choose from.
NEA member travel benefits: You’ll want to fly into Frederick Douglass - Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC) to get to the northern end of the lake, or to Ithaca Tompkins International Airport (ITH) if you plan on staying by the southern end. Check NEA Travel’s portal for the best prices on airline tickets and car rentals. If you plan to stay in Geneva, check out Ramada Plaza by Wyndham Geneva Lakefront Resort, which averages $119/night, or upgrade to a more quaint stay at the boutique Geneva on the Lake, which is usually around $240/night. Ithaca has a wider selection of properties, including the charming La Tourelle for around $166/night, and nearby is the Fairfield by Marriott Inn & Suites Cortland, which averages $150/night. Whatever you choose, you’ll want to book on NEA Travel’s hotel page for the best price.
6. Lake Oconee, Georgia
Lake lovers who have family members who enjoy golfing should consider this reservoir in Central Georgia, about 84 miles east of Atlanta. Like Lake Powell, Oconee was created from a dam—the Wallace Dam on Oconee River, which was built by the Georgia Power Company in 1979. The long and narrow lake fingers off in a few directions and at the northern end it pushes up against the Oconee National Forest.
The area is home to a number of golf communities, including Reynolds Lake Oconee and Harbor Club. The lake’s glassy surface is often punctuated by jet skis, ski boats, pontoons, wakeboard boats and all kinds of other watercraft (which you can easily rent). A favorite jumping off point—literally—is Jumping Rock, a 10-foot tall rock on the southern end of the lake ideal for jumping into the lake from (but note it’s only accessible by boat).
Aside from golf courses, other land-based activities include hiking and biking in Rock Hawk, which bills itself as an outdoor classroom thanks to its hundreds of educational displays and ancient effigy; ATV and dirt bike riding at Durhamtown Off Road Resort; sporting clays, archery, fishing and more at Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds; and tennis at Reynolds Lake Oconee. There are also several campgrounds in the area, check out Old Salem Campground in Greensboro, a good base on the northeastern side of the lake.
To learn about the history of the area, stop by the Greene County African American Museum, the Scull Shoals ruins, and the Old Gaol, a 200-plus-year-old jailhouse, believed to be the oldest in all of Georgia.
NEA member travel benefits: Visit NEA Travel’s portal for the best airfare to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL), about 1.5 hours’ drive away, or fly into Athens-Ben Epps Airport (AHN), about 1 hour away. Book a hotel through NEA’s hotel page for the best prices. To be right on the lake, reserve a room at The Lodge on Lake Oconee, which averages $99 a night. For a major splurge, book at the only other hotel directly on the lake, the Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee, which can be as much as $600 a night. If you’re okay with not being waterfront, stay at Tru by Hilton Greensboro Lake Oconee, which is around $137 a night, or for something with more character, the Farmhouse Inn in Madison is $125 a night.
Plan your itinerary: Visit Lake Oconee | Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest | Explore Georgia | Reynolds Lake Oconee | Harbor Club | Rock Hawk | Durhamtown Off Road Resort | Sandy Creek Sporting Grounds | Old Salem Campground | Greene County African American Museum | Scull Shoals Historic Site | The Old Gaol