Summering by the lake may just be as American as apple pie. For generations, families have been heading to their favorite charming lakefront towns to enjoy an endless list of activities that include lazing on the beach, boating over crystal waters, and grilling fresh-caught fish for the evening meal.
While thinking of things like beach bonfires, swimming, and lakefront views, we searched for the 30 best lake towns perfect for your summer vacation. We sought to find a collection of family-friendly destinations that could appeal to a wide variety of interests, from hiking to antiquing. What we found are 30 great towns sure to have you eagerly anticipating the summer holidays.
Bemidji, Minnesota is a charming small lakefront town of clean streets and beaches, a full calendar of community events, and lots of family fun and tradition. Enjoy Lake Bemidji, explore the downtown, or go fishing for a delicious dinner of walleye. If you happen to be in town during the summer, you won’t want to miss out on Bemidji’s Fourth of July extravaganza, or the Dragon Boat Festival, a fun event with parades and costumes that takes place the first week of August.
Come summer’s end, you won’t want to leave Bigfork, Montana. Here, everything revolves around the lake and the outdoors. Each summer month brings new events that cater to locals and guests: the Bigfork Festival of the Arts in August, live theater throughout September, and an outdoor concert series that takes place weekly throughout the warmest months. And of course, there’s Flathead Lake, a 27-mile freshwater lake perfect for fishing, camping, hiking, and just having a good time. Bigfork is also conveniently located near the bigger town of Bozeman, as well as Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.
With an average of one lake every square mile, it’s no wonder Michigan has plenty of charming small lakefront towns we could include on this list. One such town is Charlevoix, which has not one lake, but two! Around a decade ago, Charlevoix residents successfully passed a law to limit the size of any new store built within their town limits. As a result, the town is blissfully free of big-box department stores, and full of quaint mom-and-pops, lots of unique architecture, and Fisherman’s Island State Park. And the lakes of course!
Chelan, Washington enjoys an average of 300 sunny days per year, making it an obvious getaway choice for those rain-soaked residents of Seattle. Though swimming and enjoying beautiful Lake Chelan is a definite highlight of this lakefront town, Chelan also makes a great base for exploring the more than 24 nearby wineries, as well as zip-lining, parasailing, or skydiving throughout the local region.
Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin
Generations of Midwesterners can tell you about great summers spent at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Family run lakeside resorts make for the perfect base to enjoy the clear spring-fed waters of the lake. Have a swim, or rent a boat, canoe, or jet ski for some water sports. The town itself is a fun place to explore, and includes places with live music and dancing, cheese tastings, and miniature golf, among countless other activities.
This small lakefront town is the type of place one goes to completely escape the exhausting routine of daily life. Reserve a spot at one of Elmore’s quaint B&Bs (Stowe Meadows comes highly recommended), then enjoy your vacation time canoeing or lazing along the shore of Lake Elmore. For a little more adventure, head to nearby Elmore State Park, nicknamed “The Beauty Spot of Vermont,” for a hike on the Mountain Brook Nature Trail.
Grand Lake, Colorado
Grand Lake, Colorado is both a charming lakefront town and a mountain getaway. The small town sits alongside both Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake, though it’s hard to tell what provides the better view: the lakes or the snow-capped Rocky Mountains surrounding the town. Grand Lake is conveniently situated a mere mile walk from Rocky Mountain National Park’s western entrance, making this charming small lakefront town a perfect base camp for hiking or enjoying the park in some other way.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Grand Marais, Minnesota is a lakefront town of a mere 1,350 people. Nestled between Lake Superior and the Sawtooth Mountains, this lakefront town has a well-established artists colony that has contributed to its charm throughout the years. Visit Grand Marais today, and you might witness artists painting the views from the docks, or perhaps come across a local art show or gallery opening. While visiting Grand Marais, don’t miss the evening views of the Northern Lights, which reflect off the lake and make for a stunning show.
Relaxation might just be the main industry in Greenville, Maine, a lakefront town located alongside Moosehead Lake. As its name suggests, this area also happens to be a favorite destination for moose and other four-legged friends who can often be seen wandering through the woods or beaches. The lake itself is perfect for a range of activities, including fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and boating. There are dozens of hidden coves, caves, and islands to discover and explore.
Lake George, New York
Wealthy NYC families have been coming to Lake George for generations, and the evidence of such a legacy is just about everywhere you look. For example, the town’s titular lake is still surrounded with stunning summer homes dating from the 19th century. Besides the usual water activities, Lake George is the perfect place to spend a few hours wandering, or you can head to Shelving Rock Falls for some hiking. This charming small lakefront town is also within easy distance of wineries like Adirondack Winery, whose famous black cherry-infused red wine that has become a local classic.
Lake Placid, New York
Lake Placid, New York is such a charming lakefront town that it hosted the Olympic Games a total of two times. Located upstate, Lake Placid has long been a chosen getaway for New York City residents looking to flee the heat and concrete. Even in the summer, temperatures average around the high 70s, making outdoor activities both fun and comfortable. Popular Lake Placid activities include hiking the nearby Adirondacks, swimming or boating in stunning Lake Mirror, or enjoying fun events like the I Love Barbecue Festival or the Lake Placid Blues and Heritage Festival.
Lakeland, Florida has the unique “Old Florida” feel that makes it a definite addition to our list of the most charming small lakefront towns in America. Besides enjoying the obvious — the lake — Lakeland visitors can catch a movie at the local 1928 vaudeville movie palace, get to know the unique architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright at his official Visitors Center, and head to the Fantasy of Flight exhibit for a lesson on old airplanes.
Mackinac Island, Michigan
Mackinac Island is a charming, one-of-a-kind island located in Michigan’s northernmost region. No cars are allowed on Mackinac, so bicycles, feet, and horse-drawn carriages are one’s only options for getting around. One of Mackinac’s most charming activities is a bike ride around the island. Roughly eight miles or so, the ride will take you past old fur trappers’ forts, secluded stone beaches, stunning lake property, and of course, lake views. Then head back to town for dinner on the main street and a dessert of homemade fudge.
Mammoth Lakes, California
Most people head to Mammoth Lakes, located about five hours from Los Angeles, in the winter, when the skiing is world-class. But those who have only experienced a covered-in-snow Mammoth Lakes are missing out, as this charming small lakefront town makes for a great summer destination. Biking and hiking trails are seemingly endless, and wrap around the area’s many lakes and alpine meadows. Closer to town, the Mammoth Brewing Company is a must-do for a hearty dinner and the Lair of the Bear brew (which is aged in bourbon barrels for seven months).
Newport, New Hampshire
Newport, New Hampshire is a quintessential example of charming lakefront town. Located along Sunapee Lake, the town boasts a handful of beaches perfect for swimming. Throughout the summer the beaches are also used for a fun series of outdoor concerts. The “downtown” area mostly revolves around Sunapee Harbor, and includes stunning views, fun shops, and unique local eateries. Though you’ll likely want to spend as much time near the water as possible, nearby Fells Historic Estate & Gardens is a gorgeous 84-acre estate and a perfect opportunity for a day trip.
Okoboji, Iowa is a true lake town! This charming small lakefront town is situated directly on the eastern shore of West Okoboji Lake, but is also within easy access to any of Iowa’s other glacial Great Lakes. Hunting, hiking, and fishing are all popular pastimes in the country surrounding the town, while the West Okoboji Lake itself is perfect for sailing, wake-boarding, swimming, or just lounging around the shore.There’s even a small amusement park located right on the lake! If you’re in town for Independence Day, you won’t want to miss Okoboji’s legendary fireworks display. Any other long beach-filled day should end at one of the town’s great lakeside restaurants like Okoboji Brewing Company or the Barefoot Bar.
For three seasons out of the year, Put-in-Bay, Ohio has a population of just 140 people. But that number gets much bigger during the warm summer months, and for good reason! Situated in Lake Erie on South Bass Island, Put-in-Bay is lined with lakeside restaurants and bars, one of which happens to be the world’s largest swim-up bar. You can rent a golf car to safely convey you from one bar to another, or grab a cooler and head to your boat. But Put-in-Bay isn’t all intoxicated fun! Nearby South Bass Island State Park is a good option for hiking and cycling, while Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial, America’s fourth-tallest monument and quite an impressive sight to see.
The state of Maine is famous for its summer-perfect lake destinations, and Rangeley just happens to be one of the most welcoming. Downtown is charming and quaint, complete with B&Bs, cafes and restaurants, and locally owned antique shops. While some time will almost certainly have to be spent boating or canoeing on Rangeley Lake, the town also makes a great base for other outdoorsy lakefront adventure, such as hiking Saddleback Mountain, taking in a game of golf, or tasting fresh maple syrup at the nearby Maine Mountain Maple Plantation.
Rock Springs, Wyoming
Much quieter and more serene than Jackson Hole or Grand Teton, Rock Springs is a perfect lakefront destination for those looking to spend a few active days in the water. The town is situated on the shores of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, which is considered one of the best destinations for cold-water fishing in the entire country. Besides fishing, most people come to enjoy Rock Springs for its opportunity to swim, water ski, tube, and kayak, among other things.
Sackets Harbor, New York
Sackets Harbor, New York has everything a charming small lakefront town should have to offer: a quaint and laid-back atmosphere, some history, and a beautiful lake. Once War of 1812 battle site, Sackets Harbor is now a giant lakefront park, complete with yacht clubs, hiking trails, antique shops, and restaurants boasting outdoor seating. We suggest spending the morning hiking the popular Snakefoot Trail for some stunning views of the local landscape. Then, cool off with a dip or boat ride on Lake Ontario before settling into one of the town’s restaurants for an early dinner.
Coeur d’Alene may be Idaho’s best-known lake town, but we think Sandpoint is pretty awesome, too. This charming small lakefront town offers visitors a ton of potential activities. The nearby Selkirk, Bitterroot, and Cabinet Mountains are rife with hiking and cycling trails for all ages and abilities, and Lake Pend Oreille is a 43-mile long waterway perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, or — for those who just want to relax — a ferry ride.
Home to Cedar Point amusement park, Sandusky, Ohio is a charming small lakefront town situated along the shores of Lake Erie. The downtown is quiet and perfect for a wander. The main street, Columbus Avenue, consists of quaint, locally owned shops and boutiques, plus vintage lampposts beneath which hang American flags. Nearer the water, the paved Bayfront Pedestrian Pathway is an easy and relaxing 12-mile walk that provides good exercise, beautiful views, and a series of fascinating historic markers like those identifying the more than 100 Underground Railroad and other Sandusky structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Saugatuck, Michigan has gained lots of attention lately as a charming small lakefront town, but fortunately, those families which have been coming here for decades can tell you that not much has changed. Saugatuck is still best known for its vast stretch of sandy beach — perfect for building sandcastles, an impromptu volleyball or soccer game, or just having a swim. Saugatuck itself is great for wandering and exploring. The main streets are lined with mom-and-pop shops and boutiques, while trendy restaurants ideal for all budgets will have you eagerly anticipating the next meal.
Seneca, South Carolina
Seneca’s main feature, Lake Keowee, may be a man-made reservoir, but such a fact sure doesn’t take away from the charm of this fun lakefront town. The sprawling lake covers nearly 29 square miles, with 350 total miles of shoreline. Most of those 350 miles are undeveloped, making Lake Keowee and the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains a perfect destination for those wanting to feel a little isolated but completely free to enjoy all the lake has to offer: swimming, rafting, jet skiing, and boat parties are especially popular.
South Lake Tahoe, CalNeva
Straddling the border between California and Nevada, South Lake Tahoe is a fantastic lakefront destination at any time of the year. This is especially true in the summer months. The town comes alive with lakeside activities like boating, jet skiing, camping, miniature golfing, or just about anything else you can think of. And after a long day spent on the lake, head to the Nevada end of town for some fun and entertainment in the casinos.
Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin
Sturgeon Bay is a small maritime community nestled on the shore of Lake Michigan, and situated an easy distance from Green Bay. This community is proud of its shipbuilding history, and even today the local industry produces anything from 1,000-foot tankers to Staten Island ferries. The town also enjoys a unique Scandinavian feel thanks to the settlers who first founded this quaint town. The opportunity for activity is endless here; hikers have four state parks to choose from, while kayakers can explore the limestone coves of Lake Michigan.
Tahoe City, California
Found on the north shore of gorgeous Lake Tahoe, Tahoe City is a charming small lakefront town that makes for a perfect winter or summer destination. When it’s warm, daily Tahoe life is centered on the lake. Dozens of lakeside campgrounds can be found, while restaurants like Sunnyside provide the perfect place for dining with views. Though the lake is cold, swimming, boating, canoeing, and kayaking are all popular activities here, as is hiking the many trails of the surrounding area.
Traverse City, Michigan
Situated on the inlet of Lake Michigan called Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City is a quaint lakefront town that has long charmed summer travelers. The most famous beach in town is Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, known for its mountain-like sand dunes that tower 450 feet high and make for the perfect view (plus, they’re really fun to climb up and slide down). Opportunities to taste local wines and cherries abound around Traverse City, and make for a perfect day trip and drive through the pretty countryside. Speaking of cherries, Traverse City is the place to be come July, when the town hosts the world-famous National Cherry Festival.
Wasilla, Alaska is a charming small town that combines the relaxation of the lake with the adventurous spirit of Alaska. Those in need of a relaxing getaway should book a stay at a lakeside hotel, most of which offer water views, spa amenities, and even guest access to float planes and boat docks. Hiking at Independence Mine State Historical Park is a great place to start for those looking for a little adventure. A helicopter tour of glaciers and dog sledding at Iditarod Headquarters are also fun.
Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Situated adjacent to Lake Winnipesaukee, the charming town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire is a highlight of the state’s beloved Lakes Region. Often referred to as the “Oldest Summer Resort in America,” Wolfeboro is home to old-timey mom-and-pop shops, charming bed and breakfasts, and a healthy handful of antique shops. Lake Winnipesaukee is a great place to launch young cruiser or pontoon, although swimming near shore or lounging on the sandy beach are also perfectly acceptable pastimes. Families, including those of Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, have been spending their summers here for decades. Indeed, Fallon’s young daughter was even named Winnie after the place!
By TVR Staff