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Lake Vacations That Aren't on the Great Lakes Skip to content

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5 Spots to Take a Lake Vacation

View Of Lake Tahoe, Other Lake Vacations Not On The Great Lakes


Lake Tahoe's cobalt blue water creates an idyllic setting for relaxation.

En español | According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — and they should know — America has a lot of lakes: 123,439, to be exact, not including the Great Lakes or those smaller than 10 acres.

While not all of these lakes are wonderful vacation destinations, many are. Here are five especially sweet spots for a summertime idyll on lakes other than the famous Great Lakes.

1. Lake Tahoe: Tahoe City, California

Lake Tahoe is North America's largest alpine lake, a virtual inland sea of lapis water ringed by snow-capped peaks. With its lively in-town beach, restaurants and shops, Tahoe City makes a fine base for exploring the lake's less-developed north shore, a world away from the razzmatazz of south shore casinos.

Check out gorgeous Washoe tribal baskets at the museum, take a dip in the lake or a spin on a personal watercraft, or head just outside town for tranquil lakeside or mountain walks through forests with bracing pine-scented air.

2. Saranac Lakes: Village of Saranac Lake, New York

With 230 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places and many of its gracious Queen Anne homes now serving as inns, the Village of Saranac Lake exudes an aura of gentler times.

It's named for a trio of nearby Adirondack Mountain lakes — Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac — where old, lovingly restored lodges with massive stone fireplaces house overnighters in timber cabins, and it's de rigueur to gaze at the water from an Adirondack chair.

3. Lake Chelan: Chelan, Washington

Wine tasting, parasailing, snow cones, a round of golf or swimming in sun-warmed waters: The city of Chelan, at the southern tip of the 50.5-mile-long lake for which it's named, offers a wide array of summer activities.

But hop aboard the daily four-hour cruise to the lake's northern end and you'll soon enter the wild and rugged heart of the Cascade Mountains, the domain of mountain goats, bighorn sheep and serious backpackers. Make it a day trip and you'll be back in time for cocktails and a fine lakeside supper.

4. Lake of the Ozarks: Sunrise Beach, Missouri

Though its attractions now include go-cart tracks, outlet shopping malls, mini-golf courses and water parks, Lake of the Ozarks also boasts more than 1,375 miles of shoreline backed by forested hills.

If you're looking to stay in one of the lake's more scenic and tranquil areas, book a lodge in Sunrise Beach. Established in 1931, the same year the construction of Bagnell Dam formed the lake, the village (pop. 421) still feels rural. Locals will tell you — and who can argue? — that it's the prettiest town on the lake.

5. Shagawa Lake: Ely, Minnesota

Remote Ely, in northern Minnesota, draws walleye fishermen and those looking to simply laze at a lodge on Shagawa Lake.

Feeling more energetic? Visit the impressive, live denizens of the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center. Or rent a canoe or kayak for a day-trip paddle through nearby Burntside Lake and into the sublime, motorboat-free Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Christopher Hall is a freelance journalist specializing in travel, food and architecture.

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