Caddo Lake (creative commons/Omar Omar)
Close your eyes and picture rural Louisiana. Chances are your image looks a lot like Caddo Lake. With centuries-old cypress trees draped in Spanish moss, Caddo has the look and feel of a slow-moving bayou. This relaxing getaway boasts top-notch fishing, hiking, biking, and lake tours through waters teeming with enough wildlife to fill Noah's Ark. Among the local residents are river otters, alligators, mink, wood storks, owls, eagles, and great blue herons -- and you'll likely see more of them than your fellow humans.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Lake Placid, New York
Lake Placid (mirrorlakeinn.com)
This New York getaway may be best known as the site of the 1980 Winter Olympics, but Lake Placid is truly a year-round resort. Sheltered by the High Peaks of the Adirondack Park, the largest state-protected area in the contiguous U.S., Lake Placid offers big city amenities amidst a natural playground. Go kayaking in Mirror Lake, explore miles of marked hiking trials, go boating, birding, or paddling, or simply revel in the serene Adirondack settings.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Lake Havasu State Park, Arizona
Lake Havasu (wikimedia commons)
No, it's not a mirage. The blue-green waters of Lake Havasu sparkle below California's Chemehuevi Mountains and add a touch of color to the Sonoran Desert. Created in the 1930s by damming the Colorado River, this man-made playground now attracts some 2.5 million visitors each year who flock to Havasu's shores to escape the summer heat. With 42 campsites, boating and fishing excursions, Jet Ski rentals and walking trails, there's plenty to keep the outdoor enthusiast, well, enthused.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Wallowa Lake State Park, Oregon
Wallowa Lake (creative commons/r.u.p.a.k. – a.n.t.o)
At the doorstep to Eagle Cap, Oregon's largest wilderness area, lies Wallowa Lake, a destination to quiet your mind and regenerate your spirit. In addition to horseback-riding, biking, fishing and wildlife-viewing, you can catch a tram to the top of Mount Howard and spend the day at 8,150 feet in Alpine bliss. Back below, stroll among the majestic ponderosa pine, swim in the crystal-clear water, and finish the night gazing up to a remarkably clear sky of twinkling stars.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Trophy Lakes, South Carolina
Trophy Lakes (Facebook)
These privately owned lakes are a watersports-lover's dream. Built specifically for tubers, wakeboarders and skiers (of the water variety), these lakes' 10-foot depth and small size make them ideal for honing a new craft. Of course, a team of professionals is with you the whole time to make sure things go smoothly. When you're done getting wet, you can head over to the 18-hole Trophy Lakes Disc Golf Course, one of the country's premier venues for the nascent sport.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Redfish Lake, Idaho
Redfish Lake (creative commons/Recovering Vagabond)
Tucked away in the heart of Idaho's Sawtooth Range is Redfish Lake, a place for foot-dipping, fly-fishing, and boat-tripping. Beyond the confines of the crystalline lake, the surrounding hills provide some of the nation's most challenging granite cliffs for mountain climbers in addition to hundreds of miles of trails to explore by foot or horseback.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri
Lake of the Ozarks (creative commons/John Picken)
The serpentine Lake of the Ozarks, nestled amid the rolling hills of Central Missouri, has long been a favorite getaway for residents of America's Heartland. Created in 1931 by the Bagnell Dam, the lake and surrounding region has grown into one of the Midwest's top fishing and golfing destinations, hosting prestigious tournaments like Bass Masters and the PGA Club Pro Championship. Once the largest man-made lake in the world, it boasts a whopping 1,150 miles of scenic shoreline -- more than the entire Pacific Coast of California.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Lake Lanier Islands, Georgia
Lake Lanier Islands (Facebook)
Just 30 minutes north of Atlanta, Lake Lanier feels a world away, though it's still bustling with activity. The sprawling, island-filled lake is home to a luxury hotel, houseboats, campgrounds, full-service conference center, two golf courses, equestrian center, water park and day spa. You name it, and they've got it.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Lake Tahoe, Nevada/California
Lake Tahoe (creative commons/rumolay)
Arguably one of the most beautiful lakes in the U.S., Tahoe shifts in waves from Caribbean to Alpine hues as it carves a deep hole in the Sierra Nevada. The sun shines on Tahoe three out of every four days in the year, bouncing off its clear waters and highlighting the spellbinding scenery of the surrounding hills. Though the lake divides Nevada to the east and California to the west, its divisions are more north and south, with the north offering a quiet, upscale experience and the south a more party-friendly casino vibe.
Best Lakeside Vacations in the US: Lake Chelan, Washington
Lake Chelan (creative commons/ Maurice King)
Formed when a glacier-carved valley flooded, the 1,500-foot-deep, 55-mile-long Lake Chelan is the third-deepest lake in the U.S. and the longest natural lake in Washington. Clear waters, blue skies, and summer sun have made the lake a top summer-vacation destination and the town of Chelan has a surprisingly beachy feel, despite the rugged mountains looming above. On the far end of the lake, however, the remote town of Stehekin (reachable only by boat or plane) offers an off-the-grid experience you won't soon forget.
Where to Stay: North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin (Rates start at $118/night)