The United States has an enormous variety of lakes, with something for everyone. Today I wanted to highlight a few of the best lakes for family vacations, and give a few reasons why I think you should consider these destinations.
This list was put together based on popularity, things to do, reasonable travel distances, and affordable accommodations.
Each lake offers a different and unique experience to keep your family entertained for a week or more. No matter where you live, at least one or two should be pretty close!
Lake Tahoe, CA/NV
Beautiful Lake Tahoe is a crown jewel of the Sierra Nevada, one of the most photographed lakes in the U.S. It straddles California and Nevada and offers many activities for your family to enjoy.
If you have kids, you can visit the KidZone Museum in Truckee, ride the Ridge Rider Mountain Coaster, navigate the ropes course at Treetop Adventure Park at Granlibakken, or you can even take your family crawdad fishing in the lake.
Another popular option that will give you a tour of the lake is the M.S. Dixie II, voted “Best Boat Cruise” on Lake Tahoe for ten years running.
Tahoe is also great for rafting, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding, so no matter the time of year you visit, there’s something to do.
- Lake Tahoe Resort Hotel ($179 per night)
- Black Bear Lodge ($299)
- Marriott Grand Residence Club, Lake Tahoe ($212)
Lake Placid, NY
If you want not just one but three great family-friendly lakes in one spot, look no further than Lake Placid in New York’s Adirondack mountains.
Start with the Wild Center, where kids can run through the treetops on boardwalks and come face to face with exciting animals.
Then head over to Gore Mountain and ride the gondola, play disc golf, try rock climbing, and play a round of miniature golf. Top it all off with a cup of fresh homemade ice cream at Emma’s Lake Placid Creamery.
- The Town House Lodge ($197)
- Placid Bay Hotel ($199)
- High Peaks Resort ($352)
Lake Erie, PA
Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie is an ideal watery vacation for families. Besides the sandy beaches stretching forever, kids will love the Erie Zoo, Waldameer Amusement Park, and boat excursions like Scallywag’s Pirate Adventure – one of several themed rides on the lake.
If you need more action, try the Play Port Arcade & Family Fun Center or the expERIEnce Children’s Museum for a fun-filled afternoon.
The Erie Sports Center is another popular destination where you can find anything from local music, beer gardens, a go-cart driving experience, several playing fields…and of course mini golf.
- Cobblestone Hotel & Suites – Harborcreek ($120)
- Victoria Inn ($199)
- Courtyard by Marriott Erie Bayfront ($279)
Lake Champlain, VT
Lake Champlain is a haven for outdoor activity, and one of those often-overlooked lakes with a ton of history.
“Champ” is a popular attraction for tourists who come to Champlain in hopes of witnessing this beloved ‘lake monster’. Outside of this urban legend, Lake Champlain was controlled by the British during the Revolutionary War, a key stronghold to the New England region.
On the Vermont side of Lake Champlain is another history-rich destination: Hyde Log Cabin and Schoolhouse, one of the oldest log cabins in the country.
Apple picking is also popular at Hackett’s Orchard on Grand Isle. If you want to take a break from lake life for a few days, the town of Burlington is full of youthful energy, and you can discover several phenomenal chocolate shops and ice cream parlors to cool your family down.
- Hotel Vermont ($539)
- Microtel Inn and Suites by Wyndham ($149)
- Home2Suites Williston ($367)
Lake Okoboji, IA
Referred to as the Iowa Great Lakes, the Lake Okoboji area is a popular family destination for easy and fun family vacations in the central U.S.
Try the Barefoot Bar, a restaurant serving delicious food, where kids (and adults) can slip into the lake via its waterslide.
Across the bridge at Arnolds Park, you’ll find a lot of attractions like Arnolds Park Amusement Park, a ton of resorts, the Dickinson County Nature Center, and Okoboji Classic Cars, more than your average car museum.
- Okoboji Inn & Suites ($169)
- Okoboji Commons Hotel ($147)
- Vintage Block Inn & Suites ($140)
Lake McDonald, MT
If you’re looking to show your kids the Great Outdoors in all its splendor, look no further than Lake McDonald. This picturesque lake is in Glacier National Park, providing a springboard for trips into the park.
You can ride in an old wooden boat and look out at the snow-covered peaks or scan the shoreline for moose and grizzly bears. Your kids will love the whitewater rafting nearby, the incredible fishing, and playing around at Golfing to the Sun Mini Golf.
- Lake McDonald Lodge and Cabins ($121)
- Lodge at Whitefish Lake ($699)
- Meadow Lake Resort & Condos ($274)
Lake Austin, FL
Fishing and boating? Check. Water park nearby? Yep. Disney theme parks a stone’s throw away? You can find it all at this lake, which is set in Orlando but feels like a world away. With transportation to Disney World at your service, there is no shortage of kid-friendly activities here.
The Surfari Water Park will please your little ones with a FlowRider® surf simulator, 700-foot lazy river, and multiple pools. If they get tired of Mickey Mouse, head over to Gatorland, where they can zipline over alligators, or climb in the canopy at Tree Trek Adventure Park.
- The Grove Resort and Water Park ($299)
- Homewood Suites by Hilton Orlando – Maitland ($105)
- The Delaney Hotel ($169)
Lake Coeur D’Alene, ID
Your family could spend all summer at Lake Coeur D’Alene and never get bored. Nestled in the pines of northern Idaho, this lake has all the water activities you could want, including sailing, waterskiing, jet skiing, swimming, and wakeboarding.
Throw in multiple amusement parks and even an alpaca ranch and you are good to go. The Silverwood Theme Park has over 70 rides, and the Triple Play Family Fun Park’s wave pool will surely help your kids burn off those lakeside ice cream sundaes.
- Hampton Inn & Suites Coeur D’Alene ($322)
- SpringHill Suites by Marriott Coeur D’Alene ($399)
- Triple Play Resort Hotel & Suites ($259)
Big Bear Lake, CA
Near Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake is far enough away to give you peace, tranquility, and many activities. You can fish, boat, waterski, Banana Boat, or jet ski on the expansive waters. You can also hitch a ride on a pirate ship (used in the movie Time Bandits) to see the lake from end to end.
On dry land, they can ride the Alpine Slide, hike the mountains, and ride the ski lift to the top of Snow Summit. Below is a quick video that covers a few more things you can do.
- Lagonita Lodge ($184)
- Holiday Inn Resort The Lodge at Big Bear Lake ($122)
- Robinhood Resort ($115)
Table Rock Lake, MO
Situated in the Ozarks, Table Rock Lake is a popular destination for families. It is vast and offers every water activity kids love, like boating, tubing, and water skiing.
You can explore the surrounding areas and find unique destinations, including Branson’s 76 Country Boulevard, which offers live performances like Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner.
If you want the thrills of an amusement park with a 19th-century theme, check out Silver Dollar City, a hit with kids of all ages: who doesn’t like thrills in a Wild West setting?
- Lodge of the Ozarks ($90)
- Savannah House Hotel ($83)
- The Lodges at Timber Ridge ($165)
No matter which of these lakes your family ends up visiting – with fun attractions, outdoor activities, and a wide range of accommodations – you’re guaranteed to make fantastic memories.
To explore more incredible lakes – especially ones that stay warm for much of the year check out our roundup of the best lakes for retirement in the southern U.S.