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6 Lakes You Must Visit in the USA

New York, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, California, Nevada, Alabama

6 Lakes You Must Visit in the USA

By: Laura Powell

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  • States:
    New York
    Illinois
    Kansas
    Nebraska
    California
    Nevada
    Alabama

While the United States boasts vast stretches of ocean coastline, it might surprise you to know there’s a vibrant beach scene in the interior of the country.

Beautiful lakes can be found around the USA, from New York in the east to Nevada in the west and everywhere in between. Here are a few you’ll want to visit on your next trip to the USA, no matter the time of year.

Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid, New York, is one of the few destinations to host the Olympic Winter Games twice (in 1932 and 1980). But make no mistake: Lake Placid is a winning summer destination as well.

The community actually boasts two lakes. Mirror Lake has the centrally located public sandy beach, while Lake Placid features a marina as well as water activities. Lake Placid is especially busy in the summer, when the weather is warmest. Toward the end of September and into October, Lake Placid, with its mountain location, is a terrific place to admire fall foliage. 

Getting there: Albany, New York, and Burlington, Vermont, are the nearest gateway cities, with airports and car rental options. Lake Placid is 223 kilometers north of Albany, and 98 kilometers southwest of Burlington. 

Come summertime, travelers from all over the world flock to Lake Placid to swim, fish and boat.

Come summertime, travelers from all over the world flock to Lake Placid to swim, fish and boat.
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Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism/Lake Placid CVB

Lake Michigan, Illinois

In Chicago, Illinois, the shoreline of Lake Michigan is a beehive of activity during the warmer months. The Windy City encompasses 26 beaches, each with its own vibe. At North Avenue Beach, join a beach volleyball game or rent a Jet Ski and speed along the water. Oak Street Beach, located near Chicago’s famed Gold Coast, is a chic place to see and be seen. For athletic pursuits, there are volleyball nets available, and the area is excellent for swimming. Montrose Beach on upper Lake Shore Drive is a casual family beach. 

If you want to check out Chicago’s beaches before setting down your towel, you can follow the nearly 30-kilometer lakefront biking and running path that runs past many of them.

Getting there: Chicago is home to two airports — O’Hare and Midway — that are connected to the downtown area (and the lakefront) by the city’s light rail system, known locally as the “L.”

Chicagoans play on and along Lake Michigan throughout the year, no matter the season.

Chicagoans play on and along Lake Michigan throughout the year, no matter the season.
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Adam Alexander Photography/Choose Chicago

Clinton Lake, Kansas

Near the geographic center of the country, Clinton State Park in Kansas is about 82 kilometers southwest of Kansas City, Missouri. The star of the 607-hectare park is Clinton Lake. This large lake beckons summer visitors with cool, clear water that’s ideal for swimming and fishing. During the summer, the surface of Clinton Lake is peppered with boats carrying fishermen hoping to snag a catfish or a walleye.

The beach is open for swimming May through September, but the park can be enjoyed year-round. An extensive trail system is filled with hikers, nature photographers and wildlife aficionados, no matter the season.

Getting there: The easiest way to reach Clinton Lake is to fly into the Kansas City International Airport, where you can rent a car and drive to the park via Interstate Highway 70.

Beyond the water, hikers and photographers love to explore Clinton State Park’s trail system.

Beyond the water, hikers and photographers love to explore Clinton State Park’s trail system.
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Patrick Emerson/Flickr

McConaughy Lake, Nebraska

You wouldn’t expect white sand beaches smack dab in the heart of the USA, but McConaughy Lake — Nebraska’s biggest lake — has them. Built on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills, Lake Mac (as the locals call it) is more than 32 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide, which means there’s plenty of prime space for swimming, fishing and boating.

Stop by the McConaughy Lake Visitors Center and Water Interpretive Center at the start of your visit to learn about the lake. The center houses an aquarium, a theater and interactive exhibits. McConaughy Lake is part of Nebraska’s state park system, so there is a $5 entry fee to access the beaches and boating areas.

Getting here: McConaughy Lake is 355 kilometers northeast of the airport in Denver, Colorado. You can rent a car at Denver International Airport and enjoy an easy drive along Interstate Highway 76 through vast stretches of Colorado farmland.

Nebraska’s biggest lake stretches more than 32 kilometers across.

Nebraska’s biggest lake stretches more than 32 kilometers across.
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Nebraska Tourism Commission

Lake Tahoe, Nevada and California

Lake Tahoe’s crystal clear waters and mountainous surroundings are beautiful at any time of year, but to truly take advantage of the largest alpine lake in North America, come during the warmer months. Straddling the California-Nevada border in the north, Lake Tahoe boasts a wealth of activities like swimming, sailing and water skiing. Should you need a break from the water, experience the area from the sky while on a parasailing tour or on the land with a peaceful hike through D.L. Bliss State Park. Come winter, the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe yield plenty of snow for skiing and snowboarding.

Be aware that Lake Tahoe spans nearly 500 square kilometers and is surrounded by more than a dozen charming communities. On the Nevada side, Lake Tahoe South Shore offers a vibrant atmosphere, boasting several casinos for those interested in testing their luck. Towns on the northern shore of the lake are ideal for families looking for a more peaceful getaway.

Lake Tahoe’s towering evergreen trees and azure waters entice visitors year-round.

Lake Tahoe’s towering evergreen trees and azure waters entice visitors year-round.
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Lake Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Lake Tuscaloosa is a nearly 2,400-hectare reservoir with 285 kilometers of shoreline. Located in west-central Alabama, the lake beckons to water lovers when the weather is warm, which can be March through November in these parts.

While Lake Tuscaloosa is the perfect place to beat the summer heat, it’s a great destination year-round. Given Alabama’s temperate climate, you can even go boating in the middle of winter. Power boating, swimming, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and fishing are among the recreational possibilities along the lakeshore in places like Binion Creek Landing Park.

Getting there: Lake Tuscaloosa is a 16-kilometer drive north of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Tuscaloosa has an airport where you can rent a car, but it does not offer as many flight options as Birmingham Airport, located just over 100 kilometers northeast of the lake.

Lake Tuscaloosa is a popular vacation destination year-round.

Lake Tuscaloosa is a popular vacation destination year-round.
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