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Small Towns, Big Lakes: 7 Lake Vacations You Should Take This Summer

These small seaside towns are just waiting for you to experience their summertime fun in the sun.

By Manseen Logan on July 6, 2022

Burlington Harbor on Lake Champlain
iStock/DenisTangneyJr

As the weather heats up, we find ourselves looking for refreshing places to enjoy. So naturally, we are drawn to coastal beaches and touristy islands, but don’t count out the major regional lakes located all over the U.S.

These large bodies of water provide a range of activities and vacationing opportunities, with numerous cities and towns lining their shores. Vacationers can cruise, kayak, swim, fish and even track bears along these vast water areas.

The best part is you don’t have to travel to a major city to enjoy a major lake. Here are seven small towns that offer big lake summer attractions.

The view from the Inn at Shelburne Farms looking across Lake Champlain from Vermont to New York
Courtesy of Tolka Rover under a CC 2.0 license.

1. Shelburne, Vermont

Sip Champagne on Lake Champlain 
For a rather peaceful lake adventure, try visiting Shelburne, VT. About 7,000 residents make up this quaint haven, but don’t let its size fool you; there’s plenty to do. The small town is nestled right on Lake Champlain and close enough to Burlington, where you can board a yacht to sip champagne on Lake Champlain

Within Shelburne’s borders, you can experience wine tasting at its premiere vineyard, try a scenic round of golf at the popular Kwiniaska Golf Club or walk the trails and dine at a historic farm. Whatever you decide, you can’t lose with the gorgeous Champlain Lake and the Adirondack Mountains as your backdrop.

Shot of the legendary Lake Tahoe. Deep blue water, boulders, trees and the mountains in the background.
Courtesy of Don Graham under a CC 2.0 license.

2. Zephyr Cove, Nevada

Kayak along rocky Lake Tahoe 
There are many towns surrounding Lake Tahoe, but none quite like Zephyr Cove in Nevada. Sitting just across the California state line, Zephyr Cove offers access to the southeastern portion of Lake Tahoe. Plus, you get to avoid the California I-80 traffic (because who wants to sit in traffic during vacation?).

Most visitors rave about Zephyr Cove’s unique trails and rocky shore. This makes it easy to create an active lake experience. Book a tour in a transparent kayak, reserve a horseback riding session near the water or even rent a Polaris Slingshot to cruise along the shoreline.

The Lake Clark of Lake Clark National Park is but a small piece of the large region preserved by the Park.
Courtesy of Sathish J under a CC 2.0 license.

3. Kenai, Alaska

Fish in the legendary Lake Clark 
Lake Clark is a magnanimous 40-mile-long natural phenomenon sitting at the center of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. The only community located on the lake is Port Alsworth, but there are no roads here, and it’s a complete wilderness. If you want to visit the lake, while staying in a tamed environment, consider going to nearby Kenai, AK.

An air taxi can carry you from Kenai to Lake Clark, where you can do the usual adventurous rafting and kayaking. But most people go to Lake Clark to do more than just float around. It’s highly known for its panoramic helicopter rides, wild bear sightings and legendary salmon fishing.

The famous Torch Lake Sandbar in Alden, Michigan.
Courtesy of marada under a CC 2.0 license.

4. Alden, Michigan

Jet Ski to the Sandbar on Torch Lake
Everyone calls Torch Lake the “Caribbean of the North,” and you’ll understand why once you see its pristine turquoise waters. Located in Northwest Michigan, Torch Lake is an ideal destination for folks who want that picture-perfect Instagram vacation feed.

If you visit Torch Lake, you’ll want to take a boat to the Sandbar, a large sand mass off its southern shore. This area gets very crowded but is the perfect spot for people who want to hop on a jet ski and party on the water. Alden, MI, is the closest residential town to the Sandbar and a great spot to set up for a lakeside trip.

Hector Falls, right off 414 in NY on the east side of Seneca Lake
Courtesy of Matt Champlin under a CC 2.0 license.

5. Watkins Glen, New York

Chase Waterfalls in Seneca Lake
This exciting upstate New York town sits at the southern tip of Seneca Lake — the largest of the Fingers Lakes. Speed enthusiasts journey to Watkins Glen for its top-notch racetracks and rushing waterfalls.

In fact, the town encourages travelers to visit and see how many waterfalls they can check off their list. Watkins Glen State Park alone has 19 waterfalls within its 1.5-mile area. If you want to get the best summer waterfall vacation, visit during the early summer days.

Rainbow Bridge National Monument at Lake Powell in Arizona.
Courtesy of Matthew Dillon under a CC 2.0 license.

6. Page, Arizona 

Float under Lake Powell’s Rainbow Bridge
Arizona has one of the most diverse landscapes within the United States, ranging from deserts to volcanic mountains. One of its many physical attractions, the Rainbow Bridge, stands at 290 feet tall and stretches across 275 feet. It arches over Lake Powell, the second-largest man-made lake in the US, with its earth-tone rainbow pattern luring in about 85,000 yearly visitors from all over the world.

Booking a boat tour under Lake Powell’s Rainbow Bridge is a must. Unfortunately, environmental weather changes have reduced the lake’s water level. So make sure to plan ahead for better access to the lake while enjoying the camping and hiking that Page offers.

Bridge along the waterfront in Lake Charles, LA
Courtesy of Matt Reily under a CC 2.0 license.

7. Lake Charles, Louisiana

Grab a bite by Lake Charles
There are countless activities located along Lake Charles in southwest Louisiana — seriously, the opportunities to enjoy the lake are endless. However, nobody goes to the cultural haven without indulging in its cajun cuisine.

Though Lake Charles is a relatively larger city, it’s still worth mentioning. Grab a creole or cajun dish at one of the many restaurants located within the area and take it to Bord du Lac Marina for a picnic by the shore.

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