A glittering lake feels like the quintessential setting for an American summer vacation. And the country certainly has plenty to chose from—after all, there are well over 11,000 in Minnesota alone.
But just as lovely and enjoyable as these freshwater destination are the small towns located on their shores. Quaint main streets, general stores, and ice cream parlors draw visitors looking for a slower pace and an escape from busy city life. From Maine to Washington, these lake towns are the perfect spots for adventure on the water or just relaxing on the shore and taking in the scenic views.
Explore 11 classic destinations for a vacation that combines small town charm and plenty of natural beauty. You may never head to the coast again!
Lake Placid, New York
Best known as the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, Lake Placid is set in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. The town is home to less than 3,000 people, but hosts 3.3 million people a year looking to ski, boat, fish, and hike.
Lake Lure, North Carolina
The quiet town of Lake Lure, North Carolina is nestled in the foothills Blue Ridge Mountains, about 27 miles outside of Asheville. The destination and its man-made lake served as a filming location of Dirty Dancing, which it proudly celebrates each summer with a festival dedicated to the movie.
Why visit one lake when you can take in three? Charlevoix, Michigan separates Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, which are connected by Round Lake in the center of town. The northern Michigan town was a childhood haunt of Ernest Hemingway (who vacationed on nearby Walloon Lake), who used it as the setting of some of his early stories.
Meredith, New Hampshire
Meredith is one of several charming spots along New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee. The former milltown has been transformed into a vacation destination with the addition of quaint hotels, shops and restaurants at Mills Lake.
Set on Michigan’s Lake Macatawa, the city of Holland proudly displays its Dutch heritage at its annual tulip festival and at other local attractions such as DeKlomp Wooden Shoe & Delft Factory and Nelis’ Dutch Village. Another photogenic landmark is the Big Red Lighthouse in Holland State Park.
Bayfield, Wisconsin’s population may be small (the town has under 500 residents), but the area is rich in natural wonders. Visitors to the city on Lake Superior can explore the sea caves of the Apostle Islands, scuba dive to shipwrecks, or spend a leisurely afternoon at one of the many berry farms.
While Maine may be famous for its coastal cities, there’s plenty to be found inland. Greenville is located in the Maine Highlands on the Moosehead Lake, the state’s largest freshwater body. As its name suggests, the area is prime location for moose spotting and the town hosts a yearly Moose Mainea festival.
Chelan, Washington is located about 160 miles east of Seattle in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Set on it’s namesake lake, Chelan is home to a historic downtown and the 116-year-old Campbell’s Resort.
Grand Lake, Colorado
The scenic getaway of Grand Lake, Colorado, is set on the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. The town retains an Old West feel and is home to the highest-altitude yacht club in the world. During the winter, Grand Lake is a hub for snowmobile enthusiasts.
Grand Marais, Minnesota
Grand Marais, Minnesota, on the north shore of Lake Superior, has something for nature and art lovers alike. The town is home to the state’s oldest art colony and the North House Folk School, which teaches traditional crafts.
Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
As lake towns go, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, with its population of over 45,000, is practically a metropolis. But the city retains a small town feel and offers plenty of activities on Lake Coeur d’Alene and within the friendly downtown.