USA is country of outstanding natural beauty. Among its highlights are many picturesque lakes, framed by postcard-like scenery and varied landscapes. I was lucky enough explore a few of them on my visit so here’s my pick of the most beautiful lakes in the USA.
Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan
This list wouldn’t be complete without including at least one Great Lake (or two). Lake Michigan, the second largest in the country and the only Great Lake fully within the borders of USA, was always going to make this list. The main reason? Chicago. The Windy City’s waterfront location makes it an ideal access point. In the summer, locals sunbathe and play volleyball at one of the many beaches. You can sail, kayak or SUP with the city’s incredible skyline as the backdrop or cycle along the 18 mile Lakefront Trail. For something a little more relaxing, the Chicago Navy Pier is a great place to while away an evening with great food, live music and fireworks.
While usually associated with the Canadian Province of the same name, pretty much half of the lake’s coastline is in the US state of New York. There is plenty to see and do along the water, with numerous parks and beaches spread across the coast. Fort Niagara State Park and Historic Site and Hamlin Beach State Park are popular destinations with museums, hiking trails and jetties overlooking the lake. On clear days, it’s even possible to see across the lake all the way to Canada, the iconic CN Tower rising about the city of Toronto. We camped metres from the shore and enjoyed one of the best sunsets of the whole trip here!
The drive between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks is one of the most scenic roadtrips you are likely to experience in the States. US Highway 89 snakes its way through beautiful Wyoming scenery and there are countless opportunities for wildlife watching along the way. It also traces the coastline of Jackson Lake, framed by snow-covered peaks and lush forests. Boating and fishing are popular activities and Colter Bay Village is a great base for activities.
Many visitors to Grand Teton NP use the nearby town of Jackson as a base to relax before or after their trip. While it’s tempting to use the highway to save time, those who drive along Teton Park Road (closed in winter) are rewarded with incredible views of Jenny Lake via a scenic detour. The glacial lake is one of the most beautiful spots in the park with boat trips, hiking and climbing all popular activities. We kept making stops so we can get a better view of the beautiful lake and the mountain peaks rising behind it. This is one detour you will definitely not regret taking!
California and Nevada
Straddling the border between Nevada and California, Lake Tahoe was one of the highlights of my American roadtrip. USA’s second deepest lake is surrounded by mountains, pine forests and beaches. Hiking is popular in the summer and, in the winter, skiing becomes the activity of choice – Tahoe boasts many resorts and even a site of the 1960 Winter Olympic Games! We camped near the shore at Zephyr Cove and spent time hiking trails in Emerald State Park. We looked out over Fannette Island – the lake’s only – and jumped into the cold water for a refreshing swim. There are cruises on a replica paddle wheeler and sailing trips allowing visitors to explore the lake.
Mono Lake is an ancient salt lake located just inside California’s border with Nevada. It’s had a troubled past, with the city of Los Angeles diverting water from it over the course of the 20th century. The receding water levels, however, revealed geological formations called tufas which are now protected as part of the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. We took a one mile nature trail along a boardwalk explaining the history of the lake, the tufas and the abundant bird species that either migrate to or nest at the lake. The lake is pretty easy to access on the way to or from Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite National Park is one of my favourite places in USA. There is just so much to see and do and the scenery is nothing short of magical. Even the lesser visited parts of the park, such as Tenaya Lake, are jaw-dropping. This alpine lake is surrounded by huge granite rocks and is accessed by a walk through a pine forest. There is a sandy beach, ideal for a relaxing with a book. Those who fancy a swim in the lake, be warned. It lies at an elevation of 2480 metres so the water is very cold. We did manage to run in and out for a refreshing dip!
Arizona and Utah
Ok, so Lake Powell is actually a manmade reservoir but that doesn’t make it any less beautiful or fun to explore! The flooding of Glen Canyon in the 1960s led to the creation of the lake and, with it, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area a few years later. Today, it’s possible to join boat tours of Antelope Canyon and Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Watersports, fishing and swimming are popular activities while, on dry land, there are loads of good hiking and horse-riding trails. I didn’t spend a lot of time at the lake but the views were spectacular!
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir
One of the most famous parks in the world, Central Park attracts millions of visitors every year. The huge Reservoir, an artificial lake which used to provide New York’s water supply, is an iconic part of the park. The running track that circles around the lake is popular with New Yorkers and if often frequented by celebrities. Walking around the Reservoir provides some great views of NYC’s skyline as well as opportunities for people watching. I went for a more active option and joined a bike tour, exploring Central Park and learning about its history. Central Park Bike Tours arrange tours and bike hire just a block away from the park’s 7th Avenue entrance.
Have you been to any other scenic lakes in USA? Let me know in the comments!
I travelled with Trek America on their 43 Day Grand Trek Tour, which features these and many other sights across the United States. Prices from £4289
Pin it for later: