9 Beautiful Lakes in the USA You Must Visit

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.

Lake Michigan

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.

Lake Michigan - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
Downtown Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan

Lake Ontario

New York

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!

Lake Ontario - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
Sunset at Lake Ontario

Jackson Lake

Wyoming

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.

Jackson Lake - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
Colter Bay on Jackson Lake

Jenny Lake

Wyoming

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!

Jenny Lake - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
Beautiful scenery at Jenny Lake

Lake Tahoe

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.

Lake Tahoe - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
Checking out Lake Tahoe

Mono Lake

California

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.

Mono Lake - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
One of the tufas at Mono Lake

Tenaya Lake

California

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!

Tenaya Lake - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
Granite rocks towering over Tenaya Lake

Lake Powell

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!

Lake Powell - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
Lake Powell (source: Bernard Spragg)

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir

New York

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.

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir - Beautiful Lakes in the USA
The Reservoir in Central Park, New York City

Have you been to any other scenic lakes in USA? Let me know in the comments!

The Trip

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

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23 thoughts on “9 Beautiful Lakes in the USA You Must Visit

  1. Steve says:

    Jackson Lake is one of my favorites. No matter how many times I visit, I feel freshness inside.
    But your photos look kinda different. :p BTW, excellent writing.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      I’ve just come back from my second visit and loved it just as much as the first! Such a fascinating country on multiple levels.

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Ah I would have LOVED to go to Oregon but unfortunately it was a bit out the way for that trip – but Oregon and the North West are definitely on the list when I go back!

  2. James says:

    I’m tempted to go on a lakes of the USA road trip after reading this! I have only been to Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan from your list. From your pictures, Mono Lake looks the most beautiful and interesting as well with it being a salt lake.

  3. Rob+Ann at TravelLatte(.net) says:

    You included a few of our absolute favorites! Lake Powell is just stunning, especially if when get into some of canyons accessible only by boat. Your photo of Jenny Lake is awesome! When were you there? We visited in July, and it was beautiful…but the snow really gives the lake and mountains such a dramatic look! You’ve got us ready to haul out the kayaks and hit the lakes! 🙂
    Rob+Ann at TravelLatte(.net) recently posted…#TheWeeklyPostcard – 1 September 2017My Profile

    • Travel Lexx says:

      I would have LOVED to explore Lake Powell more but we just didn’t have that much time. I was at Jenny Lake in 2015 and while it was May, it was still cold and there was snow everywhere! So jealous you guys have opportunities to explore places like that in the States!

  4. Kreete | AdventurousTrails says:

    Jackson and Jenny lake all the way! Love the scenery and the snowy peaks. I have never given lakes too much thought to be honest, but these really look spectacular. Hope I get to see some of them some day! How much time did it take you to visit all of them? I feel my feet getting itchy already haha

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Well I got to see them over the six weeks I was travelling around but we got to spend a decent amount of time at most so it was pretty fun! I just came back from Chicago too and cycled 36 miles along Lake Michigan which was super cool!

  5. Shona @ paraphernalia.co says:

    Some of them I’ve heard of and some I haven’t, but all of them are stunning. I had no idea the reservoir in Central Park was named after Jackie K.O. I’ve been around it a few times either walking or cycling. Cycling was better LOL.

  6. Angie (FeetDoTravel) says:

    First of all, what a fabulous trip you did, clearly taking in some beautiful scenery! There are many lakes on this list I would like to see for different reasons; Lake Michigan, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir Lake Tahoe, jeez at this rate I will just be listing them all! Pinned to my USA board for when I visit! #feetdotravel

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Thanks guys – it’s the one lake where we didn’t spend that much time but I would love to go back and explore it properly!

  7. Carmen Baguio says:

    We love to camp all around the great USA, and there’s nothing better than camping next to a lake. We hope to do a road trip out west next summer so maybe we can hit a couple of these lakes!

    • Travel Lexx says:

      Yeah you guys definitely should – I loved camping near them and am very jealous you live in the States where opportunities to get outdoors are so plentiful!

  8. Akshay Koranne says:

    Hey nice one! I like Tenaya Lake and Jenny lake the most. Tenaya Lake is giving a beach feeling and looks like a calm lake without too many crowd. Surely would like to visit the place.

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