Welcome to the summer Aspen. According to Brian Raub, of lakelubber.com, the lake offers stunning views of the surrounding 13,000-foot peaks and contains all the luxuries of a high-end vacation: There’s sailing (from $120/2 hours) and kayaking ($30/2 hours), and the world-class Corpus Sanus Spa for a hot stone massage ($99). After hours, hit up the Dillon Dam Brewery or Pug Ryan’s—perhaps the only tiki bar in the U.S. that’s nearly two miles above sea level.
2) Smith Mountain Lake
WHERE: WESTERN VIRGINIA TRAVEL: ROANOKE ACCOMMODATION: HALESFORD HARBOUR INN (FROM $119/NIGHT)
Upwards of 2,500 boats head out on the water for the fireworks during one of the country’s biggest Independence Day lake celebrations. The fishing is top-notch: Bassmaster put Smith Mountain on its list of the top 25 bass lakes in the country. Also, Sunken City Brewing Company sits nearby, with its popular Red Clay IPA, as do many of Franklin County’s famous moonshiners and the Homestead Creamery, Raub’s choice for best ice cream in the country.
3) Lake Havasu
WHERE: LAKE HAVASU CITY, AZ TRAVEL: LAS VEGAS OR PHOENIX ACCOMMODATION: LONDON BRIDGE RESORT (FROM $119/NIGHT)
On this 20,400-acre oasis in the Mojave Desert, you can rent a houseboat (from $1,995/night), mountain bike nearby SARA Park ($30/4 hours), hike the Hualapai Mountains, and explore sunken ships in scuba gear (from $150). As an added quirk: In 1968, a local businessman moved the London Bridge—yes, the actual London Bridge, which he won in an auction for $2.4 million—block by block from the Thames to Lake Havasu. (Seriously.)
4) Lake Okeechobee
WHERE: FLORIDATRAVEL: WEST PALM BEACHACCOMODATION: HOMEWOOD SUITES PORT ST. LUCIE (FROM $101/NIGHT)The half-millionacre “Lake O” and the surrounding waterways are the only location in the Lower 48 states where you can catch a host of exotic freshwater fish native to South America. The highly sought-after, hard-hitting peacock bass—introduced by state wildlife officials in 1984—flourishes in the warm waters. When you’re not fishing, take a horseback ride ($60/2 hours) along the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail.
This massive body of water, thanks to the 14,500 islands on its eastern side, is home to more than 65,000 miles of shoreline—the longest in the world. Much of it remains virtually untouched, making it one of the best and least-spoiled spots in the country for observing wildlife, including whitetail deer, bear, moose, duck, and geese. To really get off the grid, hike in the Lake of the Woods Provincial Park on Bigsby Island.
6) Lake Winnipesaukee
WHERE: CENTRAL NEW HAMPSHIRE TRAVEL: PORTLAND, ME ACCOMMODATION: LAKE OPECHEE INN AND SPA (FROM $192/NIGHT)
Trek north to Mt Washington, which is the highest peak in the northeastern U.S., to compete in the Newton’s Revenge cycling race (July 12) or the Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb (Aug. 16), the only two opportunities to ride up the 7.6-mile, 12%-grade road to the top. When you’re recovering, kick back on one of the empty beaches surrounding the massive, 288-mile shoreline, or fly around on a rented Jet Ski ($85/hour).
7) Lake Oahe
WHERE: SOUTH DAKOTA TRAVEL: BISMARCK, ND ACCOMMODATION: GRAND RIVER CASINO AND RESORT (FROM $80/NIGHT)
This man-made reservoir covers an area from near Bismarck, ND, to Pierre, SD, and features 51 recreation areas with everything from camping and hunting to fishing. As a tourist destination, it’s an authentic stretch of pure heartland. This summer, check out the pro anglers at the South Dakota Walleye Classic & Festival (July 24–27) or visit nearby Deadwood, the Wild West town made famous by its namesake HBO series, which is now a campy saloon-populated tourist town.
Welcome to watersports heaven. “This is a little-known gem in the Cherokee National Forest wilderness, only accessible by winding mountain roads,” says Raub. On the uncrowded lake, you can swim, parasail (from $140), powerboat ($50/hour), lounge on a pontoon boat ($25/hour), and kayak (from $20) until your arms are ready to fall off. There’s also white-water rafting in the Watauga and Nolichucky rivers (from $65/person).