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Middle-of-summer temps call for languid days by the water, but fighting for towel space among throngs of territorial beachgoers just isn’t all that fun. That’s where lake life comes into play. Serene settings, idyllic lakeside towns, and a plethora of water sports and programming for adults (and children) is a lot more enticing. Behold our list of under-the-radar and ever-popular lake towns where summer living is as easy as it is breezy.

RELATED: The best beach in every landlocked state

Marquette, Michigan

Marquette, Michigan

Abandoned iron ore dock on the shores of Lake Superior in Marquette, Michigan

In Marquette, everyone migrates to Lake Superior in summer for sweeping scenic vistas, miles of trails and rushing waterfalls that are as picturesque as they are accessible. As the largest fresh water lake in all of North America, it stretches far and wide, and although it’s clear, it can still be chilly—even in the warmer months. Therefore you’ll want to pass the time boating, fishing and sunbathing on the shoreline, or exploring the many restaurants, theaters, art galleries, shops and museums tucked away in the quaint city center.

STAY Overlooking Lake Superior and nestled within downtown Marquette, The Landmark Inn boasts old-world European splendor and has persevered as the social hub of Marquette since 1930. It even counts Amelia Earhart, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and The Rolling Stones among its former guests. Newly renovated to combine modern convenience with opulent comfort, its stately rooms and suites offer the original grand architecture and interiors, only now with up-to-date furnishings, deep-soaking claw-footed tubs, and panoramic views for the ultimate lake town getaway.

Aurora, New York

People look at Taughannock Falls near Ithaca, Finger Lakes region, upstate New York, USA on a sunny day.

Taughannock Falls near Ithaca, Finger Lakes region, upstate New York

The Finger Lakes region of central New York spans 9,000 square miles with 11 pristine lakes and 40-plus waterfalls, and the idyllic community of Aurora (set on Cayuga Lake) is nothing short of  spectacular. With an abundance of adventure and wellness activities on and off the water and a “summer camp for adults” vibe, it’s impossible to grow bored here. Quench your thirst at one of the nearby wineries and craft breweries, explore Watkins Glen State Park for hiking and Seneca Lake for fishing, then curb hunger cravings at one of the farm-to-table eateries in adjacent Ithaca and Skaneateles.

STAY One could easily spend all afternoon watching the kayaks and paddle boards go by, from the comfort of your Adirondack chair perched on the sprawling lawn of Inns of Aurora. Or, you could take in the 180-degree views of Cayuga Lake from your balcony or wraparound porch, sipping a glass of local Finger Lakes wine. This lakeside resort has summer living down pat. They also have distinctly different rooms in each of their five inns, along with an expertly-curated art collection, MacKenzie-Childs collectibles, 24/7 resident innkeepers, and yoga-by-the-lake sessions led by their “Director of Serenity,” a certified Ayurveda Health Counselor. In the evenings, everyone congregates around the fire pit for gourmet s’mores and stargazing.

Burlington, Vermont

Champlain Lake, Burlington, Vermon

Sunset on Champlain Lake in Burlington, VT

Located in the heart of the Green Mountain State, the endearing city of Burlington sits on the edge of stunning Lake Champlain and embraces all things summer. Spend the day paddle boarding, bounce from one Church Street Marketplace watering hole to the next, stretch your legs on a Bike & Brew Tour at some of the top breweries and cider houses in the country, or head to Shelbourne Farm, a sustainable 1,400-acre working farm, and indulge in cheddar cheeses from their herd of purebred Brown Swiss cows while watching the cheesemaking process firsthand. 

STAY Plan a stay at the locally-inspired and independently-owned Hotel Vermont and be captivated by the very VT touches: craft beer flights in the lobby, bundled plaid blankets by the bed, rustic wood paneling, flannel robes, and an in-room menu featuring aromatherapy, hot toddies and complimentary sleepy time stories for kids. Various Vermont partnerships (with the Burlington Farmers Market, Foam Brewers, and Barr Hill Gin) add even more charm to every visit. Pro tip: Reserve a top floor king for the whirlpool tub or ask the concierge about helping you book a sailing excursion around Lake Champlain with Captain Gideon and picnic lunch. Additionally, guests can utilize the free on-site bikes to explore the lake and nearby Hero Islands.

Fort Collins, Colorado

The beautiful Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Fort Collins, Colorado.

The beautiful Horsetooth Reservoir outside of Fort Collins, Colorado

At the foothills of the Rockies, you’ll find charming college town Fort Collins, home to the Horsetooth Reservoir. The dam-made lake is a scenic, family-friendly spot for hiking, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding and, of course, swimming.  Once you’ve reached your limits with fun in the sun, head to town to soak up the crunchy vibe, walk among the impressive Victorian homes and hit the seemingly endless supply of craft breweries—including famed New Belgium.

STAY The thoughtfully designed Armstrong Hotels puts you close to CSU’s campus, the museum of art, and restaurants and bars. After a long hike or swim, be sure to rejuvenate with a treatment at the in-house spa, refuel at the on-site restaurant, or mingle over a craft cocktail or live music at the speakeasy-like lounge. The Armstrong is also pet-friendly, so be sure to say hi to Oreo, the hotel’s beloved resident cat.

Lake Forest, Illinois


Downtown Lake Forest | Flickr CC: Teemu008

Nestled in between Chicago and Milwaukee, lovely Lake Forest sits right on the shoreline of Lake Michigan and provides all of the bucolic bells and whistles city dwellers seek in summertime. There’s historic Market Square, the legendary Lake Forest Book Store (that dates back to 1949 when it was founded by a consortium of 12 local women), beloved shops like The Popcorn Factory and Sweet’s Chocolates (known for their highly addictive toffee), plus a bevy of nature offerings and wildlife preserves. 

STAY Chicago’s North Shore…or the countryside in England? It’s hard to tell where you are, once you check into the 57-room Deer Path Inn. The boutique hotel is reminiscent of a 15th-century Tudor manor, from its traditional afternoon tea service and authentic pub fare (think: fish and chips, bangers and mash) to DIY gin-and-tonic kits left in your room during turndown service. No detail is overlooked here, including complimentary, basket-adorned bicycles for jaunts around their manicured gardens or down to Lake Michigan.

Lake Shasta, California

Mount Shasta reflected in her lake with the same name

Lake Shasta

The true jewel of Northern California, Lake Shasta has been dubbed the houseboat capital of the world due to its 365 miles of shoreline that attracts houseboaters from near and far. A typical summer day finds the crystal blue waters sprinkled with fishing boats, jet skis and inner tubes—basically anything that floats—making it a must-visit summer spot.

STAY Located in Redding, California, Hope Inn Redding is an intimate 4,000-square-foot guesthouse with five newly remodeled guest rooms all featuring refrigerators, microwaves, and rice cookers. And should you grow tired of cooking inside your quarters there are also barbecue grills and a garden on the grounds for guest use. Both Turtle Bay Exploration Park and Anderson Historical Society are cultural highlights within close proximity, and Bethel Church and Waterworks Park are also worth visiting—and only two miles away. Getting back to basics is what Hope Inn does best, as the peaceful property is literally tucked away in the wilderness.

Fontana Dam, North Carolina

Overlooking the vast mountainous region around Fontana Lake near Bryson City, North Carolina

Fontana Lake near Bryson City, North Carolina

Though originally built to support the dam construction in the 1940s, this delightful (albeit remote) town has the best of both worlds being surrounded by the Blue Ridge Mountains and Fontana Lake. Travelers can rent a pontoon, jon boat, kayak or paddle board and glide across the glassy water, or make a beer or moonshine run on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad before embarking on a Nantahala River rafting adventure.

STAY The rustic chic Lakeview at Fontana inn and spa features 15 guestrooms and perks like free breakfast and self parking, but the real draw is the full-service spa for detoxing, pampering and uninterrupted relaxation. From soaking in a treetop tub with views of the lake and mountains, to taking a dip in the seasonal outdoor pool, it’s a true wellness retreat. The inn also has an on-site yoga studio and an outdoor deck where you can sip your complimentary evening glass of wine and watch the sun set on Lake Fontana.

Clarksville, Virginia


Occoneechee State Park | Flickr CC: Virginia State Parks

Located on the shore of 50,000-acre Kerr Lake, Clarksville is Virginia’s only lakeside town and their go-with-the-flow attitude (and atmosphere) makes the hamlet an ideal weekend vacation destination. Across the water from Clarksville is the beautiful Occoneechee State Park, offering great hiking and waterfront access areas, and a few minutes up the road is the 18th-century Prestwould Plantation and Grounds, which is unparalleled in its authenticity and beauty. A walk through the historic downtown area is a great way to spend an afternoon and the only difficult part of your evening will be choosing which restaurant to dine at, followed by a nightcap at one of the locals-loved bars. Clarksville is also host to a number of year-round fishing tournaments and festivals, including the famous Lakefest every July and Clarksville Wine Festival every April.

STAY The Magnuson Hotel on the Lake’s location places you within minutes of all the area attractions and activities, with convenient access to Highway 58. Along with breathtaking views of Lake Kerr, the Magnuson also places you near Prestwould Plantation, Occoneechee State Park and MacCallum More Museum and Gardens. South Boston Speedway and Virginia International Raceway are just a 40-mile or less drive away. Downtown Clarksville is a short 5-minute walk, offering dining and shopping.

Monticello, New York

A summer holiday and the Catskills go hand in hand. Dirty Dancing, anyone? And should you be heading here over the next few months, be sure to check out the humble, yet ever-popular, Bailey Lake. Given its Sullivan County pinpoint, its prime real estate for camping, fishing (if you like trout, you’ve come to the right place), and other aquatic activities. Also included in our top reasons to visit, easy access to two of the most buzzed-about culinary destinations in the area. Hit up retro-cool Phoenicia Diner for lunch and gastronomic delight, The Debruce, for dinner.

Stay: Monticello, New York happens to be home to a newly-founded luxury wellness retreat that borders Bailey Lake. YO1 Wellness Center—or Yauvan (Sanskrit for youth)—offers multiple programs centered around finding your zen through the ancient Indian therapies of naturopathy, Ayurveda and yoga. Beyond that, it’s an architectural dream with killer amenities and interiors inspired by Eastern influences, which are evident throughout the 131 guest rooms and suites. A 5,000-square-foot indoor pool with reflexology walks and a hot tub rounds out the list of perks.

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinac Island, MI

Three boats on Lake Huron are moored together underneath Arch Rock on Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Surrounded by Lake Huron, Mackinac Island is often referred to as being suspended in a forgotten, more innocent time. With a ban on motor vehicles, the island limits modes of transportation to horse-and-buggy, walking and biking. The island is well known for fitness, given it boasts over 70 miles of hiking and biking on just 3.8 square miles of land. With more than 80% of the island protected as a State Park, Mackinac Island offers some of the most beautiful vistas in Michigan. As soon as Mackinac Island gears up for the summer season, the events begin to roll in. For example, Mackinac Island boasts some of the oldest, most lush French lilacs in the nation, and celebrates them for an entire week with the Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. In July, Mackinac Island plays host to the Chicago Yacht Club Race to Mackinac; and in August, the island honors the chocolatiers with its annual Fudge Festival.

STAY Set on 18 acres of lakefront property where Lake Huron meets Lake Michigan lies the beautiful Mission Point, which reopened for the season at the end of April with renovated rooms, a new coffee shop in Straits Lodge, and increased wellness programs such as an innovative yoga space on the expansive waterfront lawn and a “meditation station” tucked into the property’s sumptuous gardens. The resort also boasts some of the best food on the island, including tasty takes on the region’s specialties at upscale Italian restaurant, Chianti, as well as Lakeside Spa and Salon, the island’s only full-service health and wellness retreat which offers the Lilac Treatment playing off this Island’s famed lilacs.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

lake geneva - flickr cc - spablab

Flickr CC: Spablab

With a mission statement like “one-of-a-kind unwind,” it’s hard not to do just that in this tranquil setting. An undisputed summer icon, Lake Geneva boasts it all…epic sunsets against shimmering waters, lake and land adventures ranging from cruise outings to zip lining, and the unthinkable: dancing horses, an award-winning magic show, a bustling dining and shopping scene (with notable speakeasies and bespoke cocktail hideaways) and  an aura of placid unlike anywhere else.

STAY Built on 1,300 acres of serene woodlands, Grand Geneva Resort & Spa is surrounded by lakes, ponds, rivers, relaxing pools and winding trails—and their accommodations are just as varied. 355 well-appointed guest rooms and suites are available in the Main Lodge and recently added luxury villas. Golf fanatics can choose between two courses: The Brute (at over 7,000 yards, this par 72 is one of the most challenging layouts in the Midwest) and The Highlands (a Scottish-inspired, links-style course). Those looking to get pampered will feel right at home at WELL Spa + Salon, where services range from soothing massages to advanced aesthetics. There’s even a sister property onsite with a next-level waterpark, plus 18 holes of miniature golf.

South Lake Tahoe, California

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe

South Lake Tahoe is this summer’s “it” lake destination, thanks to the launch of the only hot air balloon in the world to launch and land on water. Lake Tahoe Balloons offers the most unique way to experience the lake. For underwater adventures, The Emerald Bay Maritime Heritage Trail recently debuted, giving scuba divers the chance to explore the resting place for many boats used in the lake before the turn of the century.

STAY Located on the shores of Tahoe, The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe is where casual comforts exist among classic refinement. Spend the day relaxing at the beach, practicing your swing on The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe’s golf course, or pampering yourself at the full-service spa. As one of the cozier spots in Tahoe, The Lodge at Edgewood Tahoe is home to 154 luxurious rooms and suites, each with its own gas fireplace, private deck or terrace, soaking tub and walk-in shower.

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Tagged: California, Chicago, Chicago, Destinations, Michigan, Midwest, New England, New York, Top 10 Lists, Vermont

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