The 20 most magnificent American lakes

updated 7/12/2021
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Katmai Crater Lake, Alaska

Formed in 1912 after the eruption of the Novarupta Volcano, when the top of Mount Katmai caved in, Katmai Crater Lake is breathtakingly stunning. Sitting at around 4220 feet, and surrounded by impenetrable caldera peaks, the best – and only – way to see the lake’s otherworldly beauty is by plane.

Caldera Lake in an Active Volcano on Mount Douglas in the Alaska Peninsula of Alaska © Wildnerdpix/Shutterstock

Island Lake, Colorado

You have to put a bit of legwork in to get to the alpine Island Lake, scenically set at around 12,400ft in San Juan National Park. Surrounded by dramatic peaks, the lake’s sparkling blue waters are best seen in the summer months, when the surrounding landscape is carpeted in wildflowers.

A sunny morning above Island Lake high in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado © Paul E. Martin/Shutterstock

Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada

Straddling the California/Nevada state line, Lake Tahoe’s deep, cold waters do nothing to deter the flocks of visitors who come here to make the most of its natural attractions – from stand-up paddling and rafting to sunbathing on its beautiful beaches – during the warmer months. In winter, the forested peaks that surround are the big draw, offering excellent skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing, or even dog sledding.

© Shutterstock

Yellowstone Lake, Wyoming

North America’s largest mountain lake that sits above 7000ft, staggeringly beautiful Yellowstone Lake is frozen for close to half the year – and the ice can be up to three feet thick. The southwest of the lake – which is set among the forests of Yellowstone National Park – is a geothermal area, where you’ll find geysers, fumaroles and hot springs.

Yellowstone lake at sunrise with snow in autumn, Yellowstone national park, Wyoming © SL-Photography/Shutterstock

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Caddo Lake, Texas/Louisiana

There are few lakes as eerily atmospheric than Caddo Lake, which almost looks like something out of a gothic horror novel. A tangle of lush vegetation and cypress groves, in some places it more closely resembles a typical Louisiana swamp than a lake, twisting through the pine forests of Texas. The best way to experience the lake is undoubtedly in a canoe: paddling through the calm waters is the ultimate way to feel the dream-like, slow pace of life here.

Exotic Caddo Lake State Park in Texas © Adventures On Wheels/Shutterstock

Diablo Lake, Washington State

The most immediately striking thing about Diablo Lake is its colour – a turquoise of such intensity that it almost doesn’t look real – created by glacier sediment. Set within the wild and dramatic North Cascades National Park, the lake was created by the building of Diablo Dam in the first half of the twentieth century, and exploring by kayak remains one of the most popular ways to soak up its immense beauty.

Beautiful Diablo Lake is a reservoir in the North Cascade mountains of northern Washington state, United States © Roman Khomlyak/Shutterstock

Lake Chelan, Washington State

This long, skinny lake sits in the north of Washington State, scenically set near vineyards, mountains and quaint little towns, which combine to make this a great escape. The southern end of the lake sits amid a surprisingly arid, desert-like landscape – in summer, visitors and locals alike crowd the lovely, if small, beaches here.

Lake Chelan in Washington, USA © Nadia Yong/Shutterstock

Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona

Don’t be fooled by its name – Lake Powell, straddling the Utah/Arizona border, is in fact a man-made reservoir. Extraordinary as it appears, it’s easy to see that this – with its turquoise waters contrasting against the red of the surrounding rocks – is not an entirely natural landscape. The lake is something of a tourist’s playground, and the best way to experience it is from the water itself, whether snorkelling, cruising or staying in a houseboat.

Lake Powell, Page, Arizona © worldswildlifewonders/Shutterstock

Lake Superior, Michigan/Wisconsin/Minnesota

More than 300 miles from east to west, Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes, stretching from Michigan and Wisconsin in the south to Minnesota in the west and north, and the Canadian province of Ontario in the east – in fact, it’s so large that at times you can’t actually see the other side. The lake, though beautiful throughout the year, is particularly resplendent during the autumn, when the surrounding trees burst into colour.

Lake Superior sunset at Miners Beach © KYPhua/Shutterstock

Skilak Lake, Alaska

It’s not hard to see why the area surrounding Skilak Lake is often referred to as "Alaska in miniature" – this glacial-clear lake is towered over by snow-capped mountains, and sits within the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to black and brown bears, moose and wolves, among many other animals. A number of trails – some day-hikes, others longer – provide a great way to explore this fascinating section of Alaskan wilderness.

© Paul S. Wolf/Shutterstock

Lake Kabetogama, Minnesota

Set within Voyageurs National Park, along the Canadian border, Kabetogama was used in the eighteenth century by French-Canadian fur traders who transported their goods along the border lakes. These days, the lake is a great place to come for bird-watching, boasting osprey, pelicans and bald eagles among its residents, and the wide, open waters are perfect for leisurely exploration by kayak.

© Steven Schremp/Shutterstock

Echo Lake, New Hampshire

Nestled deep within lush green forest, Echo Lake is a particularly popular choice with families who come here to swim and picnic on the sandy beaches. Towering over the lake is sheer Cathedral Ledge, from where stunning views across the lake, as well as over the White Mountains and the Saco River Valley, can be enjoyed – the more adventurous can abseil down its steep face.

Echo Lake in Franconia Notch State Park, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire, USA © haveseen/Shutterstock

Todd Lake, Oregon

Originally boasting the much more exciting name of "Lost Lake" – reflecting the difficulty that people had in finding it – Todd Lake is these days named after one of the area’s earliest settlers. Situated in central Oregon, this peaceful expanse of water is watched over by brooding Mount Bachelor and surrounded by dense forest; in winter, the walking trails are great for cross-country skiing.

Aerial view of Todd Lake near Bend, Oregon © Cascade Drone Photography/Shutterstock

Hanging Lake, Colorado

You have to earn the breathtaking vista that is Hanging Lake, which can only be reached on foot. Though the hiking trail is only just over a mile long, its steepness can make it challenging at times, but there’s no doubt that this makes the appearance of the waterfall-fed lake, with its sparkling turquoise waters, all the more worthwhile.

Hanging lake cascades in Colorado © Jennifer Hemenway/Shutterstock

Flathead Lake, Montana

The mountains of Glacier National Park loom over Flathead Lake, known for the cleanness and clarity of its waters. Named for the Native Americans tribe that live in the area, the lake is a particularly popular fishing destination, home to bull, cutthroat and lake trout, and bald eagles and osprey are prominent nesters nearby.

A scenic view of Flathead Lake from Polson, Montana, USA © James R Poston/Shutterstock

Mono Lake, California

Looking like something out of a science fiction film, the most striking thing about Mono Lake is the rather bizarre tufa formations that poke out of the water. These calcium-carbonate towers help to protect the lake, making it – and the surrounding area – a safe, natural habitat for the up to two million birds that rest and feed here, despite its position within a desert landscape.

The magic of Mono Lake. Outliers - bizarre calcareous tufa formation on the smooth water of the lake © kavram/Shutterstock

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

The thing that strikes you immediately about Lake Santeetlah is just how quiet it is – much of its shoreline is protected national forest, set in the shadow of mountains, making this an incredibly peaceful setting. Soak up the silence by camping by the lakeside, before exploring the pristine waters by canoe or kayak.

Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina © digidreamgrafix/Shutterstock

Lake Michigan, Michigan

The only one of the Great Lakes that exists entirely in the US, Lake Michigan is particularly known for its beautiful beaches, including the city beaches of Chicago and the impressive, sheer-sided sands of Sleeping Bear Dunes, in the lake’s northeast. The 900-mile long Circle Tour is a fantastic driving route, following the lake in its entirety.

St. Joseph, Michigan North Pier Lighthouses with a Sailboat on Lake Michigan © Shutterstock

Crater Lake, Oregon

Sheer surrounding cliffs lead down to Crater Lake’s irresistible, deep blue waters, the result of the region’s volatile volcanic past. The best way to see the lake is to hike through the eponymous national park that it sits in, which will allow you astounding views over the water and the appealing islands that sit in it.

Crater Lake, Oregon © Shutterstock

Hidden Lake, Montana

What makes Hidden Lake particularly striking is its position, with dramatic, often snow-covered, Bearhat Mountain looming over it. The lake is reached by an easy – and thus very popular – hike through alpine meadows, which are likely to either be covered in wildflowers or a snowfield, depending on the season; the best vantage point is just over a mile from the lake itself, allowing you to take in not just Bearhat but also Gunshot Mountain and Sperry Glacier.

Hidden Lake Trail, Glacier National Park, Montana, USA © Hugo Brizard - YouGoPhoto/Shutterstock

Travel advice for USA

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updated 7/12/2021
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