If you like your lakes sea-sized or petite, the USA has some wonderful lake towns to pass your vacation with your family, friends or going solo. Fishing hotspots or beach fun, watersports, skiing or historic districts, this guide to the top ten lake towns gives you a fantastic choice of varied destinations.
You may not have considered and inland holiday, but along the great lakes in particular there are some stunning beaches to rival the ocean coasts of the east and west. It's no wonder most think of the shores of the Great Lakes as America's third coast. But you can also find tranquility and crowd-free pockets of stunning water further south.
1. Grand Haven, Michigan
No grander place to be on the only Great Lake entirely within the States. Grand Haven lies where the Haven River flow out into the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan and was at one time a thriving port. The town reinvented itself as a tourist destination: with much success. Though it's almost on a level with Toronto, it enjoys warm summers and swimming waters at temperatures in the mid-seventies. With over a hundred miles of clean dune-backed lake beaches, it's a major summer destination. Grand Haven is consistently voted as having one of the best beaches in the world, with fine sands. Enjoy scenic sunsets over the long wooden pier, excellent freshwater fishing, all manner of water and beach sports (particularly volleyball), a pro-designed golf course, the musical fountain, state parks for hiking and a wonderful town with restaurants galore.
2. Green Bay, Wisconsin
Tucked just around the western corner of Lake Michigan on sheltered Green Bay, the Fox River meets the lake amidst the lush green hills. There's a bustling city but plenty of smaller towns dotted along the lake shore. For a small area, it's world famous for the Green Bay Packers, its highly successful football team. You can lose the crowds in hundreds of miles of hiking trails, also great for snowshoeing in winter. Or enjoy excellent sport fishing for salmon, sturgeon, bass, perch, giant walleye and musky on both the lake and its rivers. or head to the small city itself for museums, galleries, an amusement park, zoo and botanical garden.
3. Leland, Michigan
Back across the water in Michigan, to the north (level with Ottawa) is Leland. A very pretty, historic fishing village, it lies on a thin strip of land between the banks of Lake Michigan and the much smaller Lake Leelanau. It has a beautiful harbour and a charming historic quarter called Fishtown. Here, old shanty-type buildings cluster around the river,weirs and wooden boardwalks. Find all the outfitters, fishing supplies, restaurants and olde worlde shops you need here. Leland is definitely a place to explore on foot and by boat. In June there is a food and wine festival, and great wines are produced locally. You can catch a ferry or sightseeing cruise out across to the Manitou Islands, take off for a spot of quiet fishing or sit and watch the world go by from the Riverside Inn, over 100 years old, with views over the Leland River.
4. Sandusky, Ohio
Now we move to Lake Erie, on the southern shores in Ohio. It has all the "S”s - the smallest, the most southern and the shallowest of the five Great Lakes. It has a wonderfully warm climate and ends at Niagara Falls (some 450 kilometres from Sandusky) where it pours spectacularly into Lake Ontario. The water refreshes here, from the many rivers pouring in, every two and a half years and is full of fish. Anglers come here for trout, walleye, carp, bass and perch. The lake freezes hard in winter, allowing for ice fishing and parties; even bonfires on the ice. Due to the shifting sandbars, there are many shipwrecks here, making for splendid diving when the lake is much warmer in summer. The town of Sandusky has under 28,000 residents but is packed with fun, especially its major amusement park: Cedar Point. This has one of the largest selections of rollercoasters anywhere in the world. There are water parks, boating excursions and - of course - fishing and swimming at the white sand beaches. Throughout the summer there are themed festivals and parties in and around the historic downtown.
5. Rangeley, Maine
Head away from the Great Lakes to the smaller Rangeley Lakes Region of Maine, east of Vermont. The tiny town of Rangeley itself has under 2,000 permanent residents and this is a far less developed area, with lots of wilderness and wildlife - including moose and eagles. There are pine forests and rural land surrounding the lake, which covers about ten square miles (it's a mere baby next to the great lakes further north). The railway started bringing tourists from the big cities in the 1890s, and Rangeley's popularity continues without it being overcrowded. The lake is fed by many streams and rivers and is a haven for fishermen. Popular visits include the Western Maine Mountains and Small Falls - a series of picturesque cascades on the Sandy River. Rangeley has drawn many famous residents and visitors including Herbert Hoover, Kurt Russell and Patrick Dempsey.
6. Truckee, California
This historic mountain town lies in the Nevada county of California, in the Sierra Nevada. Less than 200 miles from San Francisco and half that from Sacramento, Truckee offers another small lake destination with bags of charm. Here, the Truckee River is the only outlet from nearby Lake Tahoe. Truckee has gorgeously warm summers and cold, snowy winters at its elevation of over 1,700 metres. There are lovely pine forests and an even smaller lake - Donner Lake - just to the west. Lake Tahoe itself is just twenty minutes to the south along Route 267. Truckee has ski resorts, a marina, lakefront accommodations and an authentic century-old downtown called Brickeltown along the river.
7. Chelan, Washington
Chelan is a spectacular glacial lake, stretching for 55 miles like a thin snake from the mountains around Mt. Baker down to its southeastern tip at the town of the same name. Quite rightly, the whole area is national park and you will probably find yourself gazing open-mouthed at the views. Waterfalls, pines and clear calm waters. The Cascade Mountains and glaciers in the background. No wonder Chelan often is voted in the top lake towns. Come here for the scenery alone, but enjoy fishing, sunbathing, gourment restaurants, vineyards, golf, boating and walking while you're here.
8. Mackinaw City, Michigan
City is a bit of a misnomer, as this is more of a village! Mackinaw lies slap bang at the meeting point of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, at the north of the state. It is the gateway to the final northern peninsular of Michigan via the scenic Mackinac Bridge. Mackinaw itself is possibly the most popular tourist destination in the entire state with heaps of history. Visit an 18th Century fort, the historic village, two old lighthouses, a retired ice-breaking ship and sawmill. This was a strategic location between the two great lakes, with the Straits of Mackinac joining the two. And it's now a wonderful lakeside destination.
9. Dillon, Colorado
Dillon lies on a large reservoir, high in the Colorado hills of Summit County. You're right in the heart of skiing territories, with Keystone, Copper Mountain and Breckenridge all within a fifteen-minute drive. Yes Dillon remains free of outright commercialism with under 900 residents. The heart of the town is the marina, offering a full service, great sailing, cruises, regattas and trout fishing. It's a high-altitude resort at over 9,000 feet above sea level offering fresh mountain air and heaps of outdoor pursuits.
10. Grand Marais, Minnesota
Finally to Lake Superior, the biggest of them all. All the other great lakes could fit easily inside this one. Grand Marais is your base to explore over 350 miles of dramatic shoreline, national park, rivers and waterfalls. There is a superb harbour and breakwater here, culminating in a lighthouse. Everything revolves around the lake and the fishing is unrivalled - with trout and salmon, bass, panfish and more. There are more than fifty streams to try as well as the lake itself. There are also hundreds of species of birds and, for the wildlife spotter or hiker, moose, black bears, otters, lynx, beaver and deer. This is a northern wilderness, ripe to explore from the comfort of Grand Marais.
So, from the greatest lakes to the smaller gems, America has a huge variety of lakes to visit and delight in. Whether you choose to fish and hike, sit by the beach or watch the sunset, these towns offer first-class facilities in beautiful, historic surrounds. You can simply sit enjoying a seafood meal in a waterside restaurant and take it all in. Sail, swim or ski. However you choose to platy, it's time to get out to the great outdoors.
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