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The Most Beautiful Lakes in America for Swimming

Beyond their pristine settings and peaceful waters, lakes act like time machines, taking us back to carefree summer days spent swimming from shore to shore, racing to the swim platform, and watching a perfectly reflected moon rise over the smooth surfaces.

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Whitefish Lake, Montana Panorama
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Whitefish Lake, Montana

Set at the base of the snow-capped Rockies in Northwestern Montana, sparkling Whitefish Lake is scenic defined. And whether you choose to join the crowd at City Beach in Whitefish (where you can also rent paddleboats) or take a solitary swim at Les Mason State Park, you won’t be entering a frigid zone: Whitefish Lake is shallow enough to warm up, making it one of the best swimming lakes near you. Find the most scenic getaway in your state.

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nature around upstate south carolina at lake jocassee gorge mountains

Lake Jocassee, South Carolina

Looking for a swimming lake near you? Speckled with islands and rimmed with waterfalls—even kids can swim under Wright Creek Falls as they tumble into the lake—Lake Jocassee keeps its cool during South Carolina’s sultry summers. It’s less crowded than other lakes, too, thanks to a single public access point at Devil’s Fork State Park. Lake Jocassee is particularly popular with scuba divers, who flock to the lake for its clean, clear water and cool sites like a sunken Chinese junk, a cemetery, and a basketball hoop.

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Walden Pond, Massachusetts

It looks like a lake, but the moniker is correct: Walden Pond really is a pond—and here’s the difference between a pond and a lake. Still, offering up a sandy beach, forested shoreline and broad expanse of water, the deepest natural body of fresh water in Massachusetts is popular with swimmers, kayakers, and literary types looking to commune with nature the way Henry David Thoreau did in the 1840s.

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deep creek Maryland lake on a bright fall day

Deep Creek Lake, Maryland

Twisting and turning through Western Maryland, this man-made lake brims with coves perfect for dropping anchor and bobbing about in deep water. Kids can dig in the sand and jump off rocks at Deep Creek Lake State Park, where there’s also a Discovery Center, which provides a home for injured owls, hawks, and other birds of prey no longer capable of surviving in the wild.

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Crater Lake sunrise
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Crater Lake, Oregon

America’s deepest lake (1,943 feet to be exact) is also it’s cleanest: scientists believe that Crater Lake contains some of the purest water in the world. It’s also an otherworldly shade of blue, falling somewhere between sapphire and cobalt. Though cold—the average summer temperature of the surface water doesn’t get above 60—the lake is popular with swimmers cooling off after completing the mile-long hike to the access point.

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Sunset from the shores of Kelleys Island over Lake Erie in Ohio.
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Lake Erie, Ohio

Halfway between Cleveland and Toledo, the southwestern shore of Lake Erie is a watery wonderland for lake lovers in search of the perfect swimming spot. Day-trippers can head to city beaches in mainland coastal villages such as Vermillion, Marblehead, and Huron or Kelleys and Put-In-Bay Islands that offer access to the Great Lake. There’s even a beach for adrenaline junkies: Cedar Point Beach, where visitors to Ohio’s famous amusement park can cool off after a spin on one of its 18 roller coasters including the scariest in the state.

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Boat ramp at Lake Santeetlah
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Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Like cool oases, southern mountain lakes lure the listless with the promise of refreshing water, pine-scented breezes, and calming views. Set within a particularly unspoiled stretch of Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, an old-growth forest outside the town of Robbinsville (population: 620), Lake Santeetlah delivers all this and more, including campsites, hiking trails, a nearly undeveloped shoreline, and one of the best swimming lakes near you.

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Breathtaking spring view of Lake Ouachita in Hot Springs Arkansas in foreground against blue sky. Tallest mountain in Hot Springs visible in background.
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Lake Ouachita, Arkansas

Sometimes, at the end of a perfect day floating in a glistening blue swimming lake near you, nothing feels better than strolling into a modern, air-conditioned cabin, where cool drinks await in the fridge. Sound appealing? Then pack your beach towels and head to Lake Ouachita State Park, which offers cabin rentals on the shore of Arkansas’ largest lake. Explore the best state park in your state.

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Children's Harbor on Lake Martin Alabama / Island View
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Lake Martin, Alabama

There’s a party on Lake Martin, and you’re invited. Attracting swimmers, boaters, and jet-skiers from all over central Alabama, who rent lakefront homes in the various towns scattered around this massive body of water, Lake Martin is the place to go when you want to celebrate summer with your crew. Constructed in 1926, the reservoir, which covers 40,000 acres and encompasses 800 miles of shoreline, was once the largest man-made lake in the world.

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Trees are changing colors along Shaver's Lake in West Virginia.

Shavers Lake, West Virginia

Supplying the water that, during the winter, is used to make snow at nearby Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort, Shavers Lake is a swimmer’s paradise during the summer that comes complete with a sandy beach; paddleboards and kayaks; a swim platform, and a floating inflatable challenge course that, if you’re lucky, will end with a big splash in the lake.

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Boat docks at table Rock lake, Kimberling City, Missouri.
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Table Rock Lake, Missouri

Scuba divers looking for more than fish will find it at Table Rock Lake: the town of Oasis, submerged for nearly 60 years under 100 feet of water, is still surprisingly intact. The lake also hides a submerged grove of oaks and several wrecked boats. Though this may sound odd, it’s nothing compared to the creepiest things found in the ocean. Above the surface, this bluer-than-blue lake is surrounded by a forest thick with dogwood and redbud trees that burst into flower each spring.

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Lake Chelan in summer
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Lake Chelan, Washington

Though it’s no longer the largest lake in Washington, Lake Chelan is surely the state’s most beautiful: cutting through the landscape like a cerulean sword, this long, narrow lake is rimmed with hills and offers views of the dramatic Northern Cascades. Swimmers will want to stick to the beaches along the lake’s southern shoreline, where, by mid-summer, shallower water warms to comfortable temperatures. Afterward, explore Stehekin, one of the region’s atmospheric towns. It’s at the northern end and is accessible only by air, water, or foot and is home to a number of wineries.

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lake george bay

Lake George, New York

Stretching for 32 miles between Lake George and Ticonderoga and surrounded by emerald-green mountains, the lake is a blue-hued fantasy for swimmers of every ilk: children love the sandy beaches in Lake George Village, Bolton Landing, and Hague; four-legged paddlers are welcome at Dog Beach, a dog-friendly strand adjacent to the Million Dollar Beach in Lake George Village.

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Kingsley dam, lake McConaughy overflow structure on the north Platte river near Ogallala, Nebraska
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Lake McConaughy, Nebraska

A swimming lake near you in Nebraska? You betcha! Just head to Lake McConaughy, near Ogallala, where, thanks to the state’s nearby sandhills, much of the lake’s 100 miles of shoreline does a spot-on impression of an ocean beach complete with bright white sand and sparkling blue water. Affectionately called Lake Mac, this massive reservoir is also a top spot for boat surfing, fishing, and building castles in the deep sand.

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Lake Powell and Glen Canyon in Arizona, USA

Lake Powell, Arizona

If you love swimming in warm water, you’ll adore Lake Powell, where water temperatures regularly settle in at or above 80 degrees. It’s an otherworldly scene comprising sandstone canyon walls swirled in shades of red and tan, dramatic rock formations, and flat-topped mesas. Although you can’t swim near the lake’s many marinas, you’ll find plenty places to cool off, like Lone Rock Beach and the Chains, or if you have a boat, anywhere you can pull up along the 1900-or-so miles of shoreline.

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A dock and diving platform at sunset on Little Squam Lake, New Hampshire
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Squam Lake, New Hampshire

If Squam Lake’s beckoning shoreline and placid water look familiar, you’re not dreaming: On Golden Pond was shot along the misty coastline of this gorgeous lake. Filled with coves and islands, Squam Lake is a swimmer’s dream: not only is there always a quiet place to swim, but boats are limited to 40 mph during the day (slower at night), keeping the water calm and safe.

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Big Ridge State Park, Maynardville, Tennessee
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Norris Lake, Tennessee

Bordered by huge swatches of undeveloped shoreline this pine-rimmed swimming lake near you is popular with paddlers, equestrians, cyclists, hikers, and swimmers, but rarely feels crowded. Norris Lake is loaded with secluded spots perfect for a quiet dip; keep your eyes peeled for deer, grouse, wild turkey and other wildlife.

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Red lighthouse on blue cloud sky in winter at Michigan Lake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA.

Lake Michigan, Wisconsin

Most beaches known for their crystalline water are set along vast oceans but some, like Schoolhouse Beach in Wisconsin, front lakes as clear as glass and allow mirror-like reflections of the tall pines that surround this peaceful patch of Great Lake real estate. Another unique feature: instead of sand, the beach is covered in limestone rocks smoothed by centuries of exposure to wind, snow, and ice.

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Priest Lake
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Priest Lake, Idaho

Dotted with tiny islands covered in spiky spruce, fir, and pine trees and brimming with views of the snowy Selkirk Mountains, Priest Lake could just as easily be set in the Swiss Alps. Though swimming is permitted throughout this remote body of water, the quiet Upper Lake, which has restrictions on powerboats, offers a quieter experience and the chance to spot the mule deer, moose, and elk that slip down to the water’s edge to drink.

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Gran Teton, beautiful landscape with the lake
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Grand Lake, Colorado

Set within Rocky Mountain Park, Colorado’s largest natural lake is also one of its most stunning, with sailboats silently slipping by against a backdrop of Mount Baldy and other towering peaks. Take a dip at sandy Grand Lake Beach, an in-town strand surrounded by shops and cafes, or grab a kayak and head to one of the lake’s myriad coves.

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Clear Lake Iowa, Two kids sitting on dock

Clear Lake, Iowa

It’s hard not to envy the residents of Clear Lake, Iowa because the town’s namesake lake is so accessible that anyone with a hankering for a quick dip need only to stroll to one of the many public access points that line the shore and dive right in. Solitude-seekers in search of a more peaceful experience will find it just outside of town at dog-friendly McIntosh Woods State Park. Discover more of our favorite dog-friendly beaches around the country.

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early morning, reflections, Echo Lake, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA
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Echo Lake, Maine

Though located less than five miles from Maine’s cliff-lined Atlantic coast, this small freshwater lake seems a world away. Set within the deep green of Acadia National Park, the lake often spends its morning hemmed in fog, which clears by the afternoon to reveal a wonderfully warm patch of blue that, due to a ban on boat engines larger than 10 hp, is blissfully quiet.

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Waves roll in on a fall day at the beach of Charlevoix, Michigan.
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Lake Charlevoix, Michigan

Separated from Lake Michigan by a narrow spit of land, Lake Charlevoix is calmer, more temperate and less windy than its mighty next-door neighbor. Like these charming small towns around the country, the town itself is a dreamy slice of Americana complete with a general store, quirky architecture and curving cycle paths. Ernest Hemingway was so enthralled by the area that used it as the setting for his Nick Adams Stories.

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Rocks of Colorado river in Inks Lake State Park, Texas
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Inks Lake, Texas

Not only is Inks Lake a gorgeous place for a swim—the azure water is surrounded by rocky hills, cool hardwood forests, and gentle rises—it hides the Devil’s Waterhole, which is generally believed to be the best-known “secret” swimming spot in the region. Far from undiscovered, though, the swimming hole, which is surrounded by high cliffs, is still worth a visit if only to catapult into the water from above. Can’t make it to the Lone Star State? Check out the best natural swimming pool near you.

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Forest lake under blue cloudy sky
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Lake Conasauga, Georgia

Located near the summit of Grassy Mountain, Georgia’s highest elevation lake is a spring-fed wonder surrounded by the tall pines and hemlocks of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests. Swim at your leisure—no motorized watercraft are permitted—but bring your hiking boots as well so you can trek to the top of Grassy Mountain.

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Glendalough State Park is located by Battle Lake and Ottertail Lake, Minnesota
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Rainy Lake, Minnesota

Two small beaches provide access to warm-ish water on this stunning lake, which is part of Voyageurs National Park‘s chain of large interconnected lakes: Lake Kabetogama, Namakan Lake, Sand Point Lake, and Crane Lake. The remote North Woods region is home to more than 50 species of mammals, including moose, wolves, bear, and otter, who can often be seen playing in the water surrounding the Lake Kabetogama Visitor Center. After sundown, watch for the Northern Lights dancing in the sky. Read on to find out the best beach in every state.

Katie McElveen
Katie McElveen is a freelance travel and lifestyle writer covering destinations across the globe as well as food, pets, home solutions and gardens. In addition to Reader’s Digest, her work has appeared in Southern Living, Afar, Global Traveler, Virtuoso Life, AAA Traveler, Real Simple, Sherman’s Travel, Fodor’s and other outlets.