best boating lakes in the us

Best Boating Lakes in the US: Top 15 Destinations

We have talked about boating and fishing lakes of individual states in North America, from the likes of California and Florida all the way over to the regions of Texas and Tennessee. This time, let us go big time. This time, we are going to be looking at the best boating lakes in the US.

In this guide, we will provide you with 15 of the most prestigious boating lakes and destinations in the United States, identifying internationally popular tourist destinations, naturally occurring bodies of water, man-made lakes and reservoirs, and even the underappreciated smaller lakes in the outskirts of certain states.

If you are ready to dive into the wonderful realm of boating and fishing destinations in North America, then keep on reading!

Our Recommended Best Boating Destinations in the US

The Great Lakes

The Great Lakes, known alternatively as the Laurentian Great Lakes of the United States of America, refer to five large, interconnected, naturally occurring freshwater lakes located in the upper regions of North America and certain portions of Canada.

Others consider Lake Huron and Lake Michigan to be a single entity (as they are eventually joined at the Straits of Mackinac) but from a tourist standpoint, it is best to stick to a total of five distinct, beautiful lakes.

Let's take a look at what each lake has to offer.

1. Lake Superior

lake superior usa

Lake Superior, as you can tell from the name, is the largest among the five Great Lakes of the United States. Globally, this lake is considered to be the largest in terms of surface area but only ranks third in terms of water volume.

The indigenous community gave this lake the name of Gichi-gami, which roughly translates to the great sea. This name has been mentioned in a couple of poems and songs.

Holding approximately 10% of the entire world’s surface freshwater, this lake has an estimated surface area of almost 32,000 square miles, an average depth of roughly 480 feet, a maximum depth of a little over 1,300 feet, and a water volume of 2,9000 cubic miles.

From a scientific standpoint, Lake Superior has been a considerable test subject in determining the effects of climate change around the world. From a practical standpoint, this lake has been a significant travel link within the Great Lakes Waterway boundary for the transportation of minerals and raw materials.

From a recreational standpoint, you would be able to enjoy the following activities and services:

  • State Park visits
  • Scenic tours
  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Mural tours
  • Museum tours
  • Lighthouse visits
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Birdwatching
  • Swimming
  • Island hopping
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Water sports

Here are the most common fish species found in Lake Superior:

  • Lake whitefish
  • Walleye
  • Lake trout
  • Lake sturgeon
  • Burbot
  • Muskellunge
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Rock bass
  • Northern pike
  • Yellow perch
  • Brook trout

2. Lake Michigan

lake michigan usa

Lake Michigan is the third-largest Laurentian Lake in terms of surface area and the second-largest in terms of water volume. Conjoined with Lake Huron at the very narrow Straits of Mackinac, this lake is considered by some to be the western counterpart of a single lake entity.

Its name allegedly comes from the term Michi-gami which roughly translates to great water.

Shared by Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, this lake has a reported surface area of around 22,400 square miles, an average depth of approximately 280 feet, a maximum depth of 923 feet, and a water volume of roughly 1,200 cubic miles.

This destination boasts several ferry trips, dozens of islands, and roughly 30 accredited state parks, along with the following fun recreational activities and services:

  • Swimming
  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Water sports
  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Scenic tours
  • Hiking
  • Mountain biking
  • Winery visits
  • Lighthouse visits
  • Theme parks
  • Wildlife viewing

There are several aquatic fauna found in this lake, the most noteworthy of which are the following:

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Brown trout
  • Brook trout
  • Lake trout
  • Yellow perch
  • Bowfin
  • Rainbow trout
  • Salmon

3. Lake Huron

lake huron usa

Considered to be the eastern counterpart to Lake Michigan, Lake Huron is the second-largest great lake in terms of volume and the third-largest great lake in terms of volume. Overall, as a freshwater lake, this lake is considered to be the third-largest.

The origin of the lake’s name can be traced back to as early as 1656, where a map made by a French cartographer labeled the area as Karegnondi which translates to Freshwater Sea or Lake of the Hurons. This was then utilized by other European maps which eventually led to Lac des Hurons (Lake of the Huron).

According to the most recent surveys, Lake Huron has a surface area of roughly 23,000 square miles, an average depth of a little under 200 feet, a maximum depth of approximately 750 feet, and a water volume of 850 cubic miles.

With lumbering and fishing as the staple activities in this region, get to enjoy any of the following recreational activities as well:

  • Boating
  • Kayaking
  • Water sports
  • Scenic tours
  • Shipwreck tours
  • Museum tours
  • Lighthouse visits
  • State Park visits
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Dining
  • Lodging

There is an abundance of aquatic species in this lake, including the following fish species:

  • Walleye
  • Lake whitefish
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Lake trout
  • Alewife
  • Lake sturgeon
  • Yellow perch
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Northern pike
  • Coregonus hoyi
  • Rock bass

4. Lake Erie

lake erie usa

Lake Erie is the smallest (in terms of water volume) and shallowest among its peers, but do not let this take away from the fact that globally, this lake is still within the top 15. On top of this, the lake is considered to be one of the most biologically rich freshwater lakes in the world and as a result, is considered to be home to the largest commercial freshwater fisheries in the entire world.

Shared between North America (Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio) and the United States (Ontario), this lake has a reported surface area of a little under 10,000 square miles, an average depth of a little over 60 feet, a maximum depth of approximately 210 feet, and a water volume of almost 120 cubic miles.

The name is directly attributed to the Erie Tribe that lived along the southern edge of the region. This tribe was discovered by the Europeans during their travels in the 1600s and the name has been inherited to this very day.

Much like the previous entry, there are several things to do and services to avail of in this lake, including the following:

  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Island hopping
  • Museum tours
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Scenic tours
  • Hiking

Common fish species found in the waters of Lake Erie are the following:

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Walleye
  • Yellow perch
  • Rainbow trout
  • White perch
  • Alewife
  • Rainbow smelt
  • Common carp
  • Brown trout
  • Bigmouth buffalo

5. Lake Ontario

lake ontario

Lake Ontario, the easternmost body of water among its peers, is the thirteenth largest lake worldwide.

According to the most recent measurements, this lake has a surface area of roughly 7,300 square miles, an average depth of 283 feet, a maximum depth of around 800 feet, and water volume of approximately 390 cubic miles.

The name is derived from what the Huron Tribe used to call this lake (Ontari’io) which translates to the great lake. It was chanced upon by Europeans in 1615 and the name Ontario has been carried up to this day.

Aside from several islands and lighthouses in this destination, you can also enjoy engaging in the following activities and services:

  • Boating
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking
  • Water sports
  • Scenic tours
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Bird watching
  • Swimming
  • Museum tours

The most notable fish species caught in this area are the following:

  • Chinook salmon
  • Coho salmon
  • Walleye
  • Lake trout
  • Brown trout
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Salmon

Man-Made Lakes and Reservoirs

Man-made lakes and reservoirs are artificial bodies of water made to serve a specific practical or economic purpose, whether it be for hydroelectric power generation, flood control, irrigation, or water storage.

Despite being man-made, these beautiful bodies of water still serve a recreational purpose, and the three lakes we have listed below are arguably the best lakes found in the United States.

6. Lake Powell

lake powell

Located within the Colorado River in Arizona and Utah, Lake Powell is one of the most popular tourist destinations that accommodates hundreds of thousands of visitors per year.

Considered to be the second-largest reservoir in terms of water volume, this lake has a surface area of roughly 250 square miles, an average depth of a little over 130 feet, a maximum depth of 583 feet, and a water volume of approximately 7,875,000 acre-feet.

Aside from ferry trips and a handful of lovely marinas, enjoy the following recreational activities:

  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canyon tours
  • Hiking
  • Nature treks
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Wildlife viewing

Lake Powell is stocked with various fish species, including the following:

  • Walleye
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Northern pike
  • Common carp
  • Channel catfish
  • Striped bass

7. Lake Mead

lake mead

Also found in the Colorado River, Lake Mead is a result of the construction of the Hoover Dam in the southwestern portion of North America.

Found within the states of both Arizona and Nevada, this artificial lake has a surface area of approximately 247 square miles, a maximum depth of about 532 feet, and a water volume of up to 7.7 cubic miles (although recent reports have surfaced regarding climate change significantly affecting the measurements of this reservoir).

From a recreational standpoint, take part in any of the following fun activities:

  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Scenic tours
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Biking
  • Camping
  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Horseback riding

The most notable fish species caught in this area are the following:

  • Striped bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Channel catfish
  • Bluegill

8. Lake Sakakawea

lake sakakawea

Last but not least, Lake Sakakawea is a large artificial lake found in the northern region of central North America. It is a result of the construction of Garrison Dam in 1953 and is found within the Missouri River basin in North Dakota.

The name of this lake is attributed to Sakakawea, a woman from the Native American community known as the Shoshone-Hidatsa.

According to survey reports, this lake has a surface area of roughly 480 square miles, a maximum depth of 180 feet, and a water volume of a little over 7 cubic miles.

As a tourist destination, you can enjoy the following activities with friends or family:

  • Camping
  • Boating
  • Hiking
  • Fishing
  • Water sports
  • Park visits
  • Picnicking
  • Wildlife viewing
  • Swimming

Popular fish species stocked in this body of water are the following:

  • Rainbow trout
  • White bass
  • Brown trout
  • Chinook salmon
  • Cutthroat trout
  • Sauger
  • Northern pike

Most Popular Lakes

In this list, we talk about five of the most frequently visited water-based destinations. These are chosen by several vacationers for the premium lodging, the unique wildlife experience, and the abundance of beautiful views and serene landscapes.

9. Lake Tahoe

lake tahoe usa

Lake Tahoe is a naturally occurring freshwater lake that was discovered to be formed roughly two million years ago as a result of the formation of the Lake Tahoe Basin during the ice age.

Considered to be one of the top tourist attractions in the states of Nevada and California, this lake hosts a lot of fun and exciting activities, including the following:

  • Winter water sports
  • Outdoor sports
  • Scenic tours
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Skiing
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Swimming

There are several unique fish species found in this region, including the following:

  • Brown bullhead
  • Golden shiner
  • Mountain whitefish
  • Mosquitofish
  • Rainbow trout
  • Sockeye salmon
  • Lahontan cutthroat trout

10. Crater Lake

crater lake usa

Crater Lake is a volcanic crater lake (formed as a result of volcanic activity in the past) that is found in Oregon and is highlighted as the top feature of the Crater Lake National Park.

Despite its volcanic origins, this lake is known more for its depth, deep blue hue and astounding water clarity. It measures approximately 21 miles in surface area, with a water volume of around 4.5 cubic miles.

The activities that can be done in this destination include the following:

  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Scenic tours
  • Skiing
  • Wildlife viewing

In terms of aquatic species, you will be able to spot the following in this lake:

  • Sockeye salmon
  • Kokanee salmon
  • Rainbow trout

11. Lake Champlain

lake champlain

Found within the boundaries of Vermont and New York (Canada and US, respectively), Lake Champlain is a naturally occurring freshwater lake that was named after French explorer Samuel de Champlain who was credited with discovering the body of water in the early 1600s.

According to surveys, this lake has a surface area of approximately 515 square miles, an average depth of around 64 feet, and a water volume of 6.2 cubic miles.

Take part in any of the following recreational activities in Lake Champlain:

  • Biking
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • State Park visits
  • Camping
  • Fishing
  • Ferry trips
  • Scenic tours
  • Museum tours

The most common fish caught in this area are the following:

  • Atlantic salmon
  • Rock bass
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass
  • Lake trout

12. Lake Havasu

lake havasu

Lake Havasu, advertised as the Home of the London Bridge, is a combination of peaceful waters, edged-out mountains, and a lot of wholesome water-based fun.

The lake is an artificial body of water formed by Parker Dam. It has a surface area of roughly 30 square miles and a maximum depth of 90 feet.

Recreational activities in this tourist spot include:

  • Biking
  • Fishing
  • Swimming
  • Camping
  • Off-roading
  • Golfing

The fish species found in Lake Havasu include the following:

  • Smallmouth bass
  • Redear sunfish
  • Channel catfish
  • Flathead catfish
  • Largemouth bass

13. Lake Shasta

lake shasta

Lake Shasta, alternatively known as Shasta Lake, is a reservoir found in California. It came into existence in the year 1944 as a result of the completion of the Shasta Dam project.

This reservoir has a surface area of around 46 square miles and a water volume of around 1.35 cubic miles.

Aside from the multitude of marinas in the area, you can also enjoy the following recreational activities:

  • Swimming
  • Boating
  • Water skiing
  • Fishing
  • Scenic tours

As for fish species, the following are the most commonly caught:

  • Chinook salmon
  • Rainbow trout
  • Spotted bass
  • White strugeon
  • Brown trout bluegill
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Largemouth bass

Underappreciated Lakes

Wrapping up our list are a couple of lakes that fly under the radar but are still worth checking out.

14. Bear Lake

bear lake

Bear Lake is a freshwater lake located within the borders of Utah and Idaho in the western region of North America.

This lake has a surface area of approximately 110 square miles and has a handful of year-long activities available to do, including:

  • Swimming
  • Water skiing
  • Jet skiing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Fishing
  • Golfing
  • Cave tours

Notable fish species found in this body of water are the following:

  • Lake whitefish
  • Bonneville cisco
  • Lake sculpin
  • Lake trout

15. Moosehead Lake

moosehead lake

Yet another lake named after an animal, Moosehead Lake is a cold water lake found in Maine and is identified as the second-largest lake in New England.

Found along the Longfellow Mountains, this body of water has a surface area of roughly 117 square miles and offers the following recreational activities and services:

  • Fishing
  • Scenic tours
  • Boating
  • Museum tours
  • State Park visits
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Winery visits
  • Kayaking
  • Boating

The most notable fish species in Moosehead Lake are the following:

  • Salmon
  • Lake trout
  • Brook trout
  • Smallmouth bass
  • Round whitefish
  • Rainbow smelt
  • Yellow perch

In Summary

Opinions on the best boating lakes in the US is highly subjective, we must admit. However, with our criteria, experience, and the division of categories listed above, we hope that you can now have a better understanding of what lakes in North America are like and how diverse each one is from one another not just from an aquatic species standpoint, but also from practical and historical standpoints.

So, if you are planning a major vacation trip with your friends, family, or by your lonesome, then definitely have this guide bookmarked to refresh yourself on the best possible lakes and destinations to visit here in the United States.

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