Whether their waters are glass-like or rippling towards the shore, lakes have a calming effect and make for an ideal vacation base. So launch your canoe or settle into an Adirondack chair and get ready to take in the glistening views. From rustic luxury in the woods of Maine to down-low waterside cabins in Washington, these nine lakeside retreats are sure to mellow you out.
Lake Quinault, Washington
Great for: Cabin living
What’s Relaxing: Solitude in the woods
Surrounded by the temperate Quinault Rain Forest, Lake Quinault straddles Olympic National Park to the north and Olympic National Forest to the south. With so much natural beauty, it’s tempting to quit your day job, head in, and hide away for life. But even if you can only visit for a few days, Lochaerie Resort on the lake’s north shore has the perfect solution: private rustic cabins. While part of the one-, two-, and three-bedroom structures’ charm is the Depression-era architecture, each cabin is tastefully decorated and comes well equipped with a fireplace, a kitchen, and stunning lake views.
Things to Do: Drive the 31-mile rainforest loop around the lake to scout for wildlife and see some of the biggest trees in the world. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard on the lake, or go hiking or bird watching on land. You’ll never run out of things to do outdoors, but don’t forget to savor the opportunity to stay in the moment.
Cayuga Lake, New York
Great for: Oenophiles
What’s Relaxing: Sipping wine while enjoying lake views
What could be more relaxing than porch sitting by a calm lake? Porch sitting and drinking a glass of fine wine, of course. And you can do just that at the Inns of Aurora, which include the Aurora Inn and the E.B. Morgan House, set on Cayuga Lake in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Amenities are ready-made for a perfect weekend getaway and come in the form of in-room dining, massages, fireplaces, and broad lakeside porches. Plus, wine tastings and cooking classes that feature local bounty from area farms and vineyards are available.
Things to Do: While the Finger Lakes region encompasses over 9,000 square miles and boasts more than 100 vineyards, Cayuga Lake has its own wine trail. Visitors can learn to make wine at Heart & Hands Wine Company or explore the historical village of Aurora.
Table Rock Lake, Missouri
Great for: Outdoor adventure
What’s Relaxing: Campfire time after active play
Tucked away from Branson, Missouri’s bustling music scene, Table Rock Lake is a hidden treasure that snakes and twists through the Ozark Mountains like a Chinese dragon. While the lake is technically a reservoir (made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), it delivers big in the nature and outdoors departments. Near Branson, Bavarian Village Resort offers affordable multi-bedroom duplexes, cottages, and cabins. Further out in Shell Knob, Stonewater Cove Resort and Club combines seclusion and rugged adventure with a bit of luxury in the heart of Mark Twain National Forest.
Things to Do: Table Rock Lake has all the components of a classic summer lake retreat. Plunge into the waters for a swim or glide along in kayaks. Or spend the most active part of the day boating, zip-lining, and biking before chilling out at night by gazing at gorgeous sunsets or into the mesmerizing flames of a campfire.
Lake Champlain, Vermont
Great for: Families
What’s Relaxing: A complete vacation with a break from the kids
Does a relaxing vacation with the kids sound like an oxymoron? At Tyler Place Family Resort on the shores of Lake Champlain in northern Vermont, it’s anything but. While children of all ages get the benefits of a summer camp, their parents can laze in lakeside Adirondack chairs, play tennis, take yoga classes, or rekindle romance over candlelit dinners and dancing. Accommodations range from private cottages to multi-room suites, all with living rooms, screened-in porches, and separate bedrooms for parents and children.
Things to Do: Whether the adults spend their mornings hiking, taking sailing lessons, or doing nothing at all, the kids won’t even notice, since they’ll be off having fun on counselor-led kids programs and activities like playing soccer and jumping on trampolines. However, a little family QT on the lake—paddleboarding, anyone?—is always an option.
Twin Lakes, California
Great for: Mountain living
What’s Relaxing: Motor-free water play
In Mammoth Lakes Basin, Twin Lakes delivers an authentic mountain escape in California’s Eastern Sierra. Consider a stay at Tamarack Lodge, a rustic woodland resort with varied accommodations including restored cabins originally built in 1924, historical lodge rooms, and a newer LEED-certified cabin with three bedrooms.
Things to Do: Most of the Jet Skiers and motor boaters go to other, larger lakes in the area, so you’ll usually enjoy peaceful fishing, paddleboarding, and swimming at Twin Lakes. You can go horseback riding or hiking in the bordering Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness, or take scenic drives to Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes or further out to Yosemite. Whether your day is rugged or serene, you can come back for a relaxing evening spent indulging on French-inspired cuisine at Tamarack’s acclaimed Lakefront Restaurant.
Lake Huron (Mackinac Island), Michigan
Great for: Island seclusion
What’s Relaxing: The simple pleasures of a bygone era
Forget cars. Forget your worries. And forget the present. Staying true to its Victorian roots, Michigan’s Mackinac Island in Lake Huron will surely transport you to a slower pace of life. While many inns and resorts capture the island’s turn-of-the-century essence, two stand out for their tranquil lakeside settings away from the bustle of town. Hotel Iroquois, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, is best known for its views and waterfront dining. Individually decorated rooms come with king or queen beds. Built in 1904, the Tudor-style Inn at Stonecliffe sits high on the island’s west bluff and offers bed-and-breakfast-style rooms and more modern suites, in addition to classic lawn games like bocce and croquet for guests.
Things to Do: Because no cars are allowed on the island, you have to get around by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. No matter how you explore the island, head to the Mackinac Island Butterfly House, admiring blooming lilacs or lady slippers along the way, or shop for handmade fudge in town in between strolling through the many shops lining Main Street.
Lake Austin, Texas
Great for: Wellness
What’s Relaxing: Meditative lake activities
One of seven reservoirs on the Colorado River, Lake Austin in Austin, Texas, is popular for paddlewheeling and pampering. Touted as one of the top spas in the country, Lake Austin Spa Resort will help you de-stress while attending to your health and well-being, all within a tranquil lake setting.
Things to Do: Lake activities range from kayaking and hydrobiking (which allows you to literally bike on water) to a relaxing boat cruise along the shore in an authentic stern-wheel riverboat. Exercise junkies can take part in cardio or dance programs, while meditation, Pilates, and yoga will help you stretch and balance both mind and body. Completely decompress with the resort’s vast menu of spa treatments and recharge with healthy organic dishes made from the on-site garden.
Moosehead Lake, Maine
Great for: Luxury
What’s Relaxing?: Lakeside moose viewing
Only in Maine can you pair a moose safari with rustic elegance. At The Lodge at Moosehead Lake in Greenville, you get the very best the state has to offer, from lodge-style accommodations and local cuisine to mountain views and forays into the wilderness. Rooms don’t skimp on luxurious trimmings and are outfitted with amenities like fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, pillow-top mattresses, and private decks.
Things to Do: Activities at Moosehead Lake are all about taking it slow. Paddle around the lake in a canoe or kayak, or take a guided pontoon boating excursion. The North Woods offers plenty of opportunities for bird watching and backwoods exploration, like viewing the pristine lake after a hike to the 800-foot summit of Mt. Kineo. And don’t miss the moose-sighting tours.
Lake Superior, Minnesota
Great for: Groups
What’s Relaxing: Listening to the waves from the warmth of your suite
Grand Marais in northern Minnesota makes for the perfect cool getaway. Not only does the town nearly reach the borders of Canada, but it’s set on Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, with average temperatures of 40 degrees (though harbor waters can warm up enough for summer swimming). But when the chill strikes, there are plenty of ways to warm up, such as by a fireplace or in a hot tub at one of the area’s hotels. In town, East Bay Suites offers anything from studios to three bedrooms and can accommodate various guest arrangements. A bit farther down the lake on a beach, Lutsen Resort‘s luxury condos, historical lodge, seaside villas, and log cabins have something for everyone.
Things to Do: Kayak the shoreline along the Lake Superior Water Trail, or get in the car and tour the wilds of the Gunflint Trail, a National Scenic Byway that starts in Grand Marais and ends at Saganaga Lake on the U.S.-Canadian border. Or stay local and hike to Artists’ Point, a half-mile walk through a small boreal forest that leads to a breakwall with views of the East Bay.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The 12 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in the U.S.
- The 10 Best Lake Towns in North America
- Cheap Weekend Getaways from 9 Major U.S. Cities
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.