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The Best Lakes for Summer Fun in the West

Posted by Garrick Ramirez on June 28, 2018
Swimmers at Sand Harbor in Lake Tahoe, picture
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Photo: Jason Osborne / Shutterstock
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Lake Tahoe's ever-popular Sand Harbor draws swimmers, kayakers, and loungers when the temperatures rise.

A day at the beach needn’t involve the Pacific. Head inland, and you’ll discover scenic lakes with sandy shores and water activities—and no pesky jellyfish. When summer heats up, cool down by swimming and boating gentle waters, or simply relax on a beach with ice cream in hand. From a forest-ringed mountain lake to a desert oasis, the following destinations offer fun ways to celebrate summer both in and on the water.

Whitefish Lake, Whitefish, MT
A breezy stroll from downtown, City Beach fronts the 7-mile glacial lake with plenty of sand and swimming. Don’t let the icy descriptor fool you. During late summer, waters heat up to a comfortable 70 degrees. Lifeguards keep watch over little ones hopping off a floating deck and splashing about in the designated swimming area. If you’d rather get out on open waters, Paddlefish Sports offers kayak and paddleboard rentals to cruise the lake shore or paddle down Whitefish River. A shaded grass area provides a pleasant spot to enjoy a Burly’s hot dog or homemade ice cream from local fave Sweet Peaks.

Woman relaxes on Trillium Lake in Oregon, picture
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Photo: David H. Collier
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Trillium Lake has some of the best views and space for quiet relaxation in the West.

Trillium Lake, Mt. Hood National Forest, OR
Set within an incredibly scenic forest, Trillium Lake is no stranger to Portland day trippers. An easy trail loops the lush reservoir, but come summer, most visitors head straight for the shore to canoe, kayak, or paddleboard peaceful waters—motors are a no-go—against a stunning backdrop of snow-capped Mount Hood. For overnights, the lake offers 64 campsites that book up quickly. The quaint, nearby town of Government Camp—or “Govy” as locals call it—is a must stop for rental gear from Mt. Hood Adventure and homemade pies and milkshakes at Huckleberry Inn.

Lake Berryessa, Napa County, CA
Situated within oak-covered hills 45 minutes from Napa Valley wineries, Berryessa stretches 23 miles with pleasantly warm waters and quiet coves to swim or kayak. Yet, most are here to play on the open water. During summer, the lake is abuzz with jet skis, wakeboards, and water skis that can be rented from nearby Lake Berryessa Boat & Jet Ski Rentals. Visitors can take advantage of a public boat launch at Capell Cove, one of four free day use areas with picnic areas, restrooms, and easy shore access.

Read More: The Best Water Sports Venues in the West

Lake Havasu London Bridge, picture
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Photo: Angel McNall Photography / Shutterstock
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Whether resting by the shore or spending the weekend on a houseboat, Lake Havasu has something for everyone.

Lake Havasu, Lake Havasu City, AZ
Straddling the Arizona-California border, Lake Havasu attracts water sport lovers from both states to enjoy 60 miles of waterways on everything from jet skis to giant inflatable swans. Lake Havasu State Park has kayak and canoe rentals, launch ramps, and a large, white-sand beach. Load up the cooler at a nearby deli, and settle in on a large grass lawn with picnic tables, grills, and shade covers. Make it a weekend at the park’s 47-site campground or aboard a houseboat from nearby Nautical Watersports.

Lake Mead, outside Las Vegas, NV
Encompassing a whopping 110 miles, Lake Mead was formed when the Hoover Dam rose up along the Colorado River. Given its size, much of the lake is best accessed by boat. Rent a variety of motor boats from four privately operated marinas, or book kayaks with Desert Adventures in Boulder City who will deliver watercraft to the lakefront. When summer temps soar, head to Boulder Beach for cool waters that provide a refreshing plunge. The beach loans free life jackets for kids and adults, but bring water shoes for rocky shores.

Read More: 5 Scenic Water Trails in the West

woman stand-up paddleboard SUPs on Lake Tahoe, picture
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Lake Tahoe's coves and shoreline are perfect to stand-up paddleboard.

Lake Tahoe, CA and NV
On warm days, Tahoe’s clear, turquoise waters beckon you to leap in from one of the many granite boulders that ring the lake. Those averse to heights might prefer spreading out on the wide stretch of sand at Kings Beach. Nab sandwiches and fresh juices from Tahoe Central Market, and linger at picnic tables overlooking the blue expanse. Or spend a relaxing day on the water with kayaks and paddleboards from Tahoe Paddle and Oar or Adrift Tahoe.

Lake Washington, Seattle, WA
The state’s second largest natural lake, Lake Washington, is dotted with numerous towns offering boatloads of summertime fun. In the eastern shorefront town of Kirkland, Juanita Beach Park abounds with sunny-day staples including horseshoe pits, baseball diamonds, and a sandy beach with an enclosed swimming area, changing rooms, and outdoor showers. Northwest Paddle Surfers rents onsite kayaks and paddleboards that can be launched from the park’s public dock, and, a block away, you’ll find ice cream and homemade doughnuts at Juanita’s Village.