The 8 Best Lakeside American Small Towns

Small town charm right on the lake.

Hopper Editors - Oct. 26, 2017

In a world that is 70% water, some of it’s bound to make a splash inland. Carved out by centuries of tectonic plates shifting, some innocuous and often forgotten towns are resting beside incredible, shimmering lakes, some that go on for miles, feeding into the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. From the Great Lakes to spring-fed ponds, there’s something exciting – boating, fishing, yachting or just swimming – for everyone in these American lakeside small towns.

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There’s tons to do at Lake of the Ozarks in Osage Beach, Missouri

Lake of the Ozarks has more than 1,150 miles of shoreline and offers activities that will thrill and captivate the entire family. Visitors can explore Missouri’s largest state park, Lake of the Ozarks State Park, by foot or horseback and discover stalactites and stalagmites formed millions of years ago in local caves. Twelve trails crisscross thousands of acres of woods and provide ample opportunities to take a relaxing hike, try your hand at a mountain biking adventure, or venture underground for a lantern-light tour of the subterranean passageways of Ozark Cave – just one of the more than 6,400 caves riddling the state. On tour, visitors will learn about the four bat and four salamander species, along with 16 invertebrate species, residing in the cave.

Take a break from the Rocky Mountain National Park and make a splash in Lake Estes near Estes Park, Colorado

Estes Park is a perfectly picturesque mountain town hidden among the pine forests of Colorado’s Estes Valley. It is also the gateway to the Rocky Mountain National Park, 415 square miles of wild and varied terrain that is home to a dense concentration of wildlife and the site of some of the best hiking in the United States. However, Estes Park is not just parklife, it is also lake life. Just on the edge of town is Lake Estes, shadowed by the surrounding pine-covered mountains. A variety of boats are available to hire, from one-person kayaks to large pontoons. There are plentiful opportunities for fishing, and the lake is encircled by a rough trail, which can be covered on foot or by bike.

Find water in the old cattle town of Ogallala, Nebraska

No great American road trip is worth its salt without a stop in Nebraska. Old cattle towns, cowboys and spurs and kitschy storefronts along a strip reliving the glory days of the American Frontier. Another reason tourists flock to this area is Lake McConaughey, brimming with waterside campgrounds and trophy-sized fish. There’s a reason why the locals call this place Big Mac – it’s big. Covering 35,800 acres with over 100 miles of shoreline, this man-made lake or dam-made lake (the Kingsley Dam is the second largest hydraulic fill dam in the world) is a magnet for boaters, fishers, campers and hunters.

Laughlin, Nevada, is a small Las Vegas on the shores of Lake Mohave

Laughlin formed as a town when Don Laughlin, a Minnesota native, bought this little parcel of land at the southern tip of Nevada in 1964. Now it’s one of the most popular tourism destinations in Nevada, merging the luxury and excitement of the large entertainment complexes with family friendly riverside activities. Stretching 67 miles along the valley from Hoover Dam to Davis Dam on the Colorado River, Lake Mohave is a quiet, scenic place to fish and boat. Abundant with both rainbow trout and striped bass, this somewhat secluded area is a hit with campers, kayakers, hikers and RV enthusiasts. The water is crystal clear turquoise, and huge mounds of desert landscape with patchy edges of trees pierce the low skyline. For a day of peace and quiet away from the buzz of slot machines, Lake Mohave is a desert oasis.

Geneva-on-the-Lake, Ohio, wants its name to be pretty clear that it’s on the lake

Throughout the year, this little village resort along the southern Ohio shores of Lake Erie gathers trickles of visitors to its gorgeous park, lakeside activities and hopping winery trail. In the summer, the town flickers to life in a whirr of arcade games along the colorful boardwalk, and during the day, there’s tons of natural fun to have. Lake Erie is known as the walleye capital of the world and some of the best fishing in Ohio is right in Geneva State Park, where the current runs with flashes of yellow perch, channel catfish and steelhead trout. Along the marina is a canteen and concession area which supplies gasoline, bait and 383 rental docks for boaters. Other things to do in the 698-acre Geneva State Park include hunting, picnicking, swimming on their 300-foot guarded swimming beach, hiking along the six miles of trails threaded throughout the park, as well as archery.

Admire the crystal-clear waters of Lake Miltona near Alexandria, Minnesota

Alexandria, Minnesota, may be humble in size, but it has a lot to offer travelers in way of its glorious woodland and lakes. Lake Miltona offers a number of lakeside cabins overlooking the glistening crystal-clear waters, complete with boat rentals and fire pits. Lake Miltona features 15 miles of shoreline and 5,838 acres of glassy spring-fed water. Flanked by resort hotels, visitors can enjoy the splendor and limitless water activities like boating, swimming, fishing and more only 15 minutes from the wineries, shops and historic downtown of Alexandria. True family bonding has never been this fun or this relaxed.

There’s so much going on in Door County, Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan

Door County, Wisconsin, is definitely an area worth exploring. With its limitless nature-seeking opportunities, beautiful lighthouses to climb, and local art at every turn, there’s always something to discover in this humble little county. Replete with ghost stories and parkland, Door County offers great natural adventures. Bigger than your average park, the 104-year-old Peninsula State Park is host to a variety of outdoor activities and an estimated one million visitors annually. Within its 3776 acres, it has four campgrounds, a lighthouse, a theater, a golf course, bike trail, and plenty of vantage points for nature viewing. Such an expansive piece of land means that visitors can golf, fish, kayak, bike, hike, boat, camp and whatever unplugged activity they want to engage in.

Canoe and fish in Cooperstown, New York, on Otsego Lake

People make their way to Cooperstown, NY, because it’s the home of National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Though Cooperstown is a baseball town, that isn’t all it is: there are plenty of sights to see in Cooperstown, music to enjoy, art to be absorbed, beer to swig and lakes to canoe. Tubing, sailing, kayaking, wake-boarding, waterskiing, canoeing and fishing in the summer; ice fishing, snowshoeing, skating and snowmobiling in the winter. Otsego Lake is a great place for all kinds of water sports activities, all year round. Take in the view of the lake with the 60-foot-tall Kingfisher Tower on the eastern shore, which is a fantastic spot for picnicking and enjoying Cooperstown in the fall.

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