Boat rides. Bonfires. Early mornings parked in an Adirondack chair. Evenings spent watching the stars wink on over glass-like water. A trip to the lake is a quintessential American pastime, one that’s defined vacation for generations of families looking to escape to nature. Of course, finding the right place to stay has a lot to do with this. The best lakeside resorts offer great rooms, sure, but they also operate almost like summer camps, providing a range of activities, rentals, and experiences for the entire family. Whether you’re looking for a last-minute summer getaway or want to book ahead for another season, here are seven great lakeside resorts to consider.
Not enough people think about wilderness when you mention the Empire State, but they should. New York’s Adirondack Park protects 6.1 million acres of natural beauty and there’s no better spot from which to appreciate it all than the village of Lake Placid—home to the 1980 Winter Olympics—and its aptly named body of water. Right on the shore, the Mirror is a stunning spot to both enjoy the refined beauty of a world-famous lodge and get out and play. Note too, that the inn closed when the pandemic first hit out of respect for its visitors’ health and has kept COVID-19 safety first and foremost in its operations. Oh and if you doubt this is the real deal, know that proprietor Andrew Weibrecht, a native of Lake Placid — who now runs the Mirror with his wife, Denja — is a two-time Olympic medalist in the Super-G and they love families.
Family Fun: Take a paddle with Lake Placid Boat tours, which caters to all ability levels. Hit the zip-line at nearby Experience Outdoors. Hike nearby trails. Fly fish the legendary Ausable River, which gave its name to the popular attractor fly, the Ausable Wulff.
Grownup Time: Book an Adirondack Maple Sugar Body Scrub at the one-premises spa.
Want to really get away? You probably haven’t heard of Isle Royale National Park, tucked up at the northwestern edge of Lake Superior. After all, it’s one of the least-visited parks in the U.S. (around 17,000 visitors come through the area every year) and only accessible by ferry or float plane. That puts this full-service lodge on the island high on our list of ideal escapes. But don’t think that being off the beaten path makes it boring. The park is full of adventure — paddling is a must if you can get to it — and the lodge itself provides the perfect basecamp to enjoy that wildness in comfort. Moose are often sighted clomping around the grounds.
Family Fun: Explore the lake and remote spots around the island on one of the lodge’s fishing charters. On board, you will troll for lake trout and possibly salmon and all it takes for any family member to reel one in is a bit of forearm strength and the will to get your catch in the boat.
Grownup Time: Hike the scenic 4.2-mile Still Trail, just the two of you, out to scenic Scoville Point.
It’s hard to talk about any great American lake vacations without including the largest alpine lake in all of North America (and biggest lake at all in the U.S. besides the Great Lakes). Tahoe’s brilliant blue among the granite peaks of the Sierras make it a must-visit for everyone. There are countless lodging options along the massive lake but The Landing is the best for a family seeking both fun and serious relaxation. Situated in the mountain (and casino) town of South Lake Tahoe, The Landing makes a special point of making sure its guests enjoy all the outdoor activity in this natural playground, starting with the lake but stretching up into the high peaks, too. And the big bonus for families: Children 17 and under stay here for free (dogs are allowed but cost $75 per day extra, though they can also dine with you on-site at Jimmy’s Restaurant).
Family Fun: Go waterskiing, kayaking, or stand-up paddle boarding on the lake through the Lakeside Beach and Marina just a short walk away from the resort. Or try mountain biking on easy paved paths or up on the single track of the Tahoe Rim Trail.
Grownup Time: Hit up the wine cellar bar and lounge at Jimmy’s for a taste of California’s fine vintages (and stay for the live music every night) or chill out with a view of the lake at one of the patio fire pits. Better yet, head out on a dinner cruise on the Tahoe Queen.
Lording over 700 green acres on the bucolic shores of Lake Champlain, 135-year-old Basin Harbour exemplifies the idylls of a New England summer vacation. Stay in the main lodge or book one of the 74 cottages on the property for a bit more privacy. The resort puts a major focus on family (it has been run by the Beach family itself for five generations) and provides a full schedule of activities and downtime fun to keep everyone engaged. But perhaps the biggest draw here is the food: Dine with views of the lake at Ardelia’s in the lodge (check the dress code), order sashimi at Megumi also in the lodge, or just ramble down to the Full Belly Food Truck parked on the resort’s waterfront and indulge in a lobster roll.
Family Fun: When it comes to activities, the resort operates almost like a camp. There are tennis clinics for little ones, afternoon art projects, introductions to fishing, kayaking on the lake, movie nights, and s’mores around the campfire. Be sure to sign up for activities 24 hours in advance.
Grownup Time: Take a guided cruise around the lake then put on that blazer for dinner at Ardelia’s.
When we say Yosemite National Park, you likely think soaring walls of granite. But California’s Sierra Nevada range harbors stunning lakes as well (beyond Tahoe, of course). Just 14 miles from the entrance to the park, Bass Lake sits nestled in Sierra National Forest with an eponymous village and the resort on the north end of the four-mile long body of water. A frequent set for Hollywood shoots since the 1930s, the dockside resort house gusts in lakeside suites, duplex chalets, and even rental homes ideal for big family get-togethers. Stay within walking distance and jet ski, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard right on the lake, or head into the park to hike and marvel at iconic attractions El Cap, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. Back at the lodge, enjoy a farm-to-table meal with a waterfront view at Ducey’s on the Lake.
Family Fun: Kids of all ages will enjoy a ride on the nearby Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad, with either a one-hour excursion or a three-hour trip that includes dinner and live music.
Grownup Time: Want to up your climbing game or just learn the ropes for the first time? Book a guided climbing excursion with Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service.
Perched on—you guessed it—a 200-foot bluff above Possum Kingdom Lake, The Cliffs puts a premium on golf. It hosts one of the best 18-hole courses in the Lone Star State with 71 par and a course rating of 73.9 — and stunning views of the lake. But you don’t have to be obsessed with the links to find a full family vacation here. On 1,100 acres, the resort hosts a marina, beach, pools, parks, tennis courts, and a spa. This resort proves that you don’t have to be deep in national forest green to find fun on a lake.
Family Fun: Rent a boat (and a tube for a fun drag along) at the marina on premises. Engage your junior paleontologist at Mineral Wells Fossil Park, where you can keep treasures from 300 million years ago. Head over to nearby Graham and catch a movie at the classic drive-in theater.
Grownup Time: Make an appointment for a massage at the on-site spa to ease those muscles sore from all that golf.
If you want to explore Lake Superior but don’t have the time or means to head way out to Isle Royale, consider Minnesota’s coast. With Scandinavian charm, the big red lodge of Lutsen Resort on the shore of the greatest of Great Lakes feels a world away from the daily onslaught of technology and screens — and you can drive right up. Summers here have the vibe of a camp of days gone by. Guests sit in Adirondack chairs in front of bonfires on the stone beach and musicians or storytellers entertain as the stars come out. During the day, get out on the lake and escape it all.
Family Fun: On-site, the resort not only offers everything from nine holes of golf to tandem sea kayaks but it also gives families the opportunities to improve their skills in a number of activities. Learn how to cast a fly rod. Join a resort guide on a 1.2-mile hike to Caribou Falls. Learn about moose and astronomy on the beachfront with a naturalist. Or just chill in the lodge pool.
Grownup Time: The Lutsen Resort spa is a great way to book some de-stress time.