Best Recreational Lake (2015)


Lakes and reservoirs comprise 39.9 million acres in the United States. In honor of Lakes Appreciation Month in July, we set out to find the best recreational lakes in the nation.

  • Lake of the Ozarks

    Lake of the Ozarks

    This large reservoir from the Osage River offers visitors more than 1,000 miles of shore. It belongs to Missouri’s biggest state park and is a sought-after vacation destination with a wide array of activities, from fishing to shopping to dining to spas. Go golfing, boating or, if you’re feeling wild, visit “Party Cove.” This lake attracts visitors from families to college kids, and offers various lodging options, too, from resorts to an RV campground. This uniquely shaped lake is nicknamed the “Magic Dragon” for its snaky shape.
    Photo courtesy of James Carr / Flickr

  • Big Bear Lake

    Big Bear Lake

    The excellent weather year-round makes Big Bear Lake a popular destination in California’s San Bernardino Mountains. Wedged in the national forest, this 7-mile-long snow-fed reservoir is great for water sports, such as kayaking and fishing (bluegill, catfish, rainbow trout), but the activities on the shore bring adventure to the next level. Go ziplining through the forest, take a helicopter tour, go biking around the lake, visit the nearby weekly Farmer’s Market or go hiking in the breathtaking mountain range.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • West Okoboji Lake

    West Okoboji Lake

    Iowa’s biggest tourist destination is the natural, spring-fed West Okoboji Lake, a part of the Iowa Great Lakes. The region is especially popular among families looking for outdoor fun with a unique glimpse at ancient history. This chain of lakes was formed by glaciers more than 14,000 years ago, and it stretches across 12,000 acres today. West Okoboji is one of the most beautiful of the great lakes, with a breathtaking blue hue and depth of more than 130 feet. Fishing, as well as all sorts of watersports, are big here.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Lake Cumberland

    Lake Cumberland

    Lake Cumberland, one of the top 10 biggest reservoirs in the nation, is a huge tourism destination in Kentucky. The lake is home to two different state parks (one of which is a lake island), where visitors can go camping, stay in cabins, go boating, swimming, hiking, play disc golf or cast out a fishing line. In fact, Lake Cumberland has yielded some record-size fish. Beyond that, it’s a great bird-watching destination, and the marina boasts 100 slips. Nearby shopping features locally made products and food.
    Photo courtesy of marada / Flickr

  • Lake Tahoe

    Lake Tahoe
    California & Nevada

    Lake Tahoe marks the Cali-Nevada border and is known equally for its wilderness and outdoor adventures as for its nightlife, parties and entertainment. Lake Tahoe is the biggest alpine lake in North America and one of the nation’s deepest. In South Tahoe, you can spend time outside amid trees, hiking, biking, boating or fishing. Or you can spend time indoors, trying your luck at casinos, dancing, dining and drinking. In North Tahoe, hit the ski slopes in the winter and the golf courses in the summer. Great beaches can fill up the rest of your vacation time.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Lake Havasu

    Lake Havasu

    Lake Havasu is called “Arizona’s playground,” and it’s no wonder why. In this large reservoir, right on the Cali border, visitors can go boating, swimming, fishing, shopping, off-roading, golfing, rock-climbing, hiking, cycling or gamble in casinos. Stretch out on the sand or go fast on a jet ski or speed boat. The lake draws 750,000 fishers a year, often trying to snag that prize bass. Lake Havasu has it all: water, mountains, desert, entertainment, sunshine, museums, parties and family-friendly activities. Don’t miss the famous London Bridge.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Lake Michigan

    Lake Michigan
    Illinois, Indiana, Michigan & Wisconsin

    Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes, and the only one that’s fully within U.S. Borders. Nature abounds here, with more types of plants per acre than any other national park, so the area is colorful with plants and flowers. Relax with the sand between your toes, explore sand dunes, hike trails, go climbing, go boating and go camping. Lake Michigan is also the site of warm-weather festivals, and a cross-country skiing destination in the winter.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Lake Coeur d'Alene

    Lake Coeur d'Alene

    Lake Coeur d’Alene is a 25-mile-long lake in Idaho that’s a popular tourist destination, for its beaches, fishing, nearby camping and other outdoor activities. Visitors also enjoy the wildlife in the area, such as bald eagles that nest nearby and bass and chinook salmon in the water. Also enjoy hiking and walking on the trails, cycling, kayaking, or head nearby for shopping and dining. Ten golf courses line the edges of this narrow, squiggly-shaped lake.
    Photo courtesy of Coeur D'Alene

  • Flathead Lake

    Flathead Lake

    Flathead Lake is a lake for adventure. Two rivers, the Flathead and Swan, spill into this body of water, which means whitewater rafting is a popular activity here. In fact, Flathead Lake is home to the Bigfork Whitewater Festival every Memorial Day. The 30-by-15-mile lake itself, created by Ice Age glaciers, is the biggest natural freshwater lake west of the Mississippi River. With 160 miles of shoreline, there’s plenty of fishing, although the fishing charter companies are another way to go.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

  • Lake Powell

    Lake Powell
    Arizona & Utah

    This reservoir is one of the most popular lake destinations in the nation, drawing about 2 million visitors annually. It’s enough to pop up a tent on the shore and enjoy the view (and often parties), although you’ll want to take out a boat to explore the nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline and sweeping views. Don’t miss Cathedral Canyon, with sandstone walls stretching hundreds of feet in the air. Houseboats are also popular. Pack a fishing pole, and bring hiking shoes so you can witness the Hole In The Rock Cathedral Canyon.
    Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Our readers have been voting for their favorite lakes from a pool of 20 nominees for the past four weeks, and now the results are in!

It was a very close race between the winner and runner-up, but in the end it was Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks that won the most reader votes and the title of Best Recreational Lake. This large reservoir from the Osage River offers visitors more than 1,000 miles of shore. It belongs to Missouri’s biggest state park and is a sought-after vacation destination with a wide array of activities, from fishing to shopping to dining to spas.

The top 10 winners in the category Best Recreational Lake are as follows:

  1. Lake of the Ozarks
  2. Big Bear Lake
  3. West Okoboji Lake
  4. Lake Cumberland
  5. Lake Tahoe
  6. Lake Havasu
  7. Lake Michigan
  8. Lake Coeur d'Alene
  9. Flathead Lake
  10. Lake Powell

Other nominees for Best Recreational Lake included Caddo Lake, Crater Lake, Lady Bird Lake, Lake Champlain, Lake Charles, Lake Chelan, Lake Placid, Lake Superior, Lake Winnebago and Norris Lake.

10Best and USA TODAY extend their congratulations to all the winners. The contest was promoted on 10Best and USA TODAY.

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