8 best US lakes you’ve probably never heard of


As summer in the US takes a turn into its hottest months, we’re all looking for the perfect places to cool off. 

Luckily, the country is speckled with lakes of all kinds: natural, manmade, alpine, saltwater and more.

While big-name lakes get all the glory (looking at you, Lake Tahoe and the Great Lakes), there are plenty of spots to jump in and cool off farther from the crowds. Check out these beautiful under-the-radar lakes that are perfect for an aquatic getaway.

Boats on the shore at sunset at Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire
The quiet shores of Lake Sunapee in New Hampshire © Thomas H. Mitchell / Getty Images

Lake Sunapee, New Hampshire

Lake Sunapee is a quiet glacial lake in southwestern New Hampshire located within Mount Sunapee State Park. Visitors will find an expansive beach for swimming, a boat launch and hiking opportunities within the park area. Outside of the summer season, the lake is particularly enchanting during fall, when it’s ringed in various tones of yellow, red and orange.

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Gazebo and forest on the shore of Lake Lure, North Carolina
Lake Lure is located in the mountains of western North Carolina © vixterd / Getty Images

Lake Lure, North Carolina

Lake Lure runs along the floor of Hickory Nut Gorge in the mountains of western North Carolina, and its shores might look familiar: Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Gray filmed scenes here for the classic movie Dirty Dancing. Visitors can relax on the lake’s beaches or take to the hills to explore the surrounding mountains. Don’t miss Chimney Rock, which offers panoramic views of the gorge and the lake.

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Chairs in the water at Lake Ouachita, Arkansas
Lake Ouachita is said to have some of the clearest water in Arkansas © Wesley Hitt / Getty Images

Lake Ouachita, Arkansas

Lake Ouachita sits in the hills of the Ozarks, and it has a unique critter swimming beneath its surface: freshwater jellyfish. These harmless invertebrates are quite rare globally, but they thrive in the lake’s clear waters, often regarded as the clearest in the state. The lake also harbors 200 uninhabited islands, so grab a kayak and take your pick.

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Lassen volcano across Lake Almanor in California
Volcanic Mount Lassen overlooks Lake Almanor in California © Amit Basu Photography / Getty Images

Lake Almanor, California 

The Northern Sierras are an outdoor wonderland, and while most travelers visit for the mountains, the range also harbors perfect swimming spots with magnificent backdrops. Lake Almanor is no exception. This manmade lake sits in the Plumas National Forest, adjacent to Lassen Volcanic National Park, and lake-goers will be treated to perfect views of the namesake volcano. Camp among the Ponderosa pines to get the full experience.

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Meadow in front of the blue waters of Bear Lake, Utah
Bear Lake is known as the “Caribbean of the Rockies” © Ron Reiring / Getty Images

Bear Lake, Utah

When people think of lakes in Utah, their minds automatically gravitate to the famous Great Salt Lake or scenic Lake Powell, but they’d be remiss to exclude this crystalline body of water straddling the Idaho–Utah border. Bear Lake is often referred to as the “Caribbean of the Rockies,” owing its bright blue hue to suspended limestone in the water.

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Lakeshore of Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado
The calm waters of Blue Mesa Reservoir in southwestern Colorado © Bernadette Heath / Shutterstock

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

The Gunnison River carves its way through the hills of southwestern Colorado, defining the landscape along the way. A visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park yields spectacular views of the namesake gorge, and an hour down the road lies Blue Mesa Reservoir, a picturesque body of water with golden hills and rocky outcroppings serving as a backdrop. Hit the lake to fish, kayak, windsurf and more.

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Cave Run Lake in the Daniel Boone National Forest, Kentucky
The summer sunset at Cave Run Lake in the Daniel Boone National Forest © ScottymanPhoto / Shutterstock

Cave Run Lake, Kentucky

An hour and a half east of Lexington lies Cave Run Lake, an oasis nestled among the trees of Daniel Boone National Forest. The blue-toned water invites everyone from anglers to boaters to swimmers to enjoy an escape from the heat, and its shores feature well-groomed beaches and activity areas for families. Those looking for terrestrial pursuits will be delighted by the trails that ring the lake. 

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Mooselookmeguntic Lake
Maine’s Mooselookmeguntic Lake is a stunner © haveseen / Shutterstock

Mooselookmeguntic Lake, Maine

Mooselookmeguntic Lake is part of the Rangeley Lakes area in Maine, and it’s known as a fishing hotspot. The swooping loops of the lake are particularly lovely from the Height of the Land lookout point, and visitors looking for a quiet respite from everyday life will be rewarded with all the peaceful outdoor time they can handle. There are also beaches for swimming, but heads up, the water is cold!

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