10 Most Charming Lake Towns In America

A lake setting gives towns an ultimate summer resort vibe, often in tandem with mountains, hiking trails, and an array of activities to partake, on and around the lake that can easily compete with the energy of the large business centers in the United States. Sought after by megalopolis visitors, the secluded atmosphere is complete with the invested time and energy of its citizens, to share the experience of lakeside living. Here are the top ten Lake Towns for every taste, each uniquely crafted by the residents, bound together through history and culture, unlike any other in the United States.

Bayview, Idaho

Lake Pend Oreille
Schweitzer Mountain skilight in summer overlooking Lake Pend Oreille near Bayview.

After getting platted in 1910 by a group of entrepreneurs, with the International Railway connection from Spokane, this former, logging, fishing, and limestone-mining town became the “southern gateway” to Lake Pend Oreille. The city stays true to its name, offering extensive views of Coeur d’Alene, Cabinet, and Bitterroot Mountain ranges across the waters.  

Bayview is community like no other in the United States with a couple hundred float homes on the Lake Pend Oreille's south-western shore that attracts tourists, renters, and venturous buyers. Many are also surprised to learn about the town’s part in the Second World War, conceptualized in the Farragut State Park museum, as a symbol to a failed compact between Adolf Hitler and the Emperor Hirohito of Japan to invade and divide the States.

The Farragut Naval Training Station was built on the shore of Lake Pend Oreille following the attack on Pearl Harbor as a defense mechanism against coastal invasion, training 293,381 men from 1942 to 1946. A 20-acre parcel of the shore is still used by the U.S. Navy as an acoustic research detachment today.

Charlevoix, Michigan

Lighthouse and pier on Lake Michigan in Charlevoix.

Set on an Indian village site, the quaint location started off as a fishermen's paradise, known as the Pine River in 1852. Situated in north-western Michigan between Lake Michigan and Lake Charlevoix, which are connected by the Pine River and the Round Lake, the town was named after a Jesuit missionary explorer, Pierre-François-Xavier de Charlevoix of the French descent. 

The idyllic homes of this picturesque summer resort sit on bluffs with terraces reaching into the waters of Pine and Round Lake, with extensive views that tourists, including boat enthusiasts, flock to. Aside from tourism, the economy is supported by lumber milling, light manufacturing of electrical equipment, metal fixtures, and cement, as well as low scale agriculture, including sugar beet farming.

Aerial view of Round Lake in Charlevoix, Michigan
Aerial view of Round Lake in Charlevoix, Michigan.

Aside from a fish hatchery and a cruise line to the Beaver Island, the town’s landmarks include the U.S. Coast Guard station and the lakeside Fisherman's Island State Park. The small-town-near-big-water vibe is best reflected in the town’s markets, where craftsmen sell their rustic and fancy wood-work, while fishermen offer their white fish and lake trout catches.

Bigfork, Montana

Flathead Lake and the Swan Mountain Range near Somers, Montana
Flathead Lake and the Swan Mountain Range near Bigfork, Montana.

Situated within the Rocky’s in the bay of Swan River waters flowing into the Flathead Lake, overlooked by the spectacular Swan Mountains, Bigfork is a charming town with a bustling downtown of Western art and culture. An array of galleries, notable theatre presence, including one of the Northwest's finest repertory theaters, the Bigfork Summer Playhouse, and an annual art festival in August, offering works of more than 100 artists and craftsmen, are complemented by Sunday evening summer concerts in the Everit Sliter Memorial Park.

At 200 square miles and with a 185-mile shore, the lake is the largest freshwater system for hundreds of miles around. The rich agriculture of the region grown for sale since 1892 includes fruitful apple, cherry, plum, and pear trees. Just a few minutes from the center, the iconic Swan River Nature Trail offers scenic views of the sparkling waters during winding hikes and bike rides. The views of the lake, Swan Mountains and the Glacier National Park are also inclusive, when partaking in the Eagle Bend, 27-hole, championship golf course, situated on the north shore. 

Coeur d'Alene, Idaho

Coeur d'Alene
Recreatioal facilities near Lake Coeur d'Alene. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher / Shutterstock.com

Set on the northern shore of the Coeur d'Alene Lake, or the heart of Alene, the town was founded in 1879 as a trading post for Fort Sherman (Former Fort Coeur d'Alene). The establishment of the railroad in 1886 followed the discovery of lead and silver, three years prior, igniting the development of the town. Meanwhile, a long-lasting conflict broke out between the mine owners and the unionized miners, including murder accusations and prosecutions against the union leaders and the secretary-treasurer William D. (“Big Bill”) Haywood in 1907, with a spirited defense argument by attorney Clearance Darrow, finally ending the bitter strife.

Today, Coeur d'Alene's main economic driver is lumber, plentiful in the rugged environment of the region. Public and private investments into developing this "playground of the Pacific Northwest", also brings yearly profit from the growing number of tourists. Sitting on the 30-mile lake beach front with spectacular views of the forested mountains, the downtown's vibrant art scene, Silverwood Theme Park, and river cruises, complemented the town’s natural beauty.  

Holland, Michigan

Aerial view of the Holland Harbor Lighthouse, known as the Big Red Lighthouse at the channel connecting Lake Macatawa with Lake Michigan.

Sitting on the Lake Michigan's shore, with an inland lake Macatawa, Holland, Michigan follows pace with its namesake European country, such as street canals, windmills, including the 18th-century Dutch windmill, De Zwaan (The Swan), brewing culture, and wooden-shoes clanking on the streets, popular among tradition fanatics and tourists. A tulip season features colorful fields and flower-filled markets. Mount Pisgah, hovering over the Holland State Park can fill one’s daily exercise regimen with 239 stairs to the peak, overlooking the gleaming lakes and Holland's iconic Big Red Lighthouse. 

The establishment of the city commenced as an early lumber industry with settlers led by the Netherlands’ minister Van Raalte in 1847. The town grew rapidly when their families and other Dutch newcomers followed suit to add to the labor force through agriculture and poultry farming. The region continues to be the focus of Dutch immigration for those wishing to get the taste of America, while remaining in the familiar surroundings, while working in office furniture and auto parts manufacturing, food services, and tourism.

Ithaca, New York

Ithaca by Lake Cayuga.

Founded in 1789 by the surveyor general of New York, Simeon DeWitt, and established in 1817, the city of Ithaca is situated on the southern edge of the Cayuga Lake, the southern gateway to the Finger Lakes recreational area, an intricate lake configuration in south-central New York. Sitting at end-point to the New York State Canal System, allows for various manufacturing and production, including pharmaceuticals, as well as dairy farming and salt extraction to enrich the city's economy. The nearby state park contains the Taughannock Falls, while the breathtaking gorges within the city limits, cracked by several creeks, are reminiscent of the ancient Greek islands, one of which the city was named after, in 1795.

Beginning as a bustling agriculture and lumber town, the town gained prestige with the establishment of the Cornell University in 1865, and Ithaca College, in 1892. A lively bohemian vibe is prominent on the streets of Ithaca, while the vitality of youth spikes the city's population to nearly 60,000 when school is in session. The Ithaca Commons, an eclectic center filled with opportunities to experience art, dining and shopping, the famous Ithaca Farmer's market, and the natural vistas, attract national and international visitors year-round.

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

The town lies on the north-eastern shore of the 7.6 miles (12.2 km) long and 2.1 miles (3.4 km) wide Lake Geneva in south-eastern Wisconsin, some 45 miles (70 km) south-west of Milwaukee. Partly spring-fed and draining into the White River, the lake features a maximum depth of 135 feet (41 metres) and covers an area of 5,262 acres (2,129) hectares, with a 26-mile (42km) shoreline surrounded by forested hills. The William's Bay on the lake's northwest shore hosts the Yerkes Observatory from the University of Chicago.

The Big Foot Beach State Park on the eastern edge of the lake, and the Fontana site on the western, remind of the Potawatomi Village in 1830s, headed by Chief Big Foot. Settled in 1836, the town of gristmills and sawmills soon became a popular getaway known for its luxurious scenery, historic mansions and resort, where wealthy Chicago residents liked to summer in. Many of them moved to this “Newport of the West” following the fire of 1871, in Chicago.

Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid
Lake Placid. Editorial credit: Leonard Zhukovsky / Shutterstock.com

While the first attempt at being settled in 1800, failed from a poor crop cycle, the town was successfully promoted as a summer resort in 1850. The Adirondack Scenic Railroad calls for a stroll in mid-October’s cool breathe with the last sunrays of the year reaching from the gaps between the surrounding mountains. Lying on Mirror Lake and Lake Placid at the foot of the Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondack Mountains, the town is overlooked by forty-some other mountain peaks reaching over 4,000 feet in height, with Mount Marcy, at 5,343 feet. The golden season gives this town an uncompetitive edge when it comes to the fall colors of Adirondaks, covered in maple, aspen, birch, oak, and beech trees in all shades of red, orange and yellow.

Lake Placid
Lake Placid.

Speaking of game, Melvin Dewey, the creator of the Decimal Classification system for libraries, who also set up the exclusive Lake Placid Club, in 1895, along with his son, Godfrey, started promoting winter sports in the area, securing the bid to host the third ever Olympic Winter Games. Being held amidst the Great Depression lead to financial losses for the town, but, retaining its winter sports image for the years to come, Lake Plaid hosted another Olympic Winter Games, in 1980. 

Mackinac Island, Michigan

Mackinc Island
Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Situated on Lake Huron, Mackinac presents itself as a 18th and 19th centuries town, void of cars, with horses, buggies, and bikes to get around this 8 miles (13 km) in circumference, island. The Victorian-style Grand Hotel established in1887, nicely blends into the rustic look of the town. Attracting tourists who want to get away from civilization, they also flock for the island's history.

The ancient Indian burial ground, known as Michilimackinac, or the Great Turtle, was discovered by the French explorers in 1600s. In 1780 the British took over the island for its strategic location and erected a fort, but the United States took possession three years later, establishing the John Jacob Astor American Fur Company. British had possession again in time for the 1812 war, and three years later, again, belonged to the US.

Mackinac Island
Vacationers in Mackinac Island. Editorial credit: Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

The island is densely covered by forests and enveloped in the East by limestone cliffs ascending from the waters for 339 feet (103 meters), home to the Skull Cave, the Arch Rock and a limestone tower, going by the name "Sugar Loaf". Every June, Lilac Festival beautifies the streets, while in July people become witnesses to the winners of the 333-mile (536-km) yacht race up Lake Michigan that commences from Chicago.

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

New England's third largest lake, Lake Winnipesaukee, covering an area of 71 sq. miles that envelop 260 islands, is surrounded by numerous towns and villages, including the town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. Recognized by some, as America's oldest summer resort, the town was established in 1770 by the Governor John Wentworth.

A favourite among tourists, the town’s population quadruples in the summer months to over 30,000. Also known as the "beautiful water in a high place", the lake flows from the Wolfeboro Bay a short distance off the Main Street in town. Free concerts enjoyed from the benches of the Cate Park, the 11-mile Cotton Valley Rail Trail landmark, and activities on the lake itself, boasting a floating gas station, comprise popular pastimes among locals and tourists.

Waterfront apartments and jetties in Wolfeboro.

The Brewster's prep school Academy has been adding to the town's charm since 1820, while the visiting celebrities like Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, as well as Prince Rainier and Princess Grace must have admired the scenic Belknap Mountains that create a light blue iridescence surrounding the that lies the town its romantic touch.