Head out west in America and long before you reach the Pacific, you’ll discover inland boating communities thriving in virtually every state. Whether you get excited at the thought of doing tricks on a wakeboard, having a fish tug on your line, or cruising to Party Cove for a swim, options abound even in the middle of the desert. Check out any of these top 10 lakes, and you’ll soon discover just how sweet it can be to spend some time in America’s waterways of the west.
California and Nevada share Lake Tahoe, which is the largest freshwater lake (by volume) in America after the five Great Lakes. With an average depth of 1,000 feet and a maximum depth of 1,645 feet, it’s also the second-deepest lake in the nation, eclipsed only by Crater Lake. Unlike many western lakes this one was formed naturally two to three million years ago, and was home to the native American Hashoe tribe long before becoming an attraction for residents of Reno and Sacramento. Since it’s an alpine lake fishermen chase species like kokanee salmon or one of the eight species of trout found here, but even more popular are sports like parasailing, sailing, windsurfing, water skiing, and kayaking. Oh, and partying… Lake Taho is famous for wild party coves and an annual “hot body” contest in Zephr Cove.
For more information see the Lake Tahoe Vacation Guide.
Located in the Lake Mead National Recreation area just a half-hour drive from Las Vegas, Nevada, Lake mead is one gigantic park. And when we say gigantic we mean it—the combined recreation area is spread over 1.5 million acres. While most visitors will be coming for the watersports or the fishing, a unique attraction here is the ghost town of St. Thomas. The town was a Mormon settlement that was flooded and sitting on the lake bottom, when Lake Mead was filled in the 1930’s. But dropping water levels have re-exposed the town. Although the winter of 2016-2017 was a good one for the snowpacks that feed Lake Mead, low water levels continue being a problem here and boaters need to always be aware of fluctuating water levels.
For more information, visit the National Park Service.
Lake Havasu, Arizona, is known for its clear warm waters that are ideal for all types of watersports. There are over a dozen access points with ramps for boaters towing their own craft, and many can be used free of charge. Straddling the border between Arizona and California, the lake is home to Desert Storm, named one of the five top speed boat poker runs in the nation by Performance Boats magazine. Desert Storm is also well-known for its rather massive street party, but don’t let that fool you—the real party-goers can be found on the boats in Bridgewater Channel, which has been featured in MTV’s spring break coverage and ranks among the wildest party “coves” in the wild, wild west. Visitors should be sure to see the London Bridge, which spanned the River Thames in London until 1967, when it was dismantled, shipped to America, and reassembled to link an island with Lake Havasu City.
For more information, visit the Lake Havasu City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline bordering both Arizona and Utah, Lake Powell has plenty of room for roaming. The lake was formed by damming the Colorado River and flooding Glen Canyon in 1963 and has been a haven, especially for Phoenix area residents, ever since. Boat rentals and guided expeditions are available if you can’t trailer your own boat to one of the four of marinas located on the lake that have launch facilities. Houseboat rentals available by the day, week, or even longer are considered one of the main attractions for vacationers. PWCs are available too, even though they were once banned from the lake. And anglers will discover a wide range of species to chase in Lake Powell, including large and small mouth bass, striped bass, walleye, catfish, and crappie.
Learn more about Lake Powell.
Great Salt Lake
Utah’s Great Salt Lake has a number of issues to deal with beyond its salty water (fluctuating water levels and pollution among them), yet it still remains a top tourist destination for Utah thanks to activities like sailing, kayaking, and bird-watching. The largest saltwater lake in the western hemisphere, it has a surface area stretching over 1,000 square miles and growing at times to as much as 1,700 square miles. The Great Salt Lake also accounts for almost half of the world’s harvest of brine shrimp—if you’ve ever hatched Sea Monkeys, there’s a good chance their egg cysts came from here. While we certainly wouldn’t suggest launching your treasured powerboat in the brine, this natural wonder still belongs on every boaters’ bucket-list.
For more information, visit the Great Salt Lake State Park.
Northern California’s Shasta Lake was formed when the Shasta dam was built on the Sacramento River, creating a whopping 365 miles of shoreline. Although the lake has healthy populations of both cold and warm-water fish ranging from trout to bass, more visitors take advantage of the watersports and houseboat rentals. Boat rentals of all types are available in many locations, including PWCs, canoes, and kayaks. And if you prefer to arrive with your own boat in tow, there are numerous ramps located all around the lake that are open to public use.
For more information visit ShastaLake.com.
With 16,400 acres and 145 miles of shoreline, though notably smaller than near-by Shasta, Trinity Lake is still one of the largest man-made reservoirs in California. Since it’s a farther drive from the near-by metropolitan areas than Shasta is it sees fewer visitors, but for some boaters, this will be part of Trinity’s appeal. That may particularly true for anglers who come here in search of trout, kokanee salmon, and both large and small mouth bass. Access is relatively limited, as there are only a handful of boat ramps and just two marinas (with boat rentals including houseboats) serving the lake.
For more information, visit Trinity Lake Resort or Trinity Alps Marina.
Located just north of San Francisco, Clear Lake is well known for its excellent bass fishing. In fact, many believe it to be the best bass lake in California and possibly one of the top in the nation. The lake offers the bass diverse habitat, ranging from its northern shallows rich with aquatic vegetation, to deeper southern sections featuring rocky outcroppings. Fishing is so good here that Clear Lake is known as the “Bass capitol of the West” and was ranked the number three “best bass lake in the nation” by Bassmaster Magazine in 2016. Watersports are also popular here, thanks to plenty of boat ramps and several boat rental facilities offering everything from PWCs to wakeboarding boats. Also popular with many lake-goers are the local wineries of Lake County, known for top-notch cabernets.
Convict Lake, located in the Sierra Nevada mountains, was carved out by glaciers thousands of years ago. It earned its name in 1871 when a posse confronted a group of convicts who had escaped from Carson City, and an old-style western shoot-out ensued along the banks of the lake. Free of gun-play today, it’s known for incredible scenery and a trout fishery that’s just as impressive. In fact, trout fishing is so popular here that when fishing season is in full swing the lake gets re-stocked on a weekly basis. Boat rentals are available, and there’s a public launch facility that’s free for day-use. At a mere 170 acres this is the smallest lake on our list, but the natural beauty and awesome fishing prove that bigger isn’t always better.
Learn more by visiting Mono County, California.
Lake Roosevelt, flooded when the Grand Coulee Dam was completed in 1941 on the Columbia River, is a popular summer destination for many Washington State boaters. There are 22 different public launch ramps along the lake’s shores (the cost is $8 per week or $45 per year), and if you’d prefer to rent a boat everything from water skiing boats to houseboats can be found one of Lake Roosevelt Adventures two locations. Fishing is also quite popular here, with some unusual species like white sturgeon and burbot in attendance, as well as the ubiquitous rainbow trout.
For more information, visit the National Park Service.