10 Inland Lake Boating and Fishing Destinations
When you think about boating destinations, certain places will understandably come to mind — Florida, New England, the Pacific Northwest, even the Great Lakes.
But some of the country’s best boating and fishing spots are other inland lakes, easily accessible from major population centers and offering sheltered waters, countless miles of shoreline, and myriad attractions.
Inland lakes are less intimidating than “big water” such as the Great Lakes for newbies and families with small children, yet they offer plenty of adventure and fun for longtime boaters and anglers. Here’s a look at 10 of them.
1. California’s Huntington Lake
Located 65 miles northeast of Fresno in the High Sierra, 4-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide Huntington Lake covers 1,435 acres and has 14 miles of shoreline. It sits just below alpine level at 7,000 feet.
Accommodations range from resorts and private rental cottages to seven public campgrounds. The lake has three marina facilities: the Lakeshore Resort Marina, the Huntington Lake Resort Marina and the Rancheria Marina. Lakeshore Resort has a free boat launch. You may also use the public boat launching ramp located between College and Deer Creek campgrounds for a $3 fee; there’s a $5 fee for vehicle and trailer parking.
Among anglers, Huntington Lake is known for German brown trout, rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. Shore fishing is good near Billy Creek, the Home Camp Creek inlet, the Dowville Picnic Area, the Rancheria Campground and the College Campground. Popular trolling spots include Rock Island, coves near Big Creek, and the area around dams 1 and 2. There are great spots for fly fishermen, too, along the north shore and near creek inlets.
While you’re there, don’t miss opportunities to visit places like Indian Pools, the Sierra National Forest and the Kaiser Wilderness Area.
2. Colorado’s Lake Dillon
Tucked in the shadow of the Continental Divide at 9,017 feet, three rivers — the Blue, Ten Mile and Snake — converge to feed Lake Dillon, a Denver Water reservoir that features 26 miles of shoreline and 3,300 acres of surface water. It’s also home to the highest deep-water marina in the world and North America’s highest yacht club.
Dillon Marina and Frisco Bay Marina have free public ramps for trailer boaters. All boats require an invasive species inspection; check with marina staff for information.
Because the reservoir provides Denver’s drinking water, swimming, waterskiing and personal watercraft are among the prohibited activities. However, there are plenty of opportunities for day cruising, sailing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and even stand-up paddleboarding. Boats are available for rent.
If you’re interested in fishing, you’ll find rainbow trout, brook trout, brown trout, and both kokanee and coho salmon in Lake Dillon. These are first-rate waters; in fact, the Blue River has been designated a Gold Medal Stream by the Colorado Wildlife Commission.
Visitors also will enjoy campgrounds, parks, hiking trails and paved bike paths, as well as a variety of restaurants and microbreweries, an active performing arts scene, and tourist-friendly attractions like the Summit Historical Society museum, the Lake Dillon Amphitheater, a farmers market and more.
3. Georgia’s Lake Lanier
Lake Lanier is home to two of the largest freshwater marinas in the world, Holiday Marina in Buford and Aqualand Marina near Flowery Branch, and it has always been a popular place to use powerboats, houseboats, pontoons and personal watercraft. It also hosted the rowing and sprint canoeing events during the 1996 Summer Olympics and the 2003 World Championships for sprint canoeing, it has an active canoe and kayak club, it boasts a thriving sailing community, and anglers troll its waters for spotted bass, striped bass, largemouth bass, black crappie and walleye.
The sprawling 37,000-acre reservoir has 10 marinas and roughly 50 public launch ramps providing access to the drowned valley’s many nooks and crannies. You’ll find countless choices for going ashore and enjoying the area’s public day-use parks, upbeat shoreside restaurants and attractions like the Lake Lanier Islands Resort waterpark.
4. Kentucky’s Lake Barkley & Kentucky Lake
The Southeast is home to some major reservoirs, which boast impressive stretches of open water, myriad coves and inlets, lively shoreside venues and plenty of warm-water hot spots. One must-visit destination: Kentucky Lake and its sister, Lake Barkley.
In 1944, the Tennessee Valley Authority built the 8,422-foot Kentucky Dam on the Tennessee River, and the resulting sister lakes have formed the largest body of water between the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico. With more than 210,000 acres of water and 2,300 miles of shoreline, Kentucky and Barkley lakes provide plenty of room for boating and waterfront fun.
That fun includes fishing. The lakes are home to a large population of blue, channel, and flathead catfish as well as crappie, black bass, white bass, striped bass, yellow bass, sauger, yellow perch, bluegill and redear. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the lakes host a number of high-profile fishing tournaments throughout the year.
But that’s not all. The 170,000-acre Land Between the Lakes (LBL) National Recreation Area provides opportunities for picnicking, hiking, camping, biking, horseback riding and fishing. Plus, it incorporates attractions such as the Elk & Bison Prairie, historic “Homeplace,” a nature station and a planetarium.
The community of Grand Rivers, located at the LBL north entrance on both Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley, serves as an excellent base camp as you pursue your fishing, boating and other outdoor adventures.
5. Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka
One of the Midwest’s most celebrated inland lakes is Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka, made famous by Longfellow’s 1855 poem “Song of Hiawatha” (and later by Prince’s 1984 film “Purple Rain”). Just 20 miles west of Minneapolis-St.Paul, it’s definitely part of city life, yet it somehow still feels on the edge of wildness.
Boaters will find more than 10 public launch ramps as well as several full-service marinas. Waterfront communities have ample dockage for those who wish to come ashore for dining and shopping, and the lake’s maximum 113-foot depth means pleasant swimming rather than the bone-chilling escapades one is likely to have in the Great Lakes.
If you’re an angler, try your hand at fishing for muskie, northern pike, largemouth bass, walleye and yellow perch. Watch for “Lou,” a storied 10-foot-plus sturgeon that is Lake Minnetonka’s version of the Loch Ness monster.
Bring a good lake map with marked depths for navigating approximately 140 miles of shoreline, 30-plus bays and winding channels. Don’t forget to have your boat inspected at one of the marinas or public-access launches for zebra mussels.
This is Minnesota’s busiest lake, so consider a midweek, off-weekend or shoulder-season outing. If you do, you’ll find that the lake welcomes visiting boaters with open arms.
6. Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks
Known as “The Magic Dragon,” the 55,000-acre Lake of the Ozarks features nearly 1,200 miles of shoreline. The Osage River and three tributaries — Gravois Creek, Niangua River and Grandglaize Creek — compose the four “arms” of this Ozark Mountains reservoir. Its main channel, the Osage Arm, stretches 92 miles west and north from the Bagnell Dam.
The Ozark Yacht Club serves as an excellent base camp for visiting boaters; it’s located in Lake Ozark’s Jennings Branch Cove at mile marker 1. (That means you’re near the Bagnell Dam Strip and the area’s many shops, restaurants and attractions.) This full-service facility rivals serious marinas everywhere. It features 80 covered and open-dock slips accommodating boats up to 60 feet. It also has a fuel dock, pump-out station, cafe, ship’s store and clubhouse with showers, laundry, kitchen and dining facilities, pool, sauna and more. It also offers charters.
Must-visits include H. Toad’s Bar & Grill in Camden on the Lake, Coconuts Caribbean Bar & Grill in Gravois Mills and Lake Ozark’s Lodge of the Four Seasons. And don’t forget your fishing gear. This is bass country (think: largemouth, white and spotted), but the lake also is home to blue catfish, flathead catfish, walleye, channel catfish and bluegill.
7. New York’s Finger Lakes
Hanging like tears beneath Lake Ontario’s eye in north-central New York, the Finger Lakes offer an interesting opportunity for boaters — cruising through American history, celebrated wine country and Native American legend all at the same time.
The region comprises 11 glacial lakes that lie from north to south in an imaginary triangle between Syracuse, Rochester and Elmira-Corning. With so many Finger Lakes and nearby Oneida Lake, often called the thumb on the Finger Lakes hand, you have more than 134,000 acres of pristine waterways to explore.
The two longest lakes, Cayuga and Seneca, are among the deepest in the country; at 435 feet and 618 feet respectively, their bottoms are well below sea level. Both are nearly 40 miles long and roughly 3 to 3.5 miles wide. Watkins Glen Village Marina, at Seneca Lake’s southern end, is home to the Finger Lakes Yacht Club.
The Finger Lakes region offers world-class opportunities for mountain biking, camping, rock climbing, canoeing, kayaking, whitewater rafting, golf and even polo. The area also attracts anglers, who seek brown trout, rainbow trout, Atlantic salmon and lake trout in the cold-water fisheries; and black bass (smallmouth and largemouth), walleye, yellow perch, northern pike and chain pickerel, tiger muskies and panfish in the warm-water ones. In fact, the Finger Lakes boasts some of the best bass fishing in New York.
Don’t miss the nearby amusement and water parks, and make sure to spend time on local hiking trails. The lakes reside in an unforgettable landscape riddled with dramatic gorges, soaring overlooks and thundering waterfalls.
8. South & North Dakotas’ Lake Oahe
Courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, boaters can have the unusual experience of cruising through South Dakota’s high prairie. The corps built a large dam just north of Pierre in the 1940s and ‘50s, taming the wild Missouri River and creating the country’s fourth-largest reservoir.
Lake Oahe stretches 231 miles north from Pierre to Bismarck, North Dakota, and it offers true adventure for trailer sailors who seek an extended, Zenlike boating-camping experience through the same remote, unglaciated country that challenged the Louis and Clark expedition. Lake Oahe is a longtime sportfishing destination — known for walleye, pike and smallmouth bass — and enthusiasm among recreational boaters is growing. Seventeen miles north of Pierre, at the Spring Creek Resort & Deep Water Marina, you’ll find transient slips and a launch ramp. Additional ramps dot the lakeshore, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has done a good job maintaining them, particularly during the low-water years. You can cruise upriver on Lake Oahe for days, with natural bays and inlets providing safe harbor.
And if you have time, visit the nearby Cheyenne River and Standing Rock reservations to experience Lakota culture, especially during powwow season.
9. Utah’s Great Salt Lake
Utah is the second driest state in the country, yet it has the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River. Roughly 75 miles long and 35 miles wide, the Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere, with a salinity that ranges from 5 to 27 percent.
Although the salinity means there are few fishing opportunities here, you won’t want to miss the chance to experience boating in this unique spot. The Great Salt Lake’s primary boating area is about 40 miles by 15 miles, and here, visitors can enjoy an assortment of destinations. The lake’s 10 islands are big highlights. Perhaps the most popular spot is 42-square-mile Antelope Island, with its resident populations of bison, mule deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep and a variety of desert animals. Attractions include a marina, restaurant, horseback riding, camping and miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.
Another favorite is 14-square-mile Fremont Island, which incorporates a preserve for wild horses as well as a collection of historic sites — petroglyphs, graves, the ruins of 1890s homesteading efforts and even a cross carved into the rock at Castle Butte by the 19th century explorer Kit Carson.
The best part of the Great Salt Lake: You can go boating all year, because the water never freezes. In fact, the Great Salt Lake Marina features year-round events and activities.
10. Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva
One of the Midwest’s most remarkable inland lakes is Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva, a 7.5- by 2-mile body of water that lies just a stone’s throw from the Illinois border. The lake area encompasses the communities of Lake Geneva, Fontana-on-Geneva Lake, Williams Bay and Delavan.
If you’re bringing your own boat, the 5,500-acre lake has public launches in downtown Lake Geneva, Fontana and Williams Bay. It has three additional ramps in Linn Township. If you’re an angler, this is the lake to visit for smallmouth and largemouth bass, panfish, northern pike, trout and walleye.
When you’re ready to enjoy a meal, don’t worry about hauling your boat first. Cruise-in hot spots include the Geneva Inn for dining al fresco on the Grandview Restaurant’s outdoor patio; the Abbey Resort in Fontana, with its marina, spa, restaurants, lounges and cafes; and the Pier 290 restaurant in Williams Bay.
All is not lost for those visiting without their own watercraft, however. The Lake Geneva Cruise Line operates eight cruise boats and the celebrated U.S. Mail Boat Walworth, which has been featured on CNN and NBC’s “Today Show,” as well as in the Wall Street Journal and People Magazine. You’ll also enjoy the 21-mile footpath, Lake Geneva’s thriving historic district, Geneva Lake Guide’s narrated tours, Music by the Lake, and so much more.