Bodies of water seem to be an ongoing theme of our travels. Rick loves to swim, and I do too if it's hot enough. Rick and I both like to kayak and take river rafting trips. None of us fish, but we do love to dabble around on the shores of rivers and streams. Rick loves to look at boats and ships, and we all like to look at the wildlife that is often visible around bodies of water.
This is a page highlighting our favorite lakes as we travel, complete with commentary and links. They are not in rank order, but in the order in which we have encountered them. We've given them a score from 1-10 based on water clarity, accessibility, location and lack of invasive species such as Eurasian milfoil* and zebra mussels. These all scored 8-10 to get onto this page. We hope readers will find it interesting and useful.
One of the greatest things about Sylvan Lake is it's accessibility once you've traveled the road to get there, which is very twisty and turning and has some very narrow bridges and tunnels. The lake itself is right inside the state park gates (small day use fee required), next to the road, with lots of parking, and lots of places to easily get in the water. It's a small lake, crystal clear, surrounded by a mix of statuesque rocks and grassy shores. It has a mostly sandy bottom. The temperature is not very cold. It's a small, cozy and friendly lake.
The rangers are totally cool about letting dogs swim, which is pretty unusual. They just ask that you don't let them swim in the identified and roped people beach. It's a perfect place for kayaking, canoeing, swimming, picnicking and hiking. We gave Sylvan Lake a 9.
Flathead Lake is enormous, but still small enough to drive around in a day, unlike the Great Lakes that feel like oceans. It has a few islands, one of which is Wild Horse Island, a wildlife refuge. You can see the other shore at all times, and it is surrounded by wooded mountains on the east side and golden hills on the other, which makes for heart moving views. The water is clear everywhere you access it, and cold, but swimmable. The bottom is small rounded rocks of beautiful colors. It is accessible from five or six state parks and about ten fishing access locations. There are also a few town parks in Polson for swimming and boating. There are a few companies that rent boats and offer boat tours. Like all large lakes, the water can get kind of rough at times, so kayaking and canoeing must be done with attention to the wind conditions. It is a lake to respect with awe, but still has friendly bays and shores. Flathead Lake is a big 10.
Lake McDonald is an iconic mountain lake, just within the western boundary of Glacier National Park. It is very clear and very cold. It is swimmable in the hottest part of the summer. The views are breathtaking. Access to it is limited to a few locations around the lake, which is largely undeveloped. This is part of its beauty, as are the dramatic mountains of Glacier. It does have a campground, large picnic area with little family sized beaches, and the little town of Apgar at the southwestern end. At the northeastern end is Lake McDonald Lodge, where you can rent canoes or take boat tours. There are a few little access points along the shore from the Going to the Sun Road. I'd give Lake McDonald a 9, only because of its limited access and very cold waters.
Fish Lake, Utah
This was a total surprise. We pulled into the KOA in Richfield, Utah, not expecting much more than an overnight stay, and a great next day at Capitol Reef National Park. Went out for a very late lunch at the Frontier Restaurant, which was, by the way, great. Talked to the waitress there and asked if there was a good place around to take a dog swimming. She suggested Fish Lake, about an hour away. It was early enough, so we decided to take the beautiful drive on routes 118, 24 and 25, up onto the high plateaus. As we got closer the aspens, with striking white bark, were just turning gold.
(Pando, the heaviest known living organism on Earth is near Fish Lake. It is a stand of quaking aspen all belonging to the same root system. It covers 107 acres.)
This gets on the favorite list primarily for its breathtaking location. The water is clear, but at the marina it's a little clogged with what might hope is not milfoil. The lake is not developed much, though it is a state park. There is not fee for day use. There is a state campground that definitely has the "it" factor. The place is mostly used by hunters and fishers, as it is so far off the beaten track. There are a few cabins, and a lodge that was already closed for the season. Fish lake gets an 8.
We stayed in McCall, ID on the southern end of this mountain lake. There are lots of natural sandy beaches scattered along its shores, making access to the water easy. The lake is very deep, but during the hot August that we visited, the water was plenty warm and inviting for swimming. There are homes on both the east and west shores, to about half way up the lake. It doesn't feel over-developed. The town of McCall has at least two marinas, and businesses that rent boats, jet skis, kayaks and paddle boards. We didn't find the lake too crowded, though there are lots of ski boats parked at the marina so on holidays it may be a pretty hopping place.
This volcanic out-croping is the tip of Ponderosa State Park, a peninsula that extends about half way out into the southern half of the lake and provides some beautiful hiking, swimming, boating, fishing and camping opportunities.
It also has a northern division with a wide sandy beach, very clear water and a river with idyllic kayaking conditions.
McCall has a public beach right downtown, and a Rotary Park with another beach, picnic area and playground.
The whole lake is very clear and we saw no evidence of milfoil infestation. There are many ospreys and their nests are easy to spot throughout the area. There is a road that goes around the whole lake (an easy hours drive) Lots of mergansers on the lake too. The scenic and calm Payette River feeds into the north, and exits the south of the lake.
I'd give Payette a 10. It's like a mini Flathead Lake but without the beautiful aqua colored glacial waters.
Lea Lake is one of a chain of lakes that are not in fact "bottomless" but are sink holes, some of which were pretty deep at one time and may still be connected by underground waterways. Lea Lake is the only one of considerable size and is used for swimming, non-motorized boats and fishing. It serves as a primary recreation area for folks from nearby Roswell. We have always been there off season, but I imagine its a busy place in the New Mexico summer heat.
Above you can see the campground on the far side of the lake, right next to the swimming beach. It was maybe 30 steps from our site to the lake. There is a large stone building with a bathhouse, snack bar, picnic alcoves, and restrooms, with the beach nestled within its semicircular shape. We have always been there off season, but I imagine its a busy place in the New Mexico summer heat.
The lake is spring fed, so it is cool and perfectly clear. There are lots of fish and soft shell turtles of the far side of the lake from the beach. At sunset you can watch the sandhill cranes land in the wetlands nearby and you can hear them all evening. It's a perfect kayaking lake with many easy places to put in.
Lea Lake is a great place to stop when traveling through southeast New Mexico to get a break from the sometimes bleak desert. I'd give Lea Lake a 10 for accessibility, water quality and scenery, and we'll definitely be back.
Yes, it's that blue. Everyone says "It's SO blue" when they see it. It is, SO blue. Below is a picture of the shallow end where the clear water is more turquoise than cobalt blue.
Crater Lake is one of the least accessible frequently visited lakes in the country. There is only one way down into the crater and the lake surface, and that's by walking down a 1.1 mile long switch back trail that descends 700' (and then ascends back up) to the dock below. Once there, you can fish off the dock, take a boat tour or just hang out near the amazing water. We took the boat tour and loved it.
The water in Crater Lake is some of the cleanest and clearest in the world. It is also very cold (55-60 degrees) because it it very deep. People don't swim in it very much, but it is allowed. The location is one of the most spectacular you will ever see. We give it a 9, with a point off for accessibility and usability.
* A note about Eurasian water milfoil: We've seen too many beautiful lakes devastated by milfoil infestations. It's an aggressively invasive water plant that is very difficult to destroy once established. Mechanical means of eradication are ineffective because the plant can grow from the tiniest pieces of vegetation. Chemical control has been used successfully in some places, but has it's challenges as well, including cost. The best treatment is prevention, but requires incredible vigilance from state authorities and boat users. PLEASE do your part and don't spread milfoil with your boats. Always clean and dry your boats after using them and respect the regulations being enforced in some states to prevent the spread of this ugly destructive plant.