Need some sweet heat relief? Jump into one of these refreshing lakes for some freshwater fun
Summer is here, but don’t let it keep you inside! The DMV and surrounding states are home to some great lakes that are guaranteed cool. Whether you are swimming, boating, or lounging on their shores, you’ll be sure to make some great summer memories and maybe even create a new tradition. Head to the resort where Dirty Dancing was filmed over three decades ago or set up your tent at a state park with a lake nearby. There’s no bad choice in this list!
Lake Wallenpaupack, PA
Head to the Poconos, where swimming, fishing, boating, paddle boarding, and more water adventures await on Lake Wallenpaupack. The lake's 52 acres of shoreline and surrounding area also afford plenty of opportunities for hiking and biking. Stay in a cozy cabin or go camping near the water. Or, if you're looking for a hotel, check out the luxurious Ledges Hotel, situated next to cascading waterfalls.
Lock Raven Reservoir, MD
The strikingly clear Lock Raven Reservoir provides drinking water to Baltimore City and almost all of Baltimore County. Water travels from the Big Gunpowder Falls River into the 252-acre reservoir where all can enjoy it. While you can't swim here, there are a variety of water activities to partake in, including boat and kayak rentals and excellent fishing opportunities. You can also hike around the reservoir and feel miles away from the city. Don't forget your binoculars as wildlife spotting is almost guaranteed! Be on the lookout for cardinals, blue jays, ravens, and bald eagles.
Greenbrier State Park, MD
Located a little over an hour from Washington DC are the white sandy beaches of Greenbrier State Park in Boonsboro, Maryland. With calm waters and a lifeguard on duty through Labor Day, it's the perfect place to bring kids of all ages. You can rent rowboats and paddle boats during the summer or bring your own (electric trolling motors only). There are 164 campsites and 2 pet-friendly camp loops. You will also find 11 miles of hiking at the State Park. There is a convenience store and bathrooms at the beach area. It's no surprise that this park is very popular, which means it often hits capacity. Go early or on weekdays for the lowest crowds.
Deep Creek Lake, MD
Deep Creek Lake is a favorite for many families thanks to its mile-long shoreline with two swimming beaches, a campground, picnic areas, hiking and biking trails, and a nature center. Accommodations range from state park campsites to lakeside vacation rentals, and there’s an abundance of restaurants and attractions nearby—the latter of which includes a mountain coaster and Maryland's first barn quilt driving trail.
Mountain Lake Lodge, VA
It's been over three decades since Baby got to dance out of her corner, but I bet you still know all the words to every song! Download that soundtrack and belt your way to the iconic Kellerman's Mountain House, now Mountain Lake Lodge, in Pembroke, Virginia. One of only 2 natural lakes in the state, this resort is (literally) straight from the movies. After a dry spell, the lake began to refill in 2020 and has been holding at 1/3 of its capacity. When the lake levels begin to drop the owners invested in updating the lodge and guest cabins and adding the outdoor pool complex. In addition to tours of areas filmed in the movie, your family can partake in a treetop adventure course, 3D archery, and bubble ball (a game of soccer where you become the ball in a giant inflatable enclosure). Onsite farm-to-table dining, a pub, and a coffee shop allow you to comfortably stay on-property for your entire trip.
South Holston Lake, VA
If you thought Nashville was the birthplace of country music, you may be surprised to learn that it’s actually Bristol, VA, which was recognized as such by the US Congress in 1998. Country music lovers and outdoor enthusiasts convene in this still-hidden gem that’s home to South Holston Lake, where you can go swimming, boating, and more. You can also hike parts of the Appalachian Trail and fish the Holston River, often touted as the “Other Montana.” If you prefer a hotel over camping, book a stay at The Bristol Hotel, the region’s first boutique property.
Smith Mountain Lake, VA
The second largest lake in Virginia, Smith Mountain Lake, is located about 4 miles from Washington DC at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The lake is perfect for swimming, boating, and fishing. While you can rent a private house at the lake, the Smith Mountain Lake State Park is a great option for families looking for additional activities. There are various lodging options at the state park, including 20 cabins ranging between 2-3 bedrooms, a bunkhouse, and campsites. Summer park programs range from learning about animal tracks, and viewing underwater life with an Aqua-Vu camera to a Wildlife Pontoon Boat Tour.
Cunningham Falls State Park, MD
Don't be confused by the name of this state park not too far from Frederick, MD in the town of Thurmont. While there is a lovely (and not too challenging) waterfall hike, there is also a large recreational lake with a sandy beach and a seasonal lifeguard. Camping, hiking, and canoeing are also offered at the William Houck Area of the Park. The snack bar has been under construction for over a year, but food trucks have been filling the void on weekends and holidays. Cell phone coverage is also spotty in this area of the Catoctin Mountains so plan accordingly. If you stay a few nights fit a visit to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve into your schedule. Kids love getting up close and personal with the wildlife!
Lake Habeeb, MD
If you’re planning to bring Fido along, Lake Habeeb in Rocky Gap State Park is a must. Pets are encouraged to visit the state park, one of the five largest in Maryland. Lake Habeeb—which is known to have “the bluest water in the state”—is perfect for kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, and fishing. The 243-acre lake is especially pretty in the fall.
Otsego Lake, NY
It’s a drive—just over six hours from DC—but hear us out: Otsego Lake and Cooperstown are worth it. After all, Cooperstown is home to The Baseball Hall of Fame, as well as some other great museums and kid-friendly breweries (Brewery Ommegang being the most well-known). The Otesaga Resort Hotel is the ultimate place to stay and enjoy the lake, with waterfront views from many of the guestrooms and canoes, and row boats to rent.
Summersville Lake, WV
Get wild and wonderful in West Virginia's largest lake which is nicknamed "Little Bahamas of the East" due to the clear water quality and SCUBA diving opportunities. Roughly 300 miles from Washington, DC, this 2700-acre lake with 65 miles of shoreline claims to be the clearest, cleanest lake east of the Mississippi. It's no surprise this is West Virginia's number one tourist destination. Plan to stay at the Summersville Lake Retreat & Lighthouse in cabins or tent sites, and tour the only lighthouse in the state. Visit Sarge's Dive Shop to rent SCUBA gear, book a lesson, rent a kayak or canoe, or embark on a private charter around the lake.
Additional reporting by Amanda Norcross