The Best Lakes Across The South

Lake Lure
Photo: Robbie Caponetto

Few things are as relaxing as time on the water, and the South is filled with beautiful lakes. Think of these as perfect vacation ideas for every season. From cool, quiet trips through the heart of a city to broad, flat waters with nothing but relaxation for miles around, the South is a goldmine of glittering water—you just have to know where to look. Lucky for you, our editors are well versed in the language of Southern waters and are willing to share their expertise.

You'll find plenty of Southern stereotypes alive and well when it comes to weekends at the lake around these parts. We love our iced tea , preferably a little sweet and sipped on the dock. We spend full days barefoot unless dinner calls for flip-flops, and we happily live life at a slower pace. Here, a look at some of our favorite supersized swimming holes around the region. Whether you crave the speed of water sports, prefer the solitude of a mountain lake, or count down the moments to the daily floating hour, each of these Southern lakes are primed and ready for you to take the plunge!

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Lake Rabun, Northern Georgia

Lake Rabun, Northern Georgia
Photo: Michael Hanson

Known for its classic style, this is the perfect lake for old-fashioned family fun. Stay at The Barn at Lake Rabun, a 1920's stone-and-timber inn with a lake view, or check out Glen-Ella Springs Inn , a farmhouse-style inn, or the refined mountain lodge, Lake Rabun Hotel . Editor's tip: There are no boat rental facilities directly on the lake, so you'll have to BYOB and launch it from Hall's Boat House, or hook up with a rental company like Bear Gap Outfitters . Make sure you also bring your boater's license. If you don't have one, take a boater's education course online for a nominal fee.

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Caddo Lake, Texas/Lousiana

Caddo Lake Texas
Michael Hanson

Few lakes envelop their visitors like Caddo. Pristine water spreads oil-black and disappears beneath lush green water lilies while it wraps around the trunks of bald cypress. With so many unique species found in the water, you'd think it was a major port-of-call for Noah's Ark. On the northwest side of the lake, in Uncertain, Texas, Lafitte's Landing Guest Quarters' private cottages sit beneath the cypress trees. Each cottage has its own Acadian and Creole touches.

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Lady Bird Lake, Texas

Lady Bird Lake, Texas
Photo: Michael Hanson

Downstream from Lake Austin's big homes and powerboats, quieter Lady Bird Lake allows only non-motorized boats. As a reflection to this music-loving town, Lady Bird boasts its own venue at Auditorium Shores , a wide riverbank slope that hosts concerts. Editor's tip: Discover Lady Bird's hidden local secret: a side trip on the lake's famous tributary, Barton Creek. Rent a kayak from Rowing Dock and discover the small dam that holds Barton Springs Pool.

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Lake Santeetlah, North Carolina

Lake Santeetlah North Carolina
Southern Living

In the quiet shadows of layers of mountains, Lake Santeetlah's 76 miles of shoreline are mostly protected as national forest. Enjoy the silence via canoe, sea kayak or stand up paddleboard. Afterward, head to the lakeside bar and dock at Blue Waters Mountain Lodge . Editor's tip: For lakeside camping with a few amenities—hot showers and flush toilets—Cheoah Point Campground has car campsites for $20 a night.

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Trophy Lakes, South Carolina

Trophy Lakes, South Carolina
Photo: Michael Hanson

Built specifically for skiers, this privately-owned lake's 10-foot depth and small size make it an ideal ski lake. For newbies, it's a great spot to learn from the pros. Stay just steps from downtown Charleston at the Ansonborough Inn , a restored 1901 warehouse. Editor's tip: At Carolina Water Sports , professional instructors ensure that you can learn to ski.

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Lake Martin, Alabama

Lake Martin, Alabama
Photo: Michael Hanson

A popular second-home lake to Birmingham and Montgomery residents, Lake Martin also has a population of full-time lakeside dwellers. On the weekends, boats raft up at Chimney Rock, a prominent cliff-jumping spot near the dam. Rest up at Mistletoe Bough Bed & Breakfast , a restored 1895 Victorian Mansion 10 minutes from the lake. Editor's tip: When it comes to happy hour, the same common sense applies, but the open container laws are somewhat more lax. For goodness sake, just designate a captain!

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Lake Douglas, Tennessee

lake douglas boaters

This gorgeous lake sits about 30-45 minutes from Sevierville, Tennessee, in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you love the water, it's worth the trek. Boating, swimming, water skiing, and fishing await right at your doorstep.

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Stonewall Jackson Lake, West Virginia

view of stonewall jackson lake resort

Ferris Bueller couldn't pack more fun in a day than you can enjoy here at the luxurious state resort set in the middle of 2,000-acre Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park. Book a room at the lodge on the lake's shore (and request a water view). Cruise the waters of Stonewall Jackson Lake on a pontoon boat or tee it up on an Arnold Palmer Signature Golf Course.

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Table Rock Lake at Big Cedar Lodge, Missouri

devil's pool overlooking table rock lake at big cedar lodge
Robbie Caponetto

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris was pretty much the ideal person to start a heavenly lodge property on a nearly 60,000-acre lake just outside Branson, Missouri. Big Cedar Lodge's gentle call of the wild fills all 81 cabins, 3 lodges, 4 restaurants, and 100 boat slips. Guests can choose between cottages, cabins, and handsome hotel rooms in one of three ridge-side lodges. Access is incredibly easy―the $140-million Branson airport is just 10 miles from the lodge.

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Lake Lure, North Carolina

Lake Lure North Carolina
Photo: Richard Green

Lead the family on an exploration of the grounds. Several blazed nature trails weave through the 1,000 acres. Skip the elevator and climb all 400 steps up to—ta da— Chimney Rock for a look at Lake Lure.

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Lake Guntersville, Alabama

Best Southern Travel Destinations: Lake Guntersville
Photo by Van Chaplin

This sleepy hamlet wraps itself around one of Alabama's prettiest patches of fresh water― Lake Guntersville . But the small city holds a few shopping and dining surprises that could have easily been plucked from much more urban areas such as Birmingham (65 miles southwest) and Huntsville (45 miles northwest). You're here for the lake, though, and its calming qualities will ease you through this relaxing weekend.

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Shavers Lake at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia

women in hot tub at snowshoe mountain resort

Where better to escape the heat of summer than at a mountain resort? At 4,848 feet in elevation, it's cooler here on Snowshoe Mountain in the Alleghenies of West Virginia. Start the fun with a ride down the Ballhooter Chair Lift to Shavers Lake. The lake serves as the summer centerpiece. Rent a canoe, kayak, or paddleboat here, or claim a spot along the beach to relax with a book. Miles of paths encircle the lake and stretch out along the mountain's ridge. Snowshoe furnishes easy-to-read trail maps (pick up one at check-in) when you want to strike out on your own, or you can join one of the guided hikes.

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Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana

main street in mandeville, louisiana

Louisiana has more to offer than the always-festive city of New Orleans. Mandeville nestles on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain. A 24-mile-long bridge (Lake Pontchartrain Causeway) draws visitors from the bustling Big Easy to this take-it-easy city on the North Shore. Walking alongside the lake makes for a perfect 30-minute stroll.

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Lake Oconee, Georgia

The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee
Courtesy of the The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee

Just 75 miles east of Atlanta, the property sits on 35 wooded acres along the shores of Georgia's second-largest lake. At this luxurious resort, plan your entire stay around the water, which seems to be everywhere you look. From the glorious lakeside infinity swimming pool to the indoor pool in the spa to the waters of Lake Oconee, you can spend your entire vacation staying cool and wet. On the lake, guests water-ski, fish, kayak, and canoe. Book a room at the Ritz-Carlton for a luxury lake getaway you won't soon forget.

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Lake Lanier Islands, Georgia

sailboat on lake lanier

Breathe deeply, and let yourself unwind. Lake Lanier Islands , a lovely resort just 30 minutes north of Atlanta, has everything you'll need for a cool summer getaway. Choose from the hotel, lake houses, houseboats, or campgrounds. The hotel recently renovated all 216 guestrooms and added a new lobby. If you've got more than two people in your party, opt for the 4-year-old Lake Houses. These 30 handsome cottages perch above the lake. Inside, two bedrooms, two baths, kitchens, fieldstone fireplaces, and wonderful decks, complete with hot tubs and gas grills, take care of all your needs.

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Lake Ouachita, Arkansas

breakfast on shores of lake ouchita

Wipe the summer sweat off your face with a weekend frolic on Lake Ouachita (WASH-it-tah) near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Encompassing 1,000 miles of shoreline and stretching out for more than 40 acres, it's safe to say that this is a lake of oceanic proportions. We recommend renting a houseboat―you get the best of both worlds in these vessels: at-home ambience and an inviting, water-drenched destination. Hill's Lake Escape at Brady Mountain Resort helps visitors do just that. The company provides a fleet of 20 houseboats for you to choose from.

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Pine Mountain, Georgia

A cabin Pine Mountain Lake
Getty Images

Callaway Gardens , one of the loveliest resorts in the South, began as a retreat for just one family. Today it's a popular getaway for many. Visitors from all over come to Pine Mountain, Georgia, to enjoy the natural beauty of the gardens and participate in a host of activities that range from strolling down paths lined with azaleas to hiking, biking, fishing, and golfing. Nestled in the pines a little more than an hour southwest of Atlanta, spots of tranquility such as Lake Martin and Mountain Creek Lake spread like mirrors across the valley.

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Lake Austin, Texas

lake austin spa resort swimming pool

Staying at the lush Lake Austin Spa Resort almost feels like being at your best friend's lake house, that is, if your best friend is a gourmet cook, master gardener, masseuse, activities director, and manicurist. You can relax at one of the three pools, indulge in spa treatments at the stunning LakeHouse Spa, experience an exercise class, or just hang out in the beautifully decorated room. For added fun, ride a Hydro-bike, or go sculling on the lake, take a cooking class, or experience a wine-and-cheese tasting.

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