From its tropical beaches to its pristine mountain lakes, the U.S. has no shortage of vacation destinations that feature every type of recreation, on and in the water. Many locations offer stunning scenery, reasonably priced lodgings, and plenty of things to do in and out of the water.
Lake Tahoe, California/Nevada
Pristine beaches, calm waters, and lots of hidden little coves make Lake Tahoe popular for just about every type of water fun. The gorgeous mountain lake borders both California and Nevada and has lots of spots along the shoreline perfect for swimming, sunning, or launching a kayak. The kids will get a kick out of telling their friends that they swam from California to Nevada or vice versa – the marathon challenge is a 12 mile swim, but you can do it in the pool of a famous hotel that straddles the state line too. For nighttime fun, Lake Tahoe casinos, on the Nevada side of town, rival those in Las Vegas for entertainment, food, and lodging.
Mauna Kea Beach, Hawai’i, Hawaii
Also known as Kauna’oa Bay, the palm tree-lined half-mile long Mauna Kea Beach boasts the whitest sand of any beach in Hawaii. The beach’s location on a quiet section of the Big Island makes it perfect for building sandcastles, sunning, or relaxing with a good book. At night, the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel uses floodlights that attract manta rays. Guests can enjoy the show from the beach, or dive in and join the fun with the harmless Manta Rays. Calm waters and a gently sloped beach make Kauna’oa Bay an excellent beach for first-time or beginner swimmers as well.
Located on the Emerald Coast ( a section along the Florida Panhandle between Fort Walton Beach and Panama City Beach), Destin beaches boast some of the world’s cleanest waters and whitest sand. Record-sized catches in many species earned Destin the title of “the World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Destin’s downtown area has many interesting shops, some of the country’s best seafood restaurants, and a charming little harbor. The Emerald Coast stretches from Panama City Beach to Fort Walton Beach, and in case you spot the them here – is studded with pristine beaches and funky towns like Seaside, home of the Jim Carrey “Truman Show” movie. Try a slow road trip over several days along the coast to sample all of the fun.
Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada
America’s first and largest national recreation area, Lake Mead National Recreation Area in Nevada, spreads across 1.5-million acres of canyons, mountains, valleys, and two vast lakes – Lake Mead and Lake Mohave. The year-round outdoor playground features stunning landscapes, azure-blue water, and plenty of spots to fish, swim, water-ski, and parasail. In the middle of the dry Southwest, this place is all about water fun.
Prince William Sound, Alaska
A wide variety of wildlife and spectacular scenery, and a serenity level unmatched by almost anywhere else on the planet, define Prince William Sound, Alaska. Located in the heart of Alaska’s Chugach National Forest, visitors call Prince William Sound a “kayaker’s paradise.” Don’t be surprised to spot a black bear, an eagle, or a moose in the forest surrounding the sound. Resident marine life includes sea lions, seals, and humpback whales. Accommodations on Prince William Sound consist of many camping sites and rustic mountain cabins.
Rated the most popular water park in the world, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon lands Kissimmee, Florida, on the list. Typhoon Lagoon features a tropical oasis theme, sections for all aged children, and North America’s largest wave pool. Surfing lessons are available for kids aged 8 and older (but with so much water fun in America, it makes sense to get the kids started on swimming lessons as early as possible – age 1 is now recommended!). Typhoon Lagoon’s continuous 2,100-foot long Lazy River ride runs through lush rainforests and under gentle waterfalls as it circles the park. Typhoon Lagoon has six separate areas – Typhoon Lagoon, Mount Mayday, Castaway Creek, Hideaway Bay, Shark Reef, and Ketchakiddee Creek. Each section offers its own unique experience.
Palm tree-lined beaches, warm trade winds, and endless opportunities to unwind bring visitors to Islamorada, year-round. Islamorada’s abundant sunshine and tropical climate mean that snorkeling, swimming, and napping on the beach are always in-season. Calm teal-green waters and powder-white sand also make the Gulf side beaches the perfect place to relax with a drink and watch the sun go down. Islamorada’s access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico makes it a very popular destination with sport fishermen too.
Lake Placid, New York
Located in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, Lake Placid’s tranquil nature (thus the name), makes it perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking and windsurfing. The lake’s mild temperament and quiet beaches also make it a great place to teach the little ones to improve their swim game. The town of Lake Placid has plenty of restaurants and shops, as well as a wide range of places to stay. The Lake Placid Winter Olympic Museum – the arena where the 1980 U.S. Hockey Team made Olympic history – allows year-round skating on its famed rink.
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
As the hub of the area’s 60-mile string of beaches known as the “Grand Strand”, Myrtle Beach gets crowded in the summer months, but its ocean waters stay warm enough for swimming from mid-spring through mid-fall. Its boardwalk has a variety of amusement parks, restaurants, and surf shops. There are also three large shopping malls within a twenty-minute drive from town. Geared toward families, Myrtle Beach offers more than enough arcades and miniature golf to go around.
Gallatin River, Yellowstone National Park
The Gallatin River starts in Montana and runs through gorgeous mountain territory in Yellowstone National Park. It’s an excellent place for a quiet day of hiking, critter spotting, and picnicking. The river produces lots of small trout upstream, and larger fish downstream. There are also plenty of spots throughout the park to access the river. The Gallatin has several opportunities for whitewater rafting as well. Of course, no trip to Yellowstone would be complete without visiting its most famous attraction, Old Faithful.