10 Best New England Lakes for Summer Fun

Fireworks over Lakke Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire (Photo: @northbound9999 via Twenty20)
Photo: @northbound9999 via Twenty20

Fall foliage and colonial history may be the first things that come to mind when you think of New England vacations, but the northeastern corner of the United States is home to some of the country’s most idyllic lakes as well. And with fishing, swimming, boating, hiking, mountain biking, and even moose safaris to keep families entertained, there’s no shortage of things to do on a family vacation in New England’s best lake towns, either.

The Best New England Lakes and Lake Towns

From the peaceful waterways of Maine’s Moosehead Lake to the summer tourism hub of Lake Winnipesaukee, these are the best New England lakes and lake towns for summer fun. 

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire (Photo: @kayp via Twenty20)
Lake Winnipesaukee in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire (Photo: @kayp via Twenty20)

At more than 44,500 acres (72 square miles), Lake Winnipesaukee isn’t just the largest lake in New Hampshire. It’s also one of the most enduringly popular summer vacation ideas in all of New England, drawing families from across the region with its seemingly endless variety of public beaches, boat launches, fishing spots, and swimming areas.

The 81-mile loop drive around Lake Winnipesaukee takes you through the towns of Meredith, Wolfeboro, Center Harbor, Moultonborough, Tuftonboro, Alton, Gilford, and Laconia, offering plenty of spots along the way for scenic views and touristy stops. In Laconia, Weirs Beach has lifeguards on duty all summer, as well as a bathhouse and playground. Shopping, dining, water slides, miniature golf, go karts, arcades, art galleries, boardwalks, and scenic boat rides are among the other favorite activities in the Winnipesaukee area. Fireworks and outdoor performances are common in the summer months as well.

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Boat tours operated by Mount Washington Cruises are a great way to see the lake up close, especially for skip-gen travel or multigenerational family vacations where some family members may need to take it a bit slower. A ride on the Winnipesaukee Scenic Railroad is a similarly paced activity and a pleasant way to spend a morning or afternoon.

Where to Stay Near Lake Winnipesaukee

Half Moon Motel and Cottages is centrally located to Weirs Beach in Laconia. It’s within walking distance to the boardwalk, train station, and public beach. Families love the big outdoor pool and Lake Winnipesaukee views. The cottages are ideal for family stays and come with a fully equipped kitchenette.

Winnapaug Pond, Rhode Island

Separated from the Atlantic Ocean by a large sandbar, Winnapaug Pond (actually a 2.5-mile saltwater lake on the coast of Rhode Island) is known for its calm waters compared to the popular nearby Misquamicut State Beach. Winnapaug Pond’s shallow depths are ideal for kayaking. 

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After a day on the water, make sure to explore the landmark Atlantic Beach Park, which is situated on the same sandbar barrier. Atlantic Beach Park, which offers amusement rides for younger children and classic arcade games, first opened in 1921. But the most popular and traditional thing to do at the park is to take a spin on the historic flying horse carousel. Summer isn’t complete otherwise! 

Where to Stay Near Winnapaug Pond

Just 10 minutes from Winnapaug Pond, the Ocean House is a high-end beachfront hotel that offers food and arts experiences, croquet clinics, fitness classes, afternoon movie screenings, and evenings around the fire pit.

Rangeley Lake, Maine

View of Rangeley Lake, Maine (Photo: @sarafernbee via Twenty20)
View of Rangeley Lake, Maine (Photo: @sarafernbee via Twenty20)

Nestled within Maine’s mountainous backcountry, Rangeley Lake is one of six pristine bodies of water collectively known as the Rangeley Lakes region. Vacationing families visit to experience the dual benefits of lake and mountain activities. Shadowed by nearby Saddleback Mountain, the 6,000-acre lake offers endless opportunities for fishing, swimming, birdwatching, and boating, with boat launches available in Rangeley Lake State Park. The state park also offers plenty of kid-friendly hiking trails, picnic spots, and campsites. 

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Take a drive around the region on the 35-mile Rangeley Lakes National Scenic Byway and you may just spot a moose. Downtown Rangeley is a quintessential New England town filled with shops and eateries. A variety of festivals also lure visitors throughout the summer months. 

Where to Stay Near Rangeley Lake

Located on the easterly shore of Rangeley Lake, Loon Lodge Inn and Restaurant offers lakeside views and spectacular sunsets. Built in 1899, the Loon Lodge features boat slips at its dock, a private swimming beach, and parking for RVs. Guest rooms come with a mini-fridge and air conditioning, but no telephones or televisions are available in the rooms because, well, nobody really visits Rangeley for TV or the internet. 

Sunapee Lake, New Hampshire

Western New Hampshire’s 4,100-acre Sunapee Lake is surrounded by state parks, including Mount Sunapee State Park, where families come to enjoy a sandy beach with lifeguards, boat rentals, a playground, restrooms, and camp sites. 

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In addition to fishing, swimming, golfing, and camping, the Sunapee Lake area is a prime spot for family-friendly hiking and mountain biking trails.

Where to Stay Near Sunapee Lake

Within easy walking distance of Mount Sunapee State Park Beach, the Mountain Edge Resort and Spa at Sunapee has a spa, onsite dining, and both indoor and outdoor pools. The hotel’s one- and two-bedroom guest rooms come with a kitchenette.

Moosehead Lake, Maine

Uniquely shaped Moosehead Lake in Maine (Photo: @kaylaebner via Twenty20)
Uniquely shaped Moosehead Lake in Maine (Photo: @kaylaebner via Twenty20)

There’s no mystery to how Moosehead Lake got its name: The 40-mile, 75,000-acre body of water in northwestern Maine really is shaped like a moose’s head. And considering that moose outnumber people by three to one in the region, you’ll have an excellent chance of spotting one of these magnificent animals in the wild here, too. (You can increase your odds by taking a professional moose safari and wildlife tour.)

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Moosehead Lake is the largest mountain lake in the eastern United States and the source of Maine’s serene Kennebec River. You can explore the area on your own or your or hire a Registered Maine Guide to show you all the best spots. Natural pursuits here include fishing, boating, swimming, whitewater rafting, kayaking, and Jet-skis.

Where to Stay Near Moosehead Lake

The pet-friendly Lodge at Moosehead Lake boasts lake views from its guest rooms and a large outdoor fire pit for communal fun. The Mt. Kineo Suite is ideal for families as it can sleep up to five people with two bedrooms and a rollaway bed. There’s also a fully equipped kitchen, gas fireplace, and large private deck in the suite.

Lake Mansfield, Massachusetts 

The Berkshires’ small-but-serene Lake Mansfield may technically be a pond, but this 29-acre slice of paradise has plenty of room for fishing, boating, and canoeing, and its public beach is patrolled by lifeguards all summer long. ) and opportunities

There’s a quarter-mile walking loop trail that’s perfect for spotting local wildlife in the area, and when you want to kickstart your morning with some exercise or zen, lakeside yoga classes are offered three times a week in July and August.

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Downtown Great Barrington, less than five minutes from the lake, offers an arts and cultural district filled with shops, art galleries, theaters, and eateries. 

Where to Stay Near Lake Mansfield

The Fairfield by Marriott Inn and Suites, just 10 minutes from Lake Mansfield, is ideally suited for families. The hotel has an indoor pool, game room, and complimentary hot breakfast. All guest rooms come with a microwave and mini-fridge, and the studio guest rooms have two queen beds and a sleeper sofa, perfect for families of five. 

Lake Champlain, Vermont

Sunset over Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont (Photo: @rodhawk101 via Twenty20)
Sunset over Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont (Photo: @rodhawk101 via Twenty20)

Bordering New York, Vermont, and the Canadian province of Quebec, Lake Champlain is a serene freshwater lake with a relatively undeveloped coastline capped by the quirky coastal town of Burlington, Vermont, on its eastern shore.

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Opportunities for typical outdoor lake activities like fishing, boating, swimming, and water sports are abundant here, and many of the area’s coastal hikes feature feature short easy trails with breathtaking Lake Champlain views. When you tire of the outdoors, head to downtown Burlington for shops, eateries, and a thriving arts scene complete with street vendors and music festivals.

Where to Stay Near Lake Champlain

Pet-friendly Hotel Vermont in downtown Burlington is within walking distance of Lake Champlain and offers kid-friendly touches like complimentary bedtime stories for the little ones.

Lake Quinsigamond, Massachusetts 

Just an hour west of Boston, Lake Quinsigamond and the surrounding Quinsigamond State Park offer the perfect mix city getaway and New England lake vacation. With opportunities for fishing, non-motorized boating, sailing, and swimming, there’s no shortage of water-based activities here, and the surrounding state park boasts plenty of picnic areas, tennis courts, and walking or running trails. Lake Quinsigamond is also famous for its rowing competitions. Regattas are popular here throughout the rowing season. 

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Beyond the lake, the nearby EcoTarium in Worcester is a popular science and nature museum that caters to kids and families. Fir for all ages, this interactive children’s center features live animal habitats, hikes through forests and nature trails, and a train ride around its 45-acre campus.

Where to Stay Near Lake Quinsigamond

The all-suite Residence Inn Worcester has an indoor swimming pool, outdoor sport court, and a courtyard with a firepit. All of the suites feature a fully equipped kitchen and complimentary breakfast.

Candlewood Lake, Connecticut 

Situated within the 11-acre Candlewood Lake Town Park, Candlewood Lake is the largest lake in the state of Connecticut and a perfect beachside spot for swimming, boating, and fishing. Families love the lake’s playground, picnic tables, boat dock, and concession stand.

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Golf courses and kid-friendly mini golf courses abound not fat from Candlewood Lake, and the nearby Bear Mountain Reservation offers 140-acres of green space and hiking trails, including portions with lake views. Families also enjoy exploring the Danbury Railway Museum and the Danbury Fair Mall, an upscale shopping mall with more than 200 stores, a carousel, and children’s play area. 

Where to Stay Near Candlewood Lake

With an indoor swimming pool, outdoor fire pit seating area, and an onsite restaurant open for breakfast and dinner, the Hilton Garden Inn Danbury is a smart choice for families staying near Candlewood Lake.  

Worden Pond, Rhode Island

Despite its name, Worden Pond is considered a lake. And, at more than 1,000 acres, it’s a fairly big one by New England standards—big, but not deep. Because Worden Pond averages a depth of just four feet, there’s excellent fishing to be had here year-round. Perch, bluegill, and sunfish abound in this Rhode Island lake.

Where to Stay Near Worden Pond

Worden Pond is an especially good New England lake destination for RV road trips, and if you’re traveling by RV, the family-owned and operated Worden Pond Campground is the place to stay. Along with RV parking and hookups, the campground has a picnic table and fire ring at each station, along with community restrooms and showers. There are also basketball and volleyball courts, a horseshoe pit, and a playground. 

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Courtney Elko
Courtney Elko has been a writer, traveler, former editor at Tripadvisor’s FamilyVacationCritic website, and a journalist in both print and digital media for more than 15 years. She's had a passion for travel since she roadtripped the California coast with her family at a young age. Courtney has hiked the Faroe Islands, climbed Machu Picchu, skied in Switzerland, gone dogsledding in Alaska, and spent many summers jumping waves with her young nephews on the Jersey Shore. Her travel expertise has been featured in USA Today, SmarterTravel, and What To Pack. Courtney lives outside of Philadelphia and enjoys spending time with her family, friends, and puggle, Shelby. Email Courtney with story ideas at courtney.elko [at] gmail [dot] com, and follow her on Instagram @goliveyourstory for travel inspiration and advice.