FUN FOR ALL AGES
8 Perfect Summer Lake Towns
Accessible, easy on the wallet, and just as refreshing as the ocean, our money’s on the classic American swimming hole this summer. Where will you be cooling off?
Where to Stay: Historic Tamarack Lodge & Cabins is set right in the midst of Flathead National Forest. The main lodge has one room that sleeps two, but most folks book one of the 18 cabins. 9549 U.S. Hwy. 2 East, 877/387-4420, historictamaracklodge.com, from $114.
Saugatuck, Michigan, on Lake Michigan
Long a weekend getaway for Chicagoans, Saugatuck's independent shops, trendy restaurants, and LGBT presence are starting to gain the town national attention. But beaches are its trademark, with long sandy stretches that often feel more Miami than Midwest. Oval Beach is one of the most popular with picnic areas and sheltered dunes (saugatuck.com/beaches.asp). Ride the Saugatuck Chain Ferry from downtown to Oval; it's the only hand-cranked chain ferry on the Great Lakes (adults and children ages 3 and up $1).
Where to Refuel: Pumpernickel's Eatery bakes its bread fresh on-site. Pair two loaves with your favorite lunch meat, have them wrap your sandwich picnic-style, and tote it with you to the beach. 202 Butler St., 269/857-1196, pumpernickelssaugatuck.com, sandwiches from $7.50.
Where to Stay: Lake Shore Resort overlooks Lake Michigan from its bluff above the water. In celebration of local craftsmanship, each of the 30 rooms is decorated with paintings by hometown artist James Brandess. Rates include free continental breakfast, Wi-Fi, and use of bikes, kayaks, and outdoor BBQ pits. 2885 Lakeshore Dr., 269/857-7121, lakeshoreresortsaugatuck.com, from $160.
Grand Lake, Colorado, on Grand Lake
Surrounded by the high peaks of Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado's largest natural lake couldn't be more picturesque. The town was founded in 1881 and affects a rustic, Wild West vibe, with saloons and a boardwalk along Grand Avenue. Embrace the theme by hitching a ride on horseback with Sombrero Ranches, whose ranch hands will lead you through alpine meadows, alongside clear mountain streams, and up steep hillsides (970/627-3514, sombrero.com, four hour rides $75 per person).
Where to Refuel: The chefs at Sagebrush BBQ & Grill were taking advantage of local riches—Rocky Mountain trout, elk, buffalo—long before it became trendy. 1101 Grand Ave., 970/627-1404, sagebrushbbq.com, entrées from $10.95.
Where to Stay: The Grand Lake Lodge dates back to 1920 and has a homey, welcoming vibe with a circular fireplace and hickory rocking chairs in the main lodge. Plus it's perched on a hillside overlooking the lake. 15500 U.S. Hwy. 34, 855/585-0004, grandlakelodge.com, from $125.
Bemidji, Minnesota, on Lake Bemidji
Bemidji best captures the Norman Rockwell glow of a summer lake town, with clean beaches, quirky annual traditions, and a packed social calendar. Its Fourth of July and county fair are pure Americana, while the Dragon Boat Festival and its competitive racing crews channel a Minnesota-style Mardi Gras from August 1 to 6. Book an afternoon with one of the guides at Tomahawk Lodges to fish for walleye, a flaky white fish that does nicely on the grill (800/452-8023, call for price estimates).
Where to Refuel: Minnesota Nice Café is a sure bet for Midwestern favorites like potato pancakes with applesauce. Don't miss the freshly baked apple pies—they taste like they come straight from a county fair. 414 Beltrami Ave. NW, 218/444-6656, minnesotanicecafe.com.
Where to Stay: Ruttger's Birchmont Lodge occupies the lake's quieter northwest shore, with 38 lakefront rooms and suites and 29 cabins on a 1,700-foot-long sand beach. 7598 Bemidji Rd. NE, 888/788-8437, ruttger.com, from $62.