KEEP IT SIMPLE

Summer Lake Towns 2009

Retreat to an easygoing American lake town, where you can find simple, affordable pleasures—fishing, hiking, bumper cars, and old-fashioned desserts. We've picked eight we love; chances are, there's a similar one near you.

LAKE LURE, N.C.
on LAKE LURE

If Lake Lure looks familiar, it might be because the area stood in for the Catskill Mountains in the film Dirty Dancing. The scenery is spectacular—those are the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance—and the more than 21 miles of shoreline along the lake make it easy to find an isolated spot for an impromptu picnic. Afterwards, paddle around the glass-smooth waters in kayaks—rent one at the Lake Lure Marina (877/386-4255, lakelure.com/rentals, from $10 per hour). Looking for more speed? Get a motorized pontoon boat to tool around in (from $80 per hour). Hikers head to Chimney Rock Park, which has craggy peaks and a trail that leads to Hickory Nut Falls. Climb to the centerpiece, a huge pillar of granite called the Chimney, with 75-mile views in all directions. Reward yourself afterward with some pampering at Allure, a spa inside the 1927 Lake Lure Inn. The town itself is home to mom-and-pop businesses like an old-fashioned general store called Dalton's where you can get anything from a fishing license to a fried baloney sandwich (828/625-9750).

Where to refuel Overlooking the lake, the Point of View Restaurant has plenty of choices, including a tasty broiled fish sandwich and a mountain trout entrée (828/625-4380, thepointofview.com, from $9).
Where to stay Chimney Rock Inn, on Lake Lure's Main Street, has country cottages decked out with antiques (800/625-2003, chimneyrockinn.net, from $90).
Easy escape from Asheville, N.C. (28 miles), and Charlotte, N.C. (91 miles).

CELINA, OHIO
on GRAND LAKE

Once a reservoir for the Miami-Erie Canal, Grand Lake was constructed between 1837 and 1845 by a crew of 1,700 men who were paid a daily wage of 30¢ and a jigger of whiskey (which was thought to prevent malaria). The lake is now just for recreation, but locals honor its past with the annual summertime Celina Lake Festival, held on the lakefront July 24 to 26, 2009. There are events like a beauty contest, fishing derby, classic-car show, and a boat race with vessels built entirely of cardboard and duct tape. Fishing is one of the most popular activities on the lake, and there are dozens of tournaments held every year; anglers covet largemouth bass, bluegills, and crappies. The lake, part of Grand Lake Saint Marys State Park, has tons of family-friendly activities, from tubing to swimming to bird-watching. Rent a canoe at the campground office and paddle around at your own speed, keeping an eye peeled for the lake's population of bald eagles (419/394-2774, $6 per hour, $3 after the first hour).

Where to refuel For picture-perfect views of the lake, there's Pullman Bay. The home-baked pies (by the slice or the whole thing) are the main draw—try the sugar cream or the butterscotch. The fried chicken is tasty, too (419/586-1664, entrées from $9).
Where to stay At the white clapboard West Bank Inn, all of the rooms face the water (866/359-8624, westbankinn.com, from $100).
Easy escape from Columbus, Ohio (108 miles), or Fort Wayne, Indiana (64 miles).

MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIF.
in MAMMOTH LAKE BASIN

The town of Mammoth Lakes is famous as a winter destination, but those in the know head here in summer, when the crowds are small, the temperatures are mild, and the High Sierra terrain is in bloom. You have your pick of more than a dozen lakes, each with their own personality. Massive Mono Lake, for example, is best for birding, as the salty inland sea attracts throngs of eared grebes, Wilson's phalaropes, and California gulls. For a stunning aerial view of the landscape, try a sunrise hot air balloon excursion with Mammoth Balloon Adventures (760/937-8787, mammothballoonadventures.com, one-hour tour $165 per person), which includes a sparkling cider toast. Crowley Lake is popular with kayakers, and you can rent a kayak at the Crowley Lake Marina from Caldera Kayak (760/934-1691, calderakayak.com, from $30 for a half day). The five lakes in the Mammoth Lake Basin—Twin, Horseshoe, Mamie, George, and Mary—are where anglers go for rainbow, brook, and brown trout. There's plenty to do on dry land, too: Head west over the Tioga Pass and you're in Yosemite National Park, with its plunging waterfalls. Kids love exploring the real-life ghost town that's at the center of Bodie State Historic Park—a handful of spooky wooden storefronts are all that remain of the gold-rush town that once had 65 saloons. Getting to the town involves a bit of a drive: it's 60 miles north of Mammoth Lakes.

SCHOOL'S OUT…

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