They can be Superior or just a Finger, a Moosehead, Big Bear, or Chickenfoot. No matter what you call them, there's just something quintessentially American about a lake. Here, four spectacular lakeside drives that let you take it all in from the road.
The coast gets all the glory, but Mainers love their lakes—especially Moosehead. This whole area is moose country (in fact, the shoreline looks like it's in the shape of a moose head), and while you may get a sighting from Rockwood Road, your chances are even better from the trillions of little side roads. They'll take you deeper into the woods and past ponds, where moose love to linger. Start at the water's southern tip in Greenville for the quintessential lake-town experience. Most of the action is on Pritham Avenue, where there's a bookshop, a place to rent kayaks and canoes (and get a pretty good coffee, surprisingly), and the Black Frog, a cool little restaurant on the shore and a tradition of customers taking a dip after a beer or two. During the day, you'll see kids jump off the nearby dock. From there, go north on Rockwood Road (Route 6/15), which follows the lake all the way up to the tiny town of Rockwood, where Birches Resort makes a good base for the drive (birches.com, from $72). Don't be put off by the word resort—this place was originally built in the 1930s as a hunting and fishing retreat, and it still has an old lodge-y feel.
With all the wineries, the museums, the horse racing, etc., it's easy to forget what first drew visitors to this green slice of upstate New York: the 11 finger-shaped lakes. They're among the deepest and most scenic in the country—after all, this is the home of the so-called Grand Canyon of the East. Most people drive the more established highways along the points either in the north or south, but to really get into lake country you should weave around them instead. This will put you partly on Routes 5 and 20 (where you'll pass antiques shops, wineries, farms, and a drive-in theater), and partly on hilly country roads (all two-laners, some dirt) that will take you through the most scenic parts of the area. It's nice to start on the western side, where there's almost no development. Work your way over to Canandaigua Lake, where you'll pass through artsy little Naples, then drive over the hills to Keuka Lake, and follow the Keuka Lake wine trail, stopping at vineyards along the way. From there, drive to Watkins Glen then up scenic Route 90 (this is different from the busier Route 90) along Cayuga Lake, and on to Skaneateles, a town Northeasterners use as a summer getaway (Bill Clinton was a regular). If you want to take a breather, the Harbor Hotel in Watkins Glen is both grand and cozy (watkinsglenharborhotel.com, from $129).
Despite being the setting for Dirty Dancing, Lake Lure is nowhere near the Catskills. It actually sits in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and just about every drive you take is gorgeous. The town of Chimney Rock Village (population: 113) provides an ideal entry point to Chimney Rock State Park, where you'll find some great views. Route 64/74 follows the southern and western edges of the lake and takes you through the Hickory Nut Gorge to Chimney Rock Village. For a look at the eastern and northern shores, follow Buffalo Shoals Road; it will eventually turn into Buffalo Creek Road, which goes past Bald Mountain Lake. The pricey resorts are popular with weekenders from Charlotte, but for the real experience, stay in one of the four cabins at the Grafton Lodge (graftonlodge.com, cabins from $105).
When even Seattleites can't take the gray skies and drizzle anymore, they head three-and-a-half hours east to the sunny shores of Lake Chelan, in the North Cascades. The area has a little of everything: wineries, state parks, national forests, and a cool little town (Chelan) with restaurants, an ice cream shop, B&Bs, and a historic movie theater. Devote a day to exploring Stehekin, a town at the northern tip of the lake with 95 residents and no road access-you can only get there by ferry. There are two roads leading out of Chelan. Route 971 takes you along the less developed southern shore, eventually reaching Lake Chelan State Park and, farther north, Wenatchee National Forest. State Road 150 follows the northern shore, where you'll find marinas, beaches, and most of the area's wineries. A nice place to spend the night is the Chelan House B&B along Chelan's Riverwalk Trail (chelanhouse.com, from $130). But you'll want to hit the road early. About halfway up the lake on either side, the water narrows into a fjord-like gorge and the pavement stops. That's where the protected forest—and another world—begins.