Lakes showcase some of water's most alluring qualities, from mesmerizing ripples and mirror-like reflections to crystalline clarity. The world has millions of them, from tiny grass-lined ponds to massive freshwater expanses easily mistaken for oceans, but some lacs, lagos and lochs simply stand out more than others. A few of these irresistible bodies of water owe their charisma to climate, others to geologic luck of the draw, and some are even made by the humans who admire them. These 20 beautiful lakes—some of which may surprise you—differ in the details, but all are uniquely beautiful and well worth a visit.
Where: Lombardy, Italy
A place where you can stroll amid palm trees and blooming rhododendrons while admiring snow-capped mountains has got to be magical, right? Blessed with a superb microclimate, Lake Como in Northern Italy is the kind of place that leaves you searching for fancy words to capture its exquisiteness—but a simple “bellisima” (beautiful) is a start. Get on the water by hiring a vintage Riva speedboat to take you on a tour of the lake’s villas and villages.
Where to Stay: For both sublime views and inspired meals, book a room at Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio.
Where: Utah and Arizona
Sometimes man’s handiwork rivals nature, as is the case with Lake Powell, the striking free-form lake created in 1963 by damming the Glen Canyon and creating the U.S.’s second-largest man-made lake. Lined with beaches and popular with houseboat owners and sport fishermen, it photographs like a dream—a sublime mélange of swirling red-rock canyons and vivid sapphire-hued water. To enjoy the area take a boat tour to impressive Rainbow Bridge National Monument.
Where to Stay: Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, located on the shoreline and featuring Southwest-style décor.
Where: Alberta, Canada
There’s some mighty stiff competition in the Canadian Rockies when it comes to glacier-fed beauty—Lake Louise, Morraine Lake, and Peyto Lake each could easily have taken the crown—but what makes Maligne Lake (located in Jasper National Park and pronounced “maleen”) so stunning is the surrounding landscape: perfect foreground pines, majestically jagged background mountains, and cornflower blue Alberta skies. For postcard-perfect views, be sure to kayak to Spirit Island.
Where to Stay: The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, which is located on its very own pristine lake.
Where: South-Central Oregon
There's no blue quite like the aquiline hue of Crater Lake, which earned its name because it formed when the caldera of volcanic Mt. Mazama collapsed almost 8,000 years ago. Now ringed with 2,000-foot cliffs and reaching an astonishing depth of 1,943 feet—making it the deepest lake in the U.S.—it captivates visitors with its clarity. Learn about the lake's explosive past when you take a volcano boat cruise.
Where to Stay: Crater Lake Lodge for rustic circa-1915 timber lodge charm and water views.
Where: Hangzhou, China
The beauty here is not just the landscape — a slice of verdant green in Hangzhou — but the lifestyle of its elderly residents who treat West Lake like a vast sunrise wellness center as they gather to practice Tai Chi, engage in graceful fan dances, or walk the perimeter listening to small radios playing Chinese music. In addition to this microcosm of daily life, the lake also offers stellar photo ops, from the Tang Dynasty-era Broken Bridge to charming pavilions with upturned roofs.
Where to Stay: Sofitel Hangzhou Westlake, where you’ll enjoy a lake view from most rooms.
They aren’t called “Great Lakes” for nothing. While each of these massive lakes that make up hundreds of miles of our Canadian border is impressive, Lake Superior (the largest, deepest, and coldest of the five) got a special gift from Mother Nature: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. This 40-mile stretch of sandstone cliffs, sand dunes, beaches, and waterfalls is a photographer, hiker and kayaker’s dream—but even if you just sit there and lake-gaze, you’ll be inspired.
Where to Stay: Holiday Inn Express Munising-Lakeview for waterfront affordability and easy access to the park.
Switzerland has a bounteous array of beautiful lakes, but Lake Lucerne has traits that make it stand out: the pretty city of Lucerne, where water flowing into the lake passes beneath the 13th-century Chapel Bridge; a stupendous panorama that begins with Mt. Rigi, spans snow-capped Alps peaks such as Eiger and Jungfrau, and concludes with Mt. Pilatus; and vintage steamboats that have been plying its waters since the mid-1800s. For a relaxing visit, soak in the spring-fed pool at Mineralbad & Spa Rigi-Kaltbad, atop Mt. Rigi.
Where to Stay: The Montana, for its retro-chic vibe, nightly jazz, and a terrace with a view.
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