The Best Lakes for Pontoons in the United States

There’s nothing like exploring the open water from the comfort and style of a pontoon boat. From fishing trips to casual cruises to island hopping, pontoons offer a versatile way to experience some of the most beautiful landscapes this nation has to offer.

But before you can plan your next big pontoon adventure, you’ll need to insider information on the best boating lakes in the US.

We’ve compiled a guide to the top recreational boating lakes in the country, including the best boating lakes in the Midwest, Northeast, South, and Western areas of the United States.

The decisions on ideal boating lakes in the United States are based on several criteria, including accessibility, natural beauty, resources and amenities for boaters, and more.

The Northeast

The Northeastern US is well-known for its metropolitan centers, but it’s also a haven for outdoor recreation, including boating. With over 30,000 bodies of freshwater spanning the region, there is no shortage of opportunities to explore and relax in your pontoon.

Finger Lakes, NY

Nestled just below Lake Ontario in New York State, the Finger Lakes are a group of eleven narrow, elongated lakes that offer stunning views, incredible boating opportunities, and a wealth of culture and history. Of the eleven lakes, Cayuga and Seneca – the two longest – are widely considered to be two of the best boating lakes in the US. The Finger Lakes region is also among the most famous in the country for producing wine. Two of America’s oldest wineries can be found here the original winery of the Finger Lakes being the Pleasant Valley Wine Company.

Lake Champlain, NY/VT

Lake Champlain is a historically significant body of water sandwiched between New York and Vermont and below Quebec. It’s a haven for fishermen, with over 90 species of fish – including several popular sport fish like bluegill sunfish, largemouth bass, yellow perch, and northern pike.

Outdoor lovers will swoon over the miles of hiking trails and beautiful sandy beaches, while history buffs should be sure to check out the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum on the Vermont side.

Pocono Lake, PA

The Poconos region in Pennsylvania is one of the most popular resort and outdoor recreation destinations in the United States and includes several beautiful lakes. Lake Wallenpaupack is one of the best lakes for pontoons in the Northeast thanks to its beautiful views and incredible fishing opportunities. Got a need for speed? Barring overnight and weekend restrictions, there’s no official speed limit for boaters on Lake Wallenpaupack, and conditions are often perfect for high-speed performance.

The Midwest

It’s hard to choose the best lakes in the Midwest for pontoons; there are so many incredible options, each with its own unique charm.

We’ve narrowed it down to these three regions to help you plan your next Midwestern adventure.

Great Lakes, MN/WI/IL/IN/MI/OH

Perhaps the most famous lake system in the world, the Great Lakes consist of five interconnected bodies of water that border several states and Canada.

Lake Superior and Lake Michigan are the two most popular, with endless fishing and recreation opportunities. Lake Michigan in particular is regularly rated as one of the best lakes in the Midwest for boaters due to its proximity to many major cities, including Chicago.

Both lakes are widely regarded as inland seas due to their extreme weather patterns and choppy waves, so they’re best experienced by veteran boaters only.

Lake of the Ozarks, MO

The Ozark Mountains are one of the most popular getaway destinations in the country, having been romanticized and immortalized by countless American writers over the years. At the heart of the Missouri Ozarks, you’ll find Lake of the Ozarks, a pristine man-made reservoir that’s regularly rated as one of the best lakes in the Midwest for recreational boating.

Need a break from your pontoon? Try hiking, birdwatching, jet skiing, or check out the nearby caves at Ha Ha Tonka State Park.

West Okoboji Lake, IA

Situated in northeastern Iowa, Lake Okoboji is famous for its stunning blue water. It’s one of the best lakes in the Midwest for pontoons and water sports enthusiasts due to its remarkable depth and beautiful surroundings.

The lake boasts many recreation opportunities and amenities for boaters, including fishing, waterskiing, and dockside establishments like restaurants and breweries. Some of the most popular sport fish species include walleye, bluegill, yellow perch, and large and smallmouth bass.

The West

Famed for its rugged and romantic landscapes, the Western United States is a premier boating destination due to its abundance of deep, spectacular bodies of water. You’ll find some of the best boating lakes in the US here – including the three below.

Lake Tahoe, CA/NV

Not only is Lake Tahoe one of the clearest bodies of water in the country – it’s also one of the best lakes for pontoons. Head to Zephyr Cove for high-speed performance, or take advantage of the swift winds off the Sierra Nevada Mountains and do some windsurfing.

Sport fishing and scuba diving are also popular due to the lake’s remarkable clarity. Lake trout, bluegill, rainbow trout, and sockeye salmon are just a few of the many fish species you’ll find here.

Flathead Lake, MT

Flathead Lake in Montana is widely regarded as one of the best boating lakes in the US due to its depth, clarity, and size. It’s an ideal destination for sport fishing and high-speed boating, though visitors to the lake’s southern portion will need to purchase a tribal recreational permit from the Flathead Reservation.

Several popular trout species make their home here, including brown trout, rainbow trout, and brook trout. Other popular activities in the area and nearby Flathead National Forest include hiking, cycling, camping, and hunting.

Lake Havasu, AR

With its 400 miles of shoreline, ideal climate, and rich turquoise hue, Lake Havasu in Arizona is a premier recreation destination and one of the best lakes for pontoons in the Western US. It’s easy to access and boasts several breathtaking natural features, including high sandstone cliffs, tumbling waterfalls, and impressive canyons.

Avid sport fishers will be excited by the largemouth and smallmouth bass, green sunfish, redear sunfish, and black crappie populations that call this area home.

Check out nearby Lake Havasu City for dining, shopping, and other amenities and entertainment opportunities.

Lake Powell, UT

There’s a terrific lake in Utah that’s a well-kept secret among boaters – and it’s probably not the one you’re thinking of.

Lake Powell is a man-made reservoir surrounded by soaring cliffs of red sandstone and featuring pristine waters of a breathtaking emerald blue hue. Pontoon boats provide an ideal experience in this setting, as the 90 side canyons allow for space and unique exploration at your own pace.

There’s a lot more to do in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, including hiking, camping, sightseeing and fishing, and the Lake Powell Resort offers a luxurious place to stay for day boaters.

The South

Every seasoned pontoon captain knows that way down South is where you’ll find some of the best boating lakes in the US.

Florida is the most well-known Southern boating destination, but some of our favorite bodies of water reside in other southern states.

Lake Okeechobee, FL

Florida’s “Inland Sea” is famous the world over for its largemouth bass population, making it one of the top destinations for sport fishing in the country. Pontoons are especially popular here and are particularly well-suited to exploring the lake’s 730 square miles.

You’ll also find ample opportunities for hiking and biking along the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail. For nightlife and comfortable lodging, check out the charming nearby town of Clewiston.

Lake Lanier, GA

Hall County’s lovely Lake Lanier is a premier destination for speed boating and outdoor recreation thanks to its breathtaking views and 700 miles’ worth of shoreline. Lodging opportunities range from primitive campgrounds to top-tier resorts and everything in between.

There’s even a theme park nearby at Margaritaville Resort, making this lake one of the best boating lakes in the US for families with children!

Lake Cumberland, KY

As one of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country, Lake Cumberland is a paradise for Kentuckians and visitors alike. Fishing is extremely popular here thanks to stable populations of bass, trout, walleye, and more.

You’ll also find great hiking, camping, and access to fascinating historical sites along the water. If you need a break from boating, check out the fantastic golf course on General Burnside Island in the middle of the lake!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking for the best lakes in the Midwest, South, West, or Northeast – you’ll find ample opportunities to enjoy your pontoon boat in each region.

That said, having a clear idea of the type of environment you’re interested in exploring and the activities and amenities you desire will help you narrow down your search. Take your pontoon out to any one of the incredible lakes on this list, and you’ll be sure to create memories that will last a lifetime.

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