Explore These Five Inland Lakes

For a change of scenery, tow your boat to inland lakes and rivers.

Most of our cruising destination articles are focused on coastal locations or islands. All across the country, however, boat owners enjoy cruising the fresh waters on inland lakes. These five should be on your short list should your roadtrip with boat trailer in tow find you in the vicinity. But even if your boat is not trailerable, boat rental options run the gamut from pontoons to houseboats and everything in between.

Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia
Size: 32 sq mi; Mean depth: 55′ (max 250′)

Frequently referred to as the “Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” Smith Mountain Lake (SML) draws day boaters from Roanoke, VA, and the surrounding area (30-45 minute drive). If your base is in Roanoke, make sure you start your day with a hearty breakfast at the Roanoker, a family-owned diner famous for the biscuits and sausage gravy first served to WWII soldiers. Vacation-home owners from Richmond, Charlotte and Raleigh, NC, and as far away as Washington, D.C., arrive during peak season (June-August) for long weekends or the entire summer. Many rental properties are available with varied size, amenities and prices. Keep in mind that many of the roads to SML wind and curve, so driving with boat trailers should be done during daylight.

The lake is actually a reservoir that was created when the Smith Mountain Dam on the Roanoke River was built in 1963. The Virginia fishery management stocks SML with striped, smallmouth and largemouth bass, which earns it the moniker of being one of the country’s 25 best bass lakes. If you’re a little rusty on your bass fishing technique, fishing guides are readily available. On non-boating days, stretch your legs and hike or bike a section of the famed 470-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway, the National Park that’s visited most frequently (see page 68 for more National Parks). You may also recognize some of the shoreline from the movie What About Bob, which was filmed here.

Smith Mountain Dam Visitors Center (*Free admission)
2072 Ford Road, Sandy Level, VA
Phone: (540) 985-2587; smithmtn.com

Boat launches:
Hales Ford Boat Launch
16700 Moneta Rd., Moneta • (540) 297-2222
SML State Park Boat Launch
1235 State Park Rd., Huddleston • (540) 297-6066


Lake Marion, South Carolina
Area: 171.9 sq mi; Max depth: 77′

Approximately a one-hour drive from Charleston, South Carolina, Lake Marion is the state’s largest freshwater lake. Created by the damming of the Santee River in the 1940s, the lake covers over 110,000 acres. Thousands of live cypress trees are still in the area, which help contribute to a thriving ecosystem. Many species of fish—striped bass, crappie and catfish—flourish in the lake’s rich environment making Lake Marion a prime fishing destination. In addition to boating, scenic activities include walking and biking trails, geocaching, hiking, and bird watching. Open 6AM-10PM daily, Santee State Park offers lakeside cabin lodging and camping grounds for extended stays. Park admission is $2 for adults and free for ages 15 and younger. Also on Lake Marion is the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, which extends additional provisions for nature enthusiasts, such as two observation towers that provide great vantage points for observing the local wildlife. Visiting the refuge is free and its visitor center is open Tuesday through Friday, 8AM-4PM. *South Carolina requires a recreational license for fishing.

Santee State Park
251 State Park Road, Santee, SC • (803) 854-2408
southcarolinaparks.com/santee; fws.gov/refuge/santee

Boat launch:
John C. Land III Boat Ramp
Greenall Road, Summerton, SC • (803) 734-4009


Lake Champlain, New York, Vermont & Quebec
Area: 490 sq mi; Mean depth: 64′ (Max: 400′)

On this popular and picturesque lake’s west border are the Adirondack Mountains in New York, and on its east are Vermont’s Green Mountains. Named after explorer Samuel de Champlain, its sweeping vistas, wide variety of waterfront activities, multiple waterways, sandy shores, and peaceful bays draw thousands of visitors each year. On the lake’s eastern shore sits Burlington, Vermont—Lake Champlain’s largest waterside city. Throughout the year, the beautiful and historic Waterfront Park hosts several music and food festivals and is also home to the Bike Path, which follows the park’s eastern border along the lake’s waterfront. Adjacent to the park is the Lake Champlain Community Sailing Center. The public boat launch is located at the easily accessible Perkins Pier Marina, and transient cruisers in the area are sure to enjoy the many services and plenty of dockage offered at Burlington’s Community Boathouse Marina.

Community Boathouse Marina
1 College St., Burlington, VT 05401 • (802) 865-3377

Boat launch:
Perkins Pier Marina
1 Lavalley Lane, Burlington, VT • (802) 865-3377


Lake Sammamish, Washington
Area: 8 sq mi; Mean depth: 58′ (max: 105′)

Nestled within the 512-acre Lake Sammamish State Park amid the scenic suburbs just 8 miles east of Seattle is a cruiser-friendly freshwater lake. The serene Lake Sammamish and surrounding state park is open to the public every day from 6AM to dark for recreational boating, fishing, swimming, water skiing, and hiking and biking trails. Bird watching is popular thanks to the great-blue-heron rookery in the area’s deciduous forest and wetland vegetation. Witness one of the world’s greatest natural journeys: salmon migration up Issaquah Creek from its Lake Sammamish outlet and into the salmon hatchery. Launch your boat at the park’s largest designated watercraft launching lot off of East Lake Sammamish Parkway at the southeast tip of the lake. There are two finger docks (60-by-4-feet and 40-by-4-feet) spaced between nine 12-by-30-feet launch ramps, and a daily water-launching permit costs $7 on top of the state park’s $10 per day Discover Pass ($30 annually). Visitors also have the option to purchase an annual permit for year-round state park watercraft launching, which omits the necessity of a Discover Pass. *Washington state parks require a recreational license for fishing and shellfish harvesting.

Lake Sammamish
2000 NW Sammamish Rd., Issaquah, WA • (425) 649-4275

Boat launch:
Lake Sammamish State Park Boat Launch
4455 E Lake Sammamish Pkwy, Issaquah, WA • (425) 649-4275


Lake Washington, Washington
Area: 34 sq mi; Mean depth: 108′ (max 214′)

The second largest lake in Washington State after Lake Chelan borders the city of Seattle on the west and also shares shorelines with Bellevue and Kirkland on the east, Renton on the south and Kenmore on the north. The lake surrounds Mercer Island, one of the most affluent cities in the state and home to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s compound. Lake Washington is also home to the waterfront properties of Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Starbucks founder and CEO Howard Shultz among many other notable names.

Feeding this long ribbon lake from the north is the Sammamish River, and the Cedar River feeds its south end. Sport fishing is abundant with a variety of species, including coastal cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and black crappie.

What’s more, the stunning Lake Union (580 acres; mean/max depth 34’/50′) sits completely within the Seattle city limits and is accessible by water from Lake Washington’s Union Bay on the west side. From there, continue through Montlake Cut (46-foot bridge clearance) into Portage Bay, which leads into the quaint Lake Union after clearing the Lake Washington Ship Canal Bridge (182 feet). This lake has many waterfront parks and marinas, and Lake Union Park at the southernmost tip offers quick and easy access into the heart of the city. kingcounty.gov

Lake Washington
Lake Washington Blvd., Seattle, WA • (206) 684-4075

Lake Union
860 Terry Ave. N, Seattle, WA • (206) 684-4075

Lake Washington
Atlantic City Boat Ramp • 8702 Seward Park Ave. S.;
(206) 684-7249

Warren G. Magnuson Park Boat Launch (NW)
7400 Sand Point Way NE; (206) 684-4946

Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park Boat Launch (SE)
1201 Lake Washington Blvd. N; (425) 430-6700

Lake Union
Sunnyside Avenue N Boat Ramp
2301 N Northlake Way; (206) 684-7249