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Lake Life

Life on the lake overflows with leisure.

From relaxing days adrift on a boat to a thrilling variety of water sports, the opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless. On shore, groups will find this same energy in charming lakeside towns. Beyond their beaches, these towns are brimming with shopping, dining and enjoyable outings.

For fun both on the water and on land, the following lake towns guarantee groups an unforgettable getaway.

Saugatuck, Michigan

Sandwiched between Lake Michigan and Kalamazoo Lake, the small, easygoing community of Saugatuck, Michigan, is the embodiment of lake-town life. Groups can participate in popular activities, like relaxing on Saugatuck’s quiet beaches or taking a sightseeing cruise on the Star of Saugatuck II, a sternwheel paddle boat. They can also rent kayaks, canoes and paddleboards to enjoy the water. For additional outdoor fun, groups can take a dune buggy ride over rough terrain and sand dunes with Saugatuck Dune Rides. The area is home to several wineries, such as Modales, Fenn Valley Vineyard and Winery Michigan Wine Company and Crane’s Pie Pantry Restaurant and Winery; groups can explore these via locally operated shuttle tours and sample wine from each vineyard. They will also love discovering Saugatuck’s charming downtown, which is decorated seasonally and jam-packed with local shops selling antiques, art, jewelry and local food products.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Named for Lake Havasu, a large reservoir of the Colorado River on the Arizona-California border, Lake Havasu City is best known as the new home of the London Bridge. In 1831, the famous bridge spanned the River Thames in England, but it was dismantled in the 1960s and shipped to Arizona to be reconstructed. Completed in 1971, it features the original masonry and is now one of the state’s most-visited attractions. Groups can take walking tours of the bridge or see it from the water on scenic cruises. Surrounded by the natural beauty of the desert, the city is an excellent spot for outdoor enthusiasts. Groups can take a tour through the Bill Williams River National Wildlife Refuge for a chance to glimpse the wide range species of mammals, reptiles and birds that call its 6,100 acres home. Lake Havasu City is also known for its annual Havasu Balloon Festival and Fair, which occurs three days each January and provides plenty of food and fun for groups to enjoy.

Florence, Alabama

Located in a region called the Shoals in the northwestern corner of Alabama, Florence sits on the Tennessee River and Wilson Lake. With Pickwick Lake and Wheeler Lake also nearby, it’s no wonder that fishing, boating and lake cruises are among the city’s most popular recreational activities. Florence is well known for its historic downtown, which teems with festivals and events for groups to attend. On the first Friday evening of each month from April to December, vendors line the streets to sell handmade art, crafts and jewelry. Musicians play live music and restaurants and shops stay open late. The W.C. Handy Music Festival, dedicated to celebrating the American composer known as the “Father of the Blues,” is also held in Florence. To learn more about this music legend, groups can tour the W.C. Handy Birthplace, Museum and Library, in a small cabin in Florence.

Lake Lure, North Carolina

With gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and surrounding forests, the North Carolina town named for Lake Lure is one of the most scenic small-town destinations in the state. Parts of the hit movie “Dirty Dancing” were filmed in this idyllic town, which offers groups abundant ways to enjoy the natural scenery. It’s home to annual festivals, such as the Lake Lure Dirty Dancing Festival and the Hot Nights Cool Rides antique car show. Groups can rent kayaks, paddleboards and boats for a fun day on the lake or enjoy the surrounding forests with a light hike. They can visit the nearby Chimney Rock State Park or head to Chimney Rock Village to shop for some locally made souvenirs. Another must-see is the Lake Lure Flowering Bridge, a historic bridge surrounded by an acre of artisanal gardens. With plenty of resort restaurants and lakeside eateries, groups can choose from casual to fine dining options, each with stunning views of the water.

Bigfork, Montana

In Montana’s Rocky Mountains, groups will find Flathead Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in the West. The community of Bigfork, nestled in the area where the Swan River flows into Flathead Lake, is a hidden gem of Montana’s lake towns. It offers year-round outdoor recreational activities, from whitewater rafting, golfing and horseback riding to dogsledding and cross-country skiing. This small town is also home to a notorious arts scene. Groups can visit galleries and museums, such as the FoR Fine Art Gallery, the Bigfork Art and Cultural Center and Eric Thorsen Fine Art Gallery. They can also catch an entertaining performance at the Bigfork Center for the Performing Arts or the Bigfork Summer Playhouse. Yearly festivals and events, such as the Bigfork Festival of the Arts and Whitewater Festival, are popular events where groups can enjoy the town’s local traditions, shopping and dining.

Aurora, New York

Also known as Aurora-on-Cayuga, Aurora is a small village in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York. It sits on the shore of Cayuga Lake, the region’s largest lake. Founded in 1789, Aurora brims with storybook charm, history and opportunities for leisure. Groups will find a stop on the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, the Long Point Winery, right in Aurora. They can tour, sip and enjoy this winery and several others around the lake and throughout the area. The Inns of Aurora, a historic resort, operates several local lodging facilities, restaurants and a spa. At the Village Market, they will find fresh coffee and baked goods, as well as some artisanal cheeses and locally made crafts and gifts. The popular handcrafted ceramics manufacturer, MacKenzie-Childs, is based in Aurora; groups can visit the MacKenzie-Childs Farmhouse for a free tour of the historic 1800 building to learn about the brand’s history and production.

South Lake Tahoe, California

Lake Tahoe, the large lake that straddles the Nevada-California border in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is known for its clear blue waters. South Lake Tahoe, California, a city at the lake’s southern edge, features stunning views of the water and the mountains and has become a world-class tourist destination. Several ski resorts in the surrounding mountains make this an excellent year-round destination. During the summer, these resorts offer ropes courses, ziplining, hiking and biking. To enjoy the warmer season and the lake’s famous alpine waters, groups can head to the South Lake Tahoe’s beaches, rent kayaks and catch a boat tour of the lake. A visit to Emerald Bay State Park, located about 12 miles north of South Lake Tahoe, allows groups to view some of the most stunning natural scenery in the state and manmade treasures like Vikingsholm Castle. Back in town, they can follow the South Tahoe Beer Trail to enjoy some of the area’s most refreshing craft beverages.

Clermont, Florida

The Clermont Chain of Lakes is made up of 11 lakes around the city of Clermont in sunny central Florida. The three largest lakes in the chain — Lake Louisa, Lake Minnehaha and Lake Minneola — each offer beautiful waterfront views and outdoor activities that let groups enjoy the balmy weather. Groups can visit Lake Louisa State Park to view birds and other wildlife, such as deer, bobcats and tortoises; hike the park’s 20 miles of trails; or rent canoes and kayaks. Agritourism is a popular endeavor in Clermont. Florida is known for its citrus production, and groups can stop by the Showcase of Citrus in Clermont to pick their own citrus fruits, as well as a handful of other local farms where they can pick their own produce. Lakeridge Winery and Vineyards offers visitors a tour of the vineyards and a tasting. At Clermont’s Historic Village, groups can learn about the city’s past by walking through its historic buildings and viewing exhibits that touch on topics ranging from World War II to the building’s original occupants.