Lazy mornings, afternoon swims and days capped with a glass of local wine enjoyed by the firepit —these are the simple pleasures of a lakeside escape. Here, discover five American lakes that offer outdoor activities aplenty and thriving wine scenes set against sweeping scenery.
Lake Michigan, MI
Towering sand dunes lapped by clear blue tides evoke a scene from a Caribbean island. Yet, Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore draws crowds for its similarly crystalline waters and dramatic setting. The state’s bustling wine scene is a bonus.
A cool-climate growing region, the Leelanau and Old Mission Peninsulas specialize in Riesling and other white grapes like Pinot Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer, plus reds like Gamay and Pinot Noir. You can use Traverse City as a base for day trips to the area’s multiple wine trails, but groups or families should consider Royal Stag Properties or Lakemore Resort rental homes. They offer lodging near the water or close to vineyards.
Lake Chelan, WA
Hop on a floatplane to go wine tasting on Lake Chelan. The 55-mile sliver of water sits about three four hours northeast of Seattle, not far from the base of the North Cascades mountain range near the Canadian border. Northwest Seaplanes collects passengers near Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport for the hour flight to the lake.
Back on the ground, stay at family-owned, family-friendly Campbell’s Waterfront Resort and embark via kayak or stand-up paddleboard. The lake’s dry, cool climate compares to Canada’s Okanagan Valley, and it allows vintners to grow red grapes like Syrah and Cab Franc, as well as whites like Riesling.
Try Vin du Lac for crisp Riesling and with lake views, or check out Karma Vineyards, one of state’s few producers of traditional-method sparkling wine. At dusk, grab a bottle of rosé and a few Adirondack chairs at Mellisoni Vineyards to watch the sunset reflect in the water.
Seneca Lake, NY
In northwestern New York, wine growing flourishes around the Finger Lakes, a series of glacial gouges that evoke the swipe of a celestial bear paw. Almost 38 miles long and up to 618 feet deep, vineyard-lined Seneca Lake is the one that holds the most water.
Look for affordable dry Riesling from Ravines Wine Cellars, Osmote, Nathan K. and Forge Cellars; German-style whites at Hermann J. Wiemer and traditional-method sparklers from Red Tail Ridge. After a long day of touring area farms and cellars, seek a soak at Seneca Lake State Park on the lake’s northern tip, or the clear waters of Sampson State Park on the east side.
Alternatively, venture two lakes to the west and splash around the pool at The Lake House on Canandaigua. The boutique property also offers canoes, kayaks and more.
Lake Champlain, VT
This lake named for French explorer Samuel de Champlain, who encountered it in 1609, touches the shores of Vermont, New York and Quebec. Retreating glaciers scraped out the surrounding basin, where vineyards and cideries now form the Champlain Valley Wine Trail.
Wineries specialize in cold-hardy hybrid varieties. Lincoln Peak Vineyard led early efforts of fine-wine production from maligned grapes like Marquette and Farnsworth, but the natural wines of La Garagista, about 80 miles south of Burlington, are what really helped put the state on wine lovers’ radar. Closer to the water, Iapetus Wine offers experimental skin-contact whites and carbonic macerated reds.
Grab a swim anywhere along the miles of shoreline or at the public beaches of Leddy Beach and North Beach near Burlington.
Lake Ontario, NY
This is the smallest and easternmost of the Great Lakes. A geological formation called the Niagara Escarpment, essentially an eroded cliff, runs east to west along its southwest border and all the way to Illinois via Ontario, Michigan and Wisconsin.
In New York’s Niagara Escarpment American Viticultural Area (AVA), warm lake air trapped by the limestone shelf allows winemakers to ripen reds like Pinot Noir and Syrah. Liten Buffel, Arrowhead Spring Vineyards and Freedom Run Winery demonstrate the area’s potential. Buffalo sits 30 minutes south of the region’s heart, and has plenty of lodging options. Also nearby, a refreshing spray at Niagara Falls would be a nice end to any trip.
Last Updated: May 8, 2023