Great Ideas For A Boating Vacation

Just as there are boats designed for every interest, the same goes for where to go and enjoy boating activities. You might already know the best places on your home lake for fishing. The truth is, though, some lakes are better than others, and that goes for just about any other activity in the boating world.

If you are tempted to test the waters, now is the time. Why not hook up the boat and take a summertime road trip? An entire world of adventure awaits at these waterways we chose for the best activities by region.    

Man Fishing on Nitro Boat

Lake Guntersville, Ala.

Why go there: The lake stretches 75 miles on the Tennessee River and is Alabama’s largest lake at 69,000 acres. Bassmaster magazine lists Guntersville near the top of its list of best bass lakes. Largemouth bass are king, but you can go below Guntersville Dam and fish the tailrace for giant catfish anytime, as well as striped bass in spring. Lake Guntersville State Park sits on 6,000 acres with stunning views of the lake from its mountaintop location. A lodge, cottages, chalets and an 18-hole golf course are top amenities.

Fishing tip: Big largemouth gang up on underwater ledges bordering the river channel during summer. Cooler water is the reason why, as well as baitfish activity. Tie on a deep diving crankbait for rod-bending action. 

St. Johns River, Fla.

Why go there: At 310 miles long, this lazy river flows from south to north into the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville. The longest river in Florida, the St. Johns winds through the deep history of old Florida, and towns along the way—like Palatka and Green Cove Springs—are worth a stop. With a drop of less than 30 feet, or one inch per mile, the St. Johns is one of the laziest rivers in the world, making it ideal for slow days of cruising through its 14 lakes.

Cruising tip: A visit to a Florida freshwater spring is a must when traversing the St. Johns River. The crystal-clear water that stays a constant 72 degrees year-round is a great place to do some snorkeling and swimming. The most popular spring with the clearest water is Silver Glen Springs in Lake George.    

Kentucky & Barkley Lakes, Tenn./Ky.

Why go there: Kentucky and Barkley lakes are big at 183 and 134 miles, respectively. Between them are three standout state park resorts in Lake Barkley, Kenlake and Kentucky Dam Village. For something different, the main attraction is Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, a 170,000-acre outdoors paradise that spans a peninsula between the lakes. You name it, you can do it—from lakeside and primitive camping to hiking, biking, horseback riding and even OHV riding. There is 2,500 acres set aside for OHVs, and there are even designated water trails for paddlers.

Camping tip: You can camp almost anywhere. For something different, try the Basic and Dispersed Camping Area sites spread out across the LBL. The five Basic sites are situated in open field areas without defined campsites and feature boat ramps and toilet facilities. Dispersed locations are remote campsites throughout the recreation area that span the 300 miles of shoreline. 

Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail (statewide)

Why go there: Beginning at Big Lagoon State Park near Pensacola, extending around the Florida peninsula and Keys, and ending at Fort Clinch State Park near the Georgia state line, the trail is a 1,515-mile sea kayaking paradise. The trail includes every Florida coastal habitat type, from barrier island dune systems to salt marsh to mangroves. Numerous historical sites and points of interest are accessible by kayak, along with colorful fishing communities and urban centers.

Yak tip: The trail is divided into 26 segments, each with its own distinct features. The trail traverses 20 national parks, seashores, wildlife refuges and marine sanctuaries, 37 Florida aquatic preserves and 47 Florida state parks, along with numerous local parks and preserves. No matter where you are in Florida, the trail is nearby, so you can plan a trip based on available time and desires.    


St. Lawrence River, N,Y,

Why go there: For unpressured and unmatched trophy smallmouth fishing in upstate New York this scenic fishery ranks at the top of the list. The musky, walleye and perch populations are prolific and worth the trip, too. Small towns line the river and there is no shortage of quaint waterside motels from which to choose for your overnight stays. You get the added treat of watching Great Lakes-bound freighters in what is also known as the St. Lawrence Seaway.

Fishing tip: The upper river nearest Lake Ontario gets most of the notoriety and the fishing pressure. Avoid the crowds and have the water to yourself above Chippewa Bay.    

Sun Tracker pulling wake boarder

Potomac River, Md./Va.

Why go there: History. You can see the memorials, museums and other shrines on a tour bus. But, we have a better idea. Why not visit Mount Vernon like George Washington did as the nation’s first president? The most historic of all the American rivers beckons you to boat up to historic landmarks. There are historic towns and villages along the route with plenty of boat ramps and marinas in Maryland and Virginia.

Cruising tip: Private vessels are welcome on a first-come, first-served basis at Mount Vernon. Check ahead with the Wharf master 703.700.6856 or on VHF Channel 16. 

Adirondack Park, N.Y.

Why go there: Most visitors are drawn to the spectacular fall foliage and to hike and camp throughout the nation’s largest publicly protected area. There is water too, with more than 3,000 lakes and 6,000 miles of rivers and streams. Whitewater streams, lazy rivers, backwater marshes and lakes are accessible and await your call. Take your pick, from massive Lake Champlain to the tiniest and palatial of lakes dotting the countryside.

Yak tip: The Saint Regis Canoe Area is home to 150 bodies of water—58 of those are zoned for canoes and kayaks only. Some of them are even maintained by the state for trout fishing. 


Lake Mille Lacs, Minn.

Why go there: Once upon a time, Mille Lacs was a popular walleye fishery and nothing more. Meanwhile, the smallmouth bass population went unpressured until bass tournaments came to the lake. Smallmouth average four pounds or better and you can still take home enough walleye for the freezer. Stay at the many mom-and-pop, family-owned fish camp resorts around the lake.

Fishing tip: Fishfinder/GPS combos are a must, so get to know your electronics ahead of time for what the locals call “video game fishing” on Mille Lacs. In summer, the smallmouth school over rocky ledges and rockpiles, some no larger in size than your boat. Dropshotting is the technique of choice.   

Table Rock Lake, Mo.

Why go there: Find a quite cove and chill out. Cruise some 70 miles from end to end of this picturesque lake nestled in the Ozarks. There are 24 public boat ramps and 14 marinas that cater to any boating needs. What makes Table Rock such a cool place to boat are the building restrictions. Shoreline commercial development is restricted. What you lose in boat-up eateries and services is gained by solitude and pure beauty.

Cruising tip: Big Cedar Lodge is a must-see destination where you can overnight and even spend a shoreline mini-vacation. Dockage is available at Bent Hook Marina. From there you can find accommodations and plenty of activities to keep the family entertained. Play golf at courses designed by the likes of Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus. Take a nature tour at Dogwood Canyon Nature Park. Dining options are plentiful and lodging ranges from private cottages to the main lodge.    

Sun Tracker Parked

Ludington State Park, Mich.

Why go there: This crown jewel of Michigan’s state parks has 347 modern camp sites, three mini cabins and 10 remote sites. Two first-class sugary sand beaches stretch for nearly seven miles and are wonderful spots to catch a sunset. Hamlin Lake Beach offers calmer, warmer waters and a concession stand where you can rent canoes or kayaks for paddling the four-mile Canoe Trail.

Camping tip: Book in advance at this popular park. Call 800.447.2758 for reservations and information. 

Minnesota State Water Trails (statewide)

Why go there: Minnesota state water trails feature some of the best paddling anywhere in the state. There are 35 Minnesota state water trails featuring public water accesses, campsites, rest areas and more than 4,500 miles of paddling.

Yak tip: Minnesota has 124 flatwater kayaking & canoeing trails. These trails range from 2—394 miles in length. The most popular trails are Rice Creek, Glendalough State Park and the Mississippi River. Yes, that Mississippi River—where the river begins its 2,552-mile journey in Itasca State Park. 


Clear Lake, Calif.

Why go there: Bass fishing aficionados rank California’s largest natural lake as the best in the West for trophy largemouth. Plentiful food and the tules rimming the shoreline provide shelter for the bass. It is not unheard of for five-bass tournament limits weighing 30 pounds to be caught here.

Fishing tip: Look for big largemouth where the tules grow adjacent to shoreline rocks. Rocky points with deep ledges and offshore rockpiles offer good prespawn and postspawn staging areas. Tie on a big West Coast-style swimbait and have fun. 

Lake Powell, Ariz.

Why go there: For a boating bucket list trip, the second largest manmade impoundment (behind Lake Mead) a trip to northern Arizona is worth the drive. Lake Powell draws around two million people each year and there is plenty of room to spread out from end to end of its 186-mile length. That is why houseboat rentals are so popular. So is exploring the shorelines. You can hike inside a slot canyon or take the short walk to Rainbow Bridge, one of the world’s largest natural bridges.

Cruising tip: There are only five marinas on the lake, and their exact locations can change depending on the water level. Plan ahead—more so than you do on home waters.    

Lake Powell, Ariz.

Why go there: While there, make it a camping vacation, too. There are 1,900 miles of shoreline, and practically none of it is developed. Most of it is within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. You will find primitive and developed campgrounds—all accessible by boat. Primitive camping is allowed on the shoreline anywhere except in the marinas. No permit or fee is required.

Camping tip: There is no camping allowed in Rainbow Bridge National Monument or within archeological sites. Campfires are allowed in National Park Service-approved receptacles, such as fire rings and grills. There are more regulations worth knowing. Find them on the National Park Service website.    

Two people kayaking

Yosemite National Park, Calif.

Why go there: Marvel at cascading waterfalls and the geologic wonders of Yosemite's massive cliffs from the seat of a paddlecraft in the Merced River, which takes you through the heart of Yosemite Valley. Another paddling option is Tenaya Lake off the Tioga Road.

Yak tip: Regulations have changed for the good. A new plan unveiled by the National Park Service considers river segments as “water trails” or backcountry routes, which opens new areas to kayak for the first time. What that spells for you is what kayakers call the best one-day river trips you can find anywhere. Find out more from the National Park Service. 



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