Top 10 lake vacations

Grab your swimsuit! Here are the most irresistibly enjoyable, summer-fun-filled lakes in the West

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Lakes Basin, CA
Photo by Erin Kunkel; written by Anne Marie Brown

Best for simple pleasures

Simple pleasures really can be the best. They’re what Northern California’s Lakes Basin area has to offer. About an hour and a half northwest of Lake Tahoe, the basin holds more than 50 alpine lakes—Gold, Packer, and Lower Sardine are the most popular—accessible by car or hiking boots.

The region has its plush side—just sample the Citron cocktail at sunset at Sardine Lake Resort—but its true heart is easygoing, low-key, and thrifty. There are more than 10 public campgrounds, including Sardine Campground, where every site has a view of the jagged Sierra Buttes. You can rent boats at Sardine Lake Resort. Or hit the area’s dozens of trails: Families can wander the easy 0.5-mile path to Frazier Falls; intrepid hikers can climb about 2.5 miles to the top of Mt. Elwell or conquer the mighty pinnacle topped by the Sierra Buttes Fire Lookout, a 7-mile round-trip.

Stay: Spots at Sardine Campground can be reserved ($21; Gold Lake Campground is first come, first served ($10), as are some sites at Lakes Basin Campground; others can be reserved (from $18;


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