1. For photo ops
Crater Lake, OR
The scene Deep blue and protected as a national park, Crater Lake is picture-perfect. Which is why day-trippers crowd the pullouts along Rim Drive with their digital cameras, and hardy souls hike up the summit trails lining the lake's perimeter for killer views. Some folks hop an interpretive boat tour; the most fortunate stick around for dinner (or a weekend) at the rustic-luxe Crater Lake Lodge.
The stats The deepest lake in the United States (1,943 feet), it half-fills the caldera of an ancient volcano high in Oregon's southern Cascade Range.
Average August temp 60°s (surface), 35° (below)
The swim If that's what you call a lightning-quick dip in Crater's bone-chilling water. A 1.1-mile hike down to Cleetwood Cove is the only access.
The sleep For a comfy bed with a lake view, Crater Lake Lodge (from $151; 888/774-2728) it is. Of its 71 guest rooms, 26 face the water, and 8 of those boast claw-foot tubs facing the window. For a lakefront campsite, keep dreaming. The closest you can get is a patch of pine needles at Mazama Village (campsites $21, cabins $126; 888/774-2728), a 7-mile drive below the rim.
Info Crater Lake National Park is 250 miles south of Portland and 110 miles from the California border; $10 per vehicle (7-day pass); –Bonnie Henderson
2. For sunset sails
Flathead Lake, MT
The scene Summers on Flathead's wind-ruffled waters ― crisscrossed by jet skis, motorboats, and a zillion sailboats, and edged by docks of sunbathers ― are as sweet and short-lived as the Lambert cherries growing on its eastern shores. Home to ospreys, 20-pound lake trout, and wild horses (as well as a stop for migrating movie stars), Flathead Lake is known ― in a state full of lakes ― as simply The Lake.
The stats About 27 miles long, 15 ½ miles wide, and 371 feet deep, the glacier country lake is ― as every schoolchild knows ― the largest natural freshwater lake in the West.
Average August temp 68° (surface)
The swim Wayfarers State Park, where picnickers nosh among the wildflowers and sunbathers lounge on rock cliffs lining the lake's edge. $5 per vehicle; on State 35, ½ mile west of Bigfork.
The sail Feel the wind, hear canvas flap, and glide into the sunset over the mountains aboard the 51-foot Nor'Easter, a Q-class boat that sails out of the Flathead Lake Lodge, once a summer retreat for Bing Crosby. Two-hour cruises from $39; off State 35, 15 miles south of Kalispell; 406/837-5569.
The sleep The lovely Best Western KwaTaqNuk Resort, situated lakeside in Polson, is owned by the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and features a tipi in the lobby, historic photographs and artifacts, plus 112 rooms, a marina, and a golf course. From $146; 800/882-6363.
Info Flathead Lake is about 10 miles south of Kalispell and Glacier National Park –Caroline Patterson
3. For old-fashioned fun
Big Bear Lake, CA
The scene Although it's only 95 miles from downtown Los Angeles, Big Bear Lake has always been more knotty pine than Neiman Marcus. Carved wooden bears predominate along the lake's main thoroughfare, and in Big Bear Lake Village, most every shop and restaurant has the word "bear" attached to its name. Kitschy, yes, but the legions of longtime Big Bear lovers wouldn't have it any other way.
The stats At 6,700 feet, Big Bear has an air temp that can be a refreshing 20° cooler than inland L.A. But since the 7-mile-long by 1-mile-wide lake is at most 72 feet deep, the water warms nicely.
Average summer temp 72°
The swim Families head to the south shore's Meadow Park for its ample Swim Beach (closed Tue; $5, $3 ages 3–12, $1 ages 2 and under; 41220 Park Ave.), with friendly lifeguards. The adventurous prefer the granite boulders near China Island, by Big Bear's west end.
The sip A citrus-scented Orange Blossom Amber microbrew at Big Bear Mountain Brewery. $; 40260 Big Bear Blvd.; 909/866-2337.
The sleep Families and pets book up the Pine Knot Guest Ranch, where the resident llamas and bunnies keep the kids entertained, while weary parents soak in the in-cabin whirlpool tubs. Cabins from $159, room from $119; 800/866-3446.
Info Big Bear Lake is 95 miles east of L.A. –Ann Marie Brown
4. For a small-town vibe
Grand Lake, CO
The scene Strolling the pine boardwalk lined with saloons and chocolate shops ― with midnight blue Grand Lake just a block away ― you can easily see how this often-overlooked little log-cabin lake town turns Denver day-trippers into weekend residents. If the thin air doesn't take your breath away ― at 8,400 feet, Grand Lake has the highest yacht club in the world ― the panorama of ancient pine forests and snow-capped peaks certainly will.
The stats Grand Lake isn't big (only 1 ½ miles long by ½ mile wide), but at 265 feet deep, it's Colorado's largest natural lake.
Average August temp 60°
The swim Lake access is limited to only a few public areas, but brave souls head down to the sandy beach between the Headwaters and Grand Lake Marinas. Better yet, explore by canoe or pontoon. Canoes from $15 per hour, pontoons from $77 per hour; Grand Lake Marina, 1246 Lake Ave.
The sleep The Historic Rapids Lodge and Restaurant (rooms from $85, restaurant $$$; rapidslodge.com or 970/627-3707) overlooks the Tonahutu River. Sip cocktails at the gazebo beside the rapids, then dine on elk medallions.
Info Grand Lake is 98 miles northwest of Denver, tucked among the pines of the Continental Divide, west of Rocky Mountain National Park; grand-county.com –JAD DAVENPORT
5. For four-star food
Coeur d'Alene, ID
The scene Coeur d'Alene's long, blue waters ― where tugboats once boomed logs ― are dotted with motorboats and yachts, and anchored by a rockin' beach town of galleries and brewpubs; a 24-mile bike path populated by cyclists, strollers, and dogs with wagging tails; and steep hillsides of Doug firs and ponderosa pines.
The stats Named "heart of the awl" for the sharp-witted trading of the local Schee-Chu-Umsh, this northern Idaho lake is 30 miles long and up to 3 miles wide, with 135 miles of shoreline.
Average summer temp 70°
The swim Coeur d'Alene City Park, with 13.6 acres of sandy beachfront and grassy play areas, plus great people-watching. 416 Mullan Rd.
The cuisine Sip martinis and nibble saltimbocca alla romana on the waterfront deck at Tony's on the Lake ($$$; 6823 Coeur d'Alene Lake Dr.; 208/667-9885). At classic Cedars Floating Restaurant ($$; 1514 S. Marina Dr.; 208/664-2922), dine on steamed clams and cedar-planked salmon as Canada geese practice their lake takeoffs. Lunch? Moon Time ($; 1602 Sherman Ave., Ste. 116; 208/667-2331) for microbrews and potato-encrusted ahi tuna.
The sleep Coeur d'Alene Golf & Spa Resort has 338 rooms, plus restaurant, spa, and golf course with a floating green. From $219; 800/688-5253.
Info Coeur d'Alene is on I-90, 33 miles east of Spokane –Caroline Patterson
More: Lake Tahoe summer (0809)