Lakes are nature’s mirrors, reflecting stars, sunsets, and snow-clad mountain peaks. In the long forgotten days of prehistoric humans, strolls by glassy alpine lakes might have have been the only occasions when our ancestors actually saw their own faces.
I still like to think we can discover something of ourselves in sheltered bays on balmy summer afternoons, walking the thin membrane that separates sea from sky.
Hoist your sails and slather yourself in sunscreen: here are the 5 most beautiful lakes on earth.
Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy
Lake Como has made an appealing retreat for the rich and famous since time immemorial. Roman Senators, noblemen of the high renaissance, George Clooney — all felt an ineffable connection to Italy’s third-largest lake that drew them here time and again. The popularity of Como is attested to, and its beauty enhanced, by the many palaces and villas that dot its shores.
The lake itself takes the shape of three long arms stretched out like an upside-down Y, nestled in the mountainous borderlands where Northern Italy and Switzerland collide. The surface of the lake covers 56 square miles, with at least 100 miles of shoreline.
Lake Como is only an hour’s drive north of Milan, and makes a spectacular day trip or weekend getaway. If you haven’t rented a car, you can also take the train to the appropriately-named town of Como at the southernmost tip of the lake. You can rent a boat or take one of the ferries that churn their way up and down the limbs of the lake.
Other towns on the shoreline worth visiting include Varenna, Bellagio, and Menaggio. There’s no end of historic villas to tour — or to observe from the helm of a rented motorboat.
Lake Bled, Julian Alps, Slovenia
Lake Bled has quite a few benefits. Small? Check. Scenic? Check. Located in one of Europe’s most underrated countries? Check!
Just 35 miles outside Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital, Lake Bled’s turquoise surface gleams like a sapphire set among emerald evergreens and the diamond shards of the looming alps. There’s a castle on the lake, and plenty of places to sample Slovenia’s traditional food and wine.
Best of all, there’s a very small island in the middle of the lake, the focal point of which is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria.
You can swim in the lake, rent row boats, or just walk along the shores, taking in the Slovenian countryside. But it may be better to come here as part of a tour rather than driving yourself, because parking can be very limited.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
Am I biased in this case because I’m Canadian? Absolutely. But Lake Louise is indisputably one of the most beautiful lakes on earth, regardless of where you’re from.
We here at Travel Awaits love to describe lakes as made sapphire or emerald — but the water of Lake Louise really does have a palpable green hue to it. This is because of finely ground silt and rock particles that are deposited in the lake by the melting of nearby glaciers. In many images, as you’ll notice, Louise’s waters practically glow.
Lake Louise may seem pristine and untouched, but it’s not exactly stuck in the middle of nowhere. The lake is actually located inside Banff National Park, a bucket-list destination for lovers of the great outdoors.
Of course, there’s also a taste of the great indoors to sample as well, in the form of the Fairmont’s Chateau Lake Louise, a 550-room resort on the eastern shore that welcomes guests year-round.
There’s a small town (also called Lake Louise) about 3 miles to the east, as well as the Trans-Canada Highway. So if you’re driving across Canada, you can easily make a detour here. Activities here include canoeing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, and much more.
If you’re interested in learning more about one of Canada’s most famous places, read out A Hiker’s Guide To Banff National Park.
Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake is counterpoint to Lake Louise in several respects. For one thing, it is a little bit out of the way, the centrepiece of its own national park in Southern Oregon. For another, where Louise’s waters are dappled with colorful silt deposits, Crater Lake is famous for the extraordinary clarity of its depths. It is, in fact, the deepest lake in the United States, bottoming out at 1,949 feet. Its surface is just over 20 square miles.
Crater Lake is a caldera, formed by the collapse of a volcano approximately 7,700 years ago. As such it has no tributaries, its equilibrium instead maintained by snow, rain, and evaporation.
Lake Powell, Utah/Arizona
This super-popular tourist lake, located mainly in Utah, is actually man-made. It was created by flooding that resulted from the damming of Glen Canyon in 1963; today it is the second-largest man-made reservoir in the United States.
The beaches, fishing, and ideal conditions for house boats draw in more than two million visitors every year. Its 252 square mile surface are also famously photogenic, the contrast between the azure water and rusty rock formations a treat the eye — and the gifted amateur photographer.
We hope this list of the most beautiful lakes has inspired you to get out there and spend some time on the water this summer. Just don’t forget your lifejacket!