The Best Beaches in the U.S. That Are Nowhere Near the Ocean
Experience America's best beaches sans saltwater.
When most people think of booking travels for a “beach trip,” they traditionally think of destinations located along the coast. What many people don’t realize is there are a plethora of hidden beaches across the U.S. that aren’t necessarily oceanic–but still just as beautiful. Here are 15 of the best beaches across the U.S.–with no ocean in sight.
The Beaches of Sleeping Bear Dunes
The enormous Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore spans 35 miles of sandy shoreline on Lake Michigan outside Traverse City. Here, visitors will encounter dune bluffs that can tower as high as 450 feet above the water. Travelers can set their home base in the nearby town of Empire which offers easy access to reach the park and its gorgeous beaches, including Empire Beach, Esch Road Beach, Peterson Beach, Platte River Point, Good Harbor Bay Beach, or Bohemia Beach. The sparkling clear waters set against a backdrop of towering golden sand dunes make for a spectacular place to watch the sunset at night.
WHERE: Lake Tahoe Nevada
Sand Harbor is no doubt one of Tahoe’s most beautiful sandy beaches. There’s easy access for pedestrians and cyclists to reach the beach via the Tahoe East Shore Trail, which is a relatively new three-mile path that connects the popular town of Incline Village with the sand. This beach features sights of the large, iconic granite boulders Tahoe is so well-known for–along with soft golden sands and crystal-clear blue-green waters. All this beauty is backed with a grand sight of Tahoe’s majestic snow-capped mountains rising in the distance.
WHERE: Russian River, California
When travelers think of Sonoma, they typically think of wine–but visiting Johnson’s Beach on the Russian River in Sonoma County, California, has been a summer favorite in town for more than 100 years. This stretch of pebbly sand is a unique sort of beach, as it’s flanked by the impressive redwoods NorCal is famous for–which offer ample shade on a hot day. The beach is ideal for visitors of any age. It features a roped-off area that allows younger children to explore and deeper waters for those who are stronger swimmers.
Glenn Lee Robinson
North Avenue Beach
WHERE: Chicago, Illinois
Chicago’s North Avenue Beach is a fantastic destination for those who seek a beach overflowing with vibrant energy and culture. Located just outside of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, this destination hosts arguably the best sand, sun, and clear fresh water on the lake. Visitors to this beach will also enjoy easy access to the famed 18-mile Lakefront Trail which is perfect for biking, walking, and rollerblading. After a day of lounging or lake sports, there are plenty of tasty eateries for refueling, just across Lakeshore Drive.
North Shore Beach
WHERE: Grand Haven, Michigan
Grand Haven State Park and public beach offer miles of golden sand, clear water, a historic pier to explore, with close proximity to the downtown area. It’s a wonderful getaway for visitors of any age. The park’s North Shore Beach in particular is a must-visit hidden gem. It’s located on the calmer side of the Grand River channel, so visitors can enjoy the same fantastic sands and tranquil water conditions while being just far away from town that it feels like a relaxing respite.
North Beach at Bear Lake State Park
Bear Lake is known for its intense turquoise color, which is due to the presence of (harmless) limestone particles in the water. The lake is a sizable 20 miles long and eight miles wide, straddling the two states of Idaho and Utah. Bear Lake’s North Beach has been arguably named the best beach on the lake by those who frequent its sandy shores. This beach covers two miles of coastline and is an enormously popular swimming area in the summer months. There are plenty of quiet spots to plant a chair, soak up the sun, and enjoy the peaceful scenery of this idyllic green-blue-hued slice of lakeside paradise.
WHERE: Grand Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve, Colorado
Medano Creek is one of Colorado’s best under-the-radar swimming beaches, but is only accessible for a lucky few who can plan a visit at the right time of year. Each spring, the wide, shallow and gently flowing waters of Medano Creek emerge from the Sangre de Cristo Mountains behind the towering sand dunes (médano is Spanish for sand dune) to form a secluded oasis to explore. But when late August arrives, the creek will disappear until next year. Visitors of Medano can enjoy activities such as swimming, sand sculpting, skimboarding, or just embark on a relaxing stroll along the world-famous dunes that encircle the water. Perspective travelers can check the Great Sand Dune National Park and Preserve website for updated details on the creek’s current flow.
Lake Havasu State Park
Lake Havasu and the sands of Lake Havasu State Park are much more than their famed “spring breakers” reputation (although it is still affectionately referred to as “Arizona’s Playground”). Here, visitors of all ages can enjoy more than 300 days of annual sunshine with a unique mix of calm waters and sandy beaches. There are gorgeous views of the rugged mountains beyond the sandy shores, and a range of lakeside adventures to encounter–from boating to jet skiing, paddle-boarding, dock fishing, and swimming. Those who want to stay on the actual beach itself without renting a houseboat can spend the night at Lake Havasu’s only beachfront resort, The Nautical Beachfront Resort which offers easy access to the blue-green waters with breathtaking views.
The Shores of Lake Chelan
When most people think of Washington State, they typically picture the dense green forests and rugged mountain ranges that the Pacific Northwest is known for. What they may not realize is that there’s an amazingly beautiful, arid desert-like region located in the eastern part of the state called Lake Chelan State Park. It’s just three hours east of Washington, and located in the heart of the Cascade Mountains. This lake’s crystal clear blue waters and sunny semi-desert climate (yes, in Washington!) host a plethora of beach activities. Some of the most fantastic swimming beaches on the lake include Campbell’s Resort and Wapato Point.
Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce
The Beaches of Lake Murray
As the largest state park in Oklahoma, this lake features several fabulous beaches around its perimeter to relax. Crowd favorites include Sunset Beach, Marina Beach, and Martins Landing Beach just to name a few. Each is a popular destination for visitors to camp, or to just visit and spend a day enjoying sunbathing, picnics, water sports, and nature. While several campgrounds are available, as is the Lake Murray Lodge , the highlight of the park’s accommodations can be found on pristine Lake Murray itself, where guests can rent various types of floating cabins for an especially unique experience.
David A. McKenna/Shutterstock
Million Dollar Beach
WHERE: Lake George, New York
Lake George ’s magnificent 51-acre Million Dollar Beach is located on the southernmost shore of Lake George, and offers 1,700 feet of golden sand to lounge, as well as a large swimming area. After a day at the beach, visitors can embark on an adventure in town, exploring and satisfying any sweet tooth craving along the Lake George Ice Cream Trail. Those who want to get out and explore the lake beyond its shoreline can book a trip with the Lake George Steamboat Company which runs several cruises each day, including sightseeing tours and lunch and dinner cruises from May to October.
WHERE: Acadia National Park, Maine
Most people think of the well-known, seaside “Sand Beach” when they think of Acadia National Park–however, the lesser-known Echo Lake’s freshwater beauty doesn’t disappoint, for those who want to encounter something different. This swimming beach offers crystal clear blue waters and breathtaking views of the rugged Maine landscape, including the impressive rocky cliffs and stunning mountain sights that reflect in the waters below. It’s also an ideal spot to cool off post-hike with the added benefit of being much warmer than the chilly oceans over on Sand Beach.
Kohler-Andrae State Park
WHERE: Sheboygan, Wisconsin
Kohler-Andrae State Park is home to miles of majestic sand dunes, golden beaches, and the shimmering blue waters of Lake Michigan (but in Wisconsin!). These picturesque shores offer visitors the chance to explore the largest dune complex along Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan coastline. It’s also a fantastic place to explore nature. The local wetlands provide a unique habitat for many species of rare plants to call home–some of which are only found on the shorelines of the Great Lakes.
Frisco Marina on Lake Dillon
Located at a typically non-traditional elevation of 9,000 feet for soaking up sand and sun, the beach at the Frisco Marina on Lake Dillon, Colorado hosts the usual lakeside offerings–but instead of ocean views, it’s paired with unparalleled alpine scenery. The snow-capped mountains and alpine views are a welcomed contrast to the tropical tiki bar, boat rentals, and 400 feet of sandy beach. Here, visitors and locals alike flock to the sands for a relaxing day in the sunshine. Even better, the Frisco Marina is within walking distance of the quaint, historic Frisco Main Street which is lined with ice cream shops, restaurants, bars, and a range of other locally owned businesses.
© 2019 Todd Powell
Beaches...in the Middle of the Desert?
Can’t get to a more “natural” body of water? Prefer to be able to see your feet the entire time you’re swimming? Some of the hottest desert regions in the U.S offer the “coolest” ways of chilling out–thousands of miles from the ocean. Resort properties such as the Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa at Indian Wells in California, the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess in Arizona, and Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas feature spectacularly “sandy beaches” for guests to enjoy, without ever having to make a trek to a larger body of water (but with just as much of an enjoyable experience).
Courtesy of Renaissance Esmeralda Resort & Spa