Great Lake Hotels

Enjoy a low-key weekend at one of these five lakeside hideouts

Photo: Courtesy of Lake Austin Spa Resort

Kayaking on Lake Austin.

No lake house? No problem. Book a stay at one of these freshwater escapes, from a historic mountain lodge in Georgia to a sleek Texas spa retreat.

Lake Austin Spa Resort
Austin, Texas

You can do three different types of yoga before breakfast at this Hill Country wellness retreat on the shores of Lake Austin. Or not. Sleep until noon, if you prefer, before heading to the spa—consistently ranked among the country’s best—for a mesquite sugar scrub followed by floating meditation in the heated Olympic-length lap pool housed in an elegant barn. If you just want to be out on the lake, the forty-room resort offers paddleboards, kayaks, water skis, wakeboards, hydro bikes, and—to celebrate the hotel’s twentieth anniversary this year—water taxis that will pick you up from downtown Austin and ferry you straight to the dock at this former rodeo training ground. Talk about arriving in style.

Lakeview at Fontana
Bryson City, North Carolina

The fact that there’s a private treehouse soaking tub perched on the mountainside above this 1950s-era inn with unobstructed views of Fontana Lake should tell you everything you need to know about the ethos at Lakeview. If that doesn’t clue you in, though, the lack of televisions or in-room Wi-Fi, the boutique spa, and yoga studio make it clear that unplugging is the goal here.

But there’s no need to stay sedentary, unless you want to; the surrounding Smoky Mountains supply a roster of outdoor activities as deep as the lake itself (which, incidentally, is the deepest in North Carolina at 440 feet). After breakfast of pastries and French press coffee at the inn’s courtyard café, head to the Nantahala Outdoor Center (just ten minutes away) for white water rafting and zip lining, hike a portion of the nearby Appalachian Trail, plunge into the Panther Creek swimming hole, or hit the mountain biking trails at the Tsali Recreation Area.

Lake Rabun Hotel
Lakemont, Georgia

A weekend at this lakeside mountain lodge—the last of its kind in Georgia—feels like a charming time warp. The cell service is spotty and the nearest grocery store is about thirty minutes away. Not that you’ll need either. Lush native gardens surround the historic 1922 inn, where well-worn oriental rugs warm original wood floors and local art hangs on rough-hewn walls. There’s a baby grand in the lobby and an on-site bar and restaurant, too. Board games and playing cards are popular low-tech diversions—it wouldn’t be hard to rustle up a competitive game of bridge or spades. Get out on the water via pontoon or canoe to ogle the photo-ready boathouses that dot the shores. Or have the concierge set you up with white water rafting, horseback riding, hiking, or zip-lining.

The Ritz Carlton Reynolds
Greensboro, Georgia

Book one of the private four-, three-, or two- bedroom cottages at this 10,000-acre enclave on the shores of Lake Oconee for a laid-back lake house experience—with all the amenities of a five-star hotel. That means no leashing kayaks to the car roof or towing a boat down the highway; the folks at Reynolds have got you covered. Ski boats? Check. Pontoons? Those, too. And if you want to wet a line while you’re out, the hotel can also provide the tackle, or you can spring for a guided trip to access Oconee’s best honey holes. End a day on the water with complimentary s’mores by the lake’s edge. If you’re a history buff or simply appreciate an attractive antebellum home, swing through downtown Greensboro or nearby Madison—both spared by Sherman’s army during the Civil War.

Beyond the South


Big Cedar Lodge
Ridgedale, Missouri

Before the advent of the twentieth century (and the railroad era it ushered in), the remote section of Ozark wilderness where Big Cedar Lodge now sits was accessible only on foot or horseback. Today, the property’s 4,600 wooded acres still feel like a discovery, which is exactly what billionaire Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris had in mind when he bought the circa-1921 resort in 1987. Last year, Big Cedar unveiled a new 18,000-square-foot spa, but the Ozarks’ natural wonders remain the biggest draw: adjacent Table Rock Lake offers some of the country’s best bass fishing; the hiking, horseback riding, and fly-fishing are prime in nearby Dogwood Canyon Nature Park [Editor’s note: The park is currently closed due to flooding.]; and a fleet of canoes and kayaks allows for peaceful mornings on the water. If you prefer your lake vacation with a side of adrenaline, look to the Big Cedar ski school for expert lessons in wakeboarding and slaloming. You’ll be jumping the wake in no time. And while you’ll find all the guestrooms, cottages, and suites sumptuous, the luxuriously appointed Civil War-era log cabin perched at the Top of the Rock (the resort’s highest point), delivers the best views in the place.