Explore the Pacific Northwest

5 Favorite Northwest Swimming Lakes

Explore the Pacific Northwest

The Best Places in Washington and Idaho for Making Your Summer Splash

girl swimming in lake in summer

Swimming outdoors on a hot summer day, whether splashing around with kids or actually swimming, is one of the most enjoyable summertime experiences one can have. There’s just nothing quite as nice as slipping into a cool body of water when it’s hot out and you’ve pulled in after a car drive, especially if your kiddos are along for the ride. While there are plenty of swimming spots in the Northwest, finding an under-the-radar one on a beautiful lake with a sand beach to warm up in the sun on, after, isn’t an easy task. We’ve done the research for you, finding five hidden gems throughout Washington and North Idaho so you can plan for refreshing stops while on your summer road trip. Grab your suits and towels, and enjoy!

Cranberry Lake

Cranberry Lake near Deception Pass

Deception Pass State Park, at the north end of Whidbey Island, consistently ranks near the top of most-visited Washington state parks for its wild and scenic beauty, exciting locale, extensive campground and lengthy sand beach. Picnicking, building driftwood forts or just taking in the scenery of boats churning by on Admiralty Inlet are all among the pleasures of this island spot.

Just feet from the saltwater, Cranberry Lake is a shallow, tree-rimmed lake with a small sand beach that’s perfect for families with young kids; changing rooms are nearby. When you’ve had enough time in the sun, hit the trails. The North Beach Trail winds through cool woods alongside Deception Pass. Follow the signs to Little North Beach, and you’ll have a beach nearly all to yourself within sight of the churning rapids of Deception Pass, with the Deception Pass Bridge soaring high above. The seascape here is dramatic, especially during high and low tides, when the current roaring through the narrow gap reaches about 8 knots (9.2 mph), causing standing waves and whirlpools that daredevil kayakers and thrill-seeking boaters plunge through.

Lake Sammamish

girls on lake sammamish

Just 20 minutes east of Seattle, Lake Sammamish is largely hidden, since it’s primarily a residential lake. At 7.25 miles long, this relatively shallow lake really warms up in the summertime, getting up to 75 degrees in July and August. Lake Sammamish State Park, at the south end of the lake, is a wildly popular spot for swimming and sunbathing, but at the north end, Idylwood Beach Park is a tucked-away gem. Surrounded by large, old cottonwood trees, this park has a more-intimate feel, and a relaxing, old-timey quality. A sand beach slopes gently into the lake, and there is a bathhouse nearby. Large, grassy open spaces and a playground give lots of room for youngsters to run around, and there are picnic tables and shelters.

To add a bit of adventure to your relaxing afternoon in the sunshine, head a half-mile north to 640-acre Marymoor Park. This lovely green space boasts numerous sports fields, plus tennis and basketball courts, a climbing wall, even a velodrome. Loop trails meander through the park, which has a rare a riverfront dog park, in case you’re visiting with your furry companion.  

Concerts crank up here during the summertime. This summer’s Marymoor Park Concerts include Willie Nelson, with Alison Krauss, on August 1, and Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, with Aimee Mann, on September 6.

Lake Chelan

Summer on Lake Chelan

A summertime visit to Lake Chelan should be on every family’s radar, given the region’s sunny climate in summer—with an average high of 85 degrees in July and August—and lots of fun attractions for every family member. Even if you’re just traveling through, though, be sure to stop off for a cool dip at Don Morse Memorial Park, in Chelan. The park has a lovely sand beach that was recently refurbished and refreshed with sand, as well as a skate park and a watersports rental company—LakeRider Sports Chelan, where you can rent paddleboards and sit-on-top kayaks. Add in a miniature golf course with a stream and water features, and Rally Ally Go-Karts, and the park is a lakeside entertainment kingdom. If you have additional time to spend here, you can add to your adventures by renting a personal watercraft or boat for water play from Shoreline Watercraft & Boat Rentals, which has a location right next to the park.

Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho

summer fun on lake pend oreille

City Beach is one of the most picturesque sand beaches in the Northwest. Fringing a peninsula in downtown Sandpoint, with magnificent mountain views and a half-mile of golden sand for picnics, beach play and sunning, City Beach is absolutely sublime for swimming—or just floating—in the summer. Lounging on an air mattress in the 83-degree water (typical for July and August), you’re likely to have a hard time convincing yourself to ever get out. But there are some great reasons to dry off and brush the sand off your feet. The beach is literally in town, so there are plenty of restaurants very close by for refueling after a day in the sun. And the new, 1.5-mile Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, which starts a couple of blocks north of City Beach, is a beautiful spot to get in a relaxing stroll.

Payette Lake, Idaho

Payette lake

On a nearly 1,000-acre thumb of land that juts out into Payette Lake just 1.5 miles north of McCall, Ponderosa State Park boasts three gorgeous sand beaches with swimming areas. While you’re close to town, you’ll feel a million miles away as you swim in the crystal clear, warm water and relax on the sand beach backed by, natch, fragrant Ponderosa pines. The park has several short (walking and mountain-bike) trails that weave through whisper-quiet woods. In summertime, the payoff for your exercise will be handfuls of ripe huckleberries that grow alongside the trails. If you’re visiting for more than a single day, for variety’s sake, visit the park’s North Beach Unit. Just 7 miles north of McCall, this 500-acre recreational area boasts the lake’s largest sand beach.

—Written by Leslie Forsberg

Getting There

Whether you are looking for a lakeside escape or want to explore other fascinating places, call or visit your nearest AAA store for maps, guidebooks and other travel-planning resources, including expert assistance from one of our Member Travel Counselors.