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10 Perfect Lake Hikes That Will Make You Glad to Walk in a Circle

Spend anywhere from a few memorable hours to a few remarkable days circumnavigating one of these ten lakes.

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There’s something special about lake hikes—a peacefulness that settles into every hiker who embarks on one. When you wander every inch of a shore it leaves you with a feeling of belonging, of knowing the whole of a place. There’s nothing quite like watching the shifting play of light across the water as the sun drifts from horizon to horizon.

Watson Lake Loop, Watson Lake Park, AZ

The wind-rounded orange pillars of Prescott’s Granite Dells frame this lake, shaping a veritable hiker’s playground for rock-hopping. A gentle waterfall partway through the 4.8-mile hike provides a reprieve from the dry desert air. Trailhead 34.5902, -112.4209

Shadow Lake-Sunrise Camp Loop, Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

Talus fields full of hidden pikas, a quick swoop around tiny Shadow Lake, and the distant icefields of Mt. Rainier await on this short-and-sweet overnight. At only 3.7 miles total, this introductory trip will get new hikers hooked forever. Trailhead 46.9144, -121.6427

Clear Lake Loop Trail, Willamette National Forest, OR

Old-growth evergreen forest tops a 3,000-year-old lava flow on the banks of this Cascadian jewel. On a sunny day you can see the snowy peaks of the Three Sisters in the distance between the trees along this 4.6-mile jaunt. Trailhead 44.3735, -121.9984

String Lake
Marcus Reinkensmeyer

String Lake Loop, Grand Teton National Park, WY

Mt. St. John and Rockchuck Peak stand sentinel over this 3.7-mile parade of Tetons views. Head up Paintbrush Canyon at the junction at mile 2.1 for an overnight trip to Holly Lake (pick up a permit at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station). Trailhead 43.7848, -110.7276

Lake Okeechobee, Florida Trail, FL

The trail around America’s 10th-largest lake is 112.8 miles long, winding through open marsh, cypresses, and pond apple thickets in the heart of the sunshine state. Most Florida Trail hikers pick either the east or west bank, but you can link them together for a week-long circumnavigation. Trailhead 27.1964, -80.8301

Burke Lake Loop, Burke Lake Park, VA

This oasis is only 25 minutes from the bustle of Washington, D.C., close enough for a workday sunrise or sunset hike in nearly any season. The trail winds around the lake’s secluded bays and through hardwood forest for 4.7 miles. Watch for bald eagles in the treetops. Trailhead 38.7606, -77.3020

Convict Lake
Lonnie G. Padelsky

Convict Lake Loop, Inyo National Forest, CA

Sagebrush, aspen, and sheer granite cliffs are your companions on this 2.5-mile loop in the Sierra. Make it a multiday trip by taking Convict Creek Trail from the end of the lake on a 20-mile loop around four high-mountain tarns (reserve your permit at recreation.gov). Trailhead 37.5935, -118.8503

Emerald Pond Trail, George Washington National Forest, VA

Pitch your tent in the established site halfway around this Shenandoah Valley gem. The green water is remarkable in any season, as are the valley panoramas on the 3.4- mile hike up. Unusual for Virginia, the pond is spring-fed, with no inlet or outlet. Trailhead 38.6056, -78.6349

Nicks Lake Loop Trail, Adirondack Park, NY

Wander through a quiet mixed hardwood/conifer forest on the edge of a wilderness lake on this 4.5-mile loop. You’ll dip from hilly bluffs to sandy beaches and back again as you circle the water. Want to turn it into an overnight? Take the spur trail to the campsites at Remsen Falls (no permit required). Trailhead 43.6853, -74.9841

Angleworm Trail, Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Area, MN

Spend the weekend circling Angleworm and Whiskey Jack Lakes at the northern edge of Minnesota. The 12-mile trail shifts from mossy singletrack between the trees to weathered planks over lakeside marshes before dropping down to the shore, where loon calls echo out across the water from early spring to fall. Trailhead 48.0630, -91.9294