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14 Best Lakes in Florida

Written by Shandley McMurray
Sep 23, 2020

Most tourists flock to Florida for its soft, sandy beaches, championship golf courses, and world-famous amusement parks. Those who also visit the state’s resplendent lakes are in for a special treat. Ranging in size from tiny to whopping, Florida hosts 30,000 lakes that span more than three million acres. Now that’s a lot of water!

Naturally stocked with all types of fish — from bass to black crappie to speckled perch — Florida’s lakes rarely leave anglers disappointed. No wonder so many fishing fanatics head straight for these freshwater shores.

You don’t have to like touching live bait to enjoy all these lakes have to offer. Other popular things to do include swimming (without the risk of meeting a shark — yay!), windsurfing, kayaking, canoeing, and other water sports.

Before jumping in, decide where to go with our list of the best lakes in Florida.

1. Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake

Formerly known as Dunn’s Lake, this sparkling spot covers more than 15,900 acres in North Central Florida. A tributary of St. Johns River, Crescent Lake is located in Flagler and Putnam counties. It’s chock full of fish (you’re welcome, anglers) and acts as a magnet for some of the area’s best wildlife. You’re likely to spot a bald eagle while you’re there, especially at the south end, in the Crescent Lake Conservation Area.

While fishing and canoeing are permitted on the lake, motorboats are banned.

Not a fan of being in the water? No worries. There’s plenty to keep visitors occupied on shore. From hiking to biking to horseback riding, you’re sure to find a fun activity to help while away the day. The bonus: Crescent Lake’s superior vistas are enjoyable no matter where you choose to pass the time.

Insider’s tip for anglers: A drop-off runs just out from the shoreline along the majority of the lake, making this a great spot for catching bass.

2. Blue Cypress Lake

Blue Cypress Lake

The biggest lake in Indian River County, Blue Cypress Lake is a real looker. Drooping cypress trees splay their branches over the clear, azure water, stretching their complicated roots along the pristine shoreline.

No matter how you travel along this watery wonderland (by canoe, kayak, or motorboat), you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported into the pages of a fairy tale. Alligators peek out from behind long grasses, ospreys soar overhead, and turtles mosey along lily pads.

This large, wet utopia is bordered by captivating marshes, swamps, and cypress forests. Talk about a photographer’s dream place!

Blue Cypress Lake feeds St. John’s River and is home to an abundant collection of Florida’s most beautiful species. Among them are a multitude of fish. In fact, there are so many largemouth bass in this lake that anglers flock here to take advantage of what is known to be one of the state’s most “premiere” fishing locations.

Insider’s tip: Blue Cypress Park offers boat launches while Middleton’s Fish Camp is the place to load up on gear (including fish and tackle) or set up camp for the night.

3. Lake Tohopekaliga

Lake Tohopekaliga

Known locally as Lake Toho, this vast beauty is part of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. Spanning over 22,000 acres, it’s also the largest lake in Osceola County and connects to East Lake Tohopekaliga. Being so close to Kissimmee and Orlando, this vast watery expanse is a big tourist draw.

While most come here to enjoy boating or fishing in the clear blue water, Lake Toho’s shores present visitors with multiple bird-watching and other wildlife-spotting opportunities. Alligators and turtles are easy to spy, as are the osprey and eagles that call this lake home.

Anglers brag about the lake’s excellent bass fishing, while kids enjoy the lighthouse, playground, and hiking trails in Lakefront Park.

Insider’s tip: Pack a picnic and enjoy it on one of the park’s benches. Swimming and boating are the most popular activities.

4. Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee

Dubbed the Big O by locals, Lake Okeechobee translates from Hitachi to “water big,” and it comes by this name honestly. The biggest lake in Florida, Okeechobee measures close to 450,000 acres and spans five counties. It links with the Okeechobee Waterway to finally join the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Despite its massive girth, Lake Okeechobee only averages nine feet deep.

This is one of the state’s most superior fishing locales. Head here if you’re hoping to reel in an impressive catch. The lake is packed with largemouth bass, speckled perch, blue gills, catfish, and crappie. Local guides are more than willing to take you for a tour of the lake, often as part of a fishing expedition.

Camping and local cottage rentals are available to entice visitors to stay even longer.

Insider’s tip: Sign up for a three-hour boat tour or hike the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail for a more in-depth look at the area.

5. Lake Dora

Pier on Lake Dora

Lake Dora is a haven for snowbirds, especially those who love to fish. A part of Lake County’s Harris Chain of Lakes, this stunning spot covers nearly 4,500 acres. Located just over 40 minutes northwest of Orlando, the lake’s closest towns include Tavares and Mount Dora (on its north and east shores). This is where you’ll find the nearest equipment rentals, shops, restaurants, and boat launches.

Once deemed too polluted for fishing (due to runoff from nearby agricultural farms), Lake Dora is healthy enough to resume the sport. Those who aren’t fans of angling can choose to waterski, Jet Ski, windsurf, canoe, or kayak.

Insider’s tip: The lovely Dora Canal, which links Lake Dora with Lake Eustis, is a popular spot for bird-watching. Book a boat trip for an in-depth tour of the region, including information about (and likely a sighting of) impressive wildlife and waterfowl.

6. Lake Harris

Lake Harris

More than 1,000 lakes and rivers lie in the aptly named Lake County, the ecological star of Central Florida. One of these is Lake Harris, the largest in the Harris Chain of Lakes.

Spanning nearly 13,800 acres, this sparkling waterway is a popular spot for those looking for a more natural break from nearby Orlando (Lake Harris lies over 30 miles northwest of the city, just north of Lake Apopka).

Surrounded by a luxuriant landscape peppered with cypress trees and sand hills, Lake Harris is more than picturesque. You’ll want to have your camera well charged before visiting this beautiful spot. Pack a swimsuit and lifejacket, too, as water sports (including waterskiing) are a well-loved pastime.

As with most of Florida’s lakes, fishing attracts many anglers to Lake Harris. Boat ramps on both the western and southern sides of the lake make it easy to drop anchor.

Due to its sheer size, the lake can at times get rough. If you’re traveling with kids and hoping for a calmer swimming experience, try Little Harris Lake to the southeast.

7. Lake Kissimmee

Lake Kissimmee

Lake Kissimmee serves up a wonderland of natural marvels. Miles of hiking trails (13 to be exact) weave their way through forests lush with pine and oak trees, as well as marshes and a lovely shoreline in Lake Kissimmee State Park. Multiple creatures call this beautiful area home — from white-tailed deer to bobcats to birds to alligators to a bevy of fish.

Speaking of fish, this nearly 35,000-acre lake (the third largest in the state), is a prime spot for angling. Teeming with largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, and pickerel, among other catch-worthy fish, there are tons of opportunities for anglers to reel in a big one. Motorboats are permitted here, and there’s a boat ramp to make launching a cinch.

This giant waterscape lies about 70 miles south of Orlando and is connected to both Lake Tohopekaliga and Lake Okeechobee by a system of rivers and canals. Other popular activities include, camping, horseback riding, biking, canoeing, kayaking, and, of course, swimming.

8. Lake George

Boardwalk on Lake George

The brackish water of Lake George, the second biggest freshwater lake in Florida, sets it apart from other waterways in the region. It also makes Lake George an optimal place to fish for species like bass and crappie. Insider’s tip: the center of the lake is home to a cluster of circular pilings once used as targets for a bombing range. A ship sunk in this spot, making it a perfect place to reel in crappie.

Measuring about 46,000 acres, Lake George is about a tenth the size of Lake Okeechobee. This 12-mile-long lake is the largest on the St. Johns River but boasts an average depth of only eight feet. The western shores are technically part of the Ocala National Forest.

Multiple springs flow into St. George, bringing just enough salt into its watery mix. The result? A unique environment perfect for supporting various species, such as blue crabs, Atlantic stingrays, and striped bass. In fact, there are so many blue crabs that Lake George became home to one of the only fresh water blue crab fisheries worldwide.

9. Lake Istokpoga

Angler with a largemouth bass in Florida

Lake Istokpoga averages about four feet in depth, which means you won’t need a large boat to travel its nearly 28,000-acre expanse. The sixth-largest Floridian lake, Istokpoga translates from Seminole to “our people died there.” Not a very uplifting concept, but the scenery is impeccable. On a bright day, you’ll be able to see the fluffy white clouds mirrored in the lake’s resplendent surface, which is often dotted with grasses and lily pads.

A freshwater lake, Istokpoga is rectangular in shape and has become a haven for anglers. Favored catches include bluegill, crappie, sunfish, and largemouth bass. With five on-site boat ramps, it’s easy to transport your watercraft into the lake’s cool waters.

Like most lakes on this list, camping is available in the vicinity, as are cottage rentals.

Insider’s tip: Airboats are a safe, fabulous, and uber-fun way to get around this shallow lake. Other good, shallow watercraft include canoes, kayaks, and pontoon boats.

10. Lake Seminole

The lush shoreline at Lake Seminole Park

The third biggest lake in Florida, Seminole is technically a reservoir. As such, it’s also known as the Jim Woodruff Reservoir. This picturesque spot lies in Pinellas County, near the border of three states: Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

Measuring nearly 37,500 acres, Lake Seminole was created in the late 1940s and early 1950s by damming the Flint and Cattahoochee Rivers. The goal: to create hydroelectric power.

Today, Lake Seminole is still used for hydroelectric power, as well as for recreational purposes. It's a popular vacation destination for visitors from all three surrounding states — guests flock here for its prized fishing (multiple types of bass call this lake home, as do catfish, crappie, and bluegill). It’s also an amazing place to waterski, Jet Ski, canoe, kayak, or swim.

Insider’s tip: Take to the land for a hike (or bike) around Lake Seminole Park. In addition to lovely water views, you’ll be treated to a close-up look at some of the state's most beloved creatures — from gopher tortoises to birds.

11. Lake Talquin

Lake Talquin State Park

A quick, 19-mile jaunt west of Tallahassee, Lake Talquin is a beautiful place to spend a day frolicking with your family. The setting is surreal — rolling hills and lush, wooded bluffs tower over a lake filled with water so clean, you’ll want to dive right in.

Hoping to fish? You’re not alone. Lake Talquin attracts anglers of all experience levels with its bounty of bass (largemouth and striped), speckled perch, catfish, and bream.

On the south shore, you’ll find resplendent Lake Talquin State Park. It features a deep ravine and boardwalk frequented by walkers and fishing enthusiasts, as well as a boat launch (for canoes and kayaks), picnic area, and trails boasting incredible vistas of the lake and beyond.

12. Lake Griffin

Marshes on Lake Griffin

Lake Griffin's extensive marshes hold its most precious treasures. It's within these tranquil waterways that you’ll catch sight of the area’s incredible wildlife, including alligators, turtles, waterfowl, and plenty of fish. At nearly 9,500 acres, Lake Griffin feeds the Ocklawaha River, which is part of the Harris Chain of Lakes.

The best way to discover this serene lake is by boat: motor-driven, or canoe or kayak. Lake Griffin State Park, which lines the shores, also boasts walking trails to take guests farther into the natural landscape. That’s where you’ll see land-based creatures like bears, coyotes, and bobcats.

The park is also home to giant oak trees, one of which has been aged at over 400 years! Book a guided tour with a ranger or set up camp for the night — you’ll be so happy you did.

13. Lake Eustis

Sunset over Lake Eustis

A spring-fed lake, this over 7,000-acre watering hole can be found in Central Florida’s Lake County. Lake Eustis is also part of the Harris Chain of Lakes and connects to Lake Harris via the Dead River.

Lake Eustis also joins the St. Johns River, among others. The towns of Eustis (on the lake’s northeastern edge) and Tavares (to the south) are the closest cities offering vacation rentals, great restaurants, shops, and equipment rentals.

While fishing enthusiasts flock here for its bass, the famed Lake Eustis pupfish are a protected species. Other popular things to do include boating, swimming, sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and windsurfing.

Insider’s tip: Sunset is the most beautiful time to hike The Walk, a quarter-mile-long trail that follows the shore.

14. Lake Apopka

Lake Apopka

Roughly 24 miles northwest of Orlando, Lake Apopka is one of the largest in the state and acts as the headwaters of the Ocklawaha River. It spans 30,000 acres and is fed by the St. Johns River.

Photographers and nature lovers flock to this vast expanse for a glimpse of its spectacular wildlife. Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive allows them to do so from the comfort of their own cars. A tour takes about two hours, depending how many times you stop to take photos along the way.

Insider’s tip: Sadly, Lake Apopka has a reputation for being polluted (due to pesticide use on local farms and the construction of a levee). The good news? The St. Johns River Management District has been cleaning up the lake, which has resulted in a recovery of fish and plant life.

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