Laidback, scenic, and brimming with charm, lake towns are truly perfect vacation destinations. They appeal to nature lovers, boating enthusiasts, and expert s’mores makers — so much so that waterfront getaways topped traveler wishlists in 2022.
As for where to stay, vacation rentals are the ideal accommodation. Their private, right-at-home atmospheres help guests conveniently slip away for lakeside leisure, making lake houses a strong investment option for eager buyers.
The thing is, there are 480,000 lakes on U.S. mainland alone, so knowing where to invest in a lake town vacation rental requires strategy.
From an Adirondack mountain town with shimmering blue lakes to a tucked-away watering hole in Northern California, here are the 12 best places to buy a lake house in 2023.
The By the Numbers data below is based on a combination of proprietary and public data, but the three main metrics we took into account are:
We also evaluated a property’s potential to outperform market expectations with an Evolve partnership. Below, you’ll see The Evolve Difference, showcasing how we helped some of our top lake house owners maximize income and significantly beat the market’s projected revenue.
Please note: all data projections reflect ideal-state scenarios. Variables like owner-blocked calendars and extenuating circumstances (like natural disasters) are not factored into these calculations.
Nestled in the Adirondack Mountains, Saranac Lake is a historic town with undeniable charm. A water lover’s paradise in summer months, the area also boasts spectacular fall foliage and a beginner-friendly ski area come winter — making it a great town for investors who want to maximize profits with year-round appeal.
Saranac Lake’s 7.1% cap rate — the ratio between the property’s net income and its market value — is a great indicator of this area’s profit potential. But it’s also a rare gem for investors looking to break into a lake house market, as the median list price is a relatively low $250,000.
True lakefront properties can be more expensive than that average, but our Real Estate Services (RES) team says being waterfront isn’t a requirement of a well-performing vacation rental here. The lake town feel is present throughout this quaint area, and an artsy downtown Main Street is another major selling point for travelers. As a result, investors looking for lower upfront costs can conduct a broader search for properties in Saranac Lake and still see success.
For generations, Branson has billed itself as a top vacation spot for families with its variety of things to do. Tourists flock to Silver Dollar City theme park and enjoy live entertainment like Dolly Parton’s Stampede (one of over 100 shows in Branson).
There’s also the area’s top tourist destination: Table Rock Lake. With more than 750 miles of shoreline and plenty of spots to drop a fishing line, the lake dazzles with its natural beauty and many ways to have fun.
Branson’s general affordability makes it an easier market for first-time investors, but it’s important to note that list prices can jump quite a bit for homes right on Table Rock Lake (with larger homes climbing above $600,000). If your budget allows for higher upfront costs, though, our RES team says you could be in for an especially ripe investment opportunity. Lakefront vacation rentals are more limited in supply than vacation rentals in the broader Branson area, but that also helps put them in particularly high demand among guests. That means they’ll go for higher nightly rates and can help you significantly boost annual earnings as a result.
Minnesota is nicknamed the “land of 10,000 lakes” — and some of the very best, most scenic ones can be found in the Brainerd Lakes area. Unsurprisingly, it beckons nature lovers with public beaches, mountain biking trails, top-rated golf courses, and great ice fishing.
Buyers should explore their investment options in a variety of towns, including Pequot Lakes, Nisswa, Emily, Brainerd Lake, and Crosslake. All five locales see cap rates in the 5% range and offer strong annual occupancy with dual-seasonality. And while the average owner in Brainerd Lakes brings in about $27,000 in annual revenue, many of Evolve’s top-performing lake homes net nearly three times that amount in the same period.
What’s setting these properties apart? Our RES team says lakefront cabins reel in the biggest profits here. Houses with boat decks, fire pits, and grills are also big attention grabbers for renters — something to keep in mind as you add key amenities and market your lake house.
Traverse City is set on the banks of Lake Michigan — but that’s not what makes it one of the best places to buy a lake house. A number of smaller lakes dot the Traverse City area, and they draw families in with calm waters, stunning views, and kid-friendly fun.
Investors can find ample waterfront inventory at lower price points on these lesser-known shores. Look for homes along Silver Lake, Long Lake, and Island Lake in particular — all of which are tailor-made for family vacations.
Plus, they have major potential to earn with the right strategy. Many of Evolve’s top-performing Traverse City homes sit on these lakefronts, and blow the area’s median revenue out of the water by earning as much as $169,000 a year. Our RES team says they’re larger homes (think five bedrooms) with amenities like private docks, hot tubs, paddle boards, and kayaks.
Beyond lake life, Traverse City travelers can find sand dunes to hike, wine to sample, and a famed cherry festival to attend. With so much to see and do, vacation rentals in this area have higher demand that extends beyond peak summer months — meaning even more opportunity to hit your occupancy and income goals.
Smith Mountain Lake is known as the “Jewel of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” a claim to fame that can be credited to its 500-mile stretch of scenic shoreline set against iconic peaks. The second largest body of freshwater in Virginia, tourists flock to the lake and its surrounding towns — including Huddleston, Pittsville, Moneta, and Penhook — to enjoy water sports, hike in the state park, and fish for bass.
The median list price in the area is $463,000, with a strong selection of true lakefront properties in the $500,000 to $1 million range. While the upfront investment may be pricier, property taxes in Virginia are more moderate. Our RES team says this might help offset initial costs in the long-term, and is something for buyers to consider when weighing their overall revenue versus expenses.
Texans looking to escape the sweltering heat can make the easy trip to Granbury, located just 70 miles from Dallas. With plenty of fishing piers, placid waters for paddleboarding, a dozen golf courses, and dining at Historic Granbury Square, our RES team says rentals in the area tend to be booked solid for more than half of the year.
That sets investors up for strong profits that aren’t tied to a single tourism season — and now is an especially good time to house hunt. This north Texas market was sizzling hot in 2021, but home prices have since stabilized while profit potential remains high.
What’s more, a 5% cap rate and annual median revenue of $28,000 can create a steady stream of income for years to come. Properties that outperform the market (Evolve top-performers rake in nearly $77,000 a year) are often perched right on the lake. They also offer impressive amenities like private boat docks (with kayaks to use!), and inviting outdoor spaces with spacious decks and cozy fire pits to help them hook five-star reviews.
Small-town charm meets big adventure in Pocono Lake, an area that’s established itself as a year-round destination for outdoorsy types, honeymooners, and families.
With a stellar selection of freshwater lakes, hiking trails best explored in autumn, and nearby ski resorts, Pocono Lake offers year-round fun. This means there’s potential to keep your vacation rental booked through every season and maximize annual profits.
More good news: Compared to some of the other best places to buy a lake house, Pocono Lake is an affordable market to break into with median prices listed under $275,000. HOA regulations in this area can be a deterrent, though, which is why potential investors should partner with expert local agents to navigate those rules and find a property that can perform well in this vacation rental market.
Adventure calls at Norris Lake, a body of water in the Cumberland Mountain foothills that’s just 20 miles north of Knoxville. Boating is big here, as the lake area has over 20 marinas where visitors can rent pontoons, fishing boats, jet skis, and more.
When house hunting in the Norris Lake region, our RES team says to look for vacation rentals in Lafollette, New Tazewell, and Andersonville. Median list prices in these towns come in around $427,000, and vacation rentals fare quite well with cap rates of 4.4%.
Tennessee also has some of the lowest property taxes in the country, which can help in the expense column. Like Virginia’s Smith Mountain Lake area, this is an added benefit profit-driven investors should consider when evaluating their long-term earning potential.
Lake of the Ozarks offers a little something for everyone, with vacation to-dos ranging from laidback to lively. We’re talking water parks, boating, fishing, golfing, and even a network of cool caves.
Given all its fun-in-the-sun-centric activities, this popular Missouri lake traditionally booms in summer months, with bookings dropping off when the temperatures do. While investors should keep this intel in mind when setting occupancy goals, the area has seen a longer tourism season in recent years thanks in part to its exposure on the popular Netflix show, Ozark. Those off-season guests will find autumn is a spectacular time to visit, with fall colors ablaze on the bluffs and less boat traffic on the water.
All that said, there are over 40 towns in the immediate Lake of the Ozarks area — but not all top the charts when it comes to vacation rental performance. Our RES team recommends narrowing your search to Gravois Mills, Osage Beach, and Lake Ozark for maximized profit potential.
Lake Winnipesaukee is defined by superlatives. It’s the largest lake in New Hampshire, with 72 square miles of spring-fed water. Factor in a wooded shoreline and surrounding mountain ranges, and it may be a contender for the most beautiful lake in the state, too.
When exploring its banks as a lake house investor, Gilford is the town most worth a look. Classic lake fun is what’s on the menu, from cruises and jet skiing to summer fireworks reflecting off the shoreline. But this area also has attractions that reach beyond those activities — like an 8,000-seat amphitheater hosting summer concerts, Gunstock Mountain Resort, breweries, and museums.
Median list prices are about $518,000 in Gilford. While that’s on the higher end for our list of best places to buy a lake house, that shouldn’t dissuade buyers: many homes around this price point (and well below it) sit right on the water and have stunning lake views, which naturally translates to strong traveler demand and owner profits.
Of course, you’ll also find homes well above the median list price. Those multi-million dollar properties have extra-luxe perks like two- to three-boat covered docks, and sprawling acreage with additional plots of land to build on. Luckily, investors don’t need these above-and-beyond benefits to guarantee vacation rental success — so it’s a matter of weighing profit-driving amenities like lake access and private docks within the realities of your budget.
Year-round sunshine, 400 miles of pristine lakefront, and a desert backdrop define Lake Havasu City — a Southwest destination with name recognition for being “Arizona’s playground.” It draws a steady stream of visitors (835,000 every year, in fact) from major metros like Phoenix, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas to enjoy water sports and untamed off-road trails.
While Lake Havasu offers plenty of inventory with average prices just under $500,000, buyers will be hard-pressed to find true waterfront property because public parks and beaches take up a good chunk of that prized real estate.
To offset your potential distance from the lake, our RES team recommends looking for properties with coveted amenities like pools, hot tubs, and covered lounge areas. A good share of top-performing rental properties in this area have three to four bedrooms, so your earning potential can also increase if you hit that number.
Aside from the water, hiking trails in the nearby San Bernardino National Forest and dark skies made for stargazing attract travelers in the spring and fall. Meanwhile, Big Bear Mountain Resort becomes a West Coast skier’s hotspot come winter. So for a lake house investor hoping to really maximize year-round profits with ski home value, too, Big Bear Lake can be a fantastic option.
The median list price here hovers around $643,000, and while investors can find properties in that price range that are close to the lake, the vast majority of true lakefront properties will be a much larger upfront investment.
Given Big Bear’s variety of multi-season activities, our RES team says buyers should feel comfortable exploring those less expensive, non-lakefront options. You’ll still have potential for strong revenue returns, and adding thoughtful amenities like trail maps, telescopes, and lake gear can increase your booking opportunities.
Investing in a vacation rental property is a personal decision, but you don’t have to wade through your options alone. Whether you’re drawn to one of our tried-and-true lake towns or enticed by the untapped potential of a lesser-known up-and-comer, our Real Estate Services team can help you take the next step toward buying in one (or more!) of the best places to buy a lake house.
We have the data to contextualize your investment opportunities and define your income goals, preferred local real estate agents who specialize in vacation rental purchases, and an array of management tools to help make your lake house a success once you’re ready to jumpstart your business.
For additional research, here are some resources to help you better understand the potential of vacation rental investment:
Now that you’re ready to talk about buying the best lake house for you, let’s get the conversation started today.