Whether you’re looking to hitch the kids to the back of your shiny new jet ski, or glide through gorgeous blue waters in a lazy canoe, the D.C. area has some of the most beautiful lakeside destinations in the country, all just a few hours from downtown. Some are perfect for packing a picnic and making it a day trip; others beg you to pitch your tent and stay for the whole weekend. Whatever floats your boat, these waterways beckon with nonstop outdoor fun.

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Greenbrier State Park
At the foot of the Catoctin Mountains and just off the Appalachian Trail, Greenbrier features a 42-acre lake with a large sandy beach, rowboats, paddleboats, hiking, and fishing. This is a great place to go in the dog days of summer when the heat of the city has you thinking, “help, I feel like I’m suffocating!” The park’s higher elevation means cooler air, much more tolerable then the humid downtown city streets. There’s also plenty of camping available with bathhouses and hot showers. Keep your eyes peeled for wading-in-the-warers blue heron and on your fishing rod baited for bluegill and trout.

21843 National Pike (Boonsboro, Md)
301-791-4767
Online: dnr2.maryland.gov

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Lake Anna
There’s a reason Lake Anna is one of Virginia’s most popular vacay spots. Okay, several reasons: 1) It’s big and beautiful with 13,000 acres of gorgeous blue water; 2) it’s extremely family-friendly with a children’s fishing pond (that’s also wheelchair accessible), a life-guarded swimming area with a sandy beach, a playground, a concession stand, and a boat launch; and 3) it’s more than just a lake. There are 15 miles of hiking trails, and plenty of campsites and cabins. All this just 75 miles south of the city. What are you waiting for?

6800 Lawyers Rd. (Spotsylvania, Va)
540-854-5503
Online: dcr.virginia.gov

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Hunting Creek Lake at Cunningham Falls State Park
If you’re looking for a peaceful forest setting where you’re more likely to hear chirping birds than other families, Hunter Creek Lake at Cunningham Falls is the place to be. Surrounded by the picturesque Catoctin Mountains, this 44-acre lake features three swimming areas, abundant fishing (that yeilds trout, bass, bluegill, and more), and canoe rentals. Serious hikers can sweat it out on a challenging 7.5 miles trek; or stroll the easy half-mile path to the gorgeous 78-foot Cunningham Falls, the largest cascading waterfalls in the state.

14039 Catoctin Hollow Rd. (Thurmont, Md)
301-271-7574
Online: dnr2.maryland.gov

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Cascade Lake
Imagine a scenic lake connected to an active waterpark, a place where you could serenade your sweetie in a slow-moving canoe, or scream yourself silly on a curvy waterslide. You’ll find it all at Cascade Lake, just 60 miles north of D.C. Nestled among 70 acres of rolling hills and woods, Cascade Lake is a pay-to-play ($10-$15) 6-acre spring-fed lake with a gently sloping sandy bottom. It features swimming, waterslides, and driving platforms, all guarded by certified lifeguards (in a smoke-free zone, to boot!). Nearby you’ll find the Spray N’ Playground with plenty of geysers, bubblers and water tunnels to entertain the youngest and most energetic of your group. If you’re looking for peace and quiet, have no fear, there are plenty of quiet fishing spots where you can kick back and relax.

2844 Snydersburg Rd. (Hamstead, Md)
410-374-9111
Online: cascadelake.com

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Deep Creek Lake
Located in Western Maryland, Deep Creek Lake is a bit further from the city (a little over three hours), but you get a whole lot for that extra driving time. As the largest inland body of water in Maryland, it covers 3,900 acres and has 69 miles of shoreline. That’s a lot of lake, and a lot of lake means a lot of fun. There’s swimming, tubing, water skiing, wakeboarding, motor boating, canoeing, hiking, camping, vacation rentals, and more. If wild life is your thing, you’ll see a variety of birds and animals, not to mention fishing galore with everything from walleye, northern pike, crappie and perch to bluegill, rainbow and brown trout.

898 State Park Rd. (Swanton, Md)
301-387-5563
Online: dnr.state.md.us

Has your family visited any of these lakes? Tell us about the trip in the comments section below.

—Jamy Bond

Photos courtesy of Maryland State Parks via Flickr, Julita B.C. via Creative Commons, DeepCreekLakeMD via Creative Commons, Public Herald via Creative Commons