There’s something inherently soothing about the tranquil embrace of a lakeside retreat, where crystal-clear waters glisten under the sun’s warm caress, and time seems to slow down. Whether you find yourself basking in the serene beauty of Torch Lake in Michigan, reveling in the vibrant aquatic life of Lake Murray in South Carolina, or exploring the picturesque shores of Lake Anna in Virginia, one thing remains constant — the joy of a lake trip is as refreshing as it is unforgettable.

But before you set off on your aquatic adventure, it’s essential to have a well-curated packing list to ensure a seamless and enjoyable escape. In this article, we’ll share lake essentials that will make your lake trip a breeze, no matter which of these stunning U.S. lakes you choose to visit.

Lake Packing List

If you’re in search of a comprehensive packing list for the lake, look no further. Before we do a deep live into lake day essentials, here’s a general checklist of everything you need for a successful lake day.

  • Bathing suit or swimming trunks
  • Sunglasses
  • Water shoes
  • Flip flops or sandals
  • A change of clothes
  • Sunscreen
  • Quick dry towel
  • A dry bag for your wallet, keys, etc.
  • Waterproof phone case
  • Life jackets
  • Inflatable floaties or tube
  • A pump
  • Picnic supplies and food
  • Reusable water bottle
  • A cooler with ice
  • Bottle opener
  • Folding camp chairs
  • Foldable beach mat
  • Beach tent
  • Blankets
  • Portable speakers
  • Trash bags
  • Bug spray
  • First aid kit

Friends paddling canoes on a lake.

Plus, depending on what you plan to do at the lake, here are some suggestions of things that can elevate your lake experience:

  • Fishing poles and bait
  • Kayak
  • Paddleboard
  • Playing cards
  • Outdoor games (football, spike ball, frisbee, etc.)
  • Hammock
  • Books

What to Wear to a Lake

When planning your outfit for a day at the lake, comfort and practicality should be your top priorities. Here are tips for what to wear — from head to toe:

  • Hat. Whether you opt for a wide-brimmed hat, a lightweight cap, or a bucket hat, having any sort of hat serves as both sun protection and keeping your hair out of your face when it gets windy.
  • Sunglasses. Protect your eyes from the sun’s rays when it’s extra bright out. Sunglasses are key for any outdoor adventure.
  • Breathable clothing. Always check the weather before your trip, but in most cases, lake days call for warm weather, which means lightweight shirts, tank tops, shorts, skirts, or dresses are the way to go. Choose natural and light-colored fabrics that reflect the sun and help keep you cool. It’s also good to keep in mind that materials like wool won’t dry as quickly as breathable cotton.
  • Swim attire. Be prepared with a swimsuit or swim trunks that you feel comfortable in, as you’ll likely be spending a lot of time in the water. A rash guard or cover-up can provide sun protection and help you stay comfortable if you plan to spend long hours under the sun.
  • Water shoes or sturdy sandals. Since the terrain around a lake can vary, a pair of sturdy and comfortable water shoes or sandals is a wise choice to protect your feet from rocks, debris, or hot sand.
  • Light jacket. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Therefore, you should always pack a light jacket in case the wind picks up.

It’s also worth noting that you should pack a change of clothes so you can stay dry after swimming. After slipping out of your water shoes, consider bringing flip-flops over leather shoes.

What to Bring to the Lake

Next, we’ll dive into more detail about why some of the items listed above are important to bring on your lake adventure.

Feet dangling in a lake over a dock.

For the Shore

Before taking a dip, you’ll want to find a spot to get situated by the lake. Here’s everything you need for the perfect lakeside set-up:

  • Sunscreen. SPF 30+ is absolutely essential to protect your skin from harmful UV rays and prevent sunburn since you’ll be under the sun all day!
  • Quick dry towel. You’ll need something to dry off after a swim. Microfiber towels are a great option since they don’t take up too much space and dry up quickly.
  • Dry bag. Having a dry bag helps protect your wallet and keys from water damage, ensuring they stay dry throughout the day. This is especially helpful if you’re going kayaking and don’t want to leave your valuables unsupervised.
  • Waterproof phone case. Having a waterproof phone case protects your phone against accidental water exposure, but allows you to capture memories and stay connected even while you’re hanging out by the water. Some cases even come with a lanyard so you can wear it around your neck or wrist, reducing the chance that you’ll accidentally drop your phone in the lake.
  • Picnic supplies and food. You can’t have a full day at the lake without bringing snacks! Pack a picnic for you and your lake buddies, along with utensils, so you can enjoy your meal with ease.
  • Insulated reusable water bottle. It’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day — especially if you’re under the beaming hot sun. Having an insulated reusable water bottle reduces the need for single-use plastic bottles and helps the environment, but also keeps your water cooler than a single-use water bottle would.
  • A cooler with ice. Keep your refreshments and any other perishable items like meats or cheese in optimal condition. The feeling of cracking open an ice-cold beverage after a swim is not to be underestimated!
  • Bottle or wine opener. If you’re bringing beer or wine with you, this small but crucial tool is important to include in your lake packing list.
  • Portable speakers. Set the mood with your favorite playlist to help you kick back and relax.
  • Folding camp chairs and beach mat. Chairs and tables by the lake are never guaranteed, so taking folding chairs or a beach mat with you ensures comfortable seating by the water, allowing you to relax and socialize with ease.
  • Beach tent. This isn’t absolutely necessary but it really comes in handy if you prefer to have some shade or take a nap by the water, especially if you’re visiting the lake with children or pets.
  • Blankets. Ideal for lounging on the ground, picnicking, or wrapping up in cooler evenings, blankets can definitely make your lakeside experience a more comfortable one!
  • Trash bags. Be a good citizen of Mother Nature and plan ahead for your trash. Taking a trash bag or two with you prevents the lake from getting contaminated with garbage.
  • First aid kit. A first aid kit is always good to have with you on any outdoor adventure. At the very least, you should have band-aids, aspirin, and motion sickness medication readily available.

Pro-tip: If you’re staying at a vacation rental for your lake trip, ask the host if folding chairs and beach mats are available for use to save space in your luggage.

For the Water

When it comes to lake gear for the water, this will largely depend on what’s available to you. A few fun lake toys include paddleboards and kayaks. Of course, you can never go wrong with a boat or a jet ski, but we know those aren’t always the most accessible. However, anyone can get their hands on these lake essentials for the water:

  • Inflatable floaties. If you ask us, the best lake toys that most people can get access to are inflatable floats. These affordable lake toys allow you to hang out in the water without exerting too much energy on swimming (without breaking the bank on a boat rental). It’s helpful to find floaties that have a loop for a rope so that you and your lake buddies can share one rope and stay close to one another.
  • A pump. Unless you plan to inflate the floaties manually, a pump can help you get that done much more quickly and efficiently.
  • Life jackets. Lakes are subject to strong currents and unexpected drop-offs, so it’s always best to wear a life jacket if you’re not confident in your swimming abilities. If you’re swimming with kids, each kid should definitely have their own life jacket!

Lake Trip Inspiration

If you’re itching for a lake trip but not sure where to go, here are a few of our favorites from the West Coast to the East Coast and everything in between.

Big Bear Lake, California

Nestled in the San Bernardino Mountains of Southern California, Big Bear Lake is a picturesque alpine retreat that offers a stunning natural playground for outdoor enthusiasts and vacationers alike. This pristine freshwater lake is surrounded by towering pine trees and boasts year-round recreational opportunities.

Just a short walk from shops, restaurants, and a movie theater, this six-bedroom luxury home gives you the best of both worlds: proximity to town and stunning lake views from the patio. This upscale property features a hot tub, outdoor kitchen, and fire pit so that you can relax and take in the scenery. When you’re looking for a bit of competition, shoot pool, shuffleboard, or poker in the game room. Experience the unforgettable with family and friends at this Big Bear Village home!

Torch Lake, Michigan

Renowned for its crystal-clear, unbelievably turquoise waters, Torch Lake is the second-largest inland lake in Michigan and stands out as one of the most stunning glacial lakes in the United States. Torch Lake’s breathtaking hues are due to its remarkable depth and the purity of its waters. With its lush natural surroundings, vibrant aquatic life, and tranquil ambiance, Torch Lake captures the heart and soul of Northern Michigan’s scenic beauty and outdoor recreation.

Enjoy stunning lake views from this property’s spacious balcony, spend time relaxing on the private pier, or launch kayaks and rafts from the shore. Whether you plan to take in the region’s breathtaking fall colors, or just spend some time on the lake, you’ll find plenty of fun and relaxation with this Torch Lake property.

Lake Murray, South Carolina

Nestled in the heart of South Carolina, Lake Murray is a captivating gem of natural beauty and a recreational haven. With its pristine, shimmering waters and over 600 miles of scenic shoreline, Lake Murray offers an array of activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, and picnicking. The lake is also home to Dreher Island State Park, a tranquil sanctuary where camping, hiking, and wildlife observation opportunities abound. Whether you’re seeking tranquility in nature or an action-packed day on the water, Lake Murray invites all to experience its serene charm and abundant recreational opportunities.

This vacation rental offers a private and serene setting on a five-acre lot surrounded by magnificent views of the lake. Guests can enjoy the spacious living area, dining area, kitchen, and 42-foot screened porch with a dining table and seating areas. An outside deck with a picnic table and gas grill is also available for those who wish to enjoy the stunning views. With its close proximity to Columbia, Lexington, and Irmo, this property is perfect for family gatherings, weekend getaways, and summer trips to the lake.

Lake Anna, Virginia

With its clear waters and nearly 200 miles of winding shoreline, Lake Anna beckons outdoor enthusiasts with activities like boating, fishing, jet-skiing, and swimming. The lake is also surrounded by lush state parks such as Lake Anna State Park, where visitors can explore hiking trails, have picnics, or simply relax by the water’s edge. Additionally, Lake Anna has earned a reputation as a top fishing spot, boasting a diverse range of species that entice anglers year-round.

This property provides all the comforts you could need for an unforgettable escape. Take advantage of the garden, as well as the nearby cycling trails, or hang out at the sandy beach and docks for fishing. With plenty of room for up to 16 guests — plus games and a kid’s playroom — there’s something here for everyone!

Discover the Best Lake House Rentals in the U.S.

Ready to embark on your dream lake getaway? With a vast selection of stunning lakefront properties and a commitment to providing the ultimate vacation experience, you can ensure every moment by the water is a moment well spent.