Nothing says summertime bliss like hanging out in a lake town, watching the glowing sun set in the company of friends and family, sightseeing, visiting the local farmers market for fresh veggies and kicking back in a cozy cabin.
“At a time when many Americans are trying to manage life under lockdown, a home where you can enjoy the outdoors is looking more and more appealing—not just as a weekend-only getaway, but potentially for year-round living, if you have the ability to work remotely,” said realtor.com housing expert Cicely Wedgeworth.
Realtor.com has rounded up its list of the most affordable lake towns where you can find a home that is either directly on a lake or close enough to get a great view. Although some of these homes are pricier than many homes across the country, they offer the chance to get a waterfront property, and with hurricane season upon us, perhaps a safer location than an oceanfront home.
Many of these towns also offer summer and winter activities, which can make them year-round destinations. The presence of water-based activities and attractions was one of the main ranking factors for this list.
“Although offerings vary by location, you’re likely to find options for boating, fishing and paddle boarding,” said Wedgeworth. “The lakes themselves aren’t the only appeal. When on dry land, you might hit a casino (Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania) or theme park (Branson, Missouri), tubing or go-karting (Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin), or enjoy strolling through the shops and restaurants of a historic district (Vermilion, Ohio).”
For some vacation homeowners, renting out their property has meant accepting the fact that a booking could possibly entail more risk than reward during the coronavirus pandemic.
“In the past, many people have viewed buying a vacation home as a combination of a family amenity and a revenue opportunity,” said Wedgeworth. “These days, with fears of Covid, some may not like the idea of opening their home to outsiders and possibly investing more money in cleaning. However, for those who are willing to rent out their vacation homes, there is a greater demand for such getaways, particularly if they are within driving distance of a larger metro.”
The data team at realtor.com ran the numbers to come up with these affordable lake towns.
1. Chestertown, New York
Median lake home price: $493,900
This Southern Adirondack lake town is home to just 515 residents. While it’s not a vacation hot spot, it’s just as beautiful as many nearby lake towns for a lot less cash. The small lakes around Chestertown have been booming with second home buyers this year, who make up about 80% of the real estate market. It’s very close to pricier Lake George as well as Gore Mountain Ski Resort.
Those who want to own property right on the water should expect to spend at least $500,000, such as this $725,000 three-bedroom home. But buyers willing to share rights could find a home starting in the $300,000 range, like this three-bedroom log cabin with a deeded dock on private Friends Lake listed at $339,000.
2. Branson, Missouri
Median lake home price: $444,900
Branson’s usually-packed Silver Dollar City theme park, Dolly Parton’s Stampede and live country music shows may not be nearly as appealing during the pandemic as they have been in summers past, but there’s plenty of opportunity to distance from strangers across the area’s many lakes.
The 43,000 acres of Table Rock Lake is perfect for paddleboarding, kayaking or boating. Trout fishing is popular on Lake Taneycomo. Single-family homes on the water start in the high $300,000s to low $400,000 range, such as this four-bedroom on 2.31 acres listed at $410,000 or this three-bedroom on the market for $399,000.
3. Glen Arbor, Michigan
Median lake home price: $390,000
Glen Arbor is nestled between Lake Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Bay and the Glen Lakes. This small two-bedroom on the bay is listed for $1,850,000. There are less costly options, such as this two-bedroom with views of the lake and Crystal River listed for $410,000.
4. Chelan, Washington
Median lake home price: $549,500
Just a three-hour drive east of Seattle, this high desert town is the sunny escape from the rain and clouds of the coastal Pacific Northwest. During the summer months, visitors and locals cruise along the shores of the 55-mile-long body of Lake Chelan, sailing, wakeboarding or paddling past historic cabins and vineyards. Winter activities include snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.
Chelan offers housing options at a wide range of price points. Waterfront condos start in the mid 300’s like this two-bedroom listed at $349,000. Homes with private access to the water from their backdoors are more costly, such as this four-bedroom listed at $1,997,000.
5. Gouldsboro, Pennsylvania
Median lake home price: $371,500
Located in Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountain range, Gouldsboro is a close weekend trip for New Yorkers and New Jerseyians. The area offers hiking, skiing and gambling at the casinos. For many looking to escape the city, it became a great place this summer to social distance and enjoy the outdoors.
6. Vermilion, Ohio
Median lake home price: $557,800
Vermilion has long been one of the most beloved beach towns on the south shore of Lake Erie. Visitors flock to “Harbour Town” for a New England-style getaway without stepping foot out of the Midwest. It boasts quaint shops and restaurants that surround the town square and plenty of locals who like to watch the passers-by as they sip beverages on their front porches.
Here buyers can find a lake home for under $200,000, if they are willing to make some renovations, such as this $175,000 four-bedroom across the street from the beach. However, those who want a waterfront view should expect to spend $400,000 and up, such as this lakefront two-bedroom with a rooftop deck listed for $499,999.
7. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Median lake home price: $437,000
This rural Wisconsin getaway attracts water lovers from across the upper Midwest with its two local rivers, popular manmade Lake Delton and around a dozen other bodies of water with nice homes set right on the shoreline.
Halfway between Minneapolis and Chicago, the area has become a popular year-round destination for urbanites seeking an escape from city life. In the summer, families wakeboard, tube and fish on the lakes and rivers. In the winter, it is a haven for ice fishing and the indoor water parks are open throughout the year.
Buyers can find three-season cottages on the water that need some fixing up starting in the $100,000 range, like this two-bedroom ranch with river access listed for $125,000. Condos start as low as $40,000. Here’s a $55,000 one-bedroom unit.
8. Spirit Lake, Iowa
Median lake home price: $792,000
Midwesterners travel from near and far to relax in the gorgeous bodies of water that dot the tourist towns of Okoboji and Spirit Lake. The family-friendly area boasts water sports and a drive-in movie theater in the summer months with plenty of hockey, ice fishing and other outdoor winter sports during the colder parts of the year.
It’s possible to get a single-family home right on one of the smaller lakes in the $100,000 range, like this three-bedroom on Center Lake for $119,800. Those who want to be on one of the larger bodies of water like East Okoboji Lake should expect to pay more, such as this five-bedroom on the market for $289,000.
9. Ely, Minnesota
Median lake home price: $604,900
Tucked way up in northern Minnesota, Ely is secluded and full of pristine lakes and unspoiled forests. It’s perfect for outdoor recreation with acres to hike and canoe. The top tourist attractions are the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center.
For anyone who wants some waterfront privacy, this certainly is the place. Buyers can get a home and land, such as this $225,000 one-bedroom log cabin overlooking Shagawa Lake. And for $800,000, it’s possible to buy a cabin on a private island.
10. Hot Springs Village, Arkansas
Median lake home price: $627,800
Hot Springs Village is the largest gated community in the United States. The 26,000-acre census-designated place boasts nine golf courses, dozens of restaurants, 14,000 residents and 11 lakes with plenty of single-family houses and townhomes on the shores. Residents, many of whom move to the village for retirement, spend their days paddleboarding, fishing and swimming in the lakes or walking along 30 miles of forested trails.
Waterfront townhomes start in the mid-$100,000s, like this three-bedroom for $168,000. Buyers willing to spend a bit more can find huge spreads like this three-bedroom on more than an acre of property right on the edge of Lake Desoto listed for $454,900.