15 Best Lakes in Nebraska

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
Our travel recommendations are based on our personal experiences and research, written by locals and travel experts with deep familiarity with the destination. When you book a hotel or tour that we link to, we may earn a commission.

The only state in the country that is triply landlocked, Nebraska lies in the Great Plains and the Midwestern United States. The Missouri River makes up its eastern border, while the eastern half of the state is made up of hills. The western half of Nebraska is predominately prairies.

Nebraska is best known for its fabulous beef and for being the birthplace of Kool Aid, with many tourists coming for these things alone. But there is plenty of natural scenery, what with the three rivers that flow through it; the Platte River, the Niobrara River and the Republican River. It is also home to numerous historic trails, forests and lakes. If you ever find yourself visiting the Cornhusker State, be sure to visit at least one of the 15 best lakes in Nebraska.

1. Lake McConaughy; Keith County

Lake McConaughy, NebraskaSource: Bonita R. Cheshier / shutterstock
Lake McConaughy

Named after grain merchant and former Mayor Charles W. McConaughy, this is the largest lake in the entire state! The 14,400 hectare lake lies on the edge of the Nebraska Sandhills and was created by the construction of the Kingsley Dam.

Lake McConaughy sits along the North Platte River, offering excellent fishing, boating and camping. It is also known for its fantastic windsurfing, water skiing and swimming, and is even a known diving site.

There are some lovely white sand beaches along its shoreline, as well as numerous picnic areas. Those that want to spend the night can either go camping or splurge and stay at a lakeside lodge.

2. Lake Wanahoo; Saunders County

Lake WanahooSource: culturalrelic / shutterstock
Lake Wanahoo

Lake Wanahoo is a fairly new reservoir, being built in the 1990s to control flooding. Today, in addition to being used for flood control, the lake is a popular recreation site.

The Lake Wanahoo State Recreation Area is located on the north end of the 260 hectare lake. It is a small lake, but it offers canoeing, kayaking, boating and fishing.

Also in the recreation area are places to have a picnic and camping grounds. There is a trail that encircles the lake that is great for hiking or cycling.

3. Lewis and Clark Lake; Cedar County

Gavins Point Dam, Lewis and Clark LakeSource: Patrick Ziegler / shutterstock
Gavins Point Dam, Lewis And Clark Lake

This 13,000 hectare lake sits along the Nebraska- South Dakota border on the northeast corner of the state. Lewis and Clark Lake is a popular tourist destination, with over one million visitors coming to the lake each year.

Camping is one of the most popular things to do here, especially for horse owners. There are numerous horse trails, as well as camping facilities for your horse.

The Lakeview Golf Course sits at the very east end of the lake on the Nebraska side, while the Miller Creek Recreation Area is near the very west end of it. There are also a few other recreation areas along the Nebraska side of the lake.

4. Harlan County Reservoir; Harlan & Phillips Counties

FishingSource: Vladimir Kayukov / shutterstock

This reservoir and dam sits along the Republican River in south-central Nebraska. The 5,360 hectare lake is a popular destination for locals as well as tourists.

Harlan County Reservoir is the second largest lake in the state, making it a great place for enjoying water sports. It is also a good fishing spot, having loads of walleye, catfish, wipers, crappie, white bass and pike.

Photographers and nature lovers will find the lake’s shoreline is a haven for wildlife sightings, particularly beaver, whitetail deer, little blue heron and bald eagles. Also along its 120 kilometres of shoreline are over 500 camping sites.

5. Glenn Cunningham Lake; Douglas County

Glenn Cunningham LakeSource: DAVID W FROST / shutterstock
Glenn Cunningham Lake

Located at the very north end of the city of Omaha, Glenn Cunningham Lake is named after former mayor and U.S. Congressman Glenn C. Cunningham. The 160 hectare lake is surrounded by parkland and designated as a wildlife area.

Glenn Cunningham Lake opened in 1977 and since then has been popularly used for sailing and kayaking. The lake only allows no-wake boating, making it a tranquil place to spend a day.

The Glenn Cunningham Lake Park surrounds the lake, featuring paths for horseback riding, hiking and cycling. There are also camping grounds and a boat launch at the south end of the lake.

6. Carter Lake; Douglas County

Carter LakeSource: Nick McCready / shutterstock
Carter Lake

This shallow oxbow lake is located just east of the city of Omaha and shared with the neighbouring state of Iowa. Carter Lake was formed in 1877 and was once a channel of the Missouri River.

Today, the lake sits just west of the river next to the Eppley Airfield. It is surrounded by the Carter Lake Park, which offers plenty of recreational activities.

There are basketball courts, baseball fields, football fields, paths, a pavilion and picnic areas within the park. The lake itself offers fishing, water-skiing and boating.

7. Conestoga Lake; Lancaster County

Conestoga Lake, NebraskaSource: Nick McCready / shutterstock
Conestoga Lake

Owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Conestoga Lake is a popular recreational area. The lake sits just southwest of the city of Lincoln.

Visitors come to the lake to go camping, picnicking and fishing. There is also a playground, a boat ramp and fire pits surrounding the 93 hectare lake.

The entire lake is surrounded by the Conestoga Lake State Recreation Area. A permit is needed to enter the area.

8. Pibel Lake; Wheeler County

Pibel LakeSource: Morgan Ritz / shutterstock
Pibel Lake

This 29 hectare lake is a hidden oasis set in a small valley on the edge of the Sandhills. It is surrounded by cottonwood trees and an abundance of wildlife.

Pibel Lake is part of the Pibel Lake State Recreation Area, which offers primitive camping, picnicking and no-wake boating. It is also a popular lake for fishing thanks to its largemouth bass, bluegills and channel catfish.

This is a great place to visit to get away from it all and breathe in the fresh air. Its secluded location means that it is not a very busy lake, which just adds to its appeal.

9. Morning Star Lake; Merrick County

Morning Star LakeSource: dlsrcorp / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
Morning Star Lake

Located in the village of Clarks, Morning Star Lake sits just to the east of the Platte River in the central part of Nebraska. The lake is part of the gated ‘Summerwood’ community, though it is open to the public.

Morning Star Lake is spring fed and features clear water. Its shoreline is home to around 40 private homes, some of which can be rented.

The best time to visit is on the Fourth of July when there is a community celebration. Regardless, anyone can visit the lake, but to be able to go boating, water skiing or jet skiing you must be a guest at one of the properties.

10. Branched Oak Lake; Lancaster County

Branched Oak LakeSource: Daniel Stephen Hakes / shutterstock
Branched Oak Lake

Part of the Branched Oak State Recreational Area, this 700 hectare lake is the largest of the 20 Salt Valley Lakes. It is a popular recreation area, where visitors can enjoy a plethora of activities.

Fishing, boating and camping are the most popular things to do here, although hiking and horseback riding are also offered. The lake also features two swimming beaches.

There is a marina within the recreation area as well as nine ramps and 49 docks. Primitive and modern camping is offered, as is equestrian camping.

11. Merritt Reservoir; Cherry County

Merritt ReservoirSource: Ammodramus / Wikimedia | CC0
Merritt Reservoir

This picturesque reservoir is located in a valley and surrounded by the Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area. It is a deep lake that offers superb fishing and boating.

All types of boats are permitted on Merritt Reservoir, with five boat ramps giving access to it. There are also over 200 picnic tables and 190 grills within the surrounding recreation area.

Tourists that wish to spend more time at the tranquil lake can stay at a room at the lakeside resort or at one of its camping sites. There are also 38 public campsites surrounding the lake, some of which offer electric hook-up.

12. Calamus Reservoir; Loup County

WindsurfingSource: Popartic / shutterstock

Calamus Reservoir is part of the Calamus State Recreation Area, which offers numerous recreational activities. Boating, canoeing, water skiing, fishing and windsurfing are just some of the things that can be enjoyed here.

Calamus State Recreation Area is a haven for outdoor lovers, with bird watching, wildlife viewing and hiking being offered. There are also over 200 picnic tables and over 215 grills that can be used.

Its 90 kilometre shoreline features a swimming beach, boat ramps and numerous camping sites. There are also two marinas, bait shops and boat rentals.

13. Wehrspann Lake; Sarpy County

Wehrspann LakeSource: MONGO / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 3.0
Wehrspann Lake

Wehrspann Lake is located just 19 kilometres west of Omaha’s city centre. The lake and its surrounding Chalco Hills Recreation Area is the city’s most popular outdoor recreation facility.

Although the reservoir was originally built for flood control, today it is a prime fishing spot. Anglers come throughout the entire year to fish for channel catfish, walleye, crappie, sunfish and largemouth bass.

Around the lake’s eight kilometre shoreline are nature trails, picnic areas, football fields and two playgrounds. There is also a hiking and cycling trail encircling the lake.

14. Fremont Lakes; Dodge County

Fremont LakesSource: Mark Metzler Digital Art / shutterstock
Fremont Lakes

There is not one, but 20 lakes that make up the Fremont Lakes, all of which are park of the Fremont State Recreation Area. Combined, there are nearly 120 hectares of water here to enjoy.

Water and outdoor enthusiasts flock to the area to enjoy a wide range of activities. These include water skiing, fishing, boating and swimming.

There are several picnic areas within the recreation area to spend an afternoon, as well as concession stands to pick up snacks and fishing supplies. There are also 240 primitive campsites and 190 sites for motorhomes.

15. Lake Minatare; Scotts Bluff County

Lighthouse at Lake MinatareSource: Jeff Scholtz / shutterstock
Lighthouse at Lake Minatare

This 873 hectare lake sits within the Lake Minatare State Recreation Area. It is the Panhandle’s largest body of water, attracting thousands of visitors each year from all over the state and beyond.

Lake Minatare is also part of the North Platte Wildlife Refuge, so it is a haven for waterfowl and other wildlife. This makes it extremely attractive to birdwatchers and nature lovers.

Anglers visit in in spring and summer to catch walleyes, channel catfish, crappie, white bass and pike. It is also a great place for water skiing, sailing, windsurfing and swimming.

15 Best Lakes in Nebraska:

  • Lake McConaughy; Keith County
  • Lake Wanahoo; Saunders County
  • Lewis and Clark Lake; Cedar County
  • Harlan County Reservoir; Harlan & Phillips Counties
  • Glenn Cunningham Lake; Douglas County
  • Carter Lake; Douglas County
  • Conestoga Lake; Lancaster County
  • Pibel Lake; Wheeler County
  • Morning Star Lake; Merrick County
  • Branched Oak Lake; Lancaster County
  • Merritt Reservoir; Cherry County
  • Calamus Reservoir; Loup County
  • Wehrspann Lake; Sarpy County
  • Fremont Lakes; Dodge County
  • Lake Minatare; Scotts Bluff County