8 Great Boating Destinations for Your Summer Road Trip

Written by Zuzana Prochazka
April 19, 2023

Last Updated on April 20, 2023 by Boatsetter Team

Summertime and road trips go hand-in-hand like jam on a warm butter biscuit. And with most of the top destinations touching spangling bodies of water, boating should be a natural addition to your itinerary! Here are eight great boating destinations that have vibrant waters (and plenty of boat rentals to choose from!): 

  1. Seattle, WA to Portland, OR
  2. San Francisco, CA to San Diego, CA 
  3. Mead, Havasu, and Powell 
  4. Chicago, IL to Milwaukee, WI to Green Bay, WI 
  5. Austin, TX to Houston, TX to South Padre Island, TX
  6. Boston, MA to Newport, RI
  7. Baltimore, MD, to Norfolk, VA
  8. Fort Lauderdale, FL to Key West, FL

Explore available Boat Rentals this summer! 


1. Pacific Northwest– Seattle to Portland

San Juan Islands

You’ll find island-hopping, pine trees, and killer whales in the serene waters of the Pacific Northwest. Rent a pontoon and visit the San Juan Islands most popular locations (Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor, and Haro Strait), where the sea life swims to you. Then head east to Lake Chelan, and stock up on snacks, water, and beverages. Continue south to Portland, Oregon, and the Columbia River Gorge, or spend the day angling on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers.


2. Pacific Coast Highway– San Francisco to San Diego

pacific coast highway

The incredible Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) is a drive recognized around the world. Explore San Francisco by sailing the bay. You can catch all of the must-see locations like the Golden Gate Bridge and Point Bonita Lighthouse, from the water. 

Then head south to Monterey Bay, where you have Carmel Beach and can see the historical Clinton Walker house from your boat. Make sure to pack a picnic for a boating outing on the Bay. Carry on down the coast setting up stops at Santa Barbara, the Channel Islands, and finally, Los Angeles where you’ll find the country’s busiest port, Long Beach. 

Three more scenic waterfront destinations will take you southbound to Huntington Harbor, Newport Beach, and Dana Point– all places you can get out on the water. If you’re feeling adventurous book a boat with a captain for a Catalina Island trip. Finally, wrap up your coastal odyssey in San Diego Bay with its miles of beaches and great waterfront restaurants.


3. Desert Lakes– Mead, Havasu & Powell

Lake Mead boating

A watery tour of the Southwest must include some well-known lakes, which are a great way to beat the heat in the desert. While in Vegas, stop by Lake Mead to hop on a ski boat, or jet ski, and add fun and velocity to your trip. Check out nearby Lake Havasu and its non-stop party action or take in some spectacular formations on Lake Powell in Arizona. 


4. Great Lakes region 

Isle Royale great lakes

You could spend the entire summer gunkholing around the Great Lakes region. From Chicago and Milwaukee on the Lake Michigan to the posh summer homes of Green Bay, Wisconsin, there’s no shortage of boating destinations in this area. 

The second largest island in the Great Lakes, Isle Royale in Lake Superior, is actually an archipelago of 400 islands with lots of shipwrecks, a great spot for divers. Don’t skip Mackinaw City! You can take a boat out to Mackinac Island on Lake Huron or head south to Detroit on Lake Saint Claire and to Toledo, Ohio on Lake Erie.


5. South Texas– Austin, Houston, & South Padre Island

south padres island texas

Drive the Texas triangle by starting in the fun college town of Austin, where you can boat on Lake Travis and the Colorado River. Then head southeast to Houston for an amazing fishing excursion on the Gulf near Galveston. For a bit of spring break-like fun, check out Corpus Christi and South Padre Island where the fishing is easy, and the Mexican food is authentic.


6. Pacific Northeast– Boston to Newport

boston boating

For a trip long on the adventure but short on miles, start in Boston, where you set sail on a catamaran or charter a luxury yacht (with captain) on Massachusetts Bay. Then head a bit south to Newport, the quintessential boater’s paradise with thousands of coves among historic sites to keep you busy for weeks. 

Each September, Newport also hosts their annual boat show for both power and sail boaters who come to browse boats and eat lobster rolls at the end of summer. Read about 2022 Newport Boat Show. 


7. Chesapeake Bay– Baltimore to Norfolk

Chesapeke Bay

You could spend two weeks circumnavigating the country’s largest estuary, Chesapeake Bay, by land or water. It’s 200 miles long and up to 30 miles wide, with an 11,000-mile shoreline split between Maryland and Virginia. 

Historic and urban cruising is popular since boaters can visit Baltimore, St. Michaels, and the charming water town, Annapolis, without ever leaving the Bay. Rent a boat and explore one of our nation’s most adored bodies of water. 


8. Florida– Fort Lauderdale to Key West

Fort lauderdale to key west

Florida covers a lot of territories, but if you stick to the southeast corner, you’ll still have miles of beaches and fantastic nightlife to enjoy between Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and the Florida Keys

Rent a center console or flats fishing boat and go out for tarpon, tuna, pompano, or bonefish. For longer explorations, charter a sportfisher or cruising yacht and do the run to Bimini or down to Dry Tortugas Park

There are hundreds of road trips you can do around the country, so why not pick some that get you off the road and onto the water and have the best of both worlds? Discover the hottest water-travel destinations this Summer! Find your next trip at Destination Guides and other boating resources here

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