Best places to buy a lake house 2021

Published June 2021

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There are few moments more peaceful than staring into the serene waters of a lake in the early morning hours or as the sun sets over gentle currents in the evening. However, it is those long summer days in between where the real magic happens, as the adventurous spirit takes hold and we find ourselves kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, fishing, and even (dare we say) good old fashioned swimming in fresh water. For vacation rental guests, life on the lake is as good as it gets—especially in the summer months, but year-round as well.

Lake houses are great for all types of travelers, which makes them an ever-popular choice when considering vacation rental real estate. According to a recent study conducted by Vacasa, 78% of vacation home buyers actively in the market say their number one activity in determining a home to purchase is rest and relaxation, followed by 66% seeking a family-friendly retreat and 45% prioritizing water sports and activities. Check, check, and double check.

Read on for our ranking of the Best Places to Buy a Lake House, which is based on cap rate, or the rate of return on your vacation rental investment.

COVID-19 disclaimer: Indoor and outdoor attractions, restaurants, bars, events, and festivals mentioned within local market descriptions may be closed or cancelled, or may have limited service due to COVID-19. Before visiting, you are encouraged to check local regulations for the latest information and should always follow the destination’s guidelines.

The 10 best places to buy a lake house, ranked

Market

Cap rate

Median lake home sale price

1

Wisconsin Dells, WI

6.8%

$154,833

2

Norris Lake, TN

6.2%

$343,907

3

Blue Ridge, GA

6.1%

$290,934

4

Big Bear, CA

6.1%

$312,662

5

Deep Creek Lake, MD

5.7%

$439,367

6

Ellijay, GA

5.4%

$226,280

7

Pagosa Springs, CO

4.8%

$327,181

8

Bear Lake, UT

4.6%

$383,734

9

Chelan, WA

4.3%

$402,250

10

Estes Park, CO

3.8%

$376,111

covered porch with lake view in wisconsin

1. Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

Family-friendly activities abound at our number one Best Place to Buy a Lake House. Wisconsin Dells, named for the mighty Wisconsin River Dells, is a lakefront vacation destination that truly has something for everyone. Guests can take a very short trip—1.5 miles to be exact—to Rocky Arbor State Park—a wooded paradise of sandstone and pine trees ripe with hiking trails, places to picnic, and playgrounds. But parents, prepare yourselves. Wisconsin Dells is also home to Noah’s Ark Water Park, the largest in the United States (which boasts a whopping 51 slides), and Mount Olympus Water and Theme Park, which features a wooden roller coaster with a 143-foot-drop. What won’t drop? Your cap rate, which sits at about 6.8%.

Featured Vacasa lake home: Lakeside Memories

Cap rate

6.8%

Median lake home sale price

$154,833

Median annual gross rental revenue

$26,443

adirondack chairs surround a firepit that overlooks a lake and dock below

2. Norris Lake, Tennessee

If you’re seeking a beautiful lakefront destination with a side of mountain views, look no further than Norris Lake. The area’s 809 miles of shoreline and 34,000+ acres of lake surface provide more than enough space for vacationers to sprawl. And while you’re welcome to throw down a towel and relax, outdoor activities are plentiful—including hiking trails, mountain biking paths, and even places to ride horseback. More of a water sports buff? You’re more than covered with the lake’s 21 marinas, where you can put in to boat, fish, water ski, or simply kick back on your pontoon rental. Buying a vacation home on Norris Lake will put you back approximately $340,000, but you can enjoy a healthy rental income of around $43,000.

Featured Vacasa lakefront home: Ned's Norris Nook

Cap rate

6.2%

Median lake home sale price

$343,907

Median annual gross rental revenue

$42,450

four rocking chairs on a deck face the lake in blue ridge, ga

3. Blue Ridge, Georgia

Blue Ridge just can’t seem to stay off of our Best Places to Buy lists—and for good reason. It’s a mountain biking paradise with many other outdoor activities to offer and a gorgeous backdrop to boot. Lake Blue Ridge is a haven for paddleboarders and kayakers, but area homeowners have the added benefits of the Ocoee and Toccoa rivers, where vacation rental guests can take to the waters for epic whitewater rafting and tubing adventures. Head into downtown Blue Ridge after a day outdoors to explore the area’s craft breweries, wineries, restaurants, galleries, and upscale boutiques. Given all Blue Ridge has to offer its homeowners and guests, it’s no wonder it has a healthy cap rate of 6.1%.

Featured Vacasa lakefront cabin: Deepwater Lodge

Cap rate

6.1%

Median lake home sale price

$290,934

Median annual gross rental revenue

$38,266

private hot tub near cabin in big bear lake, ca

4. Big Bear, California

While plenty of guests flock to Big Bear in the winter months to hit the slopes at the ski resort, it’s also an incredibly popular destination for those summertime lakebound travelers. The average temperature sits around 78 degrees in the summer months, and when paired with that crisp mountain air, guests can’t get enough as they hit the water to kayak, canoe, paddleboard, or just relax on a rented pontoon boat. For those looking to trek on two wheels, Big Bear is also home to one of the best places for road cycling and mountain biking, with hundreds of miles of trails and a downhill adventure park. Smaller kiddos can enjoy places to explore like the Big Bear Alpine Zoo or the Big Bear Discovery Center. With endless possibilities and a median home price of around $312,000, it’s no wonder why Big Bear comes in at #4 on our list.

Featured Vacasa cabin: Boulder Bay Cabin

Cap rate

6.1%

Median lake home sale price

$312,662

Median annual gross rental revenue

$38,913

deck facing lake in maryland

5. Deep Creek Lake, Maryland

Waterfront vacation homes are plentiful in Deep Creek Lake, but another truly delightful perk is the restaurants that line the water—complete with docks for boating straight to dinner after a day of water sports like wake surfing, waterskiing, or even tubing. Quieter waters can be found in the lake’s many coves, where you’ll find paddleboarders taking advantage of the morning’s still waters. In the afternoon, expect kids and adults alike going completely gear-free and swimming in the deep blue water. If you happen to catch a summer storm that lasts more than a few minutes, indoor attractions can be found throughout town and are perfect for curious families. Vacation homes in Deep Creek Lake will cost you a bit more at around $439,000, but an average vacation rental income of $51,000 will help offset costs.

Featured Vacasa lakeview condo: Owl's Landing

Cap rate

5.7%

Median lake home sale price

$439,367

Median annual gross rental revenue

$51,031

bright interior of Ellijay, GA vacation cabin

6. Ellijay, Georgia

There are a million activities that make Ellijay so special—from apple picking to tastings at small-batch wineries to leaf peeping in the fall. But before all of those late summer activities kick into high gear, there is one activity that is a time-honored summer Ellijay tradition: tubing, floating, or otherwise bumbling down the water (via lake or river). With several bodies of water lining the area, guests can choose from a variety of settings for each day of their vacation, but Carters Lake is truly something special, with its sparkling waters and rugged Georgia shoreline. Whether you pack your picnic for a lakeside lunch or to take in while cruising on a pontoon, Carters will provide the perfect backdrop for those photo-dump IG posts.

Featured Vacasa home: The Cardinal

Cap rate

5.4%

Median lake home sale price

$226,280

Median annual gross rental revenue

$29,612

adorable interior of Pagosa Springs vacation home

7. Pagosa Springs, Colorado

Another destination that offers not one, but several bodies of water to be enjoyed is Southwest Colorado’s Pagosa Springs. Lake Pagosa and Echo Lake are most revered for fishing opportunities, while those who may seek a more quiet stroll or hike will find their spot at Williams Creek Reservoir. However, this is Colorado, which means that essentially any outdoor activity is available—from horseback riding to fat biking to disc golf and whitewater rafting. A vacation home in Pagosa will set buyers back approximately $327,000, but with the year-round activity available for guests, you can expect bookings throughout all four seasons.

Featured Vacasa home: Pagosa Glow

Cap rate

4.8%

Median lake home sale price

$327,181

Median annual gross rental revenue

$33,012

light and neutral hues decorate a Garden City, UT vacation home

8. Bear Lake, Utah

The brilliant blue water found at Bear Lake is enough to draw in any lake-loving guest, but fewer know how the water maintains its gorgeous color that earned it the title “The Caribbean of the Rockies.” According to the Bear Lake website, it’s due to the calcium carbonate suspended in the water that keeps the lake a sparkling blue-green hue, making it one of Utah’s (and Idaho’s) major attractions. The marina is open year-round for guests to take to the water for boating, sailing, fishing, and—of course—the area’s famous raspberry shakes, which can be enjoyed on various beaches that surround the lake. The area’s sandy beaches are perfect for sunning while taking in the spectacular views. A home on Bear Lake offers a 4.6% cap rate and the median home cost hovers around $383,000.

Featured Vacasa lakeview home: Marina View at Daisy Bay

Cap rate

4.6%

Median lake home sale price

$383,734

Median annual gross rental revenue

$35,681

Furnished deck with lake views in Manson, WA

9. Chelan, Washington

With an infusion of guests coming from Seattle and Spokane, Washington (as well as just about every other area of the Pacific Northwest), Chelan sits proudly at number 9 on our Best Places to Buy a Lake House list. While some may expect it to rank higher on our lake-themed list, it’s important to remember we’re looking at cap rate—Chelan’s 4.3% holds steady, as homes run just over $400,000 in this market. Guests travel to Lake Chelan year-round to experience the beauty of the roughly 50-mile lake, surrounded by quintessential small towns, vineyards, and mountains. A major attraction is Chelan’s Evening Farmers Market along the Riverwalk, where locals and guests can pick up just about anything they need to prepare a fresh feast.

Featured Vacasa lakeview home: Wapato Point Paradise Point

Cap rate

4.3%

Median lake home sale price

$402,250

Median annual gross rental revenue

$37,892

Backyard with rock landscaping in Estes Park

10. Estes Park, Colorado

Another Colorado playground rounds out our top 10 list. Estes Park, located in the northern part of the state, is home to Lake Estes and some of the best and most varied fishing in Rocky Mountain National Park. Bait and fly fishermen as well as spincasters can be found lining the lake throughout the prime summer months, though ice fishing is allowed in the winter as well. And for those whose travel companions have four legs, Estes Park has several dog-friendly trails so you can make memories (and take all the photos) with your furry friends. Your Estes Park vacation rental will sit in the neighborhood of $376,000.

Featured Vacasa home: Running Bear in the Rockies #6145

Cap rate

3.8%

Median lake home sale price

$376,111

Median annual gross rental revenue

$31,377

Our methodology

To determine its ranking of top vacation rental markets, Vacasa and its licensed subsidiaries (collectively "Vacasa") analyzed home sales data from the last twelve months for vacation destinations throughout the country, and overlaid it with actual performance data for thousands of U.S. vacation rental properties. Vacasa utilizes data from the markets where it actively operates vacation rentals to ensure accuracy of performance. To calculate average cap rate, we considered the averages of the following in each market: property taxes, utilities, HOA fees, insurance, and property management fees.

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Vacasa offers property management and other real estate services directly through Vacasa LLC and through Vacasa LLC's licensed subsidiaries. Click here for more information about Vacasa's licensed real estate brokerage/property manager in your state. Vacasa’s licensed real estate brokerages/property managers include: Vacasa Alabama LLC; Vacasa Arizona LLC; Vacasa Delaware LLC, 302-541-8999; Vacasa Florida LLC; Vacasa Louisiana LLC, Dana MacCord, Principal Broker, ph 504.252.0155 (Licensed in LA); Vacasa Michigan LLC, 947-800-5979; Vacasa Missouri LLC, Susan Scanlon, Designated Broker; Vacasa Nevada LLC; Vacasa New Hampshire LLC, P.O. Box 283, Conway NH 03818, Dave Grant, Broker of Record; Vacasa New Mexico LLC, 503-345-9399; Vacasa New York LLC, 888-433-0068, Susan E. Scanlon, Real Estate Broker; Vacasa North Carolina LLC; Vacasa Pennsylvania LLC; Vacasa Real Estate Corporation, California DRE #02105811, Joseph Czapkowicz, California DRE #01380722; Vacation Palm Springs Real Estate, Inc., California DRE #01523013, Joseph Czapkowicz, California DRE #01380722; Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Colorado, Daned Kirkham); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Idaho and Oregon); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Tennessee, 615-671-9916); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Texas, Debra Brock, Designated Broker); Vacasa Real Estate LLC (licensed in Washington, Robert Brush, Designated Broker); Vacasa South Carolina LLC; Vacasa Tennessee LLC; Vacasa Vacation Rentals of Hawaii LLC, 3350 Lower Honoapiilani Road, Suite 600, Lahaina, HI 96761; Vacasa Vacation Rentals of Montana LLC, Patrice Tompkins, Licensed Property Manager; Vacasa Virginia LLC; Vacasa Wisconsin LLC; Vacasa Wyoming LLC. In Canada, this advertisement is provided by Vacasa Canada ULC, CPBC lic. number 75826, 172 Asher Rd. V1X 3H6 Kelowna, BC.

*This document is for information and illustrative purposes only. It is not intended to provide “investment advice” or a “recommendation” regarding a course of action. The discussion is general in nature and has not taken into account your personal financial position or objectives. You should consult a licensed financial advisor or other professional to discuss your specific situation.

Estimated rental income figures and home sale prices are based on historical averages; for any specific property, the actual revenue, purchase price, and cap rate may differ materially from estimated amounts and depend on a wide range of factors outside Vacasa's knowledge or control, such as the property's condition, layout, and furnishings; expenses associated with the acquisition and ownership of the property (such as property taxes, utility fees, HOA fees, insurance fees, and mortgage-related expenses); rental calendar availability; existing and future regulations; current and future economic, social, and political trends and conditions; and weather and environmental factors. These estimates do not take into account the potential impact of state income taxes.

Many locations restrict or impose conditions on the use of properties as vacation rentals, or restrict vacation rentals to certain defined areas. Before purchasing a particular property as a potential vacation rental a buyer should confirm that the property can legally be used for this purpose.

Vacasa makes no representations or warranties, express or implied, about the accuracy of this document. Furthermore, Vacasa has no obligation to update, modify or amend this document or to otherwise notify users in the event that any opinion, assumption, forecast or estimate set forth herein changes or subsequently becomes inaccurate. Therefore, you should not place undue reliance on statements in this document.