Sure, you could rent a lakeside cabin or a beach house again for your next vacation. But why not bring those watery vistas full circle by renting a houseboat in a spectacular U.S. location instead?
A houseboat may not first come to mind as your typical vacation rental. But you’ll find them listed on websites like Airbnb and VRBO as well as niche sites like Houseboating.org, to name a few, with onboard amenities that range from kayaks and bicycles to waterslides twisting down from the top deck.
There’s a lot to love about renting a floating home for a night or longer, with everything you need onboard to cook for yourself (BYO groceries) and sleep comfortably—whether you leave the dock or not. And houseboats often rent for far less than land-based homes in popular vacation destinations like Florida, California, and Minnesota.
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But before you book a houseboat, there are a few things to consider.
When a houseboat rental says it sleeps a certain number of people, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone gets a cabin. Dinettes onboard usually convert to a bed, so a houseboat’s common space and galley is fair game for sleeping quarters, too.
If your houseboat doesn’t come with smaller watercraft onboard—like SUPs and kayaks—you might want to consider renting them, so you can paddle off to explore tight waterways or just get in some exercise during your trip.
If you have a valid unrestricted driver’s license, you can rent and captain a houseboat—there’s no particular boating license needed to take the helm. The location you rent from will most likely walk you through the basics onboard and take you for a test spin, too, so you can be sure you feel comfortable operating the houseboat. Then it’s off cruising you go.
Houseboat rentals are extremely popular around the U.S. during the summer months, so be sure to book with as much advance notice as possible. Read on for some of the best places for a houseboat vacation across the U.S.
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Sutton Lake, West Virginia
Sutton Lake has 40 miles of shoreline to explore and clear waters to swim in backed by forested hills, with hundreds of coves to moor in for a night under the inky skies of central West Virginia. There are no commercial developments or homes on the lake, and it’s surrounded by public lands home to white-tailed deer, turkeys, and ruffed grouse (there are even rumors that a Bigfoot-type creature roams these forests, so keep an eye out). Sutton Lake Marina has three 59-foot deluxe houseboats for rent, each with an upper deck with a waterslide, a gas grill, and four queen beds to sleep eight people.
Wolf River, Wisconsin
The Great Lakes—and hundreds of other interior lakes—tend to take the watery spotlight in the natural playground that is Wisconsin, where escaping to a lakefront cabin for the glorious summer months is most definitely a thing. But you might want to pass on a cabin in favor of a house boating vacation along the Wolf River near Fremont, Wisconsin, where you can cruise into surrounding lakes like Lake Poygan and Lake Winnebago near Oshkosh and pretty little Partridge Lake, just upstream. Anchor Point Marina rents no-frills houseboats that can sleep up to 10 people.
St. Johns River, Florida
Central Florida’s St. Johns River—which, along with the Nile, is among the very few rivers in the world that run north—is a spectacular waterway for renting a houseboat and exploring (do watch out for alligators on the river banks, however). Make sure you make it to Silver Glen Springs, as far north as most rental companies allow their boats to go, where the water turns turquoise blue and crystal clear for swimming. Among the houseboats for rent at Holly Bluff Marina in Deland is the 60-foot-long Silver Glen, which sleeps ten people and has spacious interior lounges as well as a rooftop deck for soaking up the Sunshine State’s abundant vitamin D.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
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Newly designated among the nation’s Dark Sky Parks, Northern Minnesota’s Voyageurs National Park is a place of exceptional natural beauty—pristine waters, towering pines, and a world-class house boating experience are yours to enjoy here. Near the Canadian Border and the Boundary Waters, the park sprawls across five natural lakes, without a single road running through it. Rent a houseboat with an outfitter like Ebel’s Voyageur Houseboats and you can spend your days fishing, picking wild berries, and dipping in the pristine waters. Some of the houseboat models for rent have screened-in porches and decks on all sides, so you can maximize your views of the epic wilderness around you.
Table Rock Lake, Missouri
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House boating on Table Rock Lake in southwest Missouri can be whatever you want it to be—whether that’s restaurant and bar hopping at waterfront locales between dips in the lake, or escaping to more remote reaches of this Ozarks reservoir. Table Rock Lake Houseboat Rentals hires out some of the best houseboats in the Ozarks, including the seven-bedroom Carlyle, which sleeps 16 people and has a waterslide, six-person hot tub, and swimming platform at your disposal.
Erie Canal, New York
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Stretching some 365 miles from Albany, NY to Buffalo, NY and Lake Eerie, the Erie Canal is lined with 19th-century canal towns and modern boat marinas that beg you to set out on a boating adventure. Designed to move in and out of locks and marinas, canal boats (a heartier riff on a houseboat) are available to rent at Erie Macedon Landing—they’re the perfect craft for cruising through landscapes where you can visit the wineries of the Finger Lakes region and shop for Amish quilts in villages said to have inspired Norman Rockwell with their quaint beauty.
Everglades National Park, Florida
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More than one million visitors find their way to Everglades National Park in Florida every year. But it’s safe to say that few of them realize they could venture even deeper into the park’s vast wilderness than its trails allow by renting a houseboat from Flamingo Adventures, located deep inside the park at Flamingo Marina. Cruise aboard the 42-foot houseboat, designed to sleep six people, into Whitewater Bay. Manatees and dolphins are commonly seen here, and fishing for species like tarpon, redfish, and speckled trout is considered world-class.
Lake Billy Chinook, Oregon
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This Central Oregon reservoir spills its beauty into several river canyons and has 72 miles of shoreline. The lake brims with several species of trout and bass and is surrounded by mostly public lands, lending a pristine appeal. You can rent houseboats that sleep between six and 14 people with Lake Billy Chinook Houseboats and spend a few nights—or longer—exploring. The sight of basalt spires towering overhead, soaring eagles, and color-shifting canyon walls are par for the course views in these parts.
Shasta Lake, California
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Less than an hour south of Mt. Shasta in Northern California, Shasta Lake is a favorite California house boating haunt where you can rent a boat like The Empress and motor out to explore the largest manmade lake in the state. Carpeted with tall evergreen trees, the lake’s shoreline is mostly steep and mountainous, with many coves and waterfalls to explore when you’re not hiking a wilderness trail ashore or tossing out a line to snag one of the lake’s prized catches, including king salmon and rainbow trout that go great on your onboard grill.