Lakes within fluvial networks may affect dissolved organic matter (DOM) dynamics in streams by dampening spring DOM snowmelt flushing responses and/or by increasing summer DOM production. We assessed the temporal variability of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration and DOM characteristics (specific ultraviolet absorbance (SUVA254); DOC:dissolved organic nitrogen (DOC:DON)), as well as DOC export in seven paired lake inflows and outflows in the Sawtooth Mountain lake district, Idaho. We hypothesized that lakes would decrease stream DOM temporal variability and increase DOM export as a result of autotrophic production. We correlated DOM variability with landscape factors to evaluate potential drivers of DOM temporal patterns (measured as coefficient of variation). Coefficients of variation were 40–90% higher in lake inflows than outflows for DOC concentrations, characteristics, and DOC:DON. Increases in DOC concentrations on the ascending limb of the snowmelt hydrograph were greater in lake inflows than outflows, and on average mean DOC flux occurred 5.4 days earlier in the inflows than for the outflows. During base flow, mean outflow DOC concentrations were 1.7 times greater than inflows, and six outflows had higher annual export than inflows. Combined, these results illustrate that lakes alter the magnitude, timing and temporal variation of DOM concentration and characteristics exported from subalpine watersheds. This buffering effect results from a seasonal shift in the balance between hydrological versus biological controls on DOC dynamics, where lakes act as a sink during the spring when hydrologic controls dominate watershed DOM transport and act as a DOM source during summer.