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14 of the Best and Prettiest Lakes in North Dakota

By | Last Updated: 13th January 2024

North Dakota might be sparsely populated, but it is blessed with rugged, natural beauty. Visiting these stunning lakes would be the best way to experience its untouched wilderness landscape. As a bonus, you’ll be able to enjoy the sights of numerous bird and wildlife species who often stop by here. As the lakes sit close to each other, covering more than one lake in a day is possible. Also, you would surely be delighted to catch abundant walleye and northern pike here if you enjoy fishing. With most lakes offering a peaceful and picturesque surrounding, spending your vacation in these North Dakota lakes would be an excellent choice.

Lakes in North Dakota

1. Devils Lake

Devils Lake in North Dakota

The largest natural body of water of the state, Devils Lake boasts a beautiful shoreline with plenty of recreational opportunities. Several boat ramps make it easy for you to hop into a boat and spend an ideal time in its calm waters while enjoying the surroundings. Nature and wildlife admirers can head to White Horse Hill National Game Preserve on the southern shore. The mixed-grass prairie, marshes, and forest-covered hills offer a picturesque sight. It is also home to American bison, elks, white-tailed deer, prairie dogs, and an array of birds and insects. In winter, Grahams Island State Park, located on an island on Devil’s Lake, becomes a hub for winter activities, including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Fishing: Devil’s Lake is ideal for catching plenty of perch, walleye, white bass, and northern pike. It is a popular destination for ice fishing and is also known as the “Perch Capital of the World.”

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, jet-skiing, bird watching, camping, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, wildlife viewing

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2. Lake Sakakawea

Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota

A human-made reservoir, Lake Sakakawea is the state’s largest body of water. Its 180-mile long shoreline with scenic beauty all around is an excellent getaway spot. Lake Sakakawea State Park sits on its southern shore and features a sandy beach where you can enjoy a refreshing dip. The breeze blowing on the lake makes it a perfect place for sailboating and windsurfing. If you seek adventure on land, you can consider hiking the Western Terminus of the epic North Country National Scenic Trail that stretches about 4,600 miles over eight states. If planning to stay overnight, Sanish Campground has many campsites and two seasonal camping cabins within the state park.

Fishing: Anglers flock to Lake Sakakawea to catch its walleye, northern pike, chinook salmon, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, and crappie.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, hiking, camping

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3. Lake Oahe

Lake Oahe in North Dakota

Sourced by Oahe Dam on the Missouri River, Lake Oahe stretches about 231 miles from central South Dakota to North Dakota. Various recreational areas lined along its shoreline draw millions of visitors every year. Its deep, pristine waters are ideal for enjoying a boat ride. Don’t forget your binoculars if bird watching interests you as several bird species, including bald eagles, frequent the lake. You can also enjoy picnicking with your loved ones in one of the serene picnic shelters.

Fishing: You can be a part of a guided trip to catch plenty of walleye and northern pike. Besides these, anglers also catch smallmouth bass, channel catfish, lake trout, and chinook salmon in abundance.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, paddleboarding, camping, picnicking, hiking, birdwatching, hunting

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4. Stump Lake

Stump Lake in North Dakota

Stump Lake in Nelson County is interconnected to Devil’s Lake and home to Stump Lake Park, which offers a peaceful surrounding. You can spend a relaxing time by the shoreline while watching the various birds flying over or whitetail deer browsing on the ground. The lake’s calm waters make it a perfect spot for swimming and other water activities like kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. On land, roller-coasting or playing volleyball is also often enjoyed. When hungry, you can head to the café within the state park for a quick meal. Apart from these, you can explore the adjacent Stump Lake Village by treading along the paved trail.

Fishing: Though anglers usually target walleye in Stump Lake, several other fish like walleye, yellow perch, northern pike, and white bass are also available in abundance.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, camping, picnicking, birdwatching

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5. Red Willow Lake

Red Willow Lake in North Dakota

Located in Griggs County, Red Willow Lake is an endorheic lake as it has no river or stream inlet or outlet. Instead, it is fed by rainwater or natural springs. On its southeastern shore, you will find the Red Willow Lake Resort featuring a sandy beach, restaurant, pavilion, and a campground. It’s a family-owned resort that also hosts several events and rents paddleboards throughout the year.

Fishing: Several fish species like walleye, northern pike, perch, and bluegill populate the lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, paddleboarding, water skiing, camping, picnicking, birdwatching

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6. Lake Upsilon

Lake Upsilon in North Dakota

A secluded lake, Lake Upsilon sits in the Turtle Mountains close to the Canadian border. The word ‘upsilon’ in Greek refers to the letter’ Y,’ indicating its shape. The dense forests and alpine trees all around add to its scenic appeal. While you enjoy its quietness and lush surrounding, you can also indulge in several water activities like swimming and jet skiing. If you want to extend your stay, you’ll find a campground in Lion Park, located at the lake’s southern edge.

Fishing: This lake is brimming with bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike, yellow perch, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, and walleye.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, jet skiing, camping, picnicking, hiking

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7. Lake Isabel

Lake Isabel in North Dakota

Lake Isabel is a quaint and lesser-visited lake that one can access easily from Highway 3. Those who visit it enjoy the peacefulness and scenic surrounding at the sandy beach. A boat ramp on its northern shoreline lets you launch your boat in its calm waters and enjoy the surroundings. If you’re a nature and wildlife enthusiast, don’t miss visiting the nearby Slade National Wildlife Refuge to see the waterfowl and other species residing in the marshes and wetlands. You can also stay the night in the campground, which is free of cost and located at the lake’s northern end.

Fishing: You can expect to catch northern pike and yellow perch in Lake Isabel.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, camping, picnicking, hiking, wildlife viewing

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8. Homme Lake

Homme Lake in North Dakota

Created by Homme Dam, Home Lake is a reservoir offering visitors an enchanting experience of North Dakota’s wilderness. While you can enjoy hiking and hunting in these wild areas during summer, activities like cross-country skiing and snowmobiling are sought-after in the winter season. Homme Dam Recreation Area lies to its southern shoreline and offers a plethora of water activities and camping facilities. 

Fishing: Fish species like northern pike, walleye, perch, and crappie reside in Homme Lake.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, camping, picnicking, hiking

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9. Salt Lake (Lake George)

Salt Lake in North Dakota

More commonly known as Lake George, Salt Lake is a part of Lake George National Wildlife Refuge in Kidder County. At a depth of 150 feet, it is the state’s deepest lake. Though privately owned, it is open to the public and provides ample recreational opportunities. Many come here to spend a relaxing time to admire its beauty. You can also enjoy watching the wildlife species, especially the various waterfowll.

Fishing: Due to the high saline content, this lake is unsuitable for the sustenance of the lives of fish.

Other Activities: Boating, kayaking, picnicking, nature gazing, wildlife viewing

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10. Long Lake

Long Lake in North Dakota

Long Lake is situated within Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge in the south-central part of North Dakota. A paradise for bird enthusiasts, the lake was designated as a “Globally Important Bird Area.” Numerous species of waterfowl, shorebirds, and rare migrant birds shelter near its shoreline. In addition, the rolling prairie hills with blooming flowers surrounding it make it a sight to behold. You can head to the Butte overlook to enjoy a panoramic view, located just above Lake Unit 1. Also, there’s a one-mile trail along which you can hike and pause occasionally to view the birds with your binoculars. Do keep in mind that no camping facilities are available, and the refuge closes by sunset.

Fishing: You can enjoy catching bluegill, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, and northern pike.

Other Activities: Birdwatching, wildlife viewing, hunting

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11. Lake Darling

Lake Darling in North Dakota

Lake Darling, located within Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge, flows along the Souris River. You can enjoy a relaxing kayak ride in it by launching your boats from one of the three boat access points. It’s also an excellent spot to have a picnic with your loved ones in the designated picnic areas. As the lake area is home to several birds, water activities like swimming and water skiing are not permissible to not disturb them and avoid water contamination.

Fishing: Several fish species reside in the lake, such as walleye, northern pike, yellow perch, and smallmouth bass.

Other Activities: Boating, kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, birdwatching, wildlife viewing

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12. Jamestown Reservoir

Jamestown Reservoir in North Dakota

Jamestown Reservoir in central South Dakota boasts a stunning 45-mile shoreline. The two sandy beaches draw visitors to have a cool, refreshing dip in its waters in summer. In addition, with seven boat ramps and seven picnic shelters, you can keep yourself busy all day. If you wish to explore further, you could hike or go for a bike ride along the trails. In the evening, you can try your hands at golfing in the nearby world-class disc golf course. There are two campgrounds and luxury cabins with close proximity to the lake for overnight accommodations.

Fishing: Fish species available in Jamestown Reservoir include northern pike, walleye, crappie, bluegill, smallmouth bass, bullhead, and muskie.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, camping, picnicking, hiking, biking, birdwatching, golfing

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13. Lake Tewaukon

Lake Tewaukon in North Dakota

Lake Tewaukon is the main feature in Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge. You can enjoy a scenic drive along the road encircling it. With abundant wildlife species and about 245 bird species, you can have a great time spotting them. Some of the common ones worth mentioning include herons, pelicans, ducks, swans, geese, red fox, badgers, muskrats, and coyotes.

Fishing: The lake has plentiful northern pike, perch, walleye, and bullheads.

Other Activities: Picnicking, hiking, birdwatching, wildlife viewing

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14. Lake Elsie

Lake Elsie in North Dakota

Lake Elsie is a long and narrow lake that gets its waters from natural spring. The untouched beauty of the place attracts several visitors to spend a relaxing time on its shoreline. The public sandy beach features a picnic space and boat dock. You can indulge in various boat activities like pleasure boating and water skiing. Surrounded by grasslands and prairies, the campsites offer an ideal primitive experience of spending the night.

Fishing: You might catch fish species llike bluegill, northern pike, smallmouth bass, walleye, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, camping, picnicking

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Best Lakes for Fishing: Devil’s Lake, Lake Sakakawea, Jamestown Reservoir

Best Lakes for Boating: Lake Sakakawea, Jamestown Reservoir, Devils Lake

Best Lakes for Camping: Devils Lake, Homme Lake, Lake Sakakawea

Best Lakes for Vacation: Jamestown Reservoir, Devils Lake, Lake Sakakawea

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