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17 Best Lakes To Visit in Minnesota for a Vacation

By | Last Updated: 13th January 2024

The state of Minnesota is often billed as a “land of 10000 lakes”, though in actuality, the number amounts to 11, 842. Most of the lakes here are natural, with a few humanmade and engineered ones. The blue waters, combined with a stretch of wilderness that abounds it enhances Minnesota’s picturesque beauty to the fullest.

Minnesota Lake

Lakes in Northern Minnesota

1. Lake of the Isles

Isles Lake in Northern Minnesota

Lake of the Isles is situated in Minnesota’s Minneapolis connected to the Cedar and Bde Maka Saka lakes.  This engineered lake created during the 20th century covers a surface area of 109 acres (0.4 sq.km) with a 2.86-mile shoreline. The lake also possesses a 3-mile paved path for walking and biking.  The four islands surrounding the lake earned it the name “isles.” While two on the southern shore have been transformed into parkland, the remaining two (Mike’s and Raspberry Island) are wildlife refuges. 

Fishing: Of the species here, restrictions remain imposed on crappie, bluegill, carp, largemouth bass, walleye, yellow perch, and northern pike.

Other Activities: Hockey and ice skating in winter; the place lacks a swimming beach

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2. Lake Vermilion

Vermilion Lake in Northern Minnesota

It is a freshwater lake in Minnesota’s northeastern part, in the San Louis County. The lake is a sight of beauty to behold when the evening sun gives its waters a sparkling red hue, thus being  initially called Ne-Man-Nee by the Ojibwe tribe and later Vermilion by the French traders. Possessing a surface area of around 39, 271 acres (158.9 sq. km), it ranks fifth among all Minnesota lakes in surface area as per the Minnesota DNR. The Lake Vermillion State Park lies on its southeastern shore, housing unique animals and birds.

Fishing: Muskellunge and walleye are the most sought-after catches alongside other species like bluegill, largemouth bass, rock bass, northern pike, and smallmouth bass.

Other Activities: Boating, alongside bird watching, hiking, and camping along the surrounding wilderness of the lake; information about swimming remains unavailable

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3. Lake Pepin

Pepin Lake in Northern Minnesota

This natural lake on Mississippi River lies between the Minnesota-Wisconsin borders. It has a 25600 acres (100 sq.km) surface area with depth, width, and length of 21 ft (6.4 m) 2 miles (3.2 km), as well as 22 miles (35 km) respectively. It got its name after one Jean Pepin, who settled along its shores in the latter half of the 17th century. Water skiing was invented here in 1922 by Ralph Samuelson, and the lake is known as this sport’s birthplace. There are four state parks, on Minnesota (Frontenac, and Lake City) and Wisconsin (Maiden Rock and Stockholm) side.

Fishing: It happens year-round, particularly in spring, with species like walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and northern pike commonly available.

Other Activities: Swimming along the Hok-Si-La city park beach, water skiing, boating, hiking, and camping

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4. North Shore (Lake Superior)

North Shore in Northern Minnesota

Lake Superior’s North Shore passes through Minnesota’s Duluth city, also touching upon Nipigon, Thunder Bay, and Sault Ste of Canada’s Ontario. The landscape along the shores includes cobblestone-paved beaches and rocky cliffs, surrounded by hilly forests, waterfalls, and rivers, taking its beauty to a different level. The Minnesota part of the lake abounds a lot of State Parks and hiking trails, making it a perfect vacation spot.

Fishing: Trouts, salmons, smallmouth bass, perch, and northern pike are the popular catches.

Other Activities: Swimming not restricted but considered risky by concerned officials, boating, water skiing, hiking, and camping

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5. Leech Lake

Leech Lake in Northern Minnesota

The third largest of Minnesota’s lake, lying to its north-central part, it is situated within the Leech Lake Indian Reservation and Chippewa National Forest premises. The lake’s surface area totals 102, 947.83 acres (416.6151 sq. km), and it also has a 195-mile (314 km) shoreline. The place celebrates the International Eelpout Festival every February.

Fishing: It has the credit of record pumpkinseed and whitefish catch of the state, with other species existing, include the bluegill, eelpout, catfish, walleye, and smallmouth bass. It is ideal for ice fishing, with Grand View Flats and Pine Point areas, being the best spots.

Other Activities: Swimming, skiing, boating, bird watching, and camping 

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6. Lake Bemidji

Lake Bemidji in Northern Minnesota

It is a small lake formed as a result of glacial activities covering an area of 6919 acres (10.81 sq.mile). It gets its name in reference to the Mississippi River responsible for feeding and draining it. The lake lies in the Beltrami County, while the Bemidji city sits on its southwestern shores. The Lake Bemidji State Park, lying on its northern shore, hosts many recreational activities. Its southern shores, on the other hand, also have resorts, campgrounds, and plush hotels.

Fishing: Prominent species include northern pike, walleye, muskellunge, and yellow perch.

Other Activities: Swimming, tubing, water-skiing, boating, hiking, and camping in the surrounding wilderness

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7. Lake Nokomis

Lake Nokomis in Northern Minnesota

It occupies the south of Minneapolis, flowing to the western and southern parts of the Mississippi River and Lake Hiawatha. This oval-shaped lake has 204 acres (0.83 sq. km) of surface area and underwent a name change from Amelia to Nokomis in 1910. The lake has two beaches, one its northwestern and northeastern sides, with the former having restrooms, restaurants, and a playground.

Fishing: The lake, mostly facilitating fishing all year round, has species like largemouth bass, muskellunge, walleye, yellow perch, yellow bullhead, and white sucker.

Other Activities: Swimming (open swimming facilities at the main beach on specific days), sailing, alongside walking, softball and cycling facilities in the nearby park

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8. Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods in Northern Minnesota

Lake of the Woods, located in the U.S’ Minnesota and Canada’s Manitoba and Ontario, is United States’ six largest freshwater lake, and 36th in the world as per the area.  The 14,552 islands present in this lake have a host of birds like the American white pelicans, piping plover, and bald eagles.

Fishing: Species like northern pike, walleye, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass are found here.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating (houseboats and marinas on lakes), as well as camping

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9. Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca in Northern Minnesota

A glacial lake, with an area, not more than 1200 acres (4.7 sq.km) is situated in the southeastern part of the Clear County in north-central Minnesota. It is located within the bounds of the Itasca State Park and houses the Itasca Biological Station and Laboratories of the University of Minnesota.

Fishing: Largemouth bass, black crappie, bluegill, and muskellunge are commonly found.

Other Activities: Swimming, canoeing, kayaking, as well as hiking, and mountain biking in the adjacent trails

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10. Gull Lake

Gull Lake in Northern Minnesota

The major part of the Gull Lake lies in the Kalamazoo County, while the northern tip extends to Barry County. Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, to the southwest and southeast, respectively, are the nearby cities. Having a 2030 acres (8 sq. km) surface area and 110 feet (34 m) depth, the lake possesses a well-developed shoreline equipped with cottages.

Fishing:  Largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, and lake trout are commonly available.

Other Activities: Swimming, sailing (racing mostly held in winters), cruising, scuba diving; remains accessible to divers all-year-round, even in winters

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11. Burntside Lake

Burntside Lake in Northern Minnesota

This 7139 acre (28.89 sq.km) lake lies 3 miles to the northwestern part of Minnesota’s Ely city, in the San Louis County.  The shores of this lake have the Camp Van Vac and the Burntside Lodge built in the first half of the 20th century. There are more than 100 islands, with some of them being the Blueberry, Beach, Berry, and Evans.

Fishing: Yellow perch, bluegill, northern pike, and walleye are some of the common species.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating, and hiking

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12. Bde Maka Ska Lake

Bde Maka Ska Lake in Northern Minnesota

Initially known as Lake Calhoun, this is Minneapolis’ largest lake, popular for many biking and walking trails, being a hub of a host of outdoor activities. The beaches surrounding it include the North Beach (to its north), 32nd Beach (in the east), and Thomas Beach (to the south). The lake with a 401 acre-surface area and 87-ft (27 m) depth also has the Bde Maka Ska park in its premises.

Fishing: Walleye, crappies, northern pike, largemouth bass, yellow perch, and white sucker are the common species; the lake facilitates ice fishing.

Other Activities: Swimming, kayaking, canoeing, windsurfing, as well as picnicking and volleyball

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Lake Calhoun

13. Lake Phalen

Lake Phalen in Northern Minnesota

This urban lake with an area of 494 acres (2.00 sq. km) lies in Minnesota’s Saint Paul city and Maplewood community. The Phalen Creek is responsible for draining the lake into the Mississippi River. The area nearby has been converted into a park, having swimming and other facilities, thronged by about 50,000 people annually.

Fishing: The lake has a walleye stock on a yearly basis, and tiger muskies in a span of every three years.  Northern pike, crappie, sunfish, largemouth bass, and rainbow darter (unusual fish) are the other species.

Other Activities: Swimming, boating and sailing, as well as hiking along the nearby trail

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14. Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake in Northern Minnesota

A freshwater lake with a 360 sq.mile (932 sq.km) surface area, this water body lies in the Minnesota-Ontario border. The Voyageurs National Park situated in its vicinity maintains about 46 boat-in campsites. The several islands present in the lake also houses fishing resorts, fishing cabins, and cottages.

Fishing: Walleye, muskellunge, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, northern pike, and crappie are mostly available. The lake also hosts the Canadian Bass Championship in summer annually since 1996.

Other Activities: Swimming, ice-fishing, boating, alongside, hiking, snowmobiling, snow-shoeing, and cross-country skiing

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15. Lake Harriet

Lake Harriet in Northern Minnesota

Lying to the southwestern part of Minneapolis, it is north and south of the Bde Maka Ska and Minnehaha Creek, respectively. The lake with a surface area of 335 acres (1.36 sq.km) and depth of about 85 ft (26m) has biking and pedestrian trails. There is a bandshell at its vicinity, first constructed in 1888, holding concerts in summer. The area also has a picnic spot and outdoor restaurant (Bread & Pickle) opened seasonally.

Fishing: The common finds include green sunfish, golden shiner, black crappie, bluegill, northern pike, and largemouth bass. Walleye, another popular species, is mostly available during fall. 

Other Activities: Swimming (without lifeguards), boating (with 10 mph speed limit), and camping (along the Lake Harriet Campgrounds)

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Lakes in Southern Minnesota

16. Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka in Southern Minnesota

Lake Minnetonka, situated within the Carver and Hennepin counties, is the ninth-largest of Minnesota’s lakes, famous among fishers, sailors, and boaters. This lake, whose name translates to big water in the Dakota dialect, with a surface area of 14,528 acres (58.79 sq.km), makes for a perfect residential area, also possessing restaurants (Charter Cruises, Maynards Restaurant) theaters (Old Log Theater) and other recreational places.

Fishing: The largemouth bass is the most popular fish, while other species include walleye, northern pike, muskies, and smallmouth bass.

Other Activities: Swimming, sailing, standup paddleboarding, and kayaking (in summer); snowmobiling, ice yachting, and ice fishing (in winter)

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Lakes in Eastern Minnesota

17. Mille Lacs Lake

Mille Lacs Lake in Eastern Minnesota

It is a large shallow water lake situated in the east-central counties of Crow Wing, Aitkin, and Mille Lacs, ranking second among Minnesota’s inland lakes. Mille Lacs in French translates to thousand lakes, while in the Ojibwe dialect, it means grand lake. The southern part of the lake has gravels and rock bars, while two islands at the center houses the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge.

Fishing: Walleye, muskie, jumbo perch, and black crappie are some of the common fish.

Other Activities: Swimming (on the west, and southeast shore), kayaking, canoeing, and paddleboarding

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Most of the lakes mentioned above allow dogs in the adjacent areas provided they remain on a 6 feet leash.

Best Fishing Lakes in Minnesota

Best Crappie Lakes: Rainy Lake, Bowstring Lake, Lake of the Isles

Best Ice Fishing Lakes: Bde Maka Ska, Leech Lake, Lake Minnetonka,

Best Muskie Lakes: Lake Minnetonka, Mille Lacs Lake, Lake Vermillion

Less-crowded or ‘Hidden’ Lakes: Deer Lake (also the cleanest), Bean Lake, Berliner Lake

Largest Fishing Lakes: Leech Lake, Lake Superior (North Shore), Mille Lacs Lake

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