25 Best Minnesota Lakes
Minnesota is popularly known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes. In a place with such an abundance of beautiful lakes, it can be difficult to know where to start. Peruse our picks to find some of the top places to relax and experience the waterways that have given Minnesota its famous nickname. Minnesota is a haven for anglers and nearly all of the lakes on our list offer world-class fishing. Outdoor enthusiasts will have plenty to explore virtually anywhere you base yourself in the state. Those who just hope to get away from daily life and relax will also find their needs met, with numerous secluded and quiet lake getaways available in Minnesota. Photo: Patrick P. Palej/Fotolia
»Lake Superior, Cook County
Lake Superior is the world’s largest freshwater lake, holding one tenth of all the freshwater on the planet. Its rugged north shore on Minnesota’s northern border in Cook County is rocky, wild, and incredibly scenic. Its breathtaking scenery, beaches full of agate, and waters full of fish have been attracting visitors for hundreds of years in all seasons. Because of its size, the lake’s waters can act as if out on the ocean and can quickly turn from being clear and quiet as glass to a frothy, raging monster that sinks large ships. Nevertheless, sailing is one of the most fascinating activities on the north shore, because it offers the opportunity to watch the incredible scenery as well as to catch some fish for dinner. If you don’t have your own boat, hop aboard the beautiful classic schooner Hjordis and tour the Grand Marais harbor. Lake Superior’s north shore is a significant migratory birds’ migration corridor, and it offers fantastic opportunity for bird watching.
»Big Sand Lake
Big Sand Lake is a 1,600-acre lake in Northwest Minnesota known for having beautifully clear water, sandy beaches, and wooded surroundings. The lake is a haven for water sports aficionados, with waterskiing, knee-boarding, and jet skiing all on offer here. Although the lake is quite popular with locals, it often doesn’t make the itineraries of tourists as there are only two resort lodges on the shores. Most of the property along Big Sand Lake is privately owned and the lake is a bit quieter than many others on our list. The resorts on the lake are open in the winter to facilitate those who come to enjoy snowmobiling and cross-country skiing.
One of the largest lakes on our list, Rainy Lake covers 221,000 acres on the United States’ northern border with Canada. The lake’s area is divided between the two countries, with the majority of it actually being in Canada. There are approximately 930 miles of shoreline and about 1,600 islands in the lake, meaning there is plenty of real estate available and virtually every type of vacation rental you could imagine. The lake also has access to the only national park in the state, Voyageurs National Park. The park has a visitors center, waterfalls, trails, interesting wildlife, and more. The lake is known around the country for its premium fishing opportunities and anglers will find a variety of sport fish species in the water.
Photo: Daniel Thornberg/Fotolia
Boyer Lake is a 383-acre lake in Becker County. This lake is popular with canoeists and kayakers because it features a particularly large number of small islands, peninsulas, and bays offering beautiful scenery and plenty of hidden treasures to explore. There are a couple of boat access points that are open to the public, and most of the lakeshore is privately owned. There are no campsites on the lakefront, but a number of vacation rentals are available for visitors. The autumn foliage is particularly beautiful at Boyer Lake and can be best appreciated by taking a walk along the shoreline. In winter time the lake becomes a popular place for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, and ice fishing.
Burntside Lake is beautiful, 9-mile-long lake occupying more than 7,000 acres in St. Louis County. Due to the fact that Burntside Lake does not have any motor restrictions, it is quite popular among water sports enthusiasts. You will find people boating, water skiing, and wake boarding virtually any warm day. The water clearness is remarkable and sometimes reaches more than 20 feet of visibility. The lake has more than 150 islands, which are popular nesting spots for a number of shorebird species. Amenities include several boat ramps, sandy beaches, picnic tables, and comfortable vacation rentals. The International Wolf Center in Ely is just a short drive away and makes for a popular day trip.
Photo: Patrick P. Palej/Fotolia
Clamshell Lake is the perfect destination for a family vacation. The lake occupies 189 acres in the Whitefish Chain of Lakes in Crow Wing County and features a nice sandy shoreline, clear water, and a wealth of activities on offer. There are kayaks, paddleboats, and even water trampolines to keep the entire family happy. Of course, there are plenty of great places for swimming and fishing as well. The Paul Bunyan State Trail is just a few miles away and is popular among bikers, hikers, and skaters. There are also several golf courses in the area as well as plenty of lakefront vacation rentals.
Photo: Mark Herreid/Fotolia
Clearwater Lake is a popular lake near the town of Annandale, offering a quiet place for a relaxing retreat. As much as 80% of the lake’s shoreline is privately owned. Some of these homes are available for short or long-term rent and many of them feature private docks. Tubing, boating, wake boarding, and fishing are all on offer for those who are looking for a thrill. Canoes and kayaks are also available and offer a more relaxing way to explore the beautiful shoreline around the lake. The nearby town has a number of shops and restaurants in its downtown that are perfect for an evening out.
Crane Lake is a picture-perfect lake occupying more than 3,000 acres in St. Louis County. The lake is nestled in the isolated wilderness of Minnesota’s northeastern region and the shoreline is an adventure lover’s dream. It is surrounded by trees, cliffs, trails, and waterfalls and offers nearly endless places to explore. Fishing is a popular way to spend time here and the lake is home to a number of different species of fish. Fishing tours are also available for those who would like help finding a great place to fish. Renting a canoe or a kayak is an exciting way to explore the many inlets and hidden areas around the lake and possibly even see some interesting wildlife along the shore, such as moose, wolves, eagles, and lynx.
Cross Lake is quite popular for its range of recreational offerings. It is part of the large Whitefish Chain of Lakes, which comprises 14 connected lakes in the central part of the state. Popular activities at the lake include fishing, boating, swimming, and water sports of many varieties. Vacation rentals are plentiful and comfortable, but campsites are available for those who prefer to rough it. The Cross Lake Recreation Area is a great place for families as it offers public boat ramps, a playground, swimming beaches, and picnic areas. Like many lakes in the area, Cross Lake freezes in the winter and visitors come here for ice fishing, skating, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.
Andrusia Lake is a natural lake and part of a chain of eight lakes known as the Cass Chain. The lakes, together with a number of other lakes, make up the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Water levels are controlled by dams at both ends. The lake offers a range of recreational activities, including boating and fishing. The lake is surrounded by the Chippewa National Forest, which has several miles of multi-use trails that are perfect for hiking, mountain biking, Nordic skiing and snowmobiling. Wildlife is abundant. Some of the most exciting species you may see around the lake include bears and bald eagles.
Photo: Alberto Masnovo/Fotolia
»Farm Island Lake
Farm Island Lake is a delightful destination in Central Minnesota. The 2,000+ acre lake is named after the largest of three islands in the lake. The island was inhabited by Ojibwa Indians, who used it for farming crops. Today it has a few private homes, which can only be reached from the water. The large lake is perfect for water-skiing and other water sports. There are two public boat access points, making getting out on the lake quite convenient. There are private homes for rent as well as two resort lodges along the shore. The lake is probably best known as a destination for anglers. In fact, the walleye population draws fishermen from all over the country.
Granite Lake is a beautiful, natural lake in Wright County. The lake covers 353 acres and, along with the surrounding lakefront, provides a range of recreational activities. The lake is deep enough for boats, therefore, pleasure boating and fishing are both popular, as are water skiing, sailing, and other activities on the water. The lake has a quiet and serene atmosphere, which means it is attractive to wildlife as well. If you watch carefully, you may see majestic eagles soaring overhead as well as owls, beavers, and other animals. The nearby city of Albion is a small historical city and has many amenities and services for tourists.
Gull Lake is a picture-perfect lake occupying nearly 10,000 acres in Central Minnesota. The lake is part of the Brainerd Chain and is known for being quite deep and having pristine water and nearly 40 miles of beautiful shoreline. A prehistoric burial site near the dam features a visitors center and can make for an interesting visit for those into history. Otherwise, there are plenty of activities to enjoy on and around the lake, including fishing, camping, hiking, kayaking, swimming, and relaxing on the beaches. There are also 20 different golf courses in the surrounding area, making Gull Lake a haven for golfers.
Photo: Alberto Masnovo/Fotolia
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Lake Elmo is conveniently located near the eastern side of St. Paul, making it a popular weekend retreat for city-dwellers. It is one of the cleanest lakes near the city, so it is a great spot for swimming, fishing, boating, and paddling. The lake is designated as a no-wake zone until noon each day, thus morning time is the perfect time to try some quiet fishing or head out in a canoe or kayak and have a relaxing paddle around the lake. A section of the shoreline is preserved as the Lake Elmo Park Preserve. The preserve is home to a variety of wildlife and has campgrounds, an archery range, a boat ramp, and several multi-use trails, which are great for mountain biking, hiking, and cross-country skiing.
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Lake Minnewaska is a large lake occupying more than 7,000 acres in Central Minnesota. The lake is used for a wide range of recreational activities, including sailing, jet-skiing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and nearly any water sport you could think of.
There are two small towns on the shoreline, which both have beaches, campgrounds, and places to purchase supplies. Hobo Park in the town of Starbuck has a marina with boat slips that are available for rent. Several annual festivals and bass fishing tournaments are held at Lake Minnewaska. The lake is far from quiet in the winter, as visitors come for snowshoeing, ice skating, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing as well. The many bed and breakfasts in the area are a charming way to experience the beautiful snowfall at Lake Minnewaska.
Photo: Andrew Kazmierski/Fotolia
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»Lake of Changing Colors
“Lake of Changing Colors” is the nickname for the lake officially known as Deer Lake, located in Itasca County in Minnesota’s beautiful Northwoods region. This county has more than 1,000 lakes and an abundance of forested land, making it a beautiful region to visit. Originally inhabited by the Ojibwe people, the area was later settled by fur traders and loggers. The lake gained its famous nickname because of the unique prism of blue and green colors that can be seen in the water due to its mineral content. There are 25 islands spread across the lake, which makes island hopping a popular activity among visitors.
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»Little Boy Lake
Little Boy Lake is a great destination for visitors because of its beauty and convenient access to a variety of activities. The lake occupies more than 1,300 acres in northern Minnesota. It is a short drive from there to Chippewa National Forest, where visitors can enjoy exploring the vast wilderness. On the other hand, it is also quite nearby the city of Longville, which offers options for entertainment and family-friendly activities. The lake is a year-round destination, with visitors coming to enjoy water sports, hiking, and mountain biking in the summer and ice fishing and snowshoeing in the colder months.
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Pelican Lake is one of the most traditional vacation spots for residents of Central Minnesota. The lake has more than 8,000 acres of surface area, offering scores of activities and room for having fun. Every imaginable type of water sport is on offer with boating, waterskiing, wake-boarding, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, and more all being popular activities. For a fun way to see the lake, pile the entire family onto a pontoon for a relaxing ride around the lake, or book a seat on the 100-passenger paddle-wheeler that offers a 2-hour cruise. In the winter time, visitors to the lake can actually play a round of golf on the frozen lake. The course ranges from 6-9 holes, depending on the conditions that year, and offers a truly unique golfing experience.
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Some of the most beautiful lakes in the state are in the northwest region, and Pickerel Lake stands out as being particularly beautiful and pristine. The lake covers about 300 acres, providing plenty of room for visitors to fish or boat. The lake is stocked with walleye and many other fish species reside here, making it quite popular among fishermen. Nearby Itasca State Park is a popular destination for visitors and is home to the headwaters of the Mississippi River. An interpretive center has exhibits related to the famous river, and there are numerous trails and other attractions in the park.
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»Big Trout Lake
Big Trout Lake is a popular lake in Central Minnesota. It is at the end of the Whitefish Chain, connected to Lower Whitefish Lake by a small canal. One of the biggest reasons people visit Big Trout Lake is for the fishing. The lake is stocked with several varieties of fish, including lake trout, crappie, large and smallmouth bass, bluegill, and more. There is a boat launch at the lake’s east end. However, boats can also access the lake from the channel to Lower Whitefish. Other activities include swimming, canoeing, kayaking, tubing, water skiing, pleasure boating, and watching legendary sunrises from the lake.
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Rush Lake is a gourd-shaped lake covering more than 5,300 acres in the central region of the state. The shoreline has mostly been developed, with private homes and businesses occupying the vast majority of the land surrounding the lake. However, there are three access points that are open to the public. Fishing is a huge attraction here, but visitors also come to swim, sail, participate in water sports, and relax on the soft sandy beaches. For visitors looking for overnight accommodations, there are a range of options, including resorts, vacation homes, rental cabins, and camping. Nearby areas offer hiking trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, horseback riding, and many other activities for visitors and locals to enjoy.
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Spirit Lake is a 115-acre lake with the town of Menahga wrapped around it. The lake is popular among tourists all year round. In the summer, many come to the lake to fish. There is a large fishing pier jutting out into the water, which makes it possible to cast in a good spot even if you don’t have a boat. If you do bring along a boat, however, there is a public boat ramp on the lake. In the winter, the area gets a great deal of snow but the lake is still active. A fishing derby is held each year and is accompanied by fun and games on and around the icy lake in addition to ice fishing and snowshoeing.
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»Ten Mile Lake
Ten Mile Lake is one of the state’s deepest lakes and occupies more than 5,000 acres in northwest Minnesota near the town of Hackensack. The lake is quite deep, reaching more than 200 feet at its maximum depth. This makes it popular with scuba divers and snorkelers. The lake is also known for sport fishing but has a catch-and-release policy for some large fish and encourages the selective harvesting of fish to ensure quality fishing at the lake. The lakefront has a number of spacious campgrounds, some with RV hookups, electricity, and water. There are also cabin and vacation home rentals on the lakeshore and in Hackensack.
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Whitefish Lake is tucked away in Minnesota’s Central Region. The lake is the namesake lake of a chain known as the Whitefish Chain. The lakes together provide more than 13,000 acres of water to enjoy and nearly 120 miles of shoreline. Recreational activities are available at every turn and include hiking, watching birds, swimming, fishing, boating, and water skiing. The shoreline of Whitefish Lake is home to a number of resorts, cabins, restaurants, campgrounds, and luxury homes. Public lake access is available on several lakes in the area. Visitors are sure to find plenty to make their stay at Whitefish enjoyable whether they are the adventurous type or have simply come to relax and enjoy the natural beauty of the lake and surroundings.
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»Woman Lake Chain
Covering more than 5,500 acres in Cass County, the Woman Lake Chain is made up of four lakes. The lakes are popular among adventurous tourists and local outdoor enthusiasts as well as families who are looking for a destination that will suit all ages. The lake can be accessed by several public access points, boat ramps, and beaches. Boating, jet skiing, paddling, and sailing are all popular activities on the water. All of the lakes are have an abundance of fish, but Girl Lake and Woman Lake are the most popular with fishermen. Restaurants and shops can be found at the nearby towns of Hackensack and Longville.
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25 Best Minnesota Lakes
- Lake Superior, Cook County, Photo: Courtesy of pictureguy32 - Fotolia.com
- Big Sand Lake, Photo: Courtesy of springtime78 - Fotolia.com
- Rainy Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Daniel Thornberg - Fotolia.com
- Boyer Lake, Photo: Courtesy of achkin - Fotolia.com
- Burntside Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Patrick P. Palej - Fotolia.com
- Clamshell Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Mark Herreid - Fotolia.com
- Clearwater Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Ljiljana - Fotolia.com
- Crane Lake, Photo: Courtesy of magmac83 - Fotolia.com
- Cross Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Natalia - Fotolia.com
- Andrusia Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Alberto Masnovo - Fotolia.com
- Farm Island Lake, Photo: Courtesy of O.Farion - Fotolia.com
- Granite Lake, Photo: Courtesy of springtime78 - Fotolia.com
- Gull Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Alberto Masnovo - Fotolia.com
- Lake Elmo, Photo: Courtesy of unstoppable87 - Fotolia.com
- Lake Minnewaska, Photo: Courtesy of Andrew Kazmierski - Fotolia.com
- Lake of Changing Colors, Photo: Courtesy of aksenti - Fotolia.com
- Little Boy Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Gudellaphoto - Fotolia.com
- Pelican Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Michael - Fotolia.com
- Pickerel Lake, Photo: Courtesy of O.Farion - Fotolia.com
- Big Trout Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Mps197 - Fotolia.com
- Rush Lake, Photo: Courtesy of unstoppable87 - Fotolia.com
- Spirit Lake, Photo: Courtesy of Ljiljana - Fotolia.com
- Ten Mile Lake, Photo: Courtesy of MaciejBledowski - Fotolia.com
- Whitefish Lake, Photo: Courtesy of fotonaturali - Fotolia.com
- Woman Lake Chain, Photo: Courtesy of lybovbush - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Patrick P. Palej - Fotolia.com
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