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Lakeside picnics, camping trips, and thrilling water sports are what make lake towns popular tourist spots around the year. If you love spending some quality time with your loved ones while enjoying scenic views and taking up adventurous sports, Minnesota is the destination for you.
Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” (it’s really closer to 15,000, but that’s less catchy) Minnesota has some of the largest lakes with clear waters and a vast array of activities available.
Some of these majestic lakes attract tourists by themselves, while others are key features of larger state parks, hiking trails, and small towns.
However, with thousands of lakes throughout the state, choosing the perfect destination for your family can get tricky. Check out my list for some insight.
Best Lake Towns in Minnesota
Let’s face it; there’s nothing not to love about a peaceful weekend spent along the lakeside! If you’re searching for Minnesota lake towns to visit, you’ll find all of them unique and beautiful in their own way.
But, to plan the perfect vacation, you’ll need to find out which town fits the needs of your family. For example, some lake towns offer a wide array of outdoor and water sports, while others are great for hiking and biking.
Similarly, some don’t allow motor vehicles and boats along the lakeside, meaning you’ll only be able to indulge in activities like paddling, swimming, fishing, canoeing, picnicking, and camping.
So, while all Minnesota lake towns are bound to take your breath away, choosing one with the right options for you and your party is important for ensuring an enjoyable trip.
Whether you’re looking for the prettiest lake town in Minnesota to spend a romantic evening or a Minnesota lake town with the clearest lake for swimming and fishing, this list will help you out.
So let’s dive right in.
1. Albert Lea
Not far from Mason City in Iowa, Albert Lea is a mesmerizing lake town in Minnesota. Located in South Central Minnesota, the town boasts magnificent Albert Lea Lake and Fountain Lake. You can easily find the town as it’s next to I-35 and I-90.
If you love boat rides, you can take one on the Pelican Breeze in Albert Lea and enjoy the serene views of the lake and its surroundings. The town and its lakes are particularly known for the flocks of pelicans that reside in the area.
While traveling with kids, make sure you do so in the summer months so you can witness the pelicans nestling across the lake in full grandeur.
The downtown marketplace and homely streets are some of the most charming features of Albert Lea. After spending time at the lakes, you can wander the town for a bite of food or enjoy some live entertainment.
Unlike other lakes, which are popular for active sports, Albert Lea Lake and Foutain Lake are known for their clear and pristine aesthetic.
This makes their shoreline ideal for organizing a family picnic and reclining against the breathtaking view or snapping some beautiful pictures. For those planning to stay for a day or two in the town, booking an apartment through Airbnb or Vrbo is the ideal choice.
See Related: Things to Do in Minneapolis, MN
Bemidji is a popular town in Minnesota for tourists seeking lakeside adventures. With multiple lakes in the area, you can find a diverse array of activities to take up during your trip.
One of the first towns developed near the Mississippi River, Bemidji has numerous lakes nearby. These include Lake Bemidji, Lake Irving, Lake Plantagenet, and Big Wolf Lake. Together, these lakes make Bemidji a paradise for lakeside lovers.
All these lakes are a short distance away from Bemidji. You can use Paul Bunyan Drive to access some lakes by car. The route also has some lovely local restaurants and chain eateries to keep you sustained throughout the journey.
Apart from lakeside picnics, camping trips, and fishing trips, shopping for antiques is a unique experience to look out for in Bemidji. A popular destination in the area is its Grandma’s Attic Antique Mall.
It is a large shopping arena that spans over 5000 square feet and houses more than 30 shops. Here, you can look for souvenirs to take home or buy exquisite treasures for yourself. Similarly, some of its Minnesota-themed art pieces are ideal for home and office decoration.
If you’re wondering where to stay in the town, you can find a diverse array ranging from luxury hotels to modest beds and baths.
If you’re in love with fishing and the soul-cleansing feeling that comes with bringing home your own catch, Walker is one of the ideal towns in Minnesota for you. Located in the middle of lake country, the small town is home to one of the largest lakes in Minnesota; Leech Lake.
Even if you don’t carry your own fishing gear and boat, you can rent all the essentials from the town and head out for an adventure. The lake is ideal for expert fishers who enjoy fishing for Northern Pike and Walleye. Besides that, you can find other types of fish in the lake, including Bowfin, Bluegill, Largemouth Bass, and Black Crappie.
Additionally, if you’re traveling during winter, Leech Lake is the ideal destination for ice fishing. Head over to one of its Walleye fisheries and rent the essential gear for your adventure. You can also go ice fishing at night for the ultimate Minnesota lake experience.
Apart from fishing, there is one other notable inhabitant of the lake; leeches (who’da thunk it?). If you go paddling or swimming, make sure to check yourself for uninvited passengers – then you can use the little bloodsuckers as free bait!
Walker’s other popular attraction is the Chippewa National Forest. Here, you can hike with your family and witness breathtaking lakeside views, diverse trees, shrubs, and exotic wildlife.
Moreover, Chippewa National Forest is the ideal place for camping.
The area is secure and has small shops with basic amenities, ideal for families. Hold a family barbeque during the summer months or sit around a bonfire with hot cider during winter.
Other popular attractions in Walker include Portage Brewing Company, the Main Street Market, and Christmas Points Wild Rice Co. If you want to spend your nights experiencing the mesmerizing lakeside views, book your rooms in the Walker Hotel for luxurious and affordable accommodation.
Some popular lakes in its vicinity include the Gull Lake Chain and Mille Lacs Lake. You can take up all kinds of fun activities at the lakeside, including swimming, water skiing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, and even cross-country skiing during winters when they freeze over.
Lakes aside, it’s a pretty great town to visit in general. Brainerd attracts tourists for many other reasons besides these lakeside activities.
A day spent exploring the culinary delights of the historical downtown area will take you through multiple rustic experiences, including comforting home-cooked meals, as well as exquisite local wines, and beers.
Similarly, the town is a must-visit for art lovers. The town frequently holds art exhibitions and an active theater scene which you can enjoy during your stay.
Moreover, if you love chocolates, its famous Fancy Pants Chocolates is a cozy shop with artisan chocolates to eat and take home. Or, you can skip these activities altogether and walk through the town to appreciate its incredible architecture that takes you back in time.
The best part is, Brainerd has the Lum Lark RV Campground, an ideal campsite for modern families. Apart from rental RVs and a fully-facilitated RV parking ground, the park also has free wifi to keep you entertained during your stay.
See Related: Things to Do in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota
Located in Central Minnesota, Willmar provides some of the best Minnesota lake experiences for residents and locals alike. With more than 300 lakes nearby, you can do anything from adventurous beach sports to laid-back picnics and walks.
Water activities in the lakes around Willmar include kayaking, canoeing, water skiing, swimming, fishing, and even ice fishing, and cross-country skiing in the winter. Other aspects that make Willmar stand out among other lake towns are its art and historical heritage.
If you’ve already enjoyed a high dose of fun water activities, you can head over to the Willmar Area Arts Council to witness the town’s art scene. Similarly, there are artistic benches scattered around the town, which you can spot while taking relaxing walks down its streets.
Besides that, the town offers many coffee shops and chocolate bars where you can head over for a warm and delicious experience after trying out some exhausting sports. Namely, The Goodness Coffee House is a local favorite, while Mr. B’s Chocolates lets you watch the live making of its artisan chocolates.
While there are many accommodation options in Willmar, the bed and baths near the lakeside are the ideal lodgings for families on a budget. One of them, the Lakeview Inn, is a clean and cozy hotel at the center of the town, making it a great option if you plan to move around a lot.
See Related: Best Beaches in Minnesota
If you’re an outdoor enthusiast who loves water adventures, Crosslake is the ideal holiday destination for you. Located in Central Minnesota, the town has more than 14 interconnected lakes from the Whitefish Chain of Lakes. best place to enjoy fun things to do in Minnesota.
What tourists love about Crosslake is the welcoming nature of its residents for tourists from around the world. You will get special discounts, offers, and packages curated specially for visitors wherever you go. Some restaurants even throw in complimentary dishes, while gift shops provide free souvenirs for tourist shoppers.
The most popular lake sport when it comes to Crosslake is fishing. The Whitefish Chain of Lakes presents clear and pristine waters where you can throw your fishing line and spend a relaxing morning.
Even if you don’t have any gear, you can rent or purchase a rod from nearby shops and get started. However, you will need a license to fish in these lakes, but you can easily get it from nearby vendors and outfitters (even when you pick up your gear) and start fishing.
Apart from the wide array of water activities available in the vicinity, there are many other fun activities to do in Crosslake. A popular destination includes the Kicks artisan venue, where you can check out rustic refurbished furniture for purchase.
Most importantly, Crosslake is well known for its celebration day parade. The parade showcases amazing festivities, including dancing, singing, local delicacies, and drinks.
See Related: Best Things to Do in Southern Minnesota
7. Prior Lake
If you’re looking for calm and serene Minnesota lakes, then Prior Lake is a must-visit destination for you. The town is named after the majestic Prior lake, which lies in its vicinity.
This lovely small town is known for its farmer’s market, where you can get local treats and merchandise at affordable prices. Shop for yourself or pick out souvenirs to take home while taking in the exquisite sights.
Similarly, you can spend the day boating on the lake by visiting Boathouse Brother’s Brewery. Here, you can witness the making of their artisan beers and try out the multiple flavors available.
One of the most beautiful lakes in Minnesota, Prior Lake makes for a great swimming and canoeing experience. Besides that, it has the Clearly Lake Regional Park, where you can find hiking trails, biking paths, and walking routes to take and enjoy the scenic lakeside view.
Prior Lake Town offers a versatile range of accommodations so you can find your perfect fit easily. If you’re looking for a lakeside abode with comfortable living arrangements, go for the Mystic Lake Casino Hotel or the Canterbury Inn and Suites Hotel.
8. Pelican Rapids
Pelican Rapids is a small lake town in Otter Tail County, Minnesota. The town is home to its namesake, the Pelican Lake, along with many other lakes in the vicinity. So whether you’re in the mood for some water sports or want to spend some time on hiking trails or camping sites, Pelican Rapids has you covered.
This means you can recline, picnic, or swim at the lake’s shoreline and conduct adventurous sports like biking, bird watching, hiking, kayaking, and cross-country skiing at the same location.
Moreover, fishing is a popular sport at both state parks. You can go for muskie fishing and even catch northern pike, smallmouth bass, or yummy walleye.
Pelican Lake is one of the best lakes with a sandy beach, so you can plan an entire day playing and relaxing with your family. Apart from that, you can explore the town’s romantic restaurants and public boat launches if you’re traveling with your better half.
See Related: Best Minnesota State Parks to Visit
On the other hand, Lake Caribou is at a 6-mile distance from the county, near the Big Fork River watershed. Attributing to their clear blue waters, both lakes are ideal for boating, kayaking, and canoeing.
Motorboats are not allowed in certain locations at both lakes, so you can enjoy a noise-free trip while having fun at the lake’s shoreline. The Caribou Lake also boasts the Bigfork Canoe Route. The route takes you through its serene water while also moving through the Class 1 rapids for some thrill.
Additionally, you can visit the Itasca State Park to appreciate the grandeur of the 100 lakes in its territory. Finally, you can drive through the Wilderness Drive, one of Minnesota’s Natural Landmarks, and walk through the grand Mississippi River as it starts winding towards the Gulf of Mexico.
If you want to explore the historical aspects of the area, you can visit the Itasca Heritage Center near Grand Rapids. The museum has exhibitions regarding the Grand Rapids area’s mining, logging, homesteading, and immigrant history.
See Related: Best Ski Resorts in Minnesota
Minnetrista is a small lake town that houses some bays of one of the best Minnesota lakes, Lake Minnetonka. In the land of 10,000 lakes, Lake Minnetonka is the most popular amongst tourists from the US and worldwide.
Like Lake Superior and Rainy Lake, Lake Minnetonka has multiple bays that allow various sports and activities. While the lake goes through many small towns in Minnesota, including Excelsior, Wayzata, Mound, and Orono, Minnetrista is the nearest to the Lake Minnetonka Regional Park.
If you want to have fun with your kids while reclining on a sandy beach, Lake Minnetonka Regional Park is the ultimate destination for you. You take up various adventurous water sports like boating, paddle boarding, and kayaking in the park.
Similarly, there are various hiking trails, biking trails, golf courses, and picnic areas where you can relax with your family. Most importantly, you can fish for species like the walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, bowfin, and muskies.
Besides that, you can visit the Parley Lake Winery in nearby Waconia to taste exotic wines from the region and witness their making.
Similarly, the Dakota Rail Railroad is worth visiting if you’re a history buff to check out the historical heritage of Minnetrista. Check out these other best things to do in Minnetonka, Minnesota.
- Best Waterfalls in Minnesota To Visit
- Most Famous Landmarks in Minnesota
- Best Indoor Activities in Minnesota
- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.