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16 Best Lakes in Minnesota (Ranked!)

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Looking to visit some lakes in Minnesota, but I don’t know which ones. This article has you sorted. We have compiled a list of the 16 most amazing lakes for you.

As one funny Minnesota slogan implies, “Minnesota is a state of 10,000 lakes and 10,000,000,000 Mosquitoes.” Although I may never know how many mosquitoes we have around here, the number of lakes is even higher. The exact number of lakes in this state is a whopping 11,842.

Now, that’s a vast number of lakes in a single state. But that’s what makes Minnesota one of the best states in the country to visit. In addition to the numerous history-rich museums, cool culture, great accents, and beautiful landscapes, the lakes crown it all.

But with 11,852 lakes at your disposal, how do you know which ones to visit? How do you identify the lakes that offer the best features? Worry not! This article aims to give you the best lakes in Minnesota for a smooth decision-making process.

Map of the Best Lakes in Minnesota

Here is a map of some of our favorite lakes in Minnesota to visit and explore.

Map of the Best Lakes in Minnesota

Best Lakes in Minnesota to Visit

Of the 11,852 lakes of Minnesota, here is a comprehensive list of the ones we consider the best. This is based on thorough research, online reviews, as well as personal experience from my numerous visits.

 16. Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake, Minnesota

Located in northern Minnesota, the lake lies within the Voyageurs National Park and borders Ontario, a province in Canada.

A good portion of the lake sits within the Canadian borders. If you love fishing, this large, magnificent freshwater lake is famous for the splendid recreational fishing it offers.

Rainy Lake is home to various fish species, including northern pike, crappie, muskellunge, bass, and walleye. And, if you are looking for the best lake for cabins, Rainy Lake perfectly fits that description. It has multiple boat-in camping sites, fishing resorts, and fishing cabins to support fishing activities.

Stay the weekend by booking one of these top hotels in Rainy Lake.

See Related: Things to Do in Brainerd, Minnesota

15. Deer Lake

Deer Lake: Minnesota

This is another one of the amazing lakes we have in Minnesota. Deer Lake must find a spot when considering beautiful lakes in Minnesota. While spreading over 4,156 acres, this lake also features on the list of cleanest lakes in the state. With a visibility of up to 11ft deep, the crystal clear water is a spectacular scene to admire.

And that’s not all; it gets even more beautiful on a bright summer day. The clear water appears to turn into a dazzling blue-green, creating quite a fantastic sight.

These scenic sites, extensive biking trails, and campgrounds make the lake the perfect place to visit. Stay the weekend by booking one of these best hotels near Deer Lake.

14. Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca, Minnesota

Although quite small compared to many other lakes in Minnesota, this glacial lake offers more attractions than many.

Firstly, the lake is known to be the source of the Mississippi River. Secondly, there are more than enough recreational activities that the lake offers. These include recreational fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking.

This 11-meter deep lake is located within the Itasca State Park, and it’s home to several fish species such as walleye, northern pike, bass, and pan-fish.

See Related: Things to Do in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota

13. Lake Bemidji

Lake Bemidji Minnesota

You can afford to visit Minnesota and fail to take at least a day to visit Lake Bemidji. Like Lake Itasca, Bemidji is a freshwater glacial lake in Minnesota’s northern region. The lake is a famous recreational canoeing, kayaking, and fishing site.

And if you wish to take a walk, the lake is surrounded by extensive trails ideal for walks and biking. Some of these trails are perfect for snowmobiling or cross-country skiing during winter.

See Related: Best Things to Do in Stillwater, Minnesota

12. Lake Nokomis

Kayaking on Lake Nokomis

Minneapolis has its share of beautiful lakes, and Lake Nokomis is ranked high. This incredible oval-shaped city lake sits on the southern side of the city.

Its proximity to the airport is a plus, especially for visitors outside the city. And if you are wondering what makes the lake special, there are more reasons than mere words can explain.

From the incredible sceneries, beaches, and evergreen vegetation encircling the lake, your eyes will have more than enough to admire.

Also, the numerous activities, such as swimming, walking, and biking in summer or ice skating in winter, will just crown your fun in this lake. Check out the kayaking and biking we did in our YouTube video about the best summer activities in Minnesota.

See Related: Things to Do in Shakopee, Minnesota

11. Burntside Lake

Common Loon at Burntside Lake, Minnesota

With over 100 islands spread over 2,889 hectares, Burntside Lake offers just the perfect source of adventure. The western edge of this lake is quite famous for fishing, although you can still fish in any other part of the lake.

Lake trout, golden shiner, bluegill, and walleye are fish species that do well in this lake. So, if fishing is your thing, then you have quite a variety here.

There is also a summer camp along the shoreline, as well as two resorts to facilitate your stay. Book one of these amazing vacation rentals on Burntside Lake so you can enjoy the entire weekend.

See Related: Best Coffee Shops in Minnesota

10. Leech Lake

Leech Lake: Minnesota

Leech Lake is another incredible fishing spot for travelers and locals who enjoy fishing escapades. This lake is also one of the number three largest lakes in the state of Minnesota. It covers around 102,947.83 acres in area, 195 miles in shoreline length, and a whopping 156ft in depth.

The lake is just an hour from the Twin Cities metropolitan area and lies between Bemidji and Brainerd in Cass County. It is entirely encircled by the “Chippewa National Forest” and serves as the county’s reservoir.

Home to 11 islands, with numerous bays along the shoreline, the lake is an ideal spot for fishing, as well as many other adventures. For instance, the lake is popular for:

  • Water-skiing
  • Canoeing
  • Swimming
  • Horseback riding
  • Hiking and cycling

During winter, you can appreciate over 600 km of snowmobiling trails.

See Related: 19+ Best Breakfast Restaurants in MN

9. Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods - Baudette, Minnesota

Located in Baudette, MN, this lake is the best place for people seeking a breather from hectic city life. Tucked in the furthest northern part of Minnesota, this beautiful lake offers the best scenery for your outdoor vacation.

And with over 14,000 islands and a widespread 65,000-mile shoreline, a trip to this lake is ever-fulfilling. Some of the most common activities here include:

  • Water skiing
  • Jet skiing
  • Wakeboarding,
  • Canoeing

You’ll enjoy some of the best beaches known in northern Minnesota here.

See Related: Best Waterfalls in Minnesota

8. Mille Lacs Lake

Mille Lacs Lake

For people looking for awesome fishing spots, Mille Lacs Lake offers just the ideal features for you. It is considered the best lake in Minnesota for fishing. The lake is a popular fishing ground for Walleye, Muskie, Northern Pike, Large and smallmouth Bass, and Jumbo Perch.

Guides here are also friendly and will help you find the perfect place for your fishing activities. The lake, which also doubles as the second largest lake in Minnesota, has an area of 132,000 acres and a max depth of over 40 feet (making it quite a shallow lake).

It’s located on the northern side of the famous Twin Cities’, roughly 100 miles away, in the Mille Lacs, Crow Wing, and Aitkin counties. Mille Lacs is a staple of Minnesota culture. This is truly one of the more fun things to do in Minnesota.

See Related: Best Minneapolis Walking Tours

7. Lake Harriet

Lake Harriet - Minneapolis, Minnesota

Named after Harriet Lovejoy, who settled in Fort Snelling in 1819, this is another incredible lake for locals and visitors. The lake lies between Minnehaha Creek and Bde Maka Ska in the southwest region of Minneapolis.

In terms of area, the lake covers approximately 335 acres, with its max depth reaching 85ft. With its proximity to the city, the lake is quite popular as a recreational facility.

Besides the cycling and walking trails that encircle the lake, people also use it for sailing. The two beaches on this lake make it even more famous, especially for visitors during the hot summer.

On the northern side of this incredible lake, there is also a bandshell offering snacks and live entertainment. This would be an awesome lake to live on. Want to see why we love this lake so much? Watch our full YouTube video on Lake Harriet and what makes it so special.

See Related: Most Haunted Hotels in Minnesota

6. Lake Superior

Lake Superior shoreline

Although several states claim ownership of this magnificent landmark, a good part of the world’s largest freshwater lake is in Minnesota. This portion of the lake, referred to as the North Shore, is characterized by scenic cobblestone beaches, forested hills, and rocky cliffs.

Although not quite ideal for swimming, especially since it’s always cold, there are numerous other activities, such as fishing, canoeing, and kayaking. And if you come during winter, ice fishing and skating will be part of the recreational activities.

See Related: Things to do in Two Harbors, Minnesota

5. Lake Pepin

Frontenac Minnesota view of Lake Pepin

For those who love skiing, Lake Pepin is a must-visit. The lake is regarded as the origin of water skiing. In addition to its abundant lake life and surrounding wildlife, this place also hosts numerous other watersports, as well as other recreational activities.

Just an hour and 15 minutes from the Minneapolis city center, Lake Pepin makes for a great day trip from Minneapolis.

This lake occurs naturally on the Mississippi River, creating a border between Wisconsin and Minnesota. And, whether you are alone, with a family, or as a group, this lake offers the ideal recreational site for everyone.

Other unique features of this lake include:

  • Three marinas on the Minnesota side of the lake
  • A lighthouse (the only functioning one on the Mississippi River)
  • Frontenac State Park, which sits on the lake’s shoreline( ideal for camping, hiking, and bird watching)
  • Perfect site for fishing and stop by Lake City, known as the birthplace of water skiing

See Related: Things to do in Wabasha

4. Bde Maka Ska

Bde Maka Ska in Autumn

Formerly known as Lake Calhoun, Bde Maka Ska is the number one lake in Minneapolis in terms of size. It covers approximately 401 acres with a max depth of 87ft. 

The lake, encircled by parkland, also has cycling and hiking trails, ideal for people looking for a place to unwind. In addition, Bde Maka Ska features some of the best beaches in Minneapolis to soak up the sun.

As a home to three awesome beaches, you have all the space you need for swimming.  Also, other numerous activities, such as canoeing, windsurfing, and kayaking, will add to your adventures.

See Related: Cheap Places to Travel [Ultimate Guide]

3. Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka Sunset

The lake, located within Carver and Hennepin counties, covers an area of around 14,528 acres,  making it the 9th largest lake in Minnesota. And if you are looking for a lake near Minneapolis, Lake Minnetonka is just 15 km from the city.

The lake is well-known because of the abundant amount of fish it hosts. If your desire is fishing, Lake Minnetonka is a true paradise for fishers and never disappoints. The lake is also quite popular among sailors and boaters.

Other famous fish species include muskies, northern pike, walleye, and largemouth bass. All these features have also seen the steady growth of Excelsior, which easily passes as the best lake town in Minnesota. Fly with us on this tour of Lake Minnetonka from our YouTube channel.

See Related: Things to do in Wayzata, Minnesota

2. Lake Vermilion

Lake Vermillion, Minnesota in Summer

This is one of the best freshwater lakes found in Saint Louis County, Minnesota. Originally, the lake was named “Lake Nee-Man-Nee” by the Ojibwe people.

This former name means “the evening sun tinting the water a reddish color.” The current name of the lake, “Vermilion,” is a translation of the original name in Latin, made by the French fur traders.

As it sits on a whopping 15,000 hectares, Lake Vermilion ranks as the 5th largest lake in Minnesota. And it attracts not only local visitors but also international ones. People love visiting Lake Vermilion due to its famous fishing, particularly Walleye and Muskie fishing.

Also, the lake was in the 1940s rated among the most beautiful lakes in the US. If you are somewhere near this lake at sunrise, you’ll easily concur with that fact.  This lake makes for a great place to see the fall colors in Minnesota.

See Related: Best Breakfast Spots in Minnesota

1. Lake of the Isles

Lake of the Isles - Minneapolis, Minnesota

Lake of the Isles is a city lake and arguably the coolest and most quiet lake in Minneapolis (and probably the coolest lake in the entire state of Minnesota).

The lake is a spectacle that you’ll want to include in your tours. With an area of 0.4 km2 (109 acres), a 2.86-mile-long shoreline, and a max depth of 31ft, the lake offers enough beauty to be admired.

The lake also consists of around 3 miles of paved biking and walking paths, adding to the adventures possible here. And if you visit the place in winter, you can appreciate the ice hockey and skating games atop the lake’s surface.

Lake of Isles is also the designated site for the New Year’s Eve festival. The celebration features hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows. The Lake of Isles is also famous for its two woody islands, the long north arm, and the gorgeous historical and modern mansions.

With such a huge number of lakes in one state, putting your finger on the right one to visit can be tricky. It’s even trickier when most of them offer incredible landscapes to view and exciting activities.

However, with our list of the best lakes in Minnesota, you can encounter the fun and beauty offered by the best lakes in the state. Look no further if you want genuine and correct information.

See Related: Why is everyone obsessed with travel?

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why is Minnesota known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes?

Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 Lakes because the state is geographically located in a blessed land with waterways and abundant fascinating lakes. And true to its nickname, the state has over 10,000 lakes, totaling 11,842 Minnesota lakes.

What is the clearest lake in Minnesota?

Of the thousand lakes in Minnesota, one stands out for a particular reason: Caribou Lake. It is recognized as Minnesota’s clearest lake in Itasca County.

How many lakes are there in Minnesota?

Many lakes in Minnesota led the state to get the nickname “The Land of 10,000 Lakes,” it is a widely used nickname by locals and tourists to describe Minnesota with 11,842 fascinating lakes.

Top Lakes to Visit in Minnesota

Related Minnesota Guides

Related Resources

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