Bets Minnesota Lakes

18 Best Lakes in Minnesota to Explore 2023

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Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes”. With thousands of lakes, scenic forests, and pristine shorelines, Minnesota has some of the most beautiful lakes in the country.

Whether you enjoy fishing, boating, kayaking, or just relaxing by the water, Minnesota’s lakes are the perfect spot for a summer getaway.

I have been traveling the state, stopping at some amazing parks and small towns. One things for sure, I never get over how many lakes in Minnesota are so beautiful!

Today I’m sharing what I consider the best lakes across Minnesota. From the crystal clear waters of Lake Vermilion to the cliffs and waterfalls of Lake Superior.

18 Best Lakes in Minnesota 

Lake of the Isles

Located right in Minneapolis, Lake of the Isles is one of the most scenic urban lakes in Minnesota. This lake in the chain of lakes near downtown Minneapolis has paths perfect for walking, running, and biking.

The park has two wooded islands, Island in the North and Raspberry Island.

Visitors can rent canoes and kayaks during the summer.

In the winter, the lake is a great spot for ice skating and skiing with plowed ice paths. It’s also a fun place to check out the beautiful homes surrounding the lake. 

Lake Vermilion

Known for its clear waters and cliff-lined shores, Lake Vermilion is one of the most popular lakes in northeastern Minnesota. At over 40,000 acres, it is Minnesota’s 6th largest lake.

It’s also a great spot for fishing for walleye and northern pike fishing.

There are also many resorts and cabins for rent, plus Lake Vermillion and the Soudan Underground Mine State Park. We took a family vacation up here and it didn’t disappoint.

Lake Harriet and the chain of lakes

Located in Minneapolis, Lake Harriet is one of the busier lakes but still retains its natural beauty and charm. It is part of the famous Chain of Lakes in the city.

Lake Harriet has Rose Gardens on one side and bandshell for concerts on the other. Of course there is boating and beaches you can visit too.

The lake loop trail encircles the lake, perfect for walking, biking, and skating.

What I love about it is leaving notes for the mysterious “Mr. Little Guy”. He has a small door on the base of a tree. Rumor has it, he’ll even write you back.

Lake Harriet

Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin is a naturally occurring lake on the Mississippi River on the border of Wisconsin and Minnesota. With high bluffs and scenic shores, it is known for its spectacular views and bird watching. 

The lake has over 30 miles of shoreline with sandy beaches, marinas, and parks. Lake Pepin is popular for fishing, waterskiing, tubing, and especially sailing with its consistent winds.

It was the birthplace of water skiing! For a great view of the lake, make sure to stop into Frontenac State Park.

Lake Peppin

Bde Maka Ska

Previously known as Lake Calhoun, Bde Maka Ska is the largest lake in Minneapolis and part of the famous chain of eight lakes. The lake has swimming beaches, fishing piers, sailing schools, and bike and walking paths around its perimeter.

You can rent bikes, kayaks, paddleboards, motor boats, and other watercraft to enjoy a day on the lake.

This is one of the most scenic lakes because it mixes both urban life with nature.

Lake Calhoun

Mille Lacs Lake

Mille Lacs Lake in central Minnesota is one of the state’s most popular fishing lakes.

At over 132,000 acres in central Minnesota, it is the second largest inland lake.

Mille Lacs has walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and muskie. There are fishing guide services, resorts, cabins, and campgrounds around Mille Lacs Lake to accommodate anglers and other visitors.

Mille Lac’s lake has two state parks surrounding it, Mille Lacs State Park and Father Hennepin. For a chance to camp alongside the shore, you’ll need to stay at Father Hennepin. On a calm day, it’s absolutely beautiful.

Mille Laks Lake

Lake Superior in Saint Louis County

You can’t have a list of the best lakes in Minnesota without mentioning the one of the largest lake in the state. The lake is also one of the deepest lakes.

As the largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior has rugged beauty with its cliffs, beaches, and waterfalls. Parts of the north and eastern shoreline belong to Minnesota. The scenic North Shore Drive offers incredible Lake Superior views.

Highlights include Palisade Head, Split Rock Lighthouse, Tettegouche State Park. You can spend a month exploring during the summer months, and still not cross get leave the Minnesota side.

There is so much to do around the lake, including camping, kayaking among the sea caves, and even shipwreck diving.

Palisades Head
Palisades Head

Rainy Lake

Straddling Minnesota and Canada, Rainy Lake offers over 1,000 miles of winding, island-dotted shoreline. Part of Voyageurs National Park, Rainy Lake has some of the clearest water in Minnesota.

The lake is a popular spot for fishing, boating, kayaking through the islands, and wildlife viewing. Houseboating is also a great way to get a mix of Rainy Lake’s beauty and remoteness, with a little added comfort.

There is a lot more to do there. Visit waterfalls, hike the trails and even see plenty of wildlife.

Lakes in Minnesota

Gull Lake

Just east of Brainerd, Gull Lake is one of Minnesota’s most popular lakes with over 100 vacation rental homes and rentals.

Gull Lake spans over 15,000 acres across Cass and Crow Wing counties.

Anglers come for the walleye and northern pike. The lake also has sailing, waterskiing, tubing, swimming, and miles of natural shoreline to explore.

Make sure to explore the mountain biking all around the area!

Leech Lake

Leech Lake in northcentral Minnesota is the state’s third largest lake. Leech Lake has over 110,000 acres of water, more than 500 miles of shoreline and over 300 islands.

With so much water to explore, boating, fishing, and camping are extremely popular.

Leech Lake also has several resorts and the largest walleye fishing contest in the world held each June.

Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca holds a unique place in state history as the primary source of the Mississippi River.

The lake is located in Itasca State Park. Visitors can walk across the lake’s headwaters on a floating walkway or rent a kayak and paddle through the beginnings of the mighty Mississippi River.

The park also has tons of smaller lakes to explore, hiking trails, forests, and wildlife.

This is one of the best spots to visit during the summer months. It ranks as one of the most beautiful lakes in Minnesota for sure!

Lake Nokomis

Located in Minneapolis, Lake Nokomis offers recreational activities and a natural retreat in the middle of the city.

The lake has swimming beaches, fishing piers, bike and walking trails, sailboat races, and other water activities.

Many sports fields and park amenities surround the lake. Anglers can catch crappie, sunfish, bass and even muskie on Lake Nokomis.

Lake Minnetonka

Just outside Minneapolis, Lake Minnetonka is one of the best lakes and boating destination. The lake is home to many bays, coves, and islands. There are even docks side restaurants to enjoy.

The large size and lush shoreline offers many secluded spots on Lake Minnetonka. Visitors enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, waterskiing, paddle boarding, and sailing during the warm months.

Lake Minnetonka

Cross Lake

Cross Lake near Brainerd offers 7,000 acres of beautiful Minnesota wilderness. The secluded lake has many islands, bays, and quiet coves waiting to be explored by boat or kayak. Visitors can stay in lakeshore cabins, enjoy the sandy beach. 

Fishing is a popular activity with walleye, bass, muskie, and northern pike on Cross Lake. The area has extensive hiking and biking trails through surrounding state and national forests.

Lake of the Changing Colors

Named for its brilliant fall colors, Lake of the Changing Colors (also called Campbell Lake) is located in northwest Minnesota’s Chippewa National Forest.

The clear lake is perfect for boating, swimming, and bass fishing. Many camping options in the surrounding national forest.

Upper Red Lake

Upper Red Lake is a top fishing spot in northern Minnesota. At over 289,000 acres, Upper Red Lake is the largest lake completely within Minnesota. This massive lake has crappie, walleye, northern pike, and smallmouth bass drawing anglers from across the region.

There are many fishing resorts on Upper Red Lake offering guided fishing trips and rental boats, cabins, and other amenities to accommodate avid fishermen.

The lake also has a state park with a protected shoreline for swimming, camping, and hiking along the pristine waters. With its size and abundance of fish, Upper Red Lake offers an unparalleled fishing adventure in the heart of Minnesota’s lake country. 

Rent a fishing cabin, or head up for some ice fishing in northwest Minnesota.

Things to do at Big Bog State Recreation Area

Lake Elmo

Lake Elmo is a small, peaceful lake just east of St. Paul perfect for swimming, fishing, and boating without large crowds.

The lake covers over 220 acres with a lakeside park that has sandy swimming beaches, fishing piers, picnic areas, and a boat launch.

It is one of the cleanest lakes in Minnesota. It’s a great location to catch panfish as well as bass, walleye, and northern pike.

The surrounding parks have trails for hiking and biking along the shoreline.

You can also rent paddleboards, kayaks, and electric boats during the summer. 

Deer Lake

Deer Lake in northern Minnesota offers some of the state’s best smallmouth bass, muskie, and northern pike fishing. Part of Chippewa National Forest, Deer Lake has 25 miles of undeveloped woodlands and wetlands to explore.

Visitors can boat, kayak, and fish on the clear waters as well as camp along the rugged shoreline. Deer Lake has two Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas with rare orchids and other protected plant species.

Lake Saganaga

This may be my favorite part of Minnesota. This isn’t your traditional vacation spot. That’s because you have to canoe in!

Nestled within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Saganaga Lake is absolutely stunning. This large lake spans the border between Minnesota and Canada with over 50 miles of rocky shoreline dotted with pine trees.

Visitors can only reach Saganaga Lake by boat or float plane. The lake has walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, and trout drawing anglers from all over.

With its crystal clear waters and protected surroundings, Saganaga allows for excellent canoeing, kayaking, and camping as well. A designated Dark Sky site, the lack of light pollution makes Saganaga Lake ideal for stargazing.

While there is a huge number of lakes to choose from in the BWCA, this is my favorite! 

Canoeing the BWCA
Canoeing the BWCA

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What is the largest lake in Minnesota?

The largest lake completely within Minnesota is Red Lake at 288,000 acres. The largest freshwater lake on the border of Minnesota is Lake Superior which has the greatest surface area of all the Great Lakes.

How many lakes are there in Minnesota?

Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” though estimates put the actual number of lakes at 11,842 lakes that are 10 acres or larger in size. The state has more lakes over 10 acres than any other state except Alaska.

What are the cleanest lakes in Minnesota?

Some of the cleanest lakes in Minnesota with excellent water quality ratings include Lake Itasca, Trout Lake, Turtle Lake, and Big Sand Lake.

Where are the best lakes to go on vacation in Minnesota?

Some of the best Minnesota lakes to visit for a lake vacation include Lake Vermilion, Gull Lake, Lake Minnetonka, Leech Lake, Lake Superior’s North Shore, Lake Mille Lacs, Lake Bemidji, and the Brainerd Lakes area.

What is there to do at Minnesota lakes?

Popular activities at Minnesota’s lakes include fishing, boating, kayaking, canoeing, paddle boarding, swimming, waterskiing, tubing, hiking, biking, camping, renting cabins, and visiting state parks with beaches. Many lakes also have restaurants, shopping, concerts, and other entertainment.

Enjoy the Natural Beauty of Minnesota’s Lakes

With over 11,000 lakes across dense forests and scenic landscapes, it’s easy to find a special spot to enjoy Minnesota’s pristine lakes.  Minnesota has some of the most scenic lakes in the country. While I may be in love with a few, with thousands of lakes to choose from, I’m sure you’ll find your perfect one nearby.

From the cliffs of Lake Superior to the sandy beaches of family-friendly lakes near the Twin Cities, some of the most beautiful lakes in the country are right here in Minnesota. Plan your future lake vacation to see Minnesota’s breathtaking landscapes, wildlife, and wealth of outdoor activities for yourself.

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