One of the most sparsely populated states in the USA, North Dakota is a predominately flat state that borders Canada to the north, while the Red River of the North makes up for its eastern border. The southwest part of the state is part of the Badlands and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, known for its buttes and hill and its highest peak; White Butte.
In general, North Dakota is quite geographically diverse and as a result supports almost 2,000 plant species. The Missouri River cuts through the western part of the state, creating a number of lakes. There are also other lakes spread across the state that vary in size and depth. If you ever visit the Peace Garden State, here is a list of the 15 best lakes in North Dakota.
1. Devils Lake; Ramsey & Benson counties
The largest natural body of water in the state, Devils Lake sits at an elevation of 443.24 metres above sea level in north-eastern North Dakota. The lake is known for its variations in lake level, ranging from a shallow to a depth of 18 metres deep during periods of excessive precipitation.
Devils Lake is a known recreation lake, attracting both local and international tourists. It is home to the Grahams Island State Park and Sullys Hill National Game Preserve, while the Spirit Lake Reservation sits on the southern shores of the lake.
Most people come for its fantastic fishing, especially its perch. There are boat ramps to accommodate anglers, though other recreational activities are also enjoyed here, including camping, picnicking and boating. In the winter, the lake is open for ice fishing.
2. Lake Sakakawea; Dunn, McKenzie, McLean, Mercer, Mountrail & Williams counties
At 124 hectare, Lake Sakakawea is the largest man-made lake in state and the third largest in the country. It is a total of 286 kilometres long and stretches through six counties in central North Dakota.
The lake sits along the Missouri River around 80 kilometres from the capital city of Bismarck. Its 2,120 kilometre shoreline offers plenty of recreational activities, drawing tourists from all over the country and beyond.
Lake Sakakawea is surrounded by parks, wildlife management areas, wildlife refuges and recreation areas. Fishing, boating and camping are the lake’s most popular activities, though there are also picnic areas, swimming beaches and hiking trails.
3. Lake Oahe; Emmons, Sioux, Morton & Burleigh counties
This 372 kilometres long lake is shared with the neighbouring state of South Dakota, stretches through eight of its counties and five counties in North Dakota. Lake Oahe sits along the Missouri River and is the fourth largest reservoir in the USA.
Over 1.5 million people visit the lake each year to enjoy one of its 51 recreation areas, many of which are located in North Dakota. Many of the recreation areas have a boat ramp, camping grounds, a marina, picnic areas and hiking trails, amongst other things.
People visit Lake Oahe to enjoy its fabulous fishing, which includes catching walleye, channel catfish, northern pike and smallmouth bass. The lake also offers water skiing, swimming and numerous other water sports.
4. Stump Lake; Nelson County
This naturally formed lake is just east of Devils Lake and home to the Old Settler’s Pavilion, which is listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Stump Lake covers an area of over 6,370 hectare and boasts a shoreline of nearly 117 kilometres.
It is a closed lake that is only fed through rain and human sources, so its depth varies throughout the year. This means that different activities can be enjoyed at different times throughout the year.
Stump Lake Park sits along the southeast shoreline and offers a plethora of activities throughout the year. Fishing, camping, hiking, water skiing and other water sports can be enjoyed in the warm months, whole skating can be enjoyed in the winter months.
5. Red Willow Lake; Griggs County
Red Willow Lake is a naturally formed lake in the eastern part of the state near the town of Binford. The 60 hectare lake has been a recreation area since 1882, attracting both domestic and international tourists.
The lake features a 4.5 kilometre shoreline is home to with camps and resorts, including the family owned Red Willow Lake Resort. The site of the resort has been where the lake’s historic recreation area sits and has hosted numerous events throughout the years.
There is a swimming beach, a boat ramp and a fishing pier at the resort as well as paddleboat and boat rentals. The closed lake is surrounded by trees and greenery, though camping is only offered at Red Willow Lake Resort.
6. Lake Upsilon; Rolette County
This beautiful Y-shaped lake is located in northern North Dakota near the Canadian border just north of 106 Street NE. It is a quiet, secluded lake that sits in the Turtle Mountains and is a great place to enjoy recreation activities.
Anglers flock to Lake Upsilon for its bluegill, walleye, crappie, trout and northern pike. It is also a popular spot for leisure pontoon rides, swimming, jet skiing and water skiing.
Families have visited the lake for generations to enjoy its tranquil atmosphere, natural beauty and great activities. Lion Park sits at the very south tip of the 170 hectare lake and offers camping and fishing, as well as having a boat ramp.
7. Harker Lake; Kidder County
Harker Lake is a shallow glacial lake that is located five kilometres southeast of the town of Dawson in central North Dakota. The lake is entirely surrounded by the Slade National Wildlife Refuge, which is made up of wetlands and marshes.
The lake sits at an elevation of 529 metres above sea level and is accessible via Highway 3, though access is limited due to its marshy conditions. This should not deter anyone from visiting the picturesque lake and ogling its wildlife.
Waterfowl like Canada geese, snow geese, mallards, and ring-necked pheasants and sharp-tailed grouse use Harker Lake around nine months of the year. It is also home to coyote and white-tailed deer.
8. Lake Isabel; Kidder County
Sitting just south of Harker Lake, Lake Isabel’s entire west shoreline is skirted by Highway 3, making it very easy to access. The 330 hectare lake’s shoreline is more than six kilometres, with the Slade National Wildlife Refuge sitting along its northern end.
The deepest point of Lake Isabel is roughly four metres deep, making it a good spot to fish for northern pike and yellow perch. There is a boat ramp along its northern shoreline and a special needs camp at the southeast corner of the lake.
Lake Isabel is open year-round and has camping facilities on the north end of it within the Slade National Wildlife Refuge. It is a free campground that has a picnic area, though very limited facilities. Visitors that want more comfortable accommodations can rent a home along the lake’s shoreline or can stay at the nearby Dakota Outback Cottages.
9. Homme Lake; Walsh County
Homme Lake is a man-made lake that is just west of the city of Park River in the northeast corner of North Dakota. The lake named after Mr. HG Homme, a prominent local real estate investor and business person.
The lake was formed by the damming of the South Branch Park River and is best viewed from the Spillway Overlook on the east shoreline of the lake. Homme Lake is easy to access, as it is just north of Highway 17, making it a popular lake for nearby residents and visitors.
Anglers visit Homme Lake for its abundance of walleye, northern pike and crappie. There is also a recreation are along the lake’s southern shoreline that offers numerous water sports, as well as having campsites and a children’s playground.
10. Lake Alice; Ramsey & Towner Counties
Just north of Devils Lake is Lake Alice, which is part of the Lake Alice National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was established in 1935 and as then privately owned, but today it is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and allows for visitors.
Most people come to Lake Alice to go fishing, though it is also a fantastic place to spot wildlife, especially waterfowl. It is also open for ice fishing, though this too is in a designated area that is clearly marked.
Camping is prohibited, and boats are only allowed in designated areas of the lake. The lake is easy to access, as it sits right off of U.S. Highway 2 and U.S. Highway 281.
11. Lake Metigoshe; Bottineau County
Lake Metigoshe sits in the Turtle Mountains along the very north border of North Dakota and the Canadian province of Manitoba. The lake was named for the Chippewa word meaning ‘clear water’ as the water is clear and surrounded by lovely oak trees.
It is a beautiful lake that offers plenty of recreation activities, especially from the Lake Metigoshe State Park. The park is located on the northeast corner of the lake and draws in visitors thanks to its fishing, canoeing, kayaking, boating and camping facilities.
The lake is also known for its hiking and cycling trails that encircle the entire shoreline. Lake Metigoshe is also open throughout the winter months when visitors can enjoy cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, sledding, ice fishing and skating.
12. Long Lake; Burleigh & Kidder counties
Long Lake sits completely within the Long Lake National Wildlife Refuge just east of Highway 83 and south of Interstate 94. The bird refuge was established in 1932 by President Herbert Hoover.
It is a shallow lake that extends for 29 kilometres across two North Dakota counties. Birdwatchers flock to Long Lake to spot migratory and nesting species of waterfowl and rare migrant birds, which was designated as a Globally Important Bird Area in 2001.
The 6,475 hectare lake was created during the most recent ice age and is home to over 20,000 shorebirds annually, making it a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) site.
13. Lake Darling; Renville County
Located in northern North Dakota not far from the Canadian border is the picturesque Lake Darling. The lake sits along the Souris River and is the main feature of the Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge.
Lake Darling was created after the damming of the river, and both the lake and the dam were named after American cartoonist Ding Darling. The lake and the wildlife refuge have been designated as a Globally Important Bird Area, drawing in birdwatchers from all over the world.
There are three boat access points around the lake, as well as picnic areas and a visitor centre. The lake also has several designated canoe routes, though water skiing, swimming and jet skiing are prohibited as it will scare the birds away,
14. Jamestown Reservoir; Stutsman County
With 72 kilometres of shoreline, seven boat launches and two marinas, it’s no wonder Jamestown Reservoir is a premier recreation area. The 1,008 hectare lake features a stocked fishing pond, a children’s playground, a modern campground and concessions.
Jamestown Reservoir also features swimming beaches, walking and cycling trails, and a world-class disc golf course. Visit in the winter and enjoy cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Fishing is also popular here, with the lake being home to walleye, pike, bluegill, crappie, musky, smallmouth bass and bullhead.
15. Lake Tewaukon; Sargent County
This 792 hectare lake is located in southern North Dakota within the Tewaukon National Wildlife Refuge. Lake Tewaukon has a 13.6 kilometre shoreline that is predominately encircled by a road that offers great views of the lake.
There are over 245 bird species that visit the lake each year, enticing birdwatchers from all over the globe. Plus, species of ducks, geese, swans, pelicans, herons and cormorants use the wetlands for nesting and to rest during migration.
Plenty of other wildlife lives in the tall grasses surrounding the lake, including muskrat, red fox, minx, coyote and badgers. Lake Tewaukon is open to fishing, with anglers being able to catch northern pike, perch, walleye and bullheads.