15 Best Lakes in Minnesota

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Known as the ‘Land of 10,000 Lakes’, it should be of no surprise that Minnesota’s large number of lakes is one of its main features. In fact, there are a whopping 11,842 lakes in the state, in addition to over 6,500 natural rivers.

There are so many lakes in Minnesota that the choices are endless. Plus, it is hard to know which ones really stand out amongst the rest. Here is a list of the 15 best lakes in Minnesota:

1. Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis

Source: Roger Siljander / shutterstock
Lake Of The Isles, Minneapolis

This city lake is the quietest of all of Minneapolis’ lakes, as well as being the most beautiful. Lake of the Isles is encircled by a path that is fantastic for walking and cycling.

There is also a road that runs around the lake, offering a scenic drive. Those that visit in the winter can enjoy ice skating atop the lake’s surface.

Within the centre of the lake are two wooded islands that are protected wildlife refuges and can only be admired from afar. The west side of the lake is home to some magnificent stately houses.

2. Lake Vermilion, Saint Louis County

Lake VermilionSource: dalliedee / Flickr
Lake Vermilion

This freshwater lake sits in northeastern Minnesota. It is the fifth largest lake in the state, having a surface area of over 15,000 hectare.

Lake Vermilion not only attracts visitors from the state, but also from other parts of the country and beyond. This is because it is well-known for its fantastic fishing, particularly muskie and walleye fishing.

In the 1940s, the National Geographic Society rated Lake Vermilion as one of the most scenic lakes in the country. This is not hard to see why, and is especially true at sunrise.

3. Lake Harriet, Minneapolis

Source: Geoffrey Kuchera / shutterstock
Lake Harriet, Minneapolis

Sitting in the southwest part of the city means that Lake Harriet is often used for special events. The lake is also a popular recreational facility.

There are walking and cycling trails around the lake, and many people also use the lake for sailing. Lake Harriet’s two beaches make it particularly popular on a hot summer weekend.

A band shell sits on the northern side of the lake and offers live entertainment and snacks. There is also a pavilion that is great for getting out of the sun and admiring the pretty water.

4. Lake Pepin, Goodhue & Wabasha County

Source: John Brueske / shutterstock
Lake Pepin

This naturally occurring lake is the largest part of the Mississippi River. Lake Pepin is shared with the neighbouring state of Wisconsin, though the Minnesota side is more developed.

There are three marinas on the Minnesota side of the lake. The only working lighthouse along the Mississippi River sits at the entrance to one of the marinas (Lake City Marina).

The Frontenac State Park sits on the shoreline of the lake, offering bird watching, camping and hiking. Fishing is pretty good in Lake Pepin, with walleye, crappie, northern pike, channel catfish and bluegill all being easily caught here.

5. Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis

Source: Roger Siljander / shutterstock
Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis

The largest lake in Minneapolis is part of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway. Lake Calhoun is a lovely park that is surrounded by parkland and encircled with cycling and walking trials.

This 163 hectare city lake is home to three beaches, all of which offer swimming. Additional recreational activities enjoyed at the lake include windsurfing, cameoing and kayaking.

The surrounding Lake Calhoun Park has picnic areas, volleyball nets and athletic fields. It is also home to the famous Lake Calhoun Sailing School.

6. Mille Lacs Lake, Mille Lacs, Aitkin & Crow Wing Counties

Source: John Brueske / shutterstock
Mille Lacs Lake

Meaning ‘thousand lakes’ in French, Mille Lacs Lake sits around 160 kilometres north of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area. It is the second largest lake in the state, although it is shallow, having a maximum depth of just 13 metres.

Mille Lacs Lake is home to the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, which is made up of two small islands. The refuge is home to a plethora of bird species, including the threatened common terns.

The lake is a popular summer destination, where kayaking, canoeing, water skiing and swimming can be enjoyed. It is also a top fishing spot with many species of fish, including walleye, muskie, northern pike, burbot and jumbo perch, amongst others.

7. Lake Superior, Saint Louis County

Source: Joe Ferrer / shutterstock
Lake Superior, Saint Louis County

The very western corner of this Great Lake sits within Minnesota. This portion of the magnificent lake is considered to be the North Shore and is known for its rocky cliffs, forested hills and cobblestone beaches.

There are numerous attractions along the shoreline of the lake, including the spectacular North Shore Scenic Drive. The Superior National Forest sits right at the Canadian border and is a popular spot for camping.

Kayaking, canoeing and fishing can all be enjoyed on Lake Superior in the warmer months. Visit in the winter and go ice fishing or skating right on the lake.

8. Rainy Lake, Koochiching County

Source: Olga Enger / shutterstock
Rainy Lake, Koochiching County

Rainy Lake is part of the Voyageurs National Park in the north part of Minnesota. In fact, the lake is shared with its neighbouring Canadian province of Ontario, though the national park is only within the borders of the USA.

The large freshwater lake is best known for its fabulous recreational fishing, as it is home to northern pike, crappie, walleye, muskellunge and bass. To accommodate this, there are numerous fishing cabins, fishing resorts and boat-in camping sites.

Visit Rainy Lake in the winter and go ice fishing, cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. There are also designated snowmobiling trails.

9. Gull Lake, Cass & Crow Wing Counties

Source: AMB-MD Photography / shutterstock
Gull Lake

This massive lake is over 4,000 hectare and has quite a developed shoreline. Still, it is an extremely popular lake that is dotted with numerous cabins, resorts and homes.

Gull Lake is 24 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide, having a maximum depth of 24 metres. It is home to around 35 species of aquatic life, resulting in a large population of fish.

Popular activities enjoyed on the lake include water-skiing, cameoing, paddling, boarding and of course fishing. Those that would rather stay dry can enjoy a round a golf, a game of tennis, go horseback riding or enjoy mountain biking.

10. Leech Lake, Cass County

Source: Ben Harding / shutterstock
Leech Lake

Sitting in north central Minnesota, Leech Lake is completely surrounded by the Chippewa National Forest. It is the third largest lake in the state, used as a reservoir for the county.

Leech Lake is home to 11 different islands, as well as having a shoreline that is made up of numerous bays. This makes it a prime fishing destination, particularly for walleye and perch.

Swimming, water-skiing and canoeing are popular summer activities, while cycling, hiking and horseback riding can be enjoyed along its surrounding trails. There are also over 600 kilometres of snowmobiling trails for winter visitors.

11. Lake Itasca, Clearwater County

Lake ItascaSource: JB Manning / shutterstock
Lake Itasca

This small glacial lake sits around 450 metre above sea level at the edge of Itasca State Park. It is not a deep lake, having a maximum depth of around 11 metres, though it is a good place to go fishing.

Northern pike, walleye, panfish and bass are present in Lake Itasca, while the park itself is a great place for bird watching. In the winter, the lake is a prime spot for ice fishing.

Other activities enjoyed on Lake Itasca include canoeing, kayaking and boating. Those that want to enjoy the nature of the park can go hiking, biking or horseback riding along its trails.

12. Lake Bemidji, Beltrami County

Source: jjsmustang1979 / Flickr
Lake Bemidji

Lake Bemidji is another glacially-formed lake in Minnesota. The lake is located in the northern part of the state within the Lake Bemidji State Park.

Lake Bemidji is a popular recreational destination, offering boating, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. There is even a beach along the north shoreline of the lake with picnic tables, grills, a volleyball court and public restrooms.

There is an extensive network of trails surrounding then lake, some of which are designated cycling trails. In the winter, the trails are suitable for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

13. Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis

Source: Near and Far Photography / shutterstock
Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis

Another city lake, Lake Nokomis is located at the south part of the city close to the airport. The oval –shaped lake has a total area of 83 hectare, with its shoreline being encircled by vegetation.

There are two sandy beaches along the shores of the lake where visitors can go swimming on a hot day. One of the beaches features concession stands, a walking trail and a restaurant, while the other is bare.

In the winter, the frozen lake is turned into a public ice skating rink. In fact, it is the site of the U.S. pond hockey championships.

14. Burntside Lake, Saint Louis County

Burntside LakeSource: gomattolson / Flickr
Burntside Lake

There are over 100 islands in Burntside Lake, most of which are inhabited. On the shore of the 2,889 hectare lake are two resorts, as well as a summer camp.

The west boundary of the lake is part of the magnificent Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. This area of the lake is also popular for fishing, although fish can be caught anywhere on the lake.

Golden shiner, lake trout, bluegill, rainbow smelt, walleye and smallmouth bass are just some of the fish that inhabit the lake.

15. Lake Phalen, Saint Paul

Lake PhalenSource: Mulad / Flickr
Lake Phalen

This urban lake sits in the Saint Paul suburb of Maplewood, just northeast of the city centre. The lake is surrounded by 200 hectare of park, which attracts over 500,000 visitors each year.

Lake Phalen is a popular fishing spot, where common fish include walleyes, tiger muskies and northern pike. Sailing and boating are also popular activities enjoyed on the lake.

The lake is the only spot in the city that allows swimming. There is also an 18-hole golf course and a beautiful Chinese garden along the lake’s five kilometre shoreline.

Lake Harriet, Minneapolis

15 Best Lakes in Minnesota:

  • Lake of the Isles, Minneapolis
  • Lake Vermilion, Saint Louis County
  • Lake Harriet, Minneapolis
  • Lake Pepin, Goodhue & Wabasha County
  • Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis
  • Mille Lacs Lake, Mille Lacs, Aitkin & Crow Wing Counties
  • Lake Superior, Saint Louis County
  • Rainy Lake, Koochiching County
  • Gull Lake, Cass & Crow Wing Counties
  • Leech Lake, Cass County
  • Lake Itasca, Clearwater County
  • Lake Bemidji, Beltrami County
  • Lake Nokomis, Minneapolis
  • Burntside Lake, Saint Louis County
  • Lake Phalen, Saint Paul