If you’re a fan of the water, making a trip to just about any of the Minnesota Lakes on this list will give you the time of your life.
We totally love the beach, but there’s something to be said about the calmness and demeanor of a lake. The vast amounts of shoreline to explore and copious amounts of freshwater fish are just the start. Whether you want to take out the motorboat or kayak around to each little cove, there is so much to see. So, if lakes intrigue you, it’s a no-brainer to make your way to the land of Ten Thousand Lakes at some point soon. Minnesota actually has 11,842 lakes, but who’s counting? So, if you’re ready for some backwoods adventure or big time fun on Lake Superior, check out all of the phenomenal Minnesota lakes.
1. Rainy Lake
For a fantastic fishing vacation, look no further than a cabin on Rainy Lake. One of the top Minnesota lakes for recreational fishing, you won’t be let down with a week spent here. Rainy Lake is on the border of the US and Canada, so you can enjoy seeing both countries easily in just one trip. It is part of America’s Voyageurs National Park and takes up over 221,000 acres of space. There are over nine hundred miles of shoreline and approximately 1,600 islands in the lake. Yes, one of the tiny islands has the sweet mermaid rock pictured above. So, no matter how much time you spend here, it will be impossible to run out of spots to explore.
For the fishers reading this, Rainy Lake is well known for northern pike, crappie, walleye, muskellunge, and smallmouth bass. As there is plenty of fish and lake to explore, there are also many options for places to stay as well. There are expansive cabins with boat rentals as well as boat-in camping sites. You won’t be short of the perfect place to enjoy this most spectacular of the Minnesota Lakes. If you head to Rainy Lake in the winter, don’t worry about being short on activities either. The National Park has incredible snowmobile trails and plenty of room to go cross-country skiing. In addition, ice fishing is quite popular here in the winter, too. So, no matter when you show up at Rainy Lake, there is something for you.
2. Gull Lake
The best of the central Minnesota lakes has got to be Gull Lake. The picturesque views pair perfectly well with the calm water for any lakeside recreational activity you could think of. If you have a boat, try your hand at water skiing. Does that take too much balance and skill? Instead, just hop on a tube and be pulled around for the afternoon. If you like to keep a slower pace in the water, canoeing, paddle-boarding, and kayaking are always a great way to explore the lake. Fishing is, no surprise, popular here as well with over thirty-five species of aquatic life in this deep lake.
If you’re hoping to stay dry while visiting the Minnesota lakes, Gull Lake is a great spot for you. In particular, there are over twenty golf courses nearby. If you love swinging the club or have always wanted to give it a shot, this is your chance. The trails around the lake are also well known for horseback riding and mountain biking. Many of the resorts and parks have tennis courts as well. If you want to explore some history, check out the prehistoric burial site near the dam. There is a visitors center to help you walk through and understand the history behind this spot. Overall, we love Gull Lake for its accessibility, activities, and gorgeous scenery. It is truly one of the most versatile Minnesota lakes.
3. Lake Louise
If you could disappear for a few days and simply sit and take in the beauty that nature has to offer, would you do it? Okay, that might be a weird question, but that is just what Lake Louise is for. Nestled in amongst woodlands, savanna, and meadows, this is truly one of the most beautiful Minnesota lakes that we know of. It is home to spectacular bluegill, largemouth bass, and northern pike. However, those are just a few of the over forty-seven species of fish to populate this spot. Lake Louise is one of the southernmost Minnesota lakes, lying on the border with Iowa.
There is a beach for swimming and plenty of hiking and horseback riding trails. These will take you through various environments and even seasonal wildflowers if you come at the right time. If you’d like to backpack around to see what all the hype is about, check out Shooting Star Trail. The over twenty-mile trail is open spring through fall for your hiking pleasure. All around, we love Lake Louise for its pristine blue water and peaceful atmosphere.
4. Lake Minnewaska
The most fun to pronounce award for our list of Minnesota lakes goes to Lake Minnewaska. In central Minnesota, this lake is sneakily underrated for vacations and absolutely beloved by locals. So, what better place to come if you like a laid back, small town getaway? With over 7,000 acres of water awaiting you, you’ll have plenty of space. There are two small towns on the shores, and if you plan well you can be there for the Waterama Festival. This festival is a great summer celebration with fun, water, parades, boats, music, and more. It’s well worth planning your vacation for late July to experience this. If you’d prefer a more quiet escape at Lake Minnewaska, that’s okay too. The local towns have spots to rent boats, kayaks, paddle boards, and just about any other watercraft you could imagine.
If you’re a fisherman, there are a few annual bass fishing tournaments that can be quite entertaining to experience or participate in. Even in the winter, Lake Minnewaska has a great feel to it. Everyone is out and about ice skating, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, or even cross-country skiing. The bed and breakfasts around the like will quickly fill up for the stunning winter season, so book early. Overall, Lake Minnewaska gives the best small town feeling without sacrificing on fun and amenities when compared against all the other Minnesota lakes.
5. Deer Lake
This lake might not be made for a week-long vacation, but it might have the coolest natural phenomenon of all our Minnesota lakes. Deer Lake’s nickname is the Lake of Changing Colors. Due to a naturally rich mineral content, the lake shimmers with a variety of shades of turquoise. It is one of the clearest Minnesota lakes, so get ready to spot all of the fish as you paddle about. It can be a great day trip to go island hopping with the family, too. With twenty-five islands scattered about, see how many you can explore in a day. So, if you’re traveling through the Northwoods region of Minnesota anyway, make sure to put Deer Lake as a stop on your trip.
6. Lake Superior
You can’t write about Minnesota lakes without including The Great Lake. The world’s largest freshwater lake, this expansive lake holds about ten percent of the entire world’s freshwater at any given time. While Lake Superior is shared with other states, the part of it in Minnesota is affectionately called the North Shore. It is exceptionally scenic and stunning with its tall cliffs, pictured above. Two main draws of Lake Superior are the Lake Shore Scenic Drive and Superior National Forest. The first is just what it sounds like: a great time to get that summer convertible rolling around the roads. The latter is a great place to take the family camping for the weekend.
While people love taking boats out on this lake, keep in mind how large it is. Because of its size, it can become stormy very quickly, just like the ocean. If you’re not an experienced sailor who can read the weather signs, please go with a guide to explore the lake. That being said, sailing out to catch your evening dinner may be one of the most fun things to do at the largest of our favorite Minnesota lakes. Lastly, Lake Superior is one of the best spots for migratory bird watching. So, go ahead and bring grandpa along to sit on the porch with the binoculars. You shouldn’t be surprised when both of you are captivated by the vast amounts of wildlife around.
As far as places to see while you’re here, there are a few. The Aerial Lift Bridge is a brilliant architectural feat that lifts itself up to allow boats to pass under. If you can be around to watch this, you won’t ever forget it. Other fun things to see are the Split Rock Lighthouse on the North Shore and the view from Pike Point at night. But, wherever you end up on Lake Superior, you will quickly understand why it is truly a Great Lake.
7. Lake Nokomis
So, you don’t have to be disappearing into nature completely to enjoy all of the Minnesota lakes. Lake Nokomis is located right in Minneapolis. With two beaches to take a dip, you can explore the best parts of Minneapolis while still enjoying fun in the water. One of the beaches is a little more day-trip friendly, having walking paths, a restaurant, and a concession stand. This isn’t your run of the mill concession stand, either. Known for its cheese curds, delectable horchata, and kimchi-topped hot dogs, you will want to come back just for the food. The restaurant also serves up local beers and wine on tap, so this little lake getaway is not just for the little ones.
The other beach spot on Lake Nokomis just has the beach open for use, no fun amenities to take note of. In the winter, Lake Nokomis is the city’s public skating rink. On top of that, it is where the US Pond Hockey Championships are held, which is pretty fun to watch. So, for the best mix of lake and city life, book a spot near Lake Nokomis!
8. Burntside Lake
This long lake is a busy destination for water sports enthusiasts and fisherman alike. Burntside Lake does not have any motor restrictions, making it the perfect destination to wakeboard, waterski, or tube any day of the week. The water is impeccably clear, which makes it that much more fun to swim in. As you boat around, you can explore the over 150 islands and see how many species of birds and other wildlife you can find. There are ample spots for picnicking, sunbathing on the sand, as well as putting your own boat in. If you spend a few days at a lake house here, head to the International Wolf Center nearby when you need a days break from the water.
When you reach the western tip of the lake, you will be entering into the stunning Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. While you can fish anywhere on the lake, this spot, in particular, is quite popular. You will most likely catch Golden shiner, bluegill, rainbow smelt, lake trout, walleye and smallmouth bass. So, if you’re ready for an all-around great lake for the whole family, keep Burntside Lake on your list of options.
9. Lake Bemidji
Home to Paul Bunyan and the Blue Ox statue, we had to include Lake Bemidji on our list of the best Minnesota Lakes to visit. This strangely wonderful and popular roadside attraction sits in the town of Bemidji, next to this sparkling lake. Lake Bemidji is the only glacially formed lake on our list, giving it a distinct history to note. It was a huge logging destination for hundreds of years as well, hence the Paul Bunyan statue. Lake Bemidji got its name because Bemidji means “Lake with Crossing Waters”. It is nestled just fifty miles from the source of the Mississippi River and has the river flowing both into and out of it.
This all being said, this lake is a great spot for low-key recreation, whether that’s canoeing, kayaking, fishing, or playing volleyball on the beach. There are a variety of mountain bike trails around the lake when you need some solid ground under your feet, too. Lastly, like all the other Minnesota lakes, Lake Bemidji has great cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling around it in the winter. All in all, Lake Bemidji is a great destination, especially for those who like funky roadside attractions or want to experience the geology of a glacial lake.
10. Lake Vermillion
One of the most scenic lakes in the whole country is Lake Vermillion, That easily makes it the most picturesque of all our Minnesota Lakes. Plopped up in the northeastern part of the state, it is a destination for Minnesotans just as much as tourists. It is so renowned and gorgeous that the state governor has taken most of his vacations there. Being so close to Canada, we can assure you this is the best like for fall foliage in Minnesota. Depending on the season’s flow, you will be wowed with the brilliant colors sometime in between September and early November. We highly recommend the fall for your Lake Vermillion trip to experience this.
Lake Vermillion isn’t just about the scenery though. There’s more to do than stare at the colorful trees and pristine water all day – even though that’s more than perfectly fine to do your whole vacation! Make sure to get out a few times to explore any of the over six hundred islands and 1,200 miles of shoreline around this lake. With over 40,000 acres of water, fisherman can find so many types of fish. Most popular are black crappie, bluegill, golden shiner, bass, brown bullhead, pumpkinseed, and white suckers.
If you find yourself out and about one morning, keep your ears open for the elusive and beautifully haunting loon call. For another bird to spot, make sure to be on the lookout for the beautiful bald eagles that make their homes on the shoreline. Overall, Lake Vermillion is a must-visit on our list of the most beautiful Minnesota lakes you should visit this year.
Minnesota lakes may boast some of the best fishing, scenery, recreation, and accessibility in all of America when it comes to fresh-water fun.
As most of us won’t ever happen to find ourselves in Minnesota, it is well worth planning a trip to the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes. If you want to spend a week camping far away from civilization and catching your dinner every night, there is a lake on this list for you. Even if you tend to be more of a city slicker, there are lakes to enjoy right by the Twin Cities. No one can complain about Lake Vermillion, either. It has something for everyone with its stunning beauty. So, as you travel through this glorious state, you will never be too far from another lake worth exploring. It’s time to polish off those water skiing skills and head up to the north country for some spectacular recreation. Make sure to let us know which of these Minnesota lakes you love the most!
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