15 Best Lakes in Minnesota

Minnesota is home to some of the best natural wonders in North America, especially scenic lakes.

Known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (there are more than 11,000), the state is rife with vast waterways open for fishing, boating, swimming, and much more.

From urban lakes to hidden gems, there are endless opportunities to enjoy the Minnesota waters.

Here are the 15 best lakes in Minnesota.

Best Minnesota Lakes

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1: Lake of the Isles

Lake of the Isles
Dreamstime/Randall Runtsch

You don’t even have to leave the city to find one of the best lakes in Minnesota. You may have also heard it mentioned in the Prince song, "Rock n Roll is Alive (And It Lives in Minneapolis).

Though it’s not far from Minneapolis’ downtown, Lake of the Isles is a quiet urban lake with a loop pathway popular for walking and biking.

The park surrounding the lake features several fishing areas, a boat launch, a dog park, and much more. You can even take a scenic drive around the lakeside road and take in the beautiful views.

In the winter, visitors can go ice skating on the frozen water, surrounded by the city landscape as they glide across the ice.

There are also two islands in the center of the lake designated as protected wildlife refuges. While you can't visit them, you can see the sanctuaries from the shore, where you might catch a glimpse of some of the state's fantastic wildlife.

Address: 2500 Lake Isles Pkwy E, Minneapolis, MN 55405

2: Lake Vermilion

Lake Vermilion

Head to northwestern Minnesota in Saint Louis County, and you’ll find one of the state’s largest and most beautiful lakes: Lake Vermilion.

Named after a French fur trader, this 15,000-acre lake has some of the best fishing opportunities. In the 1940s, the National Geographic Society voted it one of the country’s most scenic lakes.

Visit the lake at sunrise, and you’ll experience a beautiful array of colors and an unforgettable vista – making it worth it to get up so early.

The water is clear, and the sky over the lake is big and beautiful, so it attracts not only locals but also international tourists to take in natural beauty.

There are numerous resorts and lodges around Lake Vermilion to make the most of a northern Minnesota vacation. After a boating, swimming, or fishing day, guests can go golfing, berry picking, and even geocaching.

There are also boat-accessible restaurants and plenty of shopping opportunities in the nearby towns to purchase souvenirs of an unforgettable trip.

Address: Lake Vermilion, Tower, MN

3: Lake Harriet

Lake Harriet
Dreamstime/Aliaksandr Nikitsin

Another urban oasis located in the southwest part of Minneapolis is Lake Harriet. The lake is a popular spot for special events and offers plenty of boating opportunities, including sailing. It’s also home to two beaches, which are great spots to cool off in Minnesota’s summer months.

The historic bandshell along Lake Harriet's shores features live bands movie screenings for free, and a pavilion overlooking the water offers the perfect spot to relax.

Visitors can walk or bike around the paths that encircle the lake. In addition, the park provides a variety of activities, including a garden and playground areas for the kids.

Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard for a day on the water, or rent a bike and enjoy the scenery by trail.

With so much to do surrounded by the natural beauty of the 300-acre lake, you'll forget the city nearby. However, you may frequently watch planes flying over the lake and heading to land at the airport.

Address: West 42nd St and West Lake Harriet Parkway, Minneapolis, MN 55409

4: Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin
Dreamstime/Johnsroad7

Located between Wisconsin and Minnesota, Lake Pepin is the largest part of the Mississippi River. Formed by a backup of water along the Chippewa River delta, the lake is 21 miles long and spans just under 30,000 acres.

There are hundreds of acres of water to explore, and it has quickly become a favorite recreational spot for those visiting Minnesota.

There are three marinas at Lake Pepin, where you can launch a boat for a day on the water or go fishing to catch walleye, pike, catfish, and much more.

A lighthouse overlooking the lake sits at the entrance to Lake City Marina – and is the only working lighthouse along the Mississippi River.

If you'd rather stay on land, Frontenac State Park, nestled on Lake Pepin's shores, offers excellent camping, hiking, and bird watching. The land and glistening waters make this one of the best Minnesota lakes.

Drive around the lake and find different towns that offer a variety of shopping and dining experiences, including bakeries, bistros, and even wine bars.

Address: Lake City, MN

5: Bde Maka Ska

Bde Maka Ska

If you’re driving along the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, you can’t miss Bde Maka Ska (formerly known as Lake Calhoun), the largest lake in Minneapolis.

Like the other urban waterways on this list, Bde Maka Ska is surrounded by beautiful parkland with a looped pathway for bikers and walkers.

Spanning more than 400 acres, Bde Maka Ska has three beaches. If you're not up for swimming or a relaxing day on the beach, you can try your hand at windsurfing, canoeing, and kayaking.

Along the shores in the park, visitors can enjoy a picnic, play volleyball, or practice sports at one of the athletic fields. You can also walk or bike around the 3.2-mile trail that encircles the lake.

Take a sailing lesson at the lake's sailing school, or take in the spectacular views of the Minneapolis skyline as you watch the sunset over the water.

The natural beauty will leave you feeling refreshed. On the scenic byway, the lake connects with Lake of the Isles to the northeast and Lake Harriet and several other picturesque city lakes to the south.

Address: 3000 Calhoun Parkway Minneapolis, MN 55408

6: Mille Lacs Lake

Mille Lacs Lake
Dreamstime/Cheri Alguire

If you're looking for a city getaway from the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, head to Mille Lacs, the second-largest lake in Minnesota. The lake has two small islands and is home to the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge.

You'll forget you're less than 100 miles from the metropolitan area as you search for native animals, including a variety of bird species.

The crowds head to Mille Lacs in the summer, when the lake is perfect for boating, water skiing, and swimming.

The fish are also plentiful here, making it one of the best fishing spots in the state. Fishers will often catch walleye, Muskie, northern pike, bass, and jumbo perch. In the winter, ice fishing is a popular activity here.

Located across three counties (Mille Lacs, Crow Wing, and Aitkin), Mille Lacs has an area of about 132,000 acres, though it's a bit shallow at a max depth of about 40 feet deep.

Regardless, you'll find a relaxing escape into the Minnesota wildlands at Mille Lacs. Off the water, enjoy hiking or biking, or take one of the region's ATV trails.

Address: Brainerd, MN

7: Lake Superior

Lake Superior
Dreamstime/Ed8563

Though it spans several states (and two countries!), Lake Superior is one of the most beautiful lakes in Minnesota – and the world's largest freshwater lake – and a destination for locals and tourists (national and international).

Considered to be the "north shore" of the state, Lake Superior is renowned for its tall, rocky cliffs, stony beaches, and wooded hillsides.

Like other Minnesota lakes, Superior is open for kayaking, canoeing, sailing, fishing, and swimming (though it's very cold!).

In the winter, when parts of the lake freeze over, visitors can go ice skating and ice fishing in designated areas. There’s so much to do year-round for the entire family!

Take a drive along North Shore Scenic Drive, where you’ll find unforgettable views of the endless lake and surrounding forest.

Spend a weekend camping in the Superior National Forest, which sits right along the Canadian border. Wherever you go along the shores of Lake Superior, you’re bound to experience incredibly breathtaking scenery.

Address: Duluth, MN

8: Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake

Along the Canadian border in northern Minnesota is the wild landscape of Voyageurs National Park, home to Rainy Lake, a large freshwater lake known for great fishing.

Whether you fish for sport or as a hobby, you’ll find a variety of fish species in Rainy Lake, including pike, walleye, crappie, and various bass.

The lake borders Ontario, and a lot of its water sits within the Canadian border, but Rainy Lake is easily accessed from Minnesota.

There are more than 1,600 islands in the middle of the 221,000-acre lake, and many islands and the shore feature diverse vacation rentals, from fishing cabins and resorts to boat-in campsites.

Non-fishermen will also have a wonderful time at Rainy Lake. Companies along the shores offer all types of boating, from kayaking to sailing.

On land, visitors can snowshoe, ski, and snowmobile in the winter and hike to beautiful waterfalls and other nearby lakes in the summer. Make a note to stick around to experience the northern lights along the horizon.

Address: International Falls, MN

Known for its resort getaways and beachy shorelines, Gull Lake is a relaxing dream vacation. Enjoy water skiing, canoeing and kayaking, and fishing on the water, or stay dry on land with golf (there are 20 different courses in the area), tennis, horseback riding, and even mountain biking nearby trails.

Located in central Minnesota, Gull Lake spans nearly 10,000 acres and is known for being one of the deeper lakes in the state.

Because of its significant golfing presence, Gull Lake has become a vacation destination for avid golfers and their families. In the winter, ice fishing is a popular activity along the frozen waters.

Whether you’re renting a cabin or house or staying at one of the lake’s luxury resorts, be sure to catch a beautiful sunset over the water while you’re there.

The crystal-clear waters mirror the sky’s colors, creating a beautiful, natural light show. The natural beauty and various family-friendly activities make it an excellent spot for a relaxing and enjoyable trip.

Address: Brainerd, MN

10: Leech Lake

Leech Lake
Dreamstime/Jacob Boomsma

Surrounded by the Chippewa National Forest, Leech Lake is one of the cleanest lakes in Minnesota and a county reservoir. Home to 11 islands and several bays, Leech Lake is a great place for fishers to catch some walleye and perch.

There are also opportunities for hiking, camping, and shopping and dining around the lake.

If you’re not a fisher, there’s still plenty to do at Leech Lake. From swimming and water skiing in the summer to snowmobiling in the winter, the numerous activities will entertain all interests.

There are also hundreds of miles of trails for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. If you’re interested in water sports, there are lots of boating opportunities, including sailing.

Leech lake is just three hours from the Twin Cities and sits between Bemidji and Brainerd, making it an easily accessible weekend getaway spot.

The lake also holds annual events, like live music, art shows, farmers’ markets, and much more. In addition, vacationers can purchase different specials for an all-inclusive getaway package at one of the lake’s resorts.

Address: Walker, MN

11: Lake Itasca

Lake Itasca
Dreamstime/Mike7777777

Located in north-central Minnesota in Itasca State Park, this glacial lake is the primary source for the Mississippi River. What it lacks in size, the lake makes up for in beautifully clear waters and natural beauty surrounding it.

Consider turning your trip into a camping or backpacking adventure, as there are numerous campgrounds and cabins available.

Like many lakes in Minnesota, Lake Itasca is a great fishing spot and very popular for ice fishing in the winter.

The lake also offers the opportunity to go canoeing, kayaking, and boating. Off the water, visitors can go hiking, biking, and horseback riding in the state park.

The area connects three of North America’s habitats: plains, deciduous forest, and coniferous forest, making it a prime research location.

Lake Itasca is also home to the University of Minnesota’s Itasca Biological State, which offers field research to students looking to study the lake’s headwaters and surrounding forest.

Address: Itasca State Park, Park Rapids, MN 56470

12: Lake Nokomis

Lake Nokomis
Dreamstime/Aliaksandr Nikitsin

There’s no shortage of urban lakes to add to your Minnesota waters bucket list. Located in the southern part of Minneapolis, Lake Nokomis is an oval-shaped body of water with two beaches, concessions and a restaurant, and a walking trail. The vegetation surrounding the lake will make you instantly forget your proximity to the city.

The lake also has a boat dock, fishing pier, sports fields and courts, and a bike path. Lake Nokomis is a popular sport in the winter, when the body of water turns into multiple ice skating rinks – and is home to the U.S. Pond Hockey Championships every year. 

Explore the nearby trails or accessible shoreline for a quick escape from the city. While visiting, take some time to explore the Nokomis Naturescape Garden, a beautiful area on the lake's northeast shore.

The four-acre garden not only features gorgeous species of plants and flowers but is home to the annual Minneapolis Monarch Festival.

Address: Minneapolis, MN

13: Burntside Lake

Burntside Lake

Almost all water activities are welcome at Burntside Lake, a nine-mile-long body of water that spans more than 7,000 acres.

From boating and water skiing to kayaking and canoeing, there are endless activities to spend a day on the water. Visitors will also find beautiful resorts nestled along the shore among tall pine trees.

Located in St. Louis County, Burntside Lake's waters are so clear that visibility sometimes reaches more than 20 feet deep. The lake is also home to more than 100 islands, where visitors can go bird watching or fishing and find various species.

Rental a cabin or stay in a nearby resort and enjoy Burntside Lake’s sandy beaches and boating areas. Take a day trip to Ely and visit the International Wolf Center, where you can get up close and personal with wolves.

Address: 2769 Van Vac Rd, Ely, MN 55731

14: Deer Lake

Deer Lake

With beautiful blue-green clear waters on bright summer days, it's no wonder Deer Lake's nickname is the "Lake of Changing Colors." The lake has a high mineral content and extremely clear waters, making it a must-see lake in Minnesota.

There are 25 islands across the 4,000-acre lake, which visitors will off explore during their visit. The lake also has a reputation for great fishing and is home to walleye, smallmouth bass, Muskies, and perch.

Deer Lake is located about 12 miles north of Grand Rapids and features just over 20 miles of shoreline to explore. There are many homes and cabins along the lake, including places available to rent for a vacation.

Address: Itasca County, MN

15: Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka
Dreamstime/Mkopka

As one of the largest lakes in Minnesota, at about 14,500 acres and just about nine miles from Minneapolis, Lake Minnetonka is a famous and accessible lake for all ages.

It's one of the best fishing lakes in Minnesota, and many sailors and boaters spend a lot of time here as well.

Lake Minnetonka is a beautiful Minnesota lake perfect for a weekend getaway. Choose from 13 different lakeside towns to stay in or make it a goal to explore them all.

There are many waterfront restaurants and shops to dine and explore while taking in amazing views.

There are several islands within the lake as well that offer their own adventures. The regional park along the shores of Lake Minnetonka also provides plenty of family-friendly activities. From a swimming pond to disc golf areas, you’ll have a jam-packed weekend.

Address: Minnetonka, MN

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