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The 12 Best Lakes in Minnesota (to enjoy a summer’s day)

As the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minnesota has so much to offer when it comes to outdoor recreation. No matter where you are, you won’t have to go far to find a lake where you can fish, swim, boat, or enjoy a day of water sports. That’s not to mention the amazing atmosphere at lakeside restaurants, bars, and parks, where you will be sure to make plenty of memories all year long.

From the many lovely beaches for a hot summer day to renowned ice fishing in the dead of winter, Minnesota’s long list of lakes does not disappoint. We can’t tell you about all of them, but here are the 12 best lakes in Minnesota to check out for your next fresh air adventure.

One of the best lakes in Minnesota at sunset
Minnesota Lake at sunset

1. Lake Minnetonka

A huge summer hotspot for boaters, anglers, sailors, and out-of-town visitors, Lake Minnetonka is a top choice in the Twin Cities. Located just 15 miles southwest of Minneapolis and surrounded by 13 suburbs within Hennepin and Carver counties, people love how much there is to explore on Lake Minnetonka. Made up of 16 interconnected lakes with 23 named bays, the 14,528-acre lake is the ninth largest on Minnesota’s list of largest lakes.

Plus, Lake Minnetonka is the most affluent residential area in the state, with luxury homes in renowned suburbs like Wayzata, Minnetrista, and Deephaven. If lakeside dining is more your style, every city along the shoreline offers delicious dining experiences right on the water, with Lord Fletcher’s Old Lake Lodge in Spring Park being one of the most popular stops. To find your personal favorite out of all the lakes in Minnesota, you have to give Lake Minnetonka a try. All these reasons and more make Lake Minnetonka one of the best lakes in Minnesota

2. Mille Lacs Lake

As the second-largest inland lake in the state, Mille Lacs Lake spans 132,500 acres with 80 miles of shoreline. Located just 75 miles north of Minneapolis-St. Paul, this gem of central Minnesota is a popular destination for Twin Cities families looking to get away for the weekend. Small lake towns like Garrison, Isle, and Wahkon have family restaurants, bars, bait shops, and water access so you can make the most of a day on Mille Lacs.

Mille Lacs Lake is so large that most of the time, you can’t see land on the other side. Anglers consider this one of the best lakes in Minnesota because of the fabulous shallow fishing for trophy-size walleye, muskie, and northern pike. So, if you’re looking for a large lake with wide-open water and plenty of space to fish and boat, this is the place to be.

3. Lake Superior

When talking about the best lakes in Minnesota, you can’t forget Lake Superior. It is a sight to behold and looks more like an ocean than a lake with its seemingly never-ending waterways. Known as the Gateway to the North Shore, and the shining gem of Duluth, Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes of North America and borders Ontario, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. You can reach the lower point of Lake Superior by heading north to Duluth, about 2.5 hours from the Twin Cities. From there, endless outdoor recreation, boating, and cliff views await. 

Not only is it the most northerly of the five Great Lakes, but it is also the highest in elevation, around 601.71 ft. on average. Containing 10% of the world’s surface freshwater, Lake Superior filters into St. Mary’s River before draining into Lake Huron.

Lake Superior in autumn
Panorama of Lake Superior

4. Lake of the Woods

Known as the Walleye Capital of the World, Lake of the Woods is a remote wilderness adventure for avid anglers and outdoor adventurers. It takes around six hours to cover the 330 miles to far northern Minnesota, where Lake of the Woods boasts gorgeous international waters spanning the U.S.-Canadian border. Bald eagles, pelicans, and caribou are often spotted along the 65,000 miles of pristine shoreline. With an impressive size of 1,679.5 sq. mi., Lake of the Woods is the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the U.S. and the 36th largest worldwide by area.

It may be a bit of a trek to get there, but if you’re ready for an unforgettable fishing adventure, bring your best baits and look forward to hooking a big walleye, as well as northern pike, perch, panfish, smallmouth bass, and lake trout. You’ll quickly realize why Lake of the Woods is one of the best lakes in Minnesota.

5. Lake Independence 

If you’re looking for one of the great recreational lakes in Minnesota a little closer to the cities, Lake Independence is a must-see. Located within Baker Park Reserve in western Hennepin County, there are 832 acres of prime fishing and boating waters, plus family beaches and regional park trails, which are great for summer walks, spring bike rides, and winter skiing. The 7.5 miles of shoreline are spotted with lush green forests and beautiful vantage points for a fabulous outdoor adventure just 25 miles west or a half-hour drive from downtown Minneapolis. 

Lake Independence shares the same parklands as the prestigious Baker National Golf Course and is surrounded by quaint suburban towns nearby such as Loretto, Maple Plain, and Independence. With a maximum depth of 58 feet, Lake Independence is a great spot for yellow bullhead, bluegill, largemouth bass, and muskie fishing.

6. Leech Lake

Leech Lake is highly regarded as one of the best lakes in Minnesota for its walleye and muskie fishing. Largemouth bass, sunfish, crappies, and northerns are also big biters at Leech Lake, so whether you’re going for a family fishing adventure or you just want some casual relaxation along the shore, you can look forward to a fantastic trip. 

Located roughly 3.5 hours from the Twin Cities, small towns like Walker, Onigum, and Baker offer the perfect mix of charm and outdoor recreation. Leech Lake is Minnesota’s third-largest inland lake with 112,000 acres of gorgeous waters for unforgettable fishing and boating. Cozy Minnesotan cabins and lake resorts dot the 195 miles of shoreline within the historic Chippewa National Forest of Cass County.

7. Lake Itasca

Sometimes the best lakes in Minnesota come in small packages. Such is the case with Lake Itasca, a small glacial lake in southeastern Clearwater County, within Itasca State Park which was established in 1891 to protect this amazing geographical location. Only 3.5-hours from Minneapolis, Lake Itsaca is surrounded by hundreds of interconnected lakes and stunning natural scenery and is a must-see destination for Minnesotans and visitors. 

While the lake itself is small, only 1.8 square miles, it is the birthplace of the Mighty Mississippi in north-central Minnesota. A trip to Lake Itasca isn’t complete without seeing the headwaters, where you can actually cross over a few rocks and running water that makes up the start of the Mississippi. Canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and fishing are also popular recreational activities in the state park.

Lake Itasca where the headwaters of the Mississippi River begin.
Mississippi River headwaters at Lake Itasca

8. Bde Maka Ska

As the largest lake in Minneapolis, Bde Maka Ska is one of the best lakes in the Minnesota. With its 401 acres of clean water for fishing, swimming, boating, and more, the lake reaches 87 feet in depth in places and is a fabulous fishing spot for northern pike, largemouth bass, and muskies without even leaving the city. Bde Maka Ska is situated in southwest Minneapolis within the Cedar-Isles-Dean, East Harriet, Linden Hills, and West Calhoun neighborhoods.

As the biggest lake in the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Regional Park, Bde Maka Ska has three beaches surrounded by parklands with walking and biking trails. Lola on the Lake is a popular lakefront restaurant, where many visitors stop after a day of fishing, sailing, or relaxing along the sandy shores. The urban park and lake area also has picnic space and sports courts, so there’s always something fun going on. 

9.  Lake Nokomis

Another fan favorite in the heart of the Twin Cities, Lake Nokomis is situated in southern Minneapolis, just south of Lake Hiawatha and west of the Mississippi. This oval-shaped lake covers 204 acres and has a unique urban history, originally named Lake Amelia in 1819 before the current name was adopted in honor of Nokomis, grandmother of Hiawatha, in 1910. 

In addition to the sandy beaches and surrounding parkland, Lake Nokomis is one of the best lakes in Minnesota thanks to its 2.7-mile pedestrian trail and 2.8-mile bike trail. You can walk right up to the fishing pier on the lake’s north side and throw in a bobber to test your luck with the lake’s abundant crappie population.

10. Otter Tail Lake

Back up north, Otter Tail Lake in west-central Minnesota is Otter Tail County’s largest lake, covering 13,725 acres. It’s the tenth largest lake fully within Minnesota’s borders, and one of its most prominent features is the point that divides the eastern and western halves. Otter Tail Lake reaches 120 feet in depth in some spots but otherwise, 57% of the lake is less than 15 feet deep, with flats and holes for fish hiding spots and premium walleye fishing. The water clarity is just over 10 feet, so the great visibility also helps with fishing adventures.

The Otter Tail Beach Resort is one of the most popular lakes in Minnesota for visiting families, but there are plenty of charming cabins dotting the shoreline too. This recreational destination is also home to Reel Country Classic, a two-day fishing tournament that has brought passionate anglers to the region every May since 2005. 

11. Deer Lake

Situated 3.5 hours from Minneapolis and spanning 4,000 acres in Itasca County you’ll find the stunning Deer Lake. About 20 minutes outside the town of Grand Rapids, Deer Lake is an estimated five miles long and 1.5 miles wide and is bordered by Moose Lake on the north and Little Deer on the west. Known as the “rainbow” lake, the pristinely clear waters of Deer Lake are said to change colors throughout the day and often look like a tropical beach blue.

There are no inlets on Deer Lake, just one outlet into the spring-fed Deer River. Underwater springs and rainfall boost Deer Lake’s water levels, and it’s a more private fishing spot compared to nearby Leech Lake. Visitors appreciate the peaceful privacy and abundant fishing for trophy Muskie, smallmouth bass, northern pike, and walleye.

12. Pelican Lake

The list of the best lakes in Minnesota wouldn’t be complete without Pelican Lake. Covering 8,367 acres in north-central Minnesota, it takes about 2.5 hours to get there from Minneapolis. The 150-mile drive from the Twin Cities is well worth it when you see the family-friendly recreational hub and sandy beach with shade trees. The popular boating destination and cabin hotspot features Breezy Point Resort, where you can hit nine holes of golf on the traditional golf course or cool off with summer water rentals.

Pelican Lake is a short drive away from the charming small towns of Nisswa and Pequot Lakes for more lake life fun. Don’t forget about the massive Great White American Pelicans that call this lake home – you should get a great glimpse of them during the summer.

Fishing canoe along the rocky shores of a Minnesota lake

Conclusion

These are just a few of the best lakes in Minnesota. The list could go on and on depending on what you’re looking for, whether it’s a quiet fishing spot or a popular cabin hangout. Hit the road to explore and see for yourself why Minnesota leads the way in lake life.

Did we miss one of your favorite lakes in Minnesota? Let us know in the comments below.

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