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13 Best Vacation Lakes in Minnesota

No matter where you’re from or what you do for a living, everyone loves going on a vacation. If you love lakes and water activities, few states are more packed with excellent options than Minnesota. This article will look at the best vacation lakes in Minnesota, what makes them special, and why you should go there. If you’re lucky, you might just find your next favorite vacation spot somewhere on this list.

Keep reading to learn all about the best vacation lakes in Minnesota!

a view from a lake house that makes you want to find the best vacation lakes in Minnesota!

What Makes for a Vacation Lake?

While you can probably figure out how to have a good time on any body of water, there are certain things that separate the best vacation lakes in Minnesota from the rest of the competition. Let’s go over a list of things you should look for when choosing a lake to vacation on so that you can find the right fit for the whole family.

Water Sports

There are tons of lakes in Minnesota big enough for water sports such as surfing, jet skis, boating, and more. The lake’s size and where it’s located are usually what will determine the number of water sports that are allowed on a lake. While nearly all of them allow kayaking and canoeing, some have “no-wake zones,” which means no jet skis, high-speed boats, or water-skiing.

Proximity to Things to Do

While some vacationers seek absolute isolation in the middle of nowhere, others want to use their lake as a home base and branch out. There are many lakes close to major cities, such as Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth, but not all of them are good vacation lakes.

As you’ll soon see, some of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota are within an hour’s drive of major cities with lots of things to do.

Versatility

A versatile lake is one that’s fitting for a variety of different vacations. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a family vacation, a bachelor or bachelorette party, or a company outing, the best vacation lakes in Minnesota should be able to handle all of them. Versatility will be determined by the location of the lake and the number of things to do on and around it.

Rest and Relaxation

Parties on the lake are fun, but most vacationers who are trying to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city are looking for rest and relaxation. Luckily, there are thousands of lakes in Minnesota, and many of them are ideal for kicking back and destressing.

Fishing

Regardless of whatever else you plan to do, most of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota are renowned for fishing. While some are better than others, nearly all will have ample opportunities for shore fishing or fishing from a boat.

A kayak on a lake at sunset.

Best Vacation Lakes in Southern Minnesota

Lake Pepin, Red Wing

Lake Pepin is one of the most unique lakes on this list in the sense that it isn’t a traditional lake. It’s actually a designated body of water in the Mississippi River, roughly 22 miles long. Half of the lake is in Minnesota, and the other half is in Wisconsin. However, it makes it onto the list of best vacation lakes in Minnesota because of its incredible fishing, bird watching, and water sports opportunities.

Lake Peppin is also close to the city of Red Wing, MN, which is home to several unique museums and parks. Red Wing also has a great downtown area with fantastic food and drink selections and plenty of things to do.

Lake Florida

With a name like Lake Florida, you know it’s got to be a great vacation spot. Lake Florida is located about six miles west of Spicer, MN, and is home to some of the best walleye fishing in Southern Minnesota. The lake is also home to two resorts, two marinas, ample shore fishing opportunities, and is located next to a waterfowl area that’s great for hiking and bird-watching.

You’ll also be close to several quaint towns packed with fun activities and things to do.

Lake of the Isles

Year after year, Lake of the Isles has been at the top of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota, thanks in part to how close it is to Minneapolis. If you’re looking for a great lake within spitting distance of the Twin Cities, Lake of the Isles is for you. It’s one of the most peaceful and beautiful lakes in the area, and ice skating is allowed during the winter months.

There are a number of great lake houses for vacationers that will put you within ten minutes of the city. The best time to visit is during the fall months when the leaves are changing, or over Christmas and New Year’s when the lake hosts the New Year’s Eve festival.

Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka is a massive lake that’s considered one of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota, not only by tourists but also by locals. It’s a massive lake over 14,500 acres in size and offers dinner cruises and much more. It’s also renowned for being one of the best fishing lakes in the state and frequently hosts fishing tournaments.

In addition to all the things to do on the lake itself, it’s also within 15 miles of Minnetonka and Minneapolis. So, while boating, fishing, and relaxation are the most popular things to do on Lake Minnetonka, staying at a rented house or resort on the lake also puts you close to the hustle and bustle of Minneapolis.

Lake Minnetonka
Lake Minnetonka

Best Vacation Lakes in Central Minnesota

Gull Lake, Brainerd and Nisswa

Gull Lake in northcentral Minnesota, near the towns of Brainerd and Nisswa, is one of the most popular vacation lakes in the state. It is one of the largest lakes in Minnesota, and its shores are dotted with cabins, resorts, and rental homes. It’s also one of the best fishing lakes in the state.

Gull Lake is also one of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota if you love water-skiing, paddle-boarding, jet-skiing, or boating. There are many parks, tennis courts, biking and hiking trails, and golf courses nearby if you’re looking for other entertainment in the great outdoors.

Mille Lacs Lake

No matter what list of best vacation lakes in Minnesota you look at, there’s a good chance that Mille Lacs Lake will make it to the top ten. It’s often regarded as the best overall lake in Minnesota for fishing and is also the second-largest. You’ll feel more like you’re on one of the great lakes or by the ocean when you vacation on or near Mille Lacs Lake.

It’s surrounded by state parks, state forests, and the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge and truly is an outdoorsy person’s paradise. You can enjoy many water sports on this lake, and there are many resorts and cabins to stay at. Mille Lacs has five different courses around the lake that will challenge golfers of every skill level if you’re a golfer.

Leech Lake

Leech Lake is a water paradise sitting in the middle of Chippewa National Forest. It’s the third-largest lake in the state, just behind Mille Lacs Lake, which we just discussed. It offers similar activities, ranging from incredible fishing to water sports to hiking and biking in the surrounding forest.

Leech Lake is also home to the Leech Lake Resort, the Northern Lights Casino, and many other activities and attractions. No matter what kind of vacation you’re looking for, there’s a good chance that you can find it on Leech Lake.

Turtle Lake

If you’re looking for a smaller lake that offers relaxation and fishing over everything else, Turtle Lake is your place. Turtle Lake is just over 2,000 acres in size, which is small compared to some of the monsters that Minnesota is home to. It, too, is located in the heart of the Chippewa National Forest and is the definition of outdoor fun and relaxation.

It doesn’t have as many opportunities for fun things to do like some of the other lakes on this list offer, but it’s still one of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota. It’s home to the Wilderness Lodge and a number of great rental cabins and properties. Turtle Lake is the lake you go to when you’re looking for a peaceful, scenic, and serene vacation.

Turtle Lake at sunset.
Turtle Lake

Best Vacation Lakes in Northern Minnesota

Lake Superior, Northern Minnesota

If you can only ever pick one lake to vacation on in Minnesota, it should be Lake Superior. Lake Superior is one of the Great Lakes and is often considered one of the most beautiful. It’s also the largest of the Great Lakes and the third-largest body of inland water in the world. In addition to incredible fishing, sightseeing, boating, and water sports activities, there are many other things to do.

Chief among them is a trip to the North Shore of Lake Superior, which is a 145-mile stretch of road that runs from Duluth to Grand Portage. Both of these cities are filled with sights, sounds, and experiences that you won’t be able to have anywhere else. Aside from these two, however, there are lots of great cities along the way.

Whether you’re looking for outdoor fun, relaxing on a beach, immersing yourself in a quaint harbor town, or living it up on the lake, Lake Superior has something for everyone. You can stay in a beachside bungalow, a rustic cabin, a modern home, or camp in the woods along this Great Lake. Because of the number of things to do and places to stay, Lake Superior takes its spot at the top of our list of best vacation lakes in Minnesota.

Rainy Lake, Voyageurs National Park

Rainy Lake is located in the northernmost part of Minnesota along the Canadian border. It’s set entirely within Voyageurs National Park and has managed to become one of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota for outdoor lovers and fishing enthusiasts. While fishing and boating are the unquestionable leaders of things to do on Rainy Lake, it isn’t everything.

It’s also home to some of the best lakeside cabins and lodges in the country. It also offers a number of fishing resorts, houseboat camping opportunities, and guided boat tours. If you’re looking for the next place to book your family vacation or fishing trip, it will be tough to do better than Rainy Lake.

Lake Vermillion

Lake Vermillion is another massive lake in the northern part of Minnesota that’s just waiting to be explored. Because of its size, it’s one of the most popular lakes in the state for water sports, fishing, and vacationing. It’s also home to Ely Island, which sits in the lake’s center and offers an inviting mix of rocky shores and wilderness with the promise of privacy and seclusion.

In addition to the amount of boat and shore fishing opportunities and things to do on the water, there are also many resorts and cabins on and around the lake. It was also voted one of the most beautiful lakes in the US by National Geographic in the mid-1900s. Make sure to bring your golf clubs with you, as there are also some challenging and ridiculously scenic courses around the lake.

Lake Bemidji

While small in comparison to many of the other lakes on this list, Lake Bemidji is, without a doubt, one of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota. It offers more different activities and things to do than most of the other lakes on this list. It’s a glacially-formed lake with the bustling city of Bemidji on one side, a state forest on the other, and various lodges and resorts all around.

Whether you’re looking for rest and relaxation, a place to plan your golf trip, water sports, fishing, boating, hiking, or anything else, Lake Bemidji is the place for you.

Lake Bemidji.
Lake Bemidji

Lake of the Woods

Because fishing has been a dominant feature of most of the best vacation lakes in Minnesota, it only seems fitting to end our list of best vacation lakes in Minnesota with the Walleye Capital of the World, Lake of the Woods. This lake is partially located in the US and partially in Canada but is loved by both countries. In addition to fishing, there are also more than 50 resorts and hotels on and around Lake of the Woods.

While fishing and living the outdoor life are the top things to do on Lake of the Woods, it’s also popular with water skiers, jet skiers, wakeboarders, canoers, and kayakers. You can also forgo the intense water sports and spend your time relaxing on one of the many beaches around the lake. There are also a number of harbor towns surrounding the lake, hopping with bars, restaurants, and more.

Visit the Best Vacation Lakes in Minnesota

As you can see, there’s no shortage of options when it comes to the best vacation lakes in Minnesota. Whether you’re looking to relax, fish, party, or chill in the sun, the lakes of Minnesota have something for everyone. Next, read about other great outdoor places in Minnesota!