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Exploring the Land of 10,000 Lakes: A Guide to Minnesota’s Most Beautiful Lakes

Minnesota is known for its many beautiful lakes. But which of Minnesota’s most beautiful lakes should you visit? Read on to learn which lakes made the cut and what to do once you’re there!

Minnesota's Most Beautiful Lakes

Beautiful Lakes in Northern Minnesota

1. Lake Superior (Cook County)

Lake Superior is considered the world’s largest freshwater lake. The biggest of the Great Lakes, the name is translated as “gichi-gami,” meaning “great sea,” by the Ojibwe tribe.

Set on a 145-mile stretch of land, it straddles the Ontario province across the Canadian border. It empties into Lake Huron, another of the Great Lakes.

There are several things to do at or around Lake Superior.

Lots of smaller lakes are great for fishing walleye or panfish. There are also 400 miles of land on which to snowmobile or ride your ATV. Don’t forget to visit the many rivers or creeks to boat or paddle, as well as the surrounding land where you can go hunting.

2. Rainy Lake (Koochiching County)

Rainy Lake crosses into Ontario, Canada, covering a 360 square surface mile of land in total. This lake is popular for viewing the Northern Lights and the beautiful sunsets and starry skies at night.

It’s known as a hub for hydroelectricity and is home to Voyageurs National Park, which has 46 boat-in camping sites. This lake has excellent fishing with plenty of walleye, smallmouth bass, northern pike, sturgeon, and crappie to be caught.

Other things to do while at Rainy Lake include:

  • Hiking
  • Picnicking at one of the campgrounds
  • Boating, canoeing, sailing, or kayaking
  • Swimming
  • Birding

Explore the surrounding local area for a chance to go golfing or to tour several historic sites. In the wintertime, enjoy snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing.

3. Lake Vermilion (Saint Louis County)

Lake Vermilion is a shallow freshwater lake that holds 365 islands, many with centuries-old pine trees. The 40,000 acres stretch across Minnesota’s Arrowhead Region.

Located between the towns of Tower and Cook, Lake Vermilion is the largest lake in the state, with 15,000 hectares. Historically, the area was mined from the late 19th century throughout the 1960s.

Although there are 37 miles of largely undeveloped land, the rocky shoreline has sandy beaches along with campgrounds. Hinsdale Island has several boat-in campsites.

Things to do around Lake Vermilion range from:

  • Taking a mine tour
  • Bear and wolf-watching
  • Hiking or biking
  • Camping or staying at a resort
  • Canoeing, kayaking, or boating

This lake is known for its walleye and muskie fishing, as well as a large population of black crappie, bluegill, brown bullhead, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed, rock bass, smallmouth bass, tullibee, white sucker, and yellow perch fish.

Minnesota's Most Beautiful Lakes

Beautiful Lakes in the Middle of Minnesota

4. Gull Lake (Cass and Crow Wing Counties)

Gull Lake is a part of the Gull Chain of Lakes, of which it is the largest member. This chain of lakes has between 8-10 lakes and 2 bays included within the chain. It’s known for its 4000 hectares of well-developed shoreline, making this lake one of the most popular in the state!

One of the largest lakes in Minnesota, every January Gull Lake holds the annual Brainerd Ice Fishing Extravaganza, drawing over 10,000 anglers. This lake is overflowing with fish with 35 different species!

There are lots of activities and fun to be had at Gull Lake and the surrounding community, some of which include:

  • Golfing
  • Tennis
  • Mountain biking
  • Horseback riding
  • Waterskiing
  • Canoeing
  • Paddleboarding

19 resorts sit along the lake, making it convenient and popular with fishermen as well as families. Visitors can enjoy time on jet skis, pontoons, or on a cruise ship tour.

5. Mille Lacs Lake (Mille Lacs, Aitkin, Crow Wing Counties)

The second largest lake in the state, Mill Lacs Lake is host to 13 privately owned islands. It’s home to a portion of the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, as well as Father Hennepin State Park and Mille Lacs Kathio State Park. The latter park has a network of trails, camping sites, and a 100-foot observation tower that is popular for viewing the landscape.

Mille Lacs Lake is known for being an excellent place to fish and boat. Expert year-round fishing guides and equipment are available for hire or rent. It is one of the few Minnesota lakes that are large enough for launch fishing.

The lake is home to the Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge, which has a large number of birds, including common terns, which are a threatened species. Activities include:

  • Kayaking
  • Canoeing
  • Water skiing
  • Swimming
  • Fishing for walleye, muskie, northern pike, burbot, and jumbo perch
Minnesota's Most Beautiful Lakes

Beautiful Lakes in Southern Minnesota

6. Lake Minnetonka (Hennepin and Carver Counties)

The 9th largest lake in the state, Lake Minnetonka covers over 14,000 acres and has 37 named lakes or bays. This lake welcomes spring, as it’s known to be the first to “ice out.”

Lake Minnetonka was made famous by musician Prince’s song Purple Rain, but today, it’s most popular for the variety of activities visitors can do while there!

These activities include:

  • Sailing, boating, and fishing
  • Wakesurfing—a merging of wakeboarding and surfing
  • Ice fishing, snowkiting, snowmobiling, and ice yachting in the winter
  • Swimming, kayaking, and paddleboarding in the summer

An unusual sport it’s known for is The Wayzata Chilly Open, an on-ice golf tournament.

The lake contains black bullhead, black crappie, bluegill, bowfin, common carp, green sunfish, hybrid sunfish, largemouth bassmuskellunge, northern pike, pumpkinseed, rock bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, white sucker, yellow bullhead, and yellow perch fish.

7. Lake Pepin (Le Sueur County)

Lake Pepin sits at the largest part of the Mississippi River and is shared with the state of Wisconsin. At 2 miles wide and 22 miles long, there are plenty of activities to do while there!

  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Paddleboarding
  • Birdwatching
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Fishing for walleye, crappie, northern pike, channel catfish, and bluegill

Lake Pepin is considered the birthplace of waterskiing and holds an annual Water Ski Days event on the last weekend of June. In the wintertime, you can spot nesting bald eagles.

Minnesota's Most Beautiful Lakes

Visit Minnesota’s Most Beautiful Lakes

These are just a few of Minnesota’s most beautiful lakes! Which one will you visit first?

Interested in learning more about the lakes of Minnesota? Visit our post on the 13 Best Vacation Lakes in Minnesota!