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10 of Minnesota’s 11,842 Lakes Your Family Should Visit This Summer

World-class fishing, celebrated mountain biking, and epic canoe-access camping, and so much more in this gem of the North.

Minnesota is quite literally jam-packed with beautiful lakes and wild places to explore. In addition to the state’s abundance of lakes (which total 11,842), it’s geographically diverse, home to sweeping grasslands with rolling hills in the southwest, dense forests speckled with granite outcroppings in the north, and craggy cliffs in the southeast along the Mississippi. Though, as you might expect, the lakes steal the show.

This summer, pack up your car and check out these ten beautiful and less-travelled lakes, representing the wide range of outdoor experiences Minnesota has to offer.

Photo: Father Hennepin courtesy Explore Minnesota
  1. Mille Lacs Lake, Isle

The state’s second largest lake, Mille Lacs, lies just 75 miles north of the Twin Cities. Mille Lacs Kathio State Park features a vast network of trails, wooded campsites, and a must-visit 100-foot observation tower to take in the full scale of the landscape. In addition to hiking shoes, be sure to pack tackle and pick up a fishing license beforehand, as Mille Lacs Lake is home to excellent fishing and boating. Expert year-round fishing guides with equipment to spare, are available for those who prefer to pack light without missing out on the action. 

Photo: Explore Minnesota
  1. Otter Tail Lake, Otter Tail County

For the ultimate in authentic Minnesota lake culture, Otter Tail Lake is the ticket. Otter Tail County is one of the state’s largest counties, and it’s filled with two things that define Minnesota: charming small towns and lakes. Sizeable Otter Tail Lake is lined with dense, deciduous trees with miles of hiking along the North Country National Scenic Trail in Maplewood State Park. This impressive trail extends from Vermont all the way to North Dakota—the Minnesota section features elevated forests and several small lakes and wetlands, making for an absolutely stunning walkabout.

Photo: Explore Minnesota
  1. Snelling Lake, St. Paul

You don’t need to leave the city to enjoy the outdoors in Minnesota. Fort Snelling State Park is just south of the Mississippi and a short bike ride from downtown St. Paul . After hiking or biking around the park’s trail network, take a dip in Snelling Lake, a popular swimming spot in the summer.

  1. Lake Maria, Monticello 

An hour north of the Twin Cities, Lake Maria State Park has a distinct North Woods feel that is sought out by visitors and Minnesotans alike. Hike the rolling wooded terrain and be sure to walk the elevated boardwalk over the marsh—don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Blanding’s turtle, one of the state’s threatened species. Backcountry campsites are tucked about a mile into the park, where a little extra effort is rewarded with lake views and privacy. 

Photo: Gary Hamer
  1. Detroit Lake, Detroit Lakes

Make the eponymous lake of the town of Detroit Lakes your go-to basecamp for summer fun in the great outdoors. Just beyond town, you’ll find Detroit Mountain Recreation Areawith 11 miles of hiking and world class mountain biking trails. Explore the area’s wetlands with a visit to the Detroit Lakes Wetland Management District where you’ll find protected ecosystems and nature education resources.

Sunset over Lake of the Woods at Zipple Bay State Park.
  1. Lake of the Woods, Baudette

On the border of Canada lies one of the state’s most remote and epic lakes, Lake of the Woods. Clocking in at 950,000 acres, Lake of the Woods is bigger than any other lake that lies entirely within Minnesota’s state border. In addition to offering year-round premier angling, Lake of the Woods is nicknamed the Walleye Capital of the World. On its shores, Zippel Bay State Park is home to white sand beaches. Further north, across the Lake of the Woods sits the Northwest Angle, the northernmost part of the contiguous United States. The Angle, as it’s known by locals, is completely cut off from the rest of the United States but remains part of Minnesota due to a series of mapping errors dating back to the American Revolution. With fishing, boating, and seemingly endless untouched wilderness, this is about as North Woods as it gets.

Photo: Alyssa Hai
  1. Lake Vermillion, Tower

Raw and mostly untouched, Lake Vermillion offers a glimpse into Minnesota’s past before the arrival of European settlers. This vast lake is dotted with 365 islands, many of them peppered with centuries-old pine trees. For the true Lake Vermillion camping experience, bring a canoe, kayak, or boat and check out Hinsdale Island, which features boat-in campsites right on the shore. 

Photo: Explore Minnesota
  1. Deer Lake, Grand Rapids

While each of the state’s lakes has its own character, Deer Lake is especially unique. Thanks to the makeup of the minerals around the lake and the clarity of the water, Deer Lake’s water boasts a bright blue, Caribbean-like color. Located near the Mississippi headwaters, this region is remote and pristine. Stay at nearby Moose Lake Campground, where the amenities are few but the natural beauty is hard to beat.

Photo: Explore Minnesota
  1. Lake Louise, LeRoy

For a quiet, family-friendly immersion in nature, Lake Louise State Park near the Iowa border offers an unforgettable slice of the outdoors. Tall grass prairies give way to winding limestone streams, with some of the best trout fishing in the state. Camp and canoe around the lake then explore the Driftless Region’s fascinating natural history via the park’s extensive trail network.

  1. Lake Pepin, Lake City 

Geographically, Lake Pepin is one of the state’s most interesting lakes. On the Mississippi River, the lake is part of a valley carved by the melting of a glacial lake at the end of the most recent Ice Age. Expect rolling wooded hills with sweeping views at Waconia Cliffs in Frontenac State Park. Campsites atop the bluff overlooking the lake are available at both Frontenac State Park and Hok-Si-La City Park and Campground, where you’ll also find sandy beaches. Exploring this region is a true summertime treat.