A drone shot of Lake of the Woods

10 of the Best Lakes in Minnesota

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A drone shot of Lake of the Woods  / Paul Vincent

10 of the Best Lakes in Minnesota

Since the Land of 10,000 lakes actually has 11,842, we can't blame anyone for not knowing how to build the Star of the North trip. Here's a start, however: 10 beautiful lakes that represent the wide range of outdoor experiences the state has to offer.

  1. Mille Lacs Lake
    A young man fishes on Lake Mille Lacs

    Casting a line on Lake Mille Lacs  / Jessica Brouillette

    Mille Lacs Lake

    The state’s second largest lake, Mille Lacs, lies just 75 miles north of the Twin CitiesMille 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. Year-round fishing guides with equipment to spare are available for those who'd rather pack light without missing the action. 

  2. Otter Tail Lake
    dog jumping into ottertail lake at sunset

    Dog jumping off a dock into Ottertail Lake at sunset / Allie Hoeft

    Otter Tail Lake

    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 vibrant lake culture. Otter Tail Lake is lined with dense, deciduous trees near 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.

  3. Snelling Lake
    A man fishing in Fort Snelling State Park

    Fall fishing in Fort Snelling State Park, St. Paul / Jeanne Walseth

    Snelling Lake

    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.

  4. Lake Maria
    Lake Maria State Park fall scene

    Lake Maria State Park 

    Lake Maria

    An hour north of the Twin Cities in Monticello, 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. 

  5. Detroit Lake
    Three children looking out over the water at sunset

    Detroit Lake / Eric Ward

    Detroit Lake

    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 Area, with 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.

  6. Lake of the Woods
    A freshly caught fish at Arnesen's Rocky Point Resort on Lake of the Woods

    A freshly caught fish on Lake of the Woods  / Paul Vincent

    Lake of the Woods

    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, The Angle is about as North Woods as it gets.

  7. Lake Vermilion
    A girl learns how to drive a boat on Lake Vermilion

    Learning how to pilot a boat on Lake Vermilion  / Courtney Anderson

    Lake Vermilion

    Raw and mostly untouched, Lake Vermilion 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 Vermilion camping experience, bring a canoe, kayak or boat and check out Hinsdale Island, which features boat-in campsites right on the shore. 

  8. Deer Lake
    Mist wafts over Deer Lake in the fall as birds are seen in silhouette

    Deer Lake and birds in fall / Christine Fagerlie

    Deer Lake

    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.

  9. Lake Louise
    Lake Louise

    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.

  10. Lake Pepin
    Lake City Lake Pepin woman sailing

    Sailing on Lake Pepin / Roy Son

    Lake Pepin

    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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Two women fish from a small boat on Lake of the Woods

Fishing for walleye on Lake of the Woods  / Paul Vincent

Man and dog at Superior Hiking Trail overlook

Sunset on the Superior Hiking Trail / Alyssa Hei

Know Before You Go

  • A vehicle permit is required to enter Minnesota state parks. Save time by ordering one online before you arrive at the park.
  • For comfort and safety on the trail, be sure everyone has appropriate footwear (tennis shoes, not flip-flops).
  • Bring a water bottle for each hiker as well as plenty of sunscreen, bug spray and snacks.
  • Pick up a paper map at the park office or load a GeoPDF map before you leave (don’t rely on your phone to navigate because cell and Internet service may not be available in the woods).
  • The accessible trails at Minnesota state parks are stroller friendly as well as wheelchair friendly.
  • Some Minnesota state parks have all-terrain electric wheelchairs for use on unpaved trails.
  • If your dog will be hiking with you, keep it on a leash and clean up after it.
  • Don't pick wildflowers or otherwise disturb the landscape. "Take only photos, leave only footprints."