dog jumping into ottertail lake at sunset

5 Ways to Enjoy Minnesota's 10,000 Lakes

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

5 Ways to Enjoy Minnesota's 10,000 Lakes

When you visit a place that’s nicknamed “Land of 10,000 Lakes” (make that 11,842, to be precise), it's pretty much required that you explore one or two of them while you’re here. In fact, many would argue you haven’t had the full Minnesota experience until you've gone to the lake. After all, they’re not hard to find!

As you plan your Minnesota getaway, be sure to carve out some time at a lake—whether it’s a side trip for an afternoon or the focus of your whole vacation. Here are five great ways to do so.

  1. Take a Cruise
    Tour boat on Lake Itasca surrounded by lush green forest.

    Coborns Cruises tour boat at Itasca State Park.

    Take a Cruise

    An easy and fun way to get out on a lake is to climb aboard a tour boat. In the north woods, a narrated boat trip in Itasca State Park explores the lake where the Mississippi River begins as a small stream, and tour boats explore the wilderness lakes of Voyageurs National Park. Elsewhere in the state, Gull Lake Cruises offers cruises with meals on the popular Gull Lake near Brainerd. Vista Fleet tours feature views of Duluth from the city’s harbor and Lake Superior.

    Lake Minnetonka, a vast, meandering lake to the west of Minneapolis, has several tour boats: Lady of the Lake paddlewheel, Wayzata Bay Charters, Al and Alma's Charter Cruises and more. In southeast Minnesota, the Pelican Breeze plies the waters of Albert Lea Lake.

  2. Play at the Beach
    Father and kids play on the shore of Lake Superior in Grand Marais

    Father and kids splash around on the shore of Lake Superior in Grand Marais / Roy Son

    Play at the Beach

    It’s the classic way to spend a summer day. Spread out a towel, pull out a good book, make a sandcastle with the kids, and cool off with a dip in the lake. It’s easy to include a beach day (or several!) on a Minnesota getaway. Many cities have great beaches right in town, including Big Lake, Detroit Lakes, Fairmont, Spicer and Waconia. For a refreshing dip in our biggest lake, Superior, head to Park Point Beach in Duluth. You can even beach it at Bde Maka Ska and Lake Harriet right in the heart of Minneapolis, and several other Twin Cities-area lakes.

    Numerous state parks have terrific sand beaches, including Father Hennepin on Mille Lacs Lake, Zippel Bay on Lake of the Woods, McCarthy Beach, Lake Bemidji, Maplewood and Lake Shetek. Most of Minnesota’s resorts and campgrounds are located along lakeshores, so look for one with a swimming beach.

  3. Paddle Away
    Paddle boarding on Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis

    Stand-up paddle boarding on Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis / Micah Kvidt

    Paddle Away

    Canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding are all great ways to explore our lakes. Many state and local parks offer canoe and kayak rentals for easy lake paddling. In Minneapolis, you can rent a canoe at Bde Maka Ska and paddle through a chain of lakes via connecting canals. For more experienced paddlers, the ultimate adventure is a camping trip in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness; several outfitters provide equipment, provisions and tips.

    Paddleboards are the newest wave of fun on the lake. Stand-up paddleboards (SUPs) are available for rent at several state parks, Minneapolis city lakes and at Bryant Lake, Fish Lake and Baker regional parks in the Minneapolis area.

  4. Go Fish
    Loon Lake family fishing

    Father and daughter fishing on Loon Lake / Micah Kvidt

    Go Fish

    A favorite Minnesota pastime, fishing is favored by some simply as an excuse to get out on a lake and relax. If you don’t have your own boat, many resorts offer rentals. And even better, they can hook you up with a fishing guide who can show you the ins and outs of area lakes. Fishing charters can take you out on the big waters of Lake Superior and Lake of the Woods, and fishing launches go out on larger lakes like Mille Lacs. What’s out there? Minnesota lakes serve up a variety of species: walleye, northerns, bass, muskie, various panfish and more.

  5. Spend the Night
    Camper with headlamp in the Boundary Waters

    A nighttime campsite in the Boundary Waters / NAZpicture

    Spend the Night

    It can be hard to tear yourself away from the lake at the end of the day ... so don’t! Find your own place at the lake for a few days, or even weeks. Reserve your stay at a lakeside resort, lodge or campground to really experience lakeside living. Watch the sun set amid vivid pinks and purples. Listen for the distinctive call of loons across the water.

    After nightfall, roast marshmallows at a campfire, be amazed by zillions of stars twinkling above, see the moon rise above the lake and, if you’re lucky, catch the northern lights dancing in the sky. It’s the perfect end to a relaxing day at the lake, with the promise of another to come.