In the land of 10,000 lakes, where do you begin to find the best? After canoeing on them, swimming in them, hiking around them, and staying near them, of course! We’ve outlined the best of the best to give you some top spots to enjoy Minnesota’s famous waterways.


Deer Lake

Itasca County
12 miles north of Grand Rapids
8 miles northeast of Deer River

Deer Lake covers 4,156 acres and is roughly 5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide and known as one of the clearest lakes in Minnesota. The deep, crystal clear water has visibility up to 11 feet -– talk about scenic! It is often referred to as the lake of “changing colors.” Because of its mineral-content, the color of the lake seems to turn a brilliant blue-green on bright summer day. Also if you are hiking the 26-mile Cut Foot Sioux National Recreation Area trail, it runs right through the Deer Lake campgrounds, making it a great overnight stop. Deer Lake’s amazing color, along with its many islands and miles of scenic shoreline, make Deer Lake a top lake to experience.


Lake Vermilion

Tower, Minn.
85 miles north of Duluth, MN

Feel like visiting an island-a-day for the next year? Head to Lake Vermilion, known as the Crown Jewel of the North, where there is something for everyone. Lake Vermilion is home to many bays, 1,200 miles of shoreline and 365 islands, some of the best fishing, champion golf, endless casino gaming, family friendly fun and you can even find romance and pure relaxation in resorts and lakeside lodges. For over 100 years, Lake Vermilion has been a popular destination spot because of the large variety of experiences it offers.


Lake Minnetonka

Hennepin County, MN

If fishing’s your game, then Lake Minnetonka’s the lake for you. This large metro lake, located west-southwest of St. Paul, spans over 14,000 acres and rich in history and rich in fish! It’s an angler’s dream come true. Muskie, Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, Walleye, and Yellow Perch are just some of the varieties you’re sure to reel in. Even if fishing isn’t for you, the views are breathtaking and the drive is amazing as the road winds along the lake.


Lake of the Woods

Baudette, MN

It’s a water sports-happy lake! Tucked up way up in the furthest north notch of Minnesota is one of the most Scenic lakes in the Country. Made of over 65,000 miles of shoreline and over 14,000 islands this trip is worth the ride. Visit Zippel Bay State Park and enjoy a beautiful view of the lake, or take advantage of the water activities: water skiing, wake boarding, jet skiing, kayaking or canoeing on a calm day. Lake of the Woods has also been noted as having the best beaches in northern Minnesota.


Lake of the Isles

2500 Lake Isles Parkway
Minneapolis, MN 55405

Canoeing in the summer, ice skating in the winter, this lake is considered the best lake in your backyard, because it’s pretty much located in a neighborhood. Though it spans 120 acres and is completely open for public use, the lake was developed to enhance the quality of life in the Minneapolis area. Lake of the Isles is the perfect location for a picnic on the water, a game of Frisbee, jogging or a walk with the pup to the off-leash dog park. Swimming is not advised, but plenty of other activities will keep you busy. And you don’t have to spend all day to get there!

Meghan Marx was born and raised in the Midwest, where outdoor activity is her second nature. Meghan is a graphic artist, college professor and web designer. Follow Meg at @designingmarx.

Comments (18)
  1. St. Paul says:

    There’s definitely a bias towards Minneapolis here. What about St. Paul? There’s Lake Como and Lake Phalen! They are also very beautiful without all the overratedness and over crowd of people.

    1. Arch says:

      I thought St Paul was the city on the dirty side of the river??

  2. dan says:

    Minnetonka and Lake of the Isles? I dont think these 2 lakes would be on anyones top 5 list!

  3. saint paul says:

    I agree with all the comments! Only the true locals know the best lakes! The best lakes are not in the cities

  4. Oscar says:

    Square Lake in Washington County should be on this list. Lake Six and Lake Seven (Scalp Lake) should also. They are all fine scuba/recreational lakes–the water is extremely clean and clear, fish are abundant, and each has areas of wild shoreline. Lake of the Isles is not even close to one of the nicest lakes in Minnesota. It should be listed under the heading, “Lakes Conveniently Located for the Surrounding Minneapolis Population.”

    1. Todd says:

      Yup, cleanest lake in the cities. That is why they use it for scuba dive training.

      1. oscar says:

        Yup, it still doesn’t compare to the cleanliness or visibility in Square Lake, Six or Seven. It’s just convenient.

      2. Larry M says:

        Yup, Oscar’s right. Just because a nearby lake gets a lot of use doesn’t make it one of the best in MN. Lake Calhoun gets heavy boat usage, much heavier than many far superior, out-state lakes. So, “Yup” cleanest lake in the cities, but one of the best lakes in the state, Nope.

  5. julescav says:

    Lake Minnetonka is west of St.Paul?? Try again… it’s west of Minneapolis! What about Lake Superior or Lake Bemidji?????

  6. Russ D says:

    There are so many lakes in this great state that more than qualify as “The Best Lake” in Minnesota. All you have to do is stop every 25 – 50 miles, and look a around. Wow! there is another best lake in Minnesota.

  7. Greg says:

    Lake Minnewaska in Glenwood is a beauty, too!

  8. Kim says:

    Yeh what about Lake superior in Duluth and Leach Lake in Walker MN , Plus what about Gull Lake in Brainerd MN. These are a few of the most beautiful lakes I fell should be added to the list also!

  9. Bass says:

    Lake Auburn for bass fishing. The record was pulled out of there, yet no one fishes it. Just prepare to bring your bug spray.

  10. Julie says:

    Lake Vermilion is hands down the best!!

  11. Annie72 says:

    Yes, what about the great Northern Minnesota lakes like Lake Bemidji, Lake Superior or Burntside Lake up in Ely??? They’re certainly pristine and well worth a mention in the article. Plus, lakes in the Twin Cities are relatively gross…

  12. Rusten says:

    My cabin is on deer lake. Trust me….best lake in the state. They’re not kidding when they call it the lake of changing colors. It’s amazing!! In the right light it looks like tropical waters. Really cool! Only one public access so not a lot of traffic at all. Decent fishing… Beautiful….can’t say enough!!!

  13. Danielle Norton says:

    Honestly, I think Lake Kabetogama Should be on here.

  14. tom rudnick says:

    It all depends on what you like. The most scenic lake is not necessarily the best for fishing. Some lakes have excellent water quality, but are very small. Some have great fishing, but are crowded. etc., etc. Personally, I like clean water, seclusion, very few other people, and lots of bays and islands to explore by kayak. That generally means the farther north and the farther from any major highway, the better.