800+ Lakes In North Dakota That Completely Freeze Over in the Winter

© Frank K. / CC BY 2.0

Written by Rachael Monson

Published: December 17, 2023

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Nelson Lake, located in Oliver County at the center of North Dakota, is the only one in the entire state that doesn’t freeze over in winter. It’s said the water in Nelson Lake is warm like a bathtub in the summer, which is how it manages to stay liquid in the winter. No other lake is so lucky.

The rest of the lakes in North Dakota do freeze over in winter. Temperatures begin dropping in the state around late November and don’t begin to rise again until late March. The lowest-ever recorded temperature in the state occurred on February 16, 1936, at an insane -60 °F. The average winter temperature in the state is only 12.2 °F. It ranks number two for the coldest states in the U.S., second only to Alaska. So, it’s no surprise that only one lake doesn’t freeze with the crazy cold temperatures North Dakota faces each year.

With more than 800 lakes scattered across the state, detailing every single one just isn’t reasonable. So, we’ve picked the top five of the 10 largest ones to discuss. Let’s explore some of the largest lakes in North Dakota that freeze over in winter! Four of them also make the list of top places to ice fish in the state!

#1 Lake Sakakawea — North Dakota’s Largest Lake to Freeze

Shoreline of Lake Sakakawea at Fort Stevenson State Park, North Dakota

Not only is this the largest lake that freezes in North Dakota, but it’s also the deepest!

©David Becker, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons - Original / License

Lake Sakakawea is the home of Garrison Dam, built in 1953. This 307,000-acre man-made lake is the third-largest lake in the U.S. by water volume. The deepest part of the lake is 180 feet down, making it the deepest lake in North Dakota as well as the largest. Lake Sakakawea is part of Fort Stevenson State Park, which is named after the military fort that existed there in the 1800s. The park offers several boat launches, fish cleaning facilities, and even boat rentals. The lake is a popular spot for fishing, camping, boating, and hiking.

Some amazing North Dakota animals to see around Lake Sakakawea include great horned owls, coyotes, mule deer, and great blue herons. Hiking the Flicker Loop Trail allows visitors to see an exciting prairie dog town. Advice from the park authorities suggests bringing binoculars during winter to view the migrating Bohemian waxwing (a little gray-brown bird with striking black, red, and yellow markings).

#2 Lake Audubon

Lake Audubon, ND

According to the season, Lake Audubon supports both angler and ice fishing.

©rmpphotos/iStock via Getty Images

Lake Audubon covers more than 16,000 acres in Garrison, North Dakota. It is the sister lake to Lake Sakakawea. The lake offers access to swimming, fishing, scuba diving, hiking, and more. Visitors can even take a tour of Garrison Dam National Fish Hatchery.

When the lake freezes over in winter, many people enjoy ice fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass. As part of the Audubon National Wildlife Refuge, the lake boasts an astounding variety of wildlife to observe. A whopping 246 bird species live here year-round or migrate through, including Canadian geese that use the area for nesting. Other animals found here include moose, ring-tailed pheasants, foxes, and white-tailed deer.

#3 Lake Ashtabula

Dramatic Bright Red Sunset Over Lake Erie, Ashtabula Ohio

The aptly named Ashtabula Lake touts a large variety of fish species.


Ashtabula Lake, the site of Baldhill Dam, offers visitors stunning views and lots of activities. Travelers can expect to find areas for camping, boating, and hiking along with playgrounds and swimming areas. The 5,234-acre lake is also a great place to water ski in the summer.

Ashtabula Lake’s name comes from the Native American locals and means “fish river.” A perfectly fitting name for this lake that supports fishing year-round, even when it freezes over in winter. The wide variety of fish species includes walleye, Northern pike, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, white bass, bluegill, black bullhead, black crappie, and muskellunge. The area includes fish cleaning stations, fishing docks, and fishing piers, as well.

#4 Devil’s Lake — Most Popular Frozen Lake in North Dakota

Devils Lake Swimming Hole in north Dakota

Devils Lake remains the most popular lake in North Dakota for ice fishing when it freezes over.


Devils Lake is an incredibly popular spot in North Dakota throughout the year. In summer, visitors enjoy a myriad of activities from golfing and boating to shopping and dining. There’s even a casino (Spirit Lake Casino & Resort) for those who want to spend time playing cards or slots.

This lake is also the go-to spot in North Dakota for fishermen who set out to catch big fish during winter when the lake freezes. The lake continuously has a healthy population of walleye, with an average size of 15 to 20 inches. The lake also boasts numerous pike and white bass.

Land animals in the area include raccoons, beavers, and flying squirrels. The area is also home to six different bat species, including the endangered tricolored bat.

#5 Lake Metigoshe

Lake Metigoshe

Lake Metigoshe offers visitors amazing views, including incredible sunsets.


As a part of Lake Metigoshe State Park, this lake is great for all kinds of activities. The Outdoor Learning Center offers many programs such as archery, ecology games, freshwater ecology, geocaching, kayaking, and night hikes. Not to mention hiking, biking, horseshoes, playground equipment, volleyball, and more. In fact, a bike trail encircles the entire lake.

While fishing is great in this lake, other wildlife frequent the area, too. Cooper’s hawks, beavers, a variety of woodpeckers, tiger salamanders, and red-winged blackbirds all make their homes around Lake Metigoshe.

Summary — Top 5 Largest Lakes in North Dakota That Freeze Over

NumberLake NameSizeIce Fishing?
1Lake Sakakawea307,000 acresYes
2Lake Audubon16,612 acresYes
3Lake Ashtabula5,234 acresYes
4Devils Lake4,435 acresYes
5Lake Metigoshe1,544 acresYes

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About the Author

Rachael Monson is a writer at A-Z-Animals where her primary focus is cats, big and small. She also works as senior veterinary assistant and has been in that field since 2012. A resident of Mississippi, she enjoys spending her off time playing video games with her husband and hanging out with her pets (a Bengal cat named Citrine and Basset Hound/Pomeranian mix dog named Pepsi).

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