Land of Lakes: The 20 Largest Lakes in Minnesota

Written by Taiwo Victor
Published: March 23, 2022
Image Credit Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock.com
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Minnesota is unofficially dubbed as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” because the state has the most named lakes in the entire United States when it comes to number. The state is known for its forests and massive lakes that attract tourists. Minnesota boasts 15,291 lakes but only 11,842 of them are officially recognized by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. One of North America’s largest lakes, Lake Superior, also touches the state. But of all the tens of thousands of lakes inside this state, few stand out regarding water volume and surface area. This article will explore 20 of the largest lakes in the Land of Lakes itself. 

Land of Lakes: The 20 Largest Lakes in Minnesota

1. Lake Superior

Lake Superior is the biggest North American Great Lake.

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If we are tackling incredibly vast lakes, let’s start with the biggest of the North American Great Lakes: Lake Superior. Apart from being the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and one of the largest lakes in North America and the world, Lake Superior also holds the crown as the most massive lake in Minnesota. Canada and the United States share the lake through the province of Ontario and the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. It stretches at 37,700 square miles or 82,103 square kilometers and contains about 10% of all the Earth’s freshwater.

2. Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods is the “Walleye Capital of the World.”

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Straddling between the United States and Canada, the Lake of the Woods encompasses 1,‎679.5 sq mi or 4,350 sq km, making it the second-largest lake in the state. Apart from its great size, it also qualifies as one of the United States’ deepest lakes, having a maximum depth of 210 feet or 64 meters. It also boasts tens of thousands of islands, harboring an accumulated shoreline of about 65,000 miles, the longest lake shoreline in the world! Lake of the Woods is also dubbed the “Walleye Capital of the World” and recognized for its fishing opportunities.

3. Red Lake

Red Lake’s name comes from a translation that suggests the water was red.

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Measuring 427 sq mi or 1,106 square kilometers, the Red Lake is Minnesota’s third-largest lake and the biggest lake that doesn’t touch any other state borders. Surprisingly, a vast peninsula part of a nearby Native American reservation virtually splits Red Lake in half. “Upper Red Lake” and “Lower Red Lake” are connected by a short waterway, making this combined body of water Minnesota’s third-largest.

4. Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake is located in Minnesota and Canada.

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Covering a total surface area that expands to 360 sq mi or 932 sq km, the Rainy Lake straddles between Minnesota and Canada and is one of the state’s largest. The lake is ideal for water sports as it also sits adjacent to Voyageurs National Park. The famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area and the Superior National Forest parts are also included in Rainy Lake’s watershed.

5. Mille Lacs Lake

The Mille Lacs Lake is known for its high walleye catch rates.

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One of the most famous vacation lakes in Minnesota’s Twin Cities, the Mille Lacs Lake boasts 207 sq mi or 536 sq km. Mille Lacs is a shallow lake, but it is best known for its amazingly high walleye catch rates. Apart from walleye fishing, the lake also offers other fishing opportunities, especially during the winter when fishers and anglers visit the lake and stay for numerous ice-fishing huts for fast-paced walleyes or northern pike.

6. Leech Lake

Located inside the Chippewa National Forest, Leech lake is a renowned fishing spot in Minnesota.

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Leech Lake encompasses 161 sq mi or 416.6 sq km and is inside the Chippewa National Forest. It is a renowned fishing spot in Minnesota. Leech Lake’s sprawling geology primarily contains bays and inlets ideal for finding that hidden fishing spot. The lake is also known for its abundance of jumbo perch, largemouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and muskie.

7. Lake Winnibigoshish

The forests surrounding Lake Winnibigoshish make it a hot spot for lake resorts.

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Lake Winnibigoshish is located adjacent to Leech Lake, within the Chippewa National Forest. It encompasses a total surface area of 88 sq mi or 228.5 sq km. The lake, often called “Lake Winnie” or “Big Winnie,” has a shoreline composed mainly of undeveloped forests. These forests surrounding the lake make it a hot spot for lake resorts. The lake is fed by the Mississippi River and hosts numerous freshwater fish species.

8. Lake Vermillion

Lake Vermillion has a total surface area of 61 square miles.

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Covering a total surface area of 61 sq mi or 158.9 sq km, Lake Vermillion is one of Minnesota’s largest lakes and one of the most stunning. Like most Minnesota lakes, the lake is known for its abundance of walleye and muskie. Moreover, Lake Vermilion also offers a picturesque backdrop for getaway photos with its bordering lines of pine and birch trees. 

9. Kabetogama Lake

The Kabetogama Lake is one of the largest lakes in Minnesota.

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Spanning approximately 40.15 sq mi or 104 sq km in total surface area, the Kabetogama Lake is a freshwater glacial lake located near the Canadian border in St. Louis County. The walleye stay deep as the lake cools in mid to late August, but their appetites return during the fall, providing rich fishing opportunities. Even during the slower walleye times, there are plenty of opportunities to snag hungry smallmouth bass and northern pike.

10. Lake Pepin

Having a total surface area of 40 square miles, Lake Pepsin is a naturally occurring lake.

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Lake Pepin has a total surface area of 40 sq mi or 103.6 sq km, bordering Minnesota and Wisconsin. Located in the Mississippi River, it is a naturally occurring lake that has been formed by an outflow of a massive glacial lake during the latter parts of the last Ice Age. 

11. Namakan Lake

Despite being one of the largest lakes in Minnesota, the Namakan Lake sits at the Canadian border.

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The Namakan Lake covers an entire surface area of 38 sq mi or 98 sq km and consists of nearly 146 miles of shoreline. The lake is situated in the Voyageurs National Park and is fed by the Kabetogama Lake, almost its same size. Despite being one of the largest lakes in Minnesota, the majority of the lake sits at the Canadian border.

12. Cass Lake

Cass Lake is the 8th largest lake bordered entirely within Minnesota.

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Encompassing a surface area of 25 sq mi or 64.58 sq km, Cass Lake is another lake in Minnesota situated within the Chippewa National Forest and the Leech Lake Indian Reservation. The lake is famous in the state for its rich history, but it is also a sought-after destination for recreational activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming. It is also the 8th largest lake that is bordered entirely within Minnesota.

13. Lake Minnetonka

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Lake Minnetonka has a total surface area of 22.7 sq mi or 58.79 sq km. But apart from its vast surface area, the lake also offers numerous coves that can all be explored by tourists. The lake is a collection of about 16 lakes and 23 bay areas that are all interconnected. 

14. Saganaga Lake

The Saganaga Lake is the largest lake within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

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Sitting at the border of Ontario and Minnesota, the Saganaga Lake measures 21.61 sq mi or 55.98 sq km and offers many thrilling recreational activities for tourists and residents alike. With a maximum depth of 280 feet or 85 meters, the Saganaga Lake is also the largest and deepest lake within the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. It’s also a famous fishing spot where fresh catches of walleye, lake trout, whitefish, smallmouth bass, and northern pike are abundant.

15. Otter Tail Lake

The Otter Tail Lake is the largest lake in Minnesota’s Otter Tail Lake County.

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The largest lake in Minnesota’s Otter Tail Lake County, the Otter Tail Lake has a total surface area of 21 sq mi or 54.39 sq km. It has a maximum depth reaching 120 feet or 37 meters, but more than half of the lake reaches only 15 feet or 4.6 feet. This 13,725-acre lake has 22 miles of beautiful shoreline part of the Otter Tail River Chain. Otter Tail Lake draws visitors to Central Minnesota all year.

16. Big Stone Lake

The Big Stone Lake sits between the border of Minnesota and South Dakota.

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Encompassing a surface area of 19.7 sq mi or 51.03 sq km, the Big Stone Lake provides Minnesota residents and tourists with breathtaking scenery through its beautiful blue waters. This long, narrow freshwater reservoir was formed 20,000 years ago during the last Ice Age and currently sits between the border of Minnesota and South Dakota.

17. Pelican Lake – St. Louis County

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Apart from a total surface area of 18 sq mi or 46.72 sq km, the Pelican Lake also has 53 islands, offering over 54 miles of shoreline to discover. The lake is known as a great fishing spot in the state with abundant freshwater fish.

18. Gull Lake

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Located in Cass County, Gull Lake is a popular spot to visit for vacations and recreational activities. It has a total surface area of 15.5 sq mi or 40.25 sq km and was built about five feet by the construction of Gull Lake Dam. 

19. Burntside Lake

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With a total surface area of 11.15 sq mi or 28.89 sq km, the Burntside Lake harbors over 100 islands and is a famous spot for catching native fish.

20. Lake Bemidji

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Lake Bemidji has a surface area of 10.8 sq mi or 28 sq km. It is a lake formed by glaciers fed and drained by the Mississippi River. Its name “Bemidji” refers to the river, describing its flow from west to east. The name directly translates to “Lake with crossing waters.” 

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