Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 lakes but the state actually has 11,842. What constitutes a lake in Minnesota? The Minnesota DNR has the following definition:


A lake is not defined by size or depth as some may suggest. A lake may be defined as an enclosed basin filled or partly filled with water. A lake may have an inlet and/or an outlet stream, or it may be completely enclosed (landlocked). Generally, a lake is an area of open, relatively deep water that is large enough to produce a wave-swept shore. For regulatory purposes, Minnesota has grouped its waters into two categories: public waters and public water wetlands. This makes it easier to determine whether a DNR public waters work permit is required before changes can be made to the course, current, or cross section of these waters.

photo - Jay Caldwell
photo - Jay Caldwell

Minnesota state agency only counts a body of water as a lake if it is more than 10 acres in surface area.  The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources lists 15,074 documented lakes in the state but their criteria for what constitutes a lake is different than Minnesota.  If the Minnesota criteria were applied to Wisconsin lakes then Wisconsin would have 5,898 lakes.  Wisconsin counts a 1/2 acre body of water as a  lake.

Jake Juliot from Explore Minnesota weighs in on the lake debates and highlights many things Minnesotans can do on the lakes this summer.


Going Out On The Lakes:

Minnesota with its numerous Lakes rivers, are just the place for fun on the water. Public boat accesses are available statewide on lakes and rivers. Paddlers will enjoy the canoe and kayak routes on rivers and along the North Shore of Lake Superior. If you don't have your own boat, there are plenty of rentals available. You can also go river rafting or tubing, sailing or even houseboating.

Voyageurs National Park is a great place to rent a houseboat and go stargazing at night with a chance at even seeing the Northern Lights!

Stretching as far as the eye can see, Lake Mill Lacs is in the heart of the state and is a fisherman's paradise, ranked a top 10 bass lake by Bassmaster and, come winter, one of Minnesota's premier ice fishing destinations. It's also home to a large sandy beach at Father Hennepin State Park, and is one of the few Minnesota lakes that's big enough for launch fishing.

Essentially five lakes in one, Bde Maka Ska, Harriet, Cedar, Brownie and Lake of the Isles offer a taste of the great outdoors in the heart of Minnesota's biggest city. Three of the four are connected and can be paddled as one; in some spots, you can't even tell you're in the city. Biking and running along the shores, dining at the lakeside eateries, and hitting the beaches are popular summer activities, with ice skating and hockey taking over in winter.

After Superior, Lake of the Woods is a 950,000-acre lake in far northwest Minnesota is the state's second-largest border lake, known for four seasons of great fishing for walleye, saugers, northerns and other species. In fact, winter fishing is even more popular than summer here, with resorts renting ice houses that have all the amenities of a deluxe cabin out on the frozen lake. Lake of the Woods is also home to the Northwest Angle, the northernmost point in the continental U.S., which can only be reached by boat or by driving through Canada.

Boundary Waters

A bucket list destination for any adventurer, this federally protected preserve stretches 150 miles along the Canadian border and is home to more than 1,000 bodies of water, with canoes as the primary mode of transportation. The Boundary Waters are a true wilderness; there are no cars, hotels, restaurants, electricity or other modern conveniences. The lakes range from tiny to vast, with portages, hiking trails, abundant wildlife and campsites available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Take a Guided Boat Tour

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 paddlewheeler, Wayzata Bay Charters, Al and Alma's Charter Cruises and more. In southeast Minnesota, the Pelican Breeze plies the waters of Albert Lea Lake, and Pearl of the Lake heads onto Lake Pepin, a widening of the Mississippi River in a scenic valley of wooded bluffs.

If you'd like to listen to my conversation with Jake Juliot it is available below.


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