Biggest Lakes In Minnesota

Lake Superior is the largest lake in Minnesota, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes."
Lake Superior is the largest lake in Minnesota, the "Land of 10,000 Lakes."

Biggest Lakes In Minnesota

"Land of 10,000 Lakes," Minnesota has 15,291 lakes of over 10 acres, but only 11,842 officially recognized by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. However, if all basins of over 2.5 acres were counted, the region would have 21,871 lakes. The region has 200 Mud Lakes, 120 Rice Lakes, and 150 Long Lakes. The lakes in Minnesota provide 44,926 miles of shoreline. Lake Superior is the largest of all these lakes extending from the province of Ontario in Canada to the US states of Minnesota, and Michigan. The Lake of the Woods is the second largest in the region, and like Lake Superior, it extends to Canada. The other small lakes all fall within Minnesota giving the area the name tag of “land of 10,000 lakes”.

1. Lake Superior

Lake Superior is the largest lake in the Great Lakes of North America. The lake stretches from the upper peninsula of Michigan to the north in Ontario Canada and then west to the eastern edge of Minnesota. The name Superior refers to its size, 20365000 acres (962,700 in MN) and the lakes geographical position as the most northern lake in the Great Lakes. The deepest point in Lake Superior is 1333 feet below the surface. About 1.2 billion years ago, the Northern American Mid-content Rift caused the formation of Lake Superior. Before the explorations of the French people in the 1600s, Native Americans lived around the lake. The lake provided a means of transportation for the fur industry during the colonial period, and it is still a shipping hub today. Lake Superior is home to about eight species of fish like the carp varieties of trout, perch, and salmon. Native plant species include Michigan’s state trees, the white pines, and Flowerish Rush, and nearly sixty orchid species. The northern shore harbors about 10,000 migratory birds of prey and other bird species.

2. Lake Of The Woods

Lake of the Woods, one of the biggest lakes in Minnesota, extends from Ontario and Manitoba in Canada to the State of Minnesota in the US. The lake isolates a small region of Minnesota from mainland US. During the ice ages, four major ice sheets covered the northern parts of Minnesota. As the glaciers withdrew, a lake formed between the ice walls to the north and land to the south. The lake submerged the county and Minnesota, North Dakota, and a large portion of Canada. As the lake shrank, the Lake of the Woods was left behind as a remnant and its waters flow north to drain into Hudson Bay. A succession of sandy ridges like the Campbell Beach and beaches formed as the lake shrank. The Lake of the Woods is about 950,400 acres (307,000 in MN) in size, and the deepest point is about 210 ft below the surface. It provides a nesting zone for the piping plover and, the American white pelicans and bald eagles.

3. Rainy Lake

Rainy Lake is about 220,800 acres in the straddling borders of the US and Canada. The Northern Arm has clearer waters while the southern Arm has dark stained water (the color of tea) and fish spawn faster in the Southern Arm than the north. The fish communities in these regions are also different. The lake is part of the lakes forming the Hudson Bay drainage system, and it is geographically part of the Superior Craton. Rainy Lake is a remnant of the glacial Lake Agassiz formed during the Ice Age when glaciers withdrew from the northern parts of Minnesota. The lake’s watershed rocks date back to 2.5-3.6 billion years ago. The Fort Frances community is the oldest settled community west of the Lake Superior. Jacques de Noyen established the community in 1688. The voyageurs national park provides recreation facilities around the lake. Fishing is also a common activity in the area.

4. Red (Lower) Lake

The Lower Red Lake lies entirely within the borders of Minnesota US. The lake with a size of 180,999 acres is the largest natural freshwater lake in the region and lies entirely within the Red Lake Indian Reservation. The Red Lake is a glacial lake formed about 10,000 years ago when the last glaciers that covered northern Minnesota withdrew preventing the water resulting from the melting glaciers from draining northwards, trapping it into a lake called Agassiz. Lake Agassiz, though shallow covered the whole region of the Red Lake County. The soils in the area are as a result of sorting actions of water or the soil developed on the sediments of the glacial lake. The gravel ridges in the county indicate that the lake maintained a constant level of water sometimes back.

5. Mille Lacs Lake

Ranking fifth among the biggest lakes in Minnesota is the Mille Lacs Lake. The lake is a large but shallow lake. Located in Mille Lacs, Aitkin, and Crow Wing, the lake has a size of 132,516 acres with 42 ft being the maximum depth. Most of the mud flats lie in the northern parts of the lake, and the two islands in the center constitute Mille Lacs National Wildlife Refuge. The lake provides a habitat for fish species like muskie, northern pike, and smallmouth bass and spawning ground for walleye. Like most lakes in Minnesota formed by glacial action, Lake Mille Lacs is a Moraine Lake formed from two separate glacial lobes. The lake was created 15,000 years ago in the last phase of Wisconsin glaciations. The first glacial lobe was the Superior Lobe from the northeast which carried rock sediments along the North shore and Superior basin and deposited them beneath the ice. 12,000 years ago the second lobe advancing from the northwest overrode the northern part of the moraine melting its waters into Lake Mille Lacs.

All the lakes in Michigan have a glacial origin. Fishing and recreational activities take place in these lakes. For Lake Superior only about 962,700 acres lie within Minnesota and Lake of the Wood has an area of 307,010 acres. The lakes provide important ecoregion that supports many avian species and aquatic animals like fish.

Biggest Lakes In Minnesota

RankLakeCountySize (acres)Max depth (ft)
1SuperiorCook20365000 (962,700 in MN)1333
2Lake of the WoodsLake of the Woods950400 (307,000 in MN)210
4Red (Lower)Beltrami180999-
5Mille LacsMille Lacs13251642
7Red (Upper)Beltrami10783218
9VermilionSt. Louis4055776
10KabetogamaSt. Louis2576080
15Otter TailOtter Tail13725120
16Big StoneBig Stone1261016
17NamakanSt Louis11755.41150
18PelicanSt. Louis1154638
20Minnesota SloughHouston960022

More in Environment