Minnesota: Land of 10,000 + Lakes

Mille Lacs Lake in MN

9/21/2022:

Minnesota may be known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but after doing some research I discovered that there are over 14,000 lakes (over 10 acres in size with wave swept shore) in the state boundaries. If you count bodies of water under 10 acres in size, Minnesota has over 117,000 waterbodies. Water is part of the fabric of Minnesota and Lakes provide a retreat to relax in solitude.

There is a wild calm in the serenity of a lake. There is a peace that connects a soul in the quiet needed to pray. There is a restlessness in a lake too – as the waves ripple and crash from calm to storm – and yet even in the torrent of the madness – the lake still invites one to ponder things beyond in the simplest of lake wave choruses…

I’ll be the first to admit I let stress and ‘what ifs’ cloud my thoughts. Working in sales I’m always working to figure out the next solution to a problem and help clients exceed their goals.

Especially since the pandemic, we’ve all faced the noise of worry disrupting our calm.

That is why I am drawn to lakes – there is nothing supernatural about the waters, and yet the peace and solitude of a lake draws me closer to God and his abilty to calm storms.

Taking ten minutes to simply sit and stare into the heart of a lake provides a peace of mind that truly refreshes the soul.

I start this post with a pause because sometimes we need to give ourselves a permission slip to just sit and be quiet and take in the beauty of God’s nature. Even if that is simply reading a blog post and enjoying scenic photos. Give yourself permission to ‘relax by the lake’ for ten minutes.

Lakes of Adventure:

I originally planned to fly back on Wednesday (9/21), but when American accidentally canceled my return flight I was able to use that as a blessing in disguise. I decided I would extend my trip a few days to explore the Central Lakes region and dig into Minneapolis.

Fortunately I work remotely as needed and figured working with a view is always more exciting.

I spent the morning in the Brainerd area getting work done from my hotel room before hitting the road. My eventual destination = Minneapolis, but given my proximity to one of Minnesota’s most popular lake areas (greater Brainerd) I decided to be a bit of a road wanderer before looping back to Minneapolis.

The manager at the hotel recommended I check out Gull Lake and eat lunch at lakeside restaurant Ernies, before driving up 371 towards Leech Lake and then looping back down to Minneapolis. It is a big detour, but the views would be worth the extra miles.

Brainerd is a centrally located town, roughly two hours from Minneapolis-St. Paul. There are over 450 lakes in the Brainerd Lakes area, including the gorgeous Gull Lake Chain, Mille Lacs and Leech Lake.

Gull Lake:

The Gull Lake Chain of Lakes includes a collection of connected lakes and two large bays. Located conveniently near Baxter and Brainerd, The Gull Lakes area is renowned for its relaxing lakeside resorts and lake homes. It is one of the most popular summer spots for Minnesotans.

Over nineteen resorts like Cragun’s and The Gull Lake Resort lure visitors to enjoy relaxing vacations overlooking the crystal clear waters of The Gull Chain.

Several lakefront restaurants invite diners to enjoy delicious food with a view, including Ernie’s. I was on a limited timeline, so I unfortunately missed my chance for a lakefront lunch.

List of Gull Lakes:

  • Gull Lake
  • Upper Gull Lake
  • Nisswa Lake
  • Roy Lake
  • Margaret Lake
  • Spider Lake
  • Spring Lake
  • Love Lake
  • Round Lake
  • Bass Lake
  • Steamboat Bay
  • Wilson’s Bay

I spend ninety minutes driving the ‘Gull Loop’ – exploring the gorgeous vistas from Gull Lake to Wilson’s Bay.

Up Scenic MN-371:

One of Minnesota’s prettiest scenic byways is the road from the Brainerd area north on Minnesota 371. This stretch of highway parallels countless lakes, including The Gull Chain, towards Cass Lake at it’s northern terminus.

Powered with a cup of Caribou Coffee (Minnesota founded java chain), I drove 371 past The Gull Chain until I reached the bottom of Leech Lake.

Leech Lake is the third largest lake in Minnesota at over 102,000 acres and a depth of 150 feet. It is a angler’s haven for walleye and other fish. Leech Lake is home to the elusive eelpout- a fish that has an eel like appearance.

As I neared the lake intermittent rain and steady winds turned the lakeshore into a beautiful tempest.

Leech Lake is home to the native Leech Lake Ojibwe Band. I enjoyed taking time to learn more about their culture and history in the area.

Leech Lake

Highway 2 and The Great River Road:

At the terminus of MN-371 at Cass Lake, I veered east on Highway 2 on the south end of Lake Winnibigoshish. This is the fifth largest lake in Minnesota and was formed by damming the Mississippi River…

Speaking of The Mississippi River…The headwaters of the mighty Mississippi start in this region (an hour west of Winnibigoshish) in Itasca State Park. You can follow a scenic road trip along the boundaries for the Mississippi from Itasca, MN all the way to it’s mouth in Louisiana!

Minnesota’s Great River Road spans 565 miles, 43 communities, 20 counties, three tribes and six unique destination areas, providing public access to and promoting exploration of America’s Great River benefiting residents, businesses and tourists alike.

The Great River Road showcases the natural scenery of the land, carved and shaped by one of America’s most important waterways – The Mississippi. The Mississippi River runs 2350 miles from Lake Itasca, MN to The Gulf of Mexico in LA.

I found myself lost in the bucolic byway of wide open farmland, scenic bluffs and trees lining the riverbed. It is a calming beauty that reminds me of a Robert Frost poem.

I enjoyed a brief stop Grand Rapids – a quaint Minnesota town, just off Highway 2. Grand Rapids is the hometown of my icon – Judy Garland. I hate that I missed the Judy Garland Museum when I was in town. This wonderful historic house museum shows that for all the yellow brick roads there is no place like home. You can learn about the life and legacy of the wonderful Judy Garland.

Another Stop at Mille Lacs:

Heading south from Grand Rapids towards The Twin Cities, I enjoyed a second view of Mille Lacs, Minnesota’s second largest inland lake. It was the perfect way to cap off my lake adventure before I transitioned from wilderness lake escape to city exploration…

Other area attractions:

Minnesota is Paul Bunyan territory – while the lore of this rugged super hero lumberjack originated in Wisconsin, Paul Bunyan’s myth is entrenched in Minnesota. Paul Bunyan is a myth – but his legend feels real – with tall tales tied to the scenic Paul Bunyan Forest and campy Paul Bunyan statues near Bemidji MN and the headwaters of the Mississippi

The Headwaters of Mississippi – experience the humble beginnings of America’s River of the Blues – at Lake Itasca State Park

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