While the Great Lakes may take top billing for water features in the Midwest, there are other water basins across these states that are deserving of another look. From excellent vacation destinations to favorite fishing holes, these lakes continue to attract people to their shores year after year.
In addition, each of these basins brings beauty, tourism, and recreation to their surrounding area.
The Great Lakes are bordered by the six Midwestern states of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. The epic basins contribute to the bordering states with recreation, transportation, and economic opportunities, among many other benefits. With much attention paid to these great lakes, it may be easy to over-look the many extraordinary lakes within the Midwest. But don't sleep on our Heartland…
A visit to the Midwestern lakes may surprise you. The heartland of our country offers beauty and intrigue at every turn. Sunsets and sunrises, wineries and breweries, shorelines, and sand dunes – so much to soak up and take in. You will find one trip just will not be enough. From the country’s second-best over-all and third most beautiful lake, prepare to be transported to the tropics, but leave your passport at home.
Road Trip Through the Midwest
If you have time for a road trip, the lakes in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois are just what you need to solidify the Midwest as a high-value vacation destination. The Great Lakes are a remarkable collection of freshwater basins. The famed HOMES are beloved by those who live in the states that border them and beyond. So, for your next adventure through the Midwest, visit one – or all! – of these eighteen Midwest Lakes (other than the Great Lakes).
18 Midwest Lakes (Other Than the Great Lakes)
Minnesota - The Land of 10,000 Lakes
Minnesota has been known as the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 1950, when that moniker first appeared on their license plates. In truth, Minnesota is home to more than 14,000 lakes and acres of lush forests and wet bogs.
Minneapolis, Minnesota enjoys its own famed great lakes, The Chain of Lakes, which serve as a main attraction for The Twin Cities.
Minnesota is a top fishing destination. Though they are legendary for walleye, record-setting catches including pike, muskie, and perch abound in the basins of Minnesota. Fish don't hibernate for winter, so why should you skip a season for angling? Ice fishing is another opportunity to experience "Minnesota Nice" year-round.
Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota
Minnesota may be a surprising vacation destination for some but consider the incredible waterfront views of Lake Minnetonka and you will be convinced. Lake Minnetonka is the ninth largest lake in the state of Minnesota, offering recreational opportunities, including:
Popular Recreational Opportunities at the Minnesota Lakes
The Lake Minnetonka area of Minnesota is a perfect destination for solo travel, family vacations, and adventurous honeymoons. Plan to attend a local music festival or comedy in the park while you explore the small towns along the lake’s shore. The local restaurants serve up unforgettable fare, and the annual festivals are worth the trip.
Lakes of Illinois
Illinois boasts a modest 2,900 lakes within state lines. With man-made lakes dotting the landscape, its connection to one Great Lake, Lake Michigan, is a natural wonder.
The largest naturally occurring lake in Illinois is Horseshoe Lake near St. Louis. To find the cleanest, most pristine water in Illinois, look no further than Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park in Lena, Illinois.
Chicago, Illinois (at the Lake Michigan coastline)
Shoreline Drive is an iconic stretch of road along the coast of Lake Michigan in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. The windy city snuggles up along the shore of this Great Lake, and the area boasts high-end restaurants, shopping, and stellar views of the lake. Pedestrians and bikers enjoy scenic lakefront trails and sandy beaches while remaining close to the bustling downtown crowds.
Illinois touches the southwest corner of Lake Michigan with approximately 63 miles of shoreline – 22 miles of that is the City of Chicago shoreline. This connection point is a popular hangout for city dwellers and a point of pride for their connection to the Great Lakes. Chicago has an incredibly cool vibe, but they are never too cool to recognize their love and link to the great Lake Michigan.
Lake Mendota, Wisconsin
This stunning lake in the capital city of Madison gives the Great Lakes a fair challenge to their favored standing! Lake Mendota is the largest and deepest in the Yahara lake chain and boasts beautiful beaches, incredible wildlife, and plenty of public parks and public boat landings for all to enjoy. So, whether you are enjoying some time with your line in the water or visiting the local museums, Lake Mendota is the perfect host for a good time.
Lake Winnebago, Wisconsin
Is ice fishing on your bucket list? Lake Winnebago is the ideal vacation destination for dropping a line from a hut on the ice. This lake features shallow reefs, drop-off shorelines, and remarkable views of nature with a solid connection to the community that surrounds it. Spend your days on the water and your evenings in town, riding the old-fashioned carousel or taking in a concert along the lake’s shoreline – each day will be better than the last!
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
What lake is oh-so-close to Milwaukee and Chicago yet still far enough away to be a popular weekend getaway destination? Lake Geneva has been a resort destination of choice since the mid-1800s, offering a pristine vacation destination for city dwellers who need a change of scenery. In addition, the area offers several destinations to promote rest and relaxation, including:
Points of Interest Near Lake Geneva
With indoor and outdoor options for recreation and relaxation, Lake Geneva is a fantastic weekend retreat. You can spend your days hiking, kayaking, and canoeing or preserve your energy through meditation and lounging on the lakeshore. However, take care not to get too comfortable! After even a short stay in the crisp air and warm hospitality, returning to everyday life will be challenging.
Torch Lake, Michigan
How is it possible that Torch Lake is only the third-most beautiful lake in the world? Known as the Crown Jewel of the Michigan Chain of Lakes, Torch Lake is 19-miles long and offers plenty of space for water sports, fishing, and sandbar parties. The crystal-clear turquoise water is often compared to the Caribbean, making Torch Lake a tropical paradise in the heart of Michigan.
Lake St. Clair, Michigan
With ample shoreline and access to the United States and Canada, Lake St. Clair is a wonderful day trip for everyone. The lake sits between Ontario and Michigan and is part of the system of the Great Lakes. One distinct advantage of this lake is the abundance of activities it offers its visitors, including:
Activities at Lake St. Clair, Michigan
- Waterfront restaurants
- Floating Tiki Bars
Grand Traverse Bay, Michigan
Wine Country, anyone? Grand Traverse Bay sits in a picturesque area known for romantic getaways and family adventures. The bay is formed by the Leelanau Peninsula and has a historic lighthouse marking its entrance. Grand Traverse Bay is a vacation destination, to be sure, but also one of the best areas for small-town living.
Located near the northwest tip of The Mitten, Grand Traverse Bay indents into the Lower Peninsula. Split by a peninsula overflowing with prolific wineries, the Grand Traverse Bay is a mainstay of travel, recreation, and prime real estate. There are fewer areas in the country more beautiful than this region of Michigan.
Crystal Lake, Michigan
Crystal Lake was formed due to a “happy accident” in the late 1800s when water levels were dropped to connect Crystal Lake to the great Lake Michigan. The project failed but created the beautiful sandy beaches residents and tourists have come to know and love. This lake offers an incredible destination for family vacations and intimate getaways, offering crystal-clear beaches, hiking, biking, and vibrant autumn colors in the fall.
Lake Charlevoix, Michigan
There is nothing quite like Michigan’s Lake Charlevoix. Initially called Pine Lake, it was renamed Lake Charlevoix in 1926 because many of the area’s pine trees had been harvested, and the lake shared the same name with too many other Michigan lakes. Although frozen over in the winter months, the ice gives way to various fun summer activities for all who visit.
Summers in Michigan are really about just one thing: lake life. Lake Charlevoix was once a best-kept secret but now is known as the second-best lake in the country behind Lake Tahoe. Camping, hiking, and community concerts keep Lake Charlevoix top of mind for weekend getaways and lifetime relocations.
Burt and Mullet Lake, Michigan
A vital member of the Michigan Inland Waterway, Burt and Mullet Lake started as an important part of the lakes and rivers that make up the Native American trade route. So, whether you are visiting with family or bound and determined to land the most fish in the local tournament, Burt and Mullet Lake is hard to beat for rest and relaxation. The freshwater guarantees abundant fishing and great family memories.
Lake Leelanau, Michigan
With over a dozen vineyards and wineries, Lake Leelanau offers an abundance of opportunities to sit back, relax, and soak in the views – and the wine! This lake boasts twenty-one miles of waterway situated in Leelanau Peninsula, featuring beautiful swimming areas and zones for boating and kayaking. Be sure to include a trip to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore and Fountain Point on your itinerary to appreciate all that Lake Leelanau has to offer.
Glen Lake, Michigan
Named by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, Glen Lake earns this designation with rolling sandhills surrounding its clear, pure indigo-blue waters. As a result, Glen Lake is a natural choice for both family vacations and intimate getaways. Keep yourself busy with plenty of available activities, including:
Activities Near Glen Lake, Michigan
Quietly listening to nature
Silver Lake, Michigan
Looking for a local regatta or fishing tournament? Silver Lake is your destination of choice! The irregular shoreline forms sandy beaches for the summer, and ice huts dot this beautiful Michigan lake’s surface in the winter. Islands break the water’s surface and wildlife abounds, creating a beautiful escape for any vacationers (and locals, too!).
Houghton Lake, Michigan
Houghton Lake is the largest natural inland lake in Michigan and one of the largest in the United States. Yet somehow, there is nothing more “Michigan” than the area surrounding this stunning lake and the lifestyle it offers. With thirty miles of shoreline, Houghton Lake offers year-round activities, calm waters, and outdoor adventures for the whole family.
Lake Ann, Michigan
Snuggled in between Sleeping Bear Dunes, Crystal Mountain, and Traverse City lies the oasis of Lake Ann. An underestimated haven of relaxation, Lake Ann offers unique shopping, local breweries, and culinary surprises. The picturesque views never disappoint, and water activities are readily available, but it is the laid-back and welcoming vibe that keeps people coming back year after year.
Walloon Lake, Michigan
For a step back in time and a nod to the childhood home of Ernest Hemingway, look no further than Walloon Lake. The small-town charm of the village and off-the-beaten-path charm combine to create the ultimate inspirational escape. Its crystal-clear waters and residents attract travelers looking to appreciate nature and heart-warming hospitality.
Consider staying at one of the many cottages that dot the lakeshore. The landscape and cold, deep lake water will be just the things to inspire you to greatness, even if that greatness is not exactly a piece of literary genius. So, stretch your creative muscles and bask in the crisp fresh air along the iconic shores of Walloon Lake.
Arbutus Lake, Michigan
Arbutus Lake is the ideal vacation destination for travelers and Michiganders alike. The picturesque landscapes and sandy beaches offer abundant opportunities to simply relax. Admire the resorts and wineries, settle into its campgrounds, and celebrate each day with boating, hiking, and fishing. Anglers flock to the region for incredible fishing for species, including:
Fishing at Arbutus Lake
- Northern pike
- Rock bass
- Black crappie
Of course, there is no substitute for a classy and creative piece of art that stirs your memories and inspires another trek through the heart of the country, exploring lakes and landscapes, small towns, and charming villages. These wood charts will tell the tale of your adventures and spark conversation for years to come.
There are many great lakes in the Midwest in addition to the Great Lakes. Each body of water can tell a story and help you write your own. The wonder of the Midwest landscape and the charm of the towns you encounter and explore are the foundation of travel memories for years to come. The lakes found in Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota are genuinely second to none and offer miles of shoreline, millions of fish, and endless joy.