The Truth: Are there really 10,000 lakes in Minnesota? What about Wisconsin?

does minnesota have 10,000 lakes

Spend more than a few moments researching the state of Minnesota, and you’ll immediately find yourself barraged with Minnesota’s claims as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

It’s a bewildering stat. One that most visitors, and even some Minnesotans, have to ask:

Is it true?

In this SPECIAL INVESTIGATION (well, not exactly, we’ll mostly just put on our trivia caps and did into as many sources as we can…) we’re answering the question on everyone’s minds…

Are there really 10,000 lakes in Minnesota?

The surprising answer: Yes!

Minnesota actually has 11,842 lakes, according to the Minnesota DNR.

Our license plates’ claims as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” are actually shortchanging us!

The DNR’s criteria for what counts as a lake is any body of water over 10 acres, or 4.05 hectares.

If we adjusted the criteria to lakes larger than 2.5 acres, Minnesota would have 21,871 total lakes. And if we counted all lakes larger than 1 acre? 43,041 total lakes.

And using U.S. Geological Survey Data for total bodies of water, (lakes, ponds, rivers, whatever) Minnesota has an astounding 124,662 bodies of water!

5 Crazy Stats to Put The Land of 11,842 Lakes into Perspective

In case 11,842 didn’t sound like a large enough number, here’s some more information to put that mind-boggling total into perspective.

1. Minnesota’s lakes provide 44,926 miles of shoreline.

Put another way, that’s more shoreline than all the ocean and lakefront shoreline in California, COMBINED. (They’ve only got aAbout 35,000 miles total, ha!)

And when you consider that planet earth is “only” about 25,000 miles around, Minnesota nearly has enough shoreline to wrap around the entire earth twice!

2. Minnesota has so many lakes, the state ran out of names.

With so many lakes to name, there’s bound to be some repeats. As of the last count, Minnesota has:

  • 201 Mud Lakes
  • 154 Long Lakes
  • And 123 Rice Lakes

3. Minnesota’s lakes are bigger than some states.

In total, Minnesota has 2,560,299 acres covered by lakes and deep water rivers.

That’s more acreage than Rhode Island (988,832 acres) and Delaware (1,593,133 acres).

4. There’s almost a lake in every county.

Of Minnesota’s 87 counties, 84 of them contain at least one lake.

5. Minnesota has the largest Great Lake in North America.

Lake Superior is the largest Great Lake in North America, the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, and obviously, the largest lake in Minnesota.

That said, Lake Superior isn’t entirely within Minnesota’s borders. The largest lake entirely within the borders of Minnesota is Red Lake.

How many lakes are in Minnesota vs. Wisconsin?

Ah, now here’s a contentious topic.

Our neighbors/frenemies in Wisconsin like to claim that they have more lakes than us, but in our humble opinion, the answer to this question really comes down to your standards. (Wisconsin’s are pretty low, but I didn’t have to tell you that… )

You see, Wisconsin’s DNR claims their state has over 15,000 lakes. There’s only one problem, though…

Wisconsin has no official standards or size requirements for what counts as a lake.

In an interview with KARE 11, a Wisconsin DNR spokeman said Wisconsin officially counts 15,074 lakes, but admitted the state does not have a lower limit for lake size. (In other words, I’m guessing there’s a lot of ponds in that “lake” total.)

Minnesota, as we previously mentioned, does. In fact, Minnesotans take their lake standards so seriously that they only count bodies of water over 10 acres in size. (For reference, that’s equal to about 20-40 suburban homes, depending on lot size.)

So, all else being equal, who has more lakes? Meaning, what happens if you limit both states to the same lake criteria?

As it turns out, Wisconsin has just 5,898 lakes larger than 10 acres, whereas Minnesota has 11,842.

And pretty much no matter which cutoff you use, Minnesota comes out ahead. According to Smithsonian Magazine:

  • Minnesota has 8,466 lakes larger than 25 acres, compared to Wisconsin’s 3,350.
  • If you lower the cutoff to just 1 acre in size, Minnesota comes out even further ahead, with 43,041 lakes compared to Wisconsin’s 22,973.
  • Even counting all bodies of water (lakes, ponds, rivers, whatever) Minnesota has 124,662 bodies of water, compared to Wisconsin’s 22,973.

Take that, Wisconsin!

Phew, now I can rest easy as a proud Minnesotan.

List of Lakes in Minnesota

I’ll be honest, there’s not enough room on this page, nor enough time in my life to type out all the lakes in Minnesota.

Thankfully though, Wikipedia maintains a list of Minnesota’s lakes here. Minnesota’s DNR also maintains their Lake Finder page, which includes tons of data about the 4,500 most prominent lakes in the state.

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