Planning a Lake Vermilion vacation in Minnesota

(Last Updated On: December 16, 2020)

Lake Vermilion is located in northeastern Minnesota, 4-5 hours north of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area, roughly between the towns of Tower (on the east) and Cook (on the west).

DNR Recreation Compass

With about 40,000 acres of surface area, Lake Vermilion is Minnesota’s fifth largest lake. It is over 37 miles long (yes, it is all considered one lake) and is said to have 365 islands. We mostly stayed around the bays and islands in what is considered “mid” lake. The new Lake Vermilion State Park has been combined with the Soudan Underground Mine State Park to create Lake Vermilion-Soudan Underground Mine State Park. (More info on both below.)

Offering the opportunity to experience the northern wilderness from a comfortable lodge or cabin, this is one of Minnesota’s legendary lake destinations.

We are fortunate to have friends with a place up on the lake, but there are a number of lodging options available to those who aren’t so lucky.

There’s nothing like having your own private cabin and, since this is a popular lake, there are many cabins – from rustic to palatial – all along the shoreline.

Some of those cabins are available for rent either through the individual owner or brokers. Resources to check include:

Lodges and Resorts
There are a wide variety of options available on Lake Vermilion, from cozy family resorts to the resort hotel at Fortune Bay Casino. Information on various options can be found on the Lake Vermilion Resort Association and Resort Association web sites

There are a number of campgrounds along the lake, including:

Houseboat rentals offer a unique way to travel and stay on Lake Vermilion. Rentals can be arranged through Vermilion Houseboats and


Getting Around
Large portions of the lake shore are accessible via roadway, but for those areas that aren’t, there are numerous boat ramps and marinas that allow full access to the lake. Motors are allowed on all parts of the lake, but – at least in the areas where we were – there weren’t many people out cruising. Most of the time it felt like the lake pretty much belonged to us.

We stayed with friends who live in an area without road access – nothing makes you feel like you are on vacation like arriving on a pontoon!

Motorized boats and personal watercraft are available for rent at numerous locations. Canoes, kayaks, and small sail boats are available at most resorts and some marinas.

Although I saw larger sailboats on the lake (it looked like the sailing was fun) and docked at various marinas, I have not located a resource for chartering a sail boat.

There were a few kayakers out near some of the resorts and we even came across a canoe being hauled across the lake, so you really can have it all!

For those not quite ready for paddling through the Boundary Waters, the quiet bays and inlets on Vermilion look ideal for exploring by canoe.

We had a tasty and relaxing lunch at the Bay View Lodge, which has water access and a multi-level deck with views of the water.

Other dining options are described at:

Picnics can be had aboard your boat or ashore at one of the shore lunch sites maintained by the Lake Vermilion Sportsmen’s Club.

If hiking on land, cruising along on the water, or lazing by the shore aren’t enough for you, there are other options.

I don’t fish, but plenty of people come here just for the fishing. Most resorts offer fishing suggestions and assistance. Guide services are listed in both the Chamber and Resort Association’s guides. Learning How to Fish also seems like a good resource for those without much experience.

Learn About Iron Mining and/or the Materials that Make-up of the Universe
The Soudan iron mine, the oldest and deepest mine in the state, is located along Lake Vermilion. Mining ended here in 1962 and today the Soudan Underground Mine unit of the state park provides visitors with a glimpse of a mining operation and the impact iron mining has had on the state. At the park it is possible to view on of the deepest open pit mines and then take an underground mine tour and a half mile beneath the earth.

If mining doesn’t interest you, but high tech science does, tours of the High Energy Physics Lab (housed in the very lowest levels of the mine) are also available for touring.   This state of the art facility is run by the University of Minnesota and is currently being used to conduct experiments related to two projects:

The new Lake Vermilion State Park is adjacent to the Soudan Underground Mine. The park is providing services in stages.

Check out the Fortune Bay Casino and Bois Forte Heritage Center
I’m not a casino person, but for those who are, the Fortune Bay Casino Resort is located on the lake near Tower. Besides the casino, the complex includes a golf course and the Boise Forte Indian Heritage Center.

Visit the Wolves
The International Wolf Center in Ely provides educational programming about wolves. (Highly recommended by various friends.)

Ride the Mail Boat
Lake Vermillion residents without road access are still served by a mail boat, which runs six days a week. Visitors are welcome to ride along (for a fee). The boat leaves from Tower and the route covers over 80 miles.

Take Flight
Van Air provides a variety of tours over Lake Vermilion and nearby lakes, giving visitors an eagle eye view!

Shop in Ely
Ely has a fascinating collection of shops, many of which you are unlikely to see anywhere else. Among the unique offerings are photographs from the Brandenburg Gallery, footwear from Steger Mukluks and Moccasins, all manner of gear at Piragis Northwoods Company, and so much more. When you’re tired of shopping, there are plenty of restaurants to try.

Visit the Boundary Waters
The BWCA offers over 1,200 miles of canoe trails through breathtaking wilderness. The Trout Lake chain is accessible directly from Lake Vermilion. Numerous outfitters can be found in the area. has a wealth of information on planning a trip to the Boundary Waters.

Additional Resources
The Lake Vermilion Chamber of Commerce website   includes an extensive visitor’s guide. (Highlighting their members, of course.)

The Lake Vermilion Resort Association website   also has an extensive and easy-to-use visitor’s guide.

What’s Where provides online maps for specific areas of Lake Vermilion.

Lake Vermilion Vacations has a detailed map.

Additional posts and links

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.