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Located just 210 miles (about 3 ½ hours) north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota’s Lake Vermilion is one of the state’s many great boating destinations (they don‘t call it the “Land of 10,000 Lakes“ for nothing). The word “vermilion” is a French translation of the Ojibwe name “onamuni,” which means “Lake of the Sunset Glow.” Lake Vermilion certainly glows brightly for visiting boaters.

The sprawling lake, which features many bays and coves, is located just north of the Laurentian Divide in the heart of Minnesota‘s Arrowhead region. This means the waters of the lake flow north into Hudson Bay--leading to constantly clean and clear H2O. Lake Vermilion features more than 40,000 acres of water, 1,200 miles of shoreline, and upwards of 365 islands. The maximum depth of the lake is about 75 feet.

Though it’s one of the largest lakes in the state, Lake Vermilion is easily navigable and has lots of protected areas for anchoring and escaping choppy conditions. During boating season (generally spring to fall), lots of numbered buoys and channel markers make boating easy (thanks to the work of the Lake Vermilion Sportsmen’s Club).

Visiting boaters might also enjoy a unique initial “tour” of Lake Vermilion by jumping on one of the mail boat excursions. From June 1 to Labor Day, the mail boat leaves from Aronson Boat Works (see below) at 9am to deliver mail to island residents (Monday to Saturday). The trip covers more than 80 miles and provides a great introduction to Lake Vermilion boating.

Fishing is one of Lake Vermilion’s main attractions. The catch can include walleyes, northerns, large- and small-mouth bass, muskies, bluegills, and crappies. Sunken islands, drop-offs, and reefs all create great fishing spots. Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources maintains the lake and stocks millions of walleye fry and thousands of northern and muskie annually. A wide variety of resorts, camps, and guides cater to the visiting angler in search of records (or just dinner).

Other activities on or around the lake can include: hiking and biking (lots of trails cater to those on two feet or wheels); wildlife watching (birding is especially popular); berry picking (blueberries, blackberries, and more); golf (three championship layouts within 30 minutes); shopping (especially in Cook and Tower); the Fortune Bay Casino (two floors of gaming, lots of special events and concerts, and--perhaps most important--a full-service marina; www.fortunebay.com); Soudan Underground Mine State Park (Minnesota’s first iron ore mine); Vince Shute Bear Sanctuary (see wild bears from an open viewing deck); and the International Wolf Center (a world-class wolf interpretive facility).

Another popular destination, the Bois Forte Heritage Center makes for a fascinating outing. This cultural haven explores the proud heritage of the Bois Forte Band of the Ojibwe, including the Atisokanigamig “Legend House” and other artifacts and exhibits covering more than 500 years of history.

The area’s three main towns, Tower, Soudan, and Cook, all developed during the lake’s mining days (which ended in 1962). The towns and many lakefront locations feature casual dining (including fresh fish if you don’t have any luck). Several restaurants are boat-accessible.

The lake offers more than ample ramps for those trailering their boats, along with a nice number of full-service marinas (including varied boat rentals). Some of the possibilities include: the aforementioned Fortune Bay; Aronson Boat Works (www.aronsonboatworks.com; 218-753-4190); Shamrock Marina (www.shamrock-marina.com; 218-753-5457); Moccasin Point Resort and Marine (www.moccasinpoint.com; 218-753-3309); and Gruben’s Marina (800-923-5111).

The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) can also be accessed directly from Lake Vermilion. The entry point is at Trout Lake and boats with a maximum of 25hp area allowed here (motorized portage service available). Further into the BWCAW, motors are not allowed.

In addition (like many Minnesota lakes), Lake Vermilion features a number of intriguing “cabin resorts” that welcome boaters. These can provide a great base for boaters to explore all of the lake while returning to comfortable accommodations each evening (maybe even including fresh fish for dinner). The best bet is to contact the Lake Vermilion Resort Association (see below) to explore all of the options, but Ludlow’s Island Resort (www.ludlowsresort.com) provides a perfect example of the possibilities for visiting boaters.

Contact the Lake Vermilion Resort Association at P.O. Box 159, Cook, MN 55723, call (800) 648-5897, or visit www.visitvermilion.com. The website, www.lakevermilion.com also has a wide variety of information and links. For further information about all of Minnesota’s “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” contact Explore Minnesota Tourism by calling (888) TOURISM or visit www.exploreminnesota.com.