Deer Lake, Minnesota, USA

Also known as:  Lake of Changing Colors

Welcome to the ultimate guide to Deer Lake — things to do, where to stay, fun facts, history, stats and more. Let’s dive in!

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Looking for Deer Lake cabins or other accommodations? Save time and use this interactive map to find, compare and book at the best rates. Or explore our comprehensive list of favorite travel partners.

All About Deer Lake

Often called the “Lake of Changing Colors,” Deer Lake is a jewel in Minnesota’s northwoods country. Located northwest of Grand Rapids in south-central Itasca County, this Deer Lake is not to be confused with a smaller Deer Lake located in northern Itasca County. Part of Minnesota’s Northeast tourism region, Itasca County is home to over an astounding 1,000 lakes and acres of forest that lend themselves to a variety of outdoor activities.

For thousands of years, Deer Lake and Minnesota’s northwoods have been home to Chippewa, or Ojibwe, people. As early as the 1600s, rich, natural resources attracted explorers and fur traders to the lakes and rivers of northern Minnesota. During the 1800s, the lumber industry began to drastically alter forest landscapes from Michigan to Minnesota. By 1872, a logging camp was established off the northwest shore of Deer Lake. Area logging continued until 1902, when a preservation effort forced the creation of Chippewa National Forest, the country’s first congressionally mandated national forest. During the 1890s, railroads appeared and communities around Deer Lake began to grow. Today the lumber industry remains, harvesting and reforesting the landscape to preserve the region’s sensitive ecosystems.

The solitude of Minnesota’s deep woods and Deer Lake’s crystal-clear water have combined to create a unique setting where wildlife, scenery and visitors can intersect. Mineral content of Deer Lake turns the water into a prism of blue and green colors that stand in stunning contrast to the deep evergreen of surrounding forests. The clear water of this 4,032-acre lake is an impediment to daytime fishing. However, it does allow boaters a better view of the many rock hazards lying beneath the surface of Deer Lake.

Boaters, canoers and kayakers enjoy “island hopping.” The Lake of Changing Colors has 25 islands scattered throughout its five-mile length. Bear Island was purchased by the Deer Lake Association and Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources for a Wildlife Management Area. Here, birdwatchers may spy eagles perched among the white pines or loons, ducks, and geese nesting along the shore of this 25-acre island.

An additional Aquatic Management Area is found along Deer Lake’s Kocemba’s Bay. This area of marsh, rocks and bogs makes Deer Lake one of the few natural Muskie-spawning lakes in Minnesota. Additional fish species found in Deer Lake include northern pike, walleye, perch, bluegills, crappie and largemouth and smallmouth bass. After fishing, wildlife watchers can pack their gear and head into the trees for an opportunity to glimpse wolf, coyote, bobcat, lynx or fox that frequent the area.

Deer Lake’s sparkling water comes from rainwater, surface and underground springs. Deer River provides the outlet to the Lake of Changing Colors. Part of Dear Lake’s rich history can be found in the ruins of an old logging dam located near the current dam site along the northwestern shore. Constructed in 1938 and modified in 1983, Minnesota’s Department of Natural Resources manages Deer Lake’s dam, creating an average depth of 42 feet and maximum depth of 120 feet.

Deer Lake’s public access is limited to Comfort Cove near the southwestern shore. Here, weekend fishermen find a concrete boat ramp and parking for 15 trailers. For those who have the good fortune of an extended stay, the majority of Deer Lake’s shoreline is occupied by a few resorts and an estimated 400 cabins and homes.

Beyond Deer Lake, new scenery unfolds around every corner. Only five miles to the southwest, the community of Deer River lies at an entrance to Chippewa National Forest. This 666,542-acre forest contains over 400,000 acres of lakes and wetlands. Approximately three-fourths of the forest lies within Leech Lake Indian Reservation. The Ojibwe and US Forest Service work together to protect the fragile ecosystems unique to the forest while continuing to provide recreational activities. The Forest Service maintains “21 developed campgrounds, 160 miles of hiking trails, 315 miles of snowmobile trails, 280 dispersed camping sites” and opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife watching, canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding and snowmobiling.

When you need a touch of “urban life,” Grand Rapids and Deer River are less than 15 miles from Deer Lake. Take a break from cookouts and dine in local restaurants, enjoy a day of sightseeing and shopping, play a round of golf, or try your luck at the casinos run by Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe.

Whether you stay for a weekend or a lifetime, it is the water that draws you to Deer Lake. Select your vacation rental or real estate property, then rest under the shade of the pines as you watch daylight dance across the blue water. Launch your canoe and ride the gentle waves to where eagles fly. Watch the sunset turn Deer Lake to liquid gold. Whether you visit or stay, experience Deer Lake — it’s all about the water.

Things to Do at Deer Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest
  • Ruins
  • Shopping
  • Casino Gambling

Fish Species Found at Deer Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Walleye

Find Places to Stay at Deer Lake

If you’re considering a Deer Lake lake house rental or hotel, we’ve made it super easy to find the best rates and compare vacation accommodations at a glance. Save time using this interactive map below.

Recommended Sites to Book a Deer Lake Vacation

If you want to take a deeper dive to find waterfront lake cabins, cottages, condos, hotels or resorts, check out our favorite Deer Lake lodging partners.

  • VRBO – Use VRBO to find the perfect lake rental home, condo, cabin, cottage or other vacation property.
  • – One of the world’s leading digital travel companies, connects travelers to everything from cozy B&Bs to luxury resorts.
  • Expedia – Expedia is a popular online travel agency with more than 140,000 lodging properties worldwide.
  • – With more than 325,000 hotels in 19,000-plus locations, is an industry leader in online accommodations.
  • TripAdvisor – Read traveler reviews and compare prices on hotels, vacation rentals and more at TripAdvisor.
  • Trivago – Trivago helps travelers compare deals for hotels and other accommodations from a variety of booking sites.
  • KAYAK – KAYAK scours hundreds of other travel websites at once to find the best deals on hotels and other travel-related services.
  • RVshare –RVshare connects travelers interested in renting a motorhome with owners who have RVs to rent.
  • CampSpot – Campspot offers premier RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins and glamping options across North America.

Note: These are affiliate links so we may earn a small commission if you book through them. While there is no extra cost to you, it helps provide resources to keep our site running (thank you)! You can read our full disclosure policy here.

Deer Lake Statistics & Helpful Links


Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

Surface Area: 4,032 acres

Shoreline Length: 25 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,309 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,308 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,309 feet

Average Depth: 42 feet

Maximum Depth: 120 feet

Water Volume: 168,811 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1938

Drainage Area: 36 sq. miles

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

We strive to keep the information on LakeLubbers as accurate as possible. However, if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you! Please fill out our Content Correction form.

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