Mille Lacs towns, and in-between
On a typical Minnesota highway map, several towns appear on or near the 100-mile Mille Lacs shoreline. They're small towns, none approaching 1,000 residents. And some are barely towns at all, little more than a dot on the map. Nevertheless, together they help serve local residents, visiting anglers, and tourists with the accommodations, services and supplies needed for life at the big lake.
Connecting these lake towns are major highways which often provide lengthy scenic views of Mille Lacs, as well as secondary roads which frequently bring the lake visitor close to the water's edge where the main thoroughfares break from the lake. Much of on-shore Mille Lacs between the lake towns consists of cabins and homes for weekenders, permanent residences, plus resorts, campgrounds, and fishing services.
Remember, wherever you are on Mille Lacs, within a few minutes of your location there are lodging, dining, and fishing services, plus outlets for gas, licenses, bait, and tackle.
Let's apply some life to those dots on your map - Mille Lacs villages, most of which date back to the 1880s and 1890s.
Isle is located at the southeast corner of Mille Lacs at the juncture of state highways 47 and 27. Resident population, about 600. Isle boasts several restaurants, bait and tackle shops catering to the needs of Mille Lacs anglers, convenience stores, super market, municipal on-off sale liquor, hardware store, gift shops, outboard servicing, newspaper, post office, museum, privately operated airport with 2,500-foot runway, bank, clinic, laundromat, plus resorts with hotel/motel/cabin facilities plus launch fishing/guide services and camping facilities, in town on Isle Bay and along the Mille Lacs shore in both directions. Golf nearby. The entrance to Father Hennepin State Park is at the west end of Isle's main street (Highway 27). Isle Commerce & Development: 1-800-988-7199.
Four miles west of Isle on Highway 27, Wahkon village nestles along Wahkon Bay on Mille Lacs' south shore. Its main street is Highway 27. Population, about 200. Here, too, there are several resorts in town and others nearby, off #27. A good-sized marina on the east side of Wahkon Bay, a couple restaurants, several shops, convenience store, small public park and boat launch, and on/off liquor serve the public. The Ellen-Ruth, a cyprus fishing launch brought to Wahkon in 1933 by pioneer resorter Guy Hill, is on display here.
In the 1890s and 1900s, Cove was a bustling little port village with hotels, stores, blacksmith shop, sawmill, school, and home of the Cove Pioneer newspaper. Mille Lacs steamers, including the 101-foot sidewheeler Queen Ann, docked here in those old days. But Cove's importance as a Mille Lacs town diminished after 1908 with the building of the Soo Line railroad, which by-passed Cove while making the settlements at Isle, Onamia, and Wahkon more important. Today, while still on the maps, and with a popular public access onto Cove Bay, Cove is really not a "town" in the real sense and has no business district.
Garrison, at the strategic junction of north-south Highway 169 and westbound Highway 18 (to Brainerd), has more to offer than its listed population of about 150 suggests. Garrison's main street faces Mille Lacs. On Garrison Bay, and within a mile or two of town, there are plenty of charter boat (launch fishing) opportunities for groups and individuals, along with hotel/motel/cabin options, bait and tackle shops, public access and sheltered marina facilities, super market, souvenir shops, banks, auto repair, and on/off sale liquor establishments. Golf options are nearby. Central to the town and extending into the lake is the famous Garrison Concourse, a granite-walled scenic overlook of Mille Lacs featuring a giant replica of a walleye. Good dining opportunities abound. Garrison Commercial Club: 1-800-346-7646.
In the middle of Mille Lacs' north shore on the map, this dot along Highway 18 dates back to when Wealthwood actually was a village with a post office. There's no main drag or business district here, but several resorts and fishing services are at this location, along with some lodging and camping accommodations. Several of the resorts in the Wealthwood neighborhood offer protected harbors with boat slips and concrete ramps. Food and liquor options here, too.
Malmo, at the northeast corner of Mille Lacs, is centered at the intersection of north-south Highway 47 and east-west Highway 18, which skirts the north shore of the lake. Recently paved County Road 2 connects Malmo with Highway 65, a major north-south route further east. Several resorts with sheltered harbors and good launching ramps, as well as some good restaurants are nearby. At the junction area you'll find a couple gas station/convenience stores, laundromat, off-sale liquor store, boat storage and outboard motor service, auto repair, as well as a public access to Mille Lacs several blocks to the west. The shoreline at this part of Mille Lacs is all sand.
Though about three miles south of Mille Lacs - off Highway 169 and with Highway 27 forming the main street - Onamia has always been considered a lake town, the gateway community for Mille Lacs-bound traffic on #169. Population, about 700. Onamia has a business district that includes drug store, hardware store, bakery, bank, meat market, supermarkets, restaurants, auto parts and repair, and other enterprises. Onamia Area Civic Assoc.: 1-800-346-9375.
Aitkin, pop. 1,700, about 15 miles north of Mille Lacs on Highway 169; Brainerd, pop. 12,000, about 20 miles east of Mille Lacs on Highway 18; Milaca, pop. 2,200, about 25 mile south on Highway 169; Mora, pop. 2,900, about 25 miles southeast on Highway 65.