Lake Minnetonka

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Lake Minnetonka
Lake Minnetonka aerial.jpg
LocationHennepin and Carver counties, Minnesota, United States
Coordinates44°56′00″N 93°34′00″W / 44.93333°N 93.56667°W / 44.93333; -93.56667Coordinates: 44°56′00″N 93°34′00″W / 44.93333°N 93.56667°W / 44.93333; -93.56667
Primary inflowsSix Mile Creek
Primary outflowsMinnehaha Creek
Basin countriesUnited States
Surface area14,528 acres (5,879 ha)
Max. depth113 ft (34 m)
Shore length1125 mi (200 km)
Surface elevation929 ft (283 m)
IslandsBig Island
Crane Island
Minnetonka Beach
Spring Park
Tonka Bay
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Minnetonka is an inland lake located approximately 15 miles (24 km) west-southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The lake lies within Hennepin County and Carver County and is surrounded by 13 municipalities. At 14,528 acres (5,879 ha), it is Minnesota's ninth largest lake and is popular among boaters, sailors, and fishermen, it is also one of Minnesota's most affluent residential areas.


Early history[edit]

The first people who inhabited the Lake Minnetonka area were indigenous natives who migrated to the region at the end of the last ice age circa 8000 BCE. Later peoples who inhabited the area between 3500 BCE and 1500 CE are commonly referred to collectively as the "Mound Builders" because they constructed large land features serving spiritual, ceremonial, burial, and elite residential functions; the Mound Builder culture reached its apex circa 1150 CE and ceased to exist circa 1500 CE.

Stereoscope of recreational activity near Spirit Knob circa 1875

By the 1700s Lake Minnetonka was inhabited by the Mdewakanton people, a subtribe of the Dakota Nation. Although their primary settlements lay within the Minnesota River Valley, the Mdewakanton frequented Lake Minnetonka to hunt, fish, and collect maple syrup. Spirit Knob, a peninsula near present-day Wayzata, held spiritual significance for the Mdewakanton. Following the Dakota War of 1862, however, the Dakota were banished from Minnesota and forced to leave the area.

The first Euro-Americans known to have visited Lake Minnetonka were two teenage boys, Joe Brown and Will Snelling, who canoed up Minnehaha Creek from Fort Saint Anthony in 1822.[1] However, for three subsequent decades few other Euro-Americans visited the lake or even knew of its existence.

Lake Minnetonka was officially named by Minnesota's territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, in 1852, he had been informed that the Dakota used the phrase Minn-ni-tanka (“Big Water” in the Dakota language) to refer to the lake. Excelsior, the lake's first settlement, was established the following year; the first steamboat on Lake Minnetonka, a small side-wheel steamer named the Governor Ramsey, was launched in 1861. Travel to Lake Minnetonka remained relatively difficult, however, until the Saint Paul and Pacific Railroad extended a line to Wayzata in 1867.

Peter Gideon, an early Minnesota horticulturist, moved to the Lake Minnetonka area in 1853. In 1868 he successfully bred a species of apple that could withstand Minnesota's harsh winters and named it the "Wealthy" in honor of his wife; this breakthrough made possible the later developments of the Haralson and Honeycrisp apples in 1913 and 1974, respectively.

Glory years[edit]

Hotel Saint Louis in Deephaven

The construction of hotels and boarding houses near Lake Minnetonka boomed during the 1870s and early 1880s; the first large hotel on the lake, the Hotel Saint Louis in Deephaven, was built in 1879 and boasted 150 guest rooms with private verandas. The larger Lake Park Hotel was completed in Tonka Bay later that year; the largest hotel ever built on Lake Minnetonka, the Hotel Lafayette in Minnetonka Beach, opened in 1882. At nearly 800 feet (244 m) long and five stories tall, the Hotel Lafayette could accommodate over 400 guests. Many guests hailed from the Deep South and spent entire summers on the lake to enjoy its scenery and cooler climate.[citation needed]

Belle of Minnetonka circa 1885

Large steamboats became prevalent on Lake Minnetonka during this time; the first inland steamboat ever to be equipped with electric lights, the City of Saint Louis, was assembled in Wayzata in 1881 and began servicing lakeside communities and resorts later that year. The largest vessel ever to operate on Lake Minnetonka, the Belle of Minnetonka, was launched and put into service in 1882. At 300 feet (91 m) long, the Belle of Minnetonka could purportedly accommodate up to 2,500 passengers.

The lake's first yacht club, the Minnetonka Yacht Club, was founded in 1882 in Deephaven. Hazen Burton, one of the club's original founders, is credited for commissioning the development of the racing scow; when he debuted the first racing scow, the Onawa, in 1893, it was disqualified for winning nearly every regatta it entered. The rules were eventually modified, however, and racing scows became popular within the sailing community worldwide.[citation needed] The Onawa is currently on display at the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society Museum in Excelsior.

Many of Lake Minnetonka's visitors began finding new places to vacation as the railroads expanded westward in the 1890s, causing most of the lake's hotels and steamboats to suffer financially and cease operations; some hotels burned during this time, but most were demolished or dismantled. By 1900, however, an increasing number of families had begun to construct private summer cottages around Lake Minnetonka. Permanent homes and grand country estates also began to appear around the lake as the Twin Cities metropolitan area grew; some of these homes and cottages still exist, including the Thompson Summer House in Minnetonka Beach.

Golden years[edit]

Express Boat Hopkins circa 1912

In 1905 the Twin City Rapid Transit Company (TCRT) extended a streetcar line to the village of Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka's southern shore; the lake saw dramatic change in 1906 as TCRT also opened Big Island Park on Big Island and debuted its Express Boat service. The Express Boats, casually referred to as “streetcar boats,” were essentially floating streetcars that served the lake's summer residents. Six (and later seven) of these steamboats connected 26 landings around the lake to Excelsior, where passengers could transfer onto streetcars bound for the Twin Cities. Many streetcar boat passengers were lakeside residents commuting to their jobs in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. Tourists, on the other hand, could board one of three large ferry boats bound for Big Island Park, where they could picnic, enjoy live music, and ride several attractions. However, TCRT closed Big Island Park in 1911 due to its excessive operating and maintenance costs.

Ridership on the streetcar boats began to plummet when roads were improved in the area in the early 1920s. Steamboat service on Lake Minnetonka grew evermore limited during this time, and by 1926 TCRT had suspended all steamboat service on the lake. To rid itself of the vessels, TCRT scuttled three of the seven streetcar boats in deep water north of Big Island that summer. Three of the other boats were scrapped shortly thereafter, and one was sold and used as an excursion boat until it, too, was scuttled in 1949. Streetcar service to Excelsior continued until 1932.

Crane Island, an island near the western shore of the lake, was organized as a summer cottage retreat in 1907; the Crane Island Association platted a number of lots around the perimeter of the island and dedicated a commons area at its center. Many of the island's original cottages remain, and today it is a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[2]

Several of the area's most prestigious country clubs, including the Lafayette Club, Minnetonka Country Club, and Woodhill Country Club, were also founded during this period.

Late 20th century[edit]

Excelsior Amusement Park opened in Excelsior in 1925. Attractions included a fun house, the Silver Streak, the Scrambler, a carousel, picnic accommodations, and a roller coaster called the Cyclone; the Rolling Stones performed live at the park's Danceland pavilion in 1964 for a crowd of approximately 300. Excelsior Amusement Park continued to be a tourist destination until it closed in 1973. Today the site is occupied by a condominium complex and Maynards Restaurant.

In 1926 architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress Olga Hinzengberg were arrested for allegedly violating the Mann Act while vacationing at a cottage in Tonka Bay; the charges were soon dropped after allegations against them were found untrue.

Before gaining national fame in the early 1940s, LaVerne, Maxene, and Patty Andrews of The Andrews Sisters vocal trio spent their summers with relatives in Mound, a town in an area known as Westonka, and often returned there later in life.

In 1946 Mound Metalcraft was established in Mound; the company changed its name to Tonka Toys in the 1950s, when it became known for manufacturing toy trucks. Tonka Toys was purchased by Hasbro in 1991 and is no longer based in Minnesota.

Two F4 tornadoes ravaged the Lake Minnetonka area during the tornado outbreak of 1965, causing much damage in the communities of Mound, Navarre, and Deephaven. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and several deaths were reported during the outbreak.

The steamboat Minnehaha, one of the streetcar boats scuttled in 1926, was raised from the bottom of Lake Minnetonka in 1980, restored, and returned to service by 1996. Now operated by the Museum of Lake Minnetonka, the Minnehaha once again carries passengers between the communities of Excelsior and Wayzata as she did over a century ago.



Lake Minnetonka was formed approximately 10,000 years ago as the Laurentide Ice Sheet receded northward; the lake is a collection of kettle lakes connected by channels and marshlands which, along with 18 islands, comprise its irregular shape and 125 miles (201 km) of shoreline. Lake Minnetonka is divided into two halves, the Upper Lake in the west and the Lower Lake in the east, which reflect the easterly flow of water in the lake's watershed; the deepest point of Lake Minnetonka is 113 feet (34 m) in Crystal Bay. The average depth of the lake is approximately 30 feet (9 m). With a surface area of 14,528 acres (5,879 ha), Lake Minnetonka is the ninth largest lake in Minnesota.[3]


Several streams flow into Lake Minnetonka, the largest of which is Six Mile Creek; the only outlet from the lake is Minnehaha Creek, at the lake's eastern end. At the headwaters of Minnehaha Creek, the Gray's Bay Dam helps maintain an average water level of 929 feet (283 m) above sea level; the flow over the dam ranges from zero to 300 cubic feet (8.5 m3) per second, or a daily rate of up to 193,881,600 US gallons (733,922 m3). Evaporation from Lake Minnetonka can reach as high as 50 million US gallons (190,000 m3) per day. Annual evaporation from the lake is about 30 inches (76.2 cm), or 11.5 billion US gallons (44,000,000 m3). This is countered by an average annual rate of 28 inches (71.1 cm) of rainfall and 20 inches (50.8 cm) of surface runoff. There have been a number of droughts throughout Lake Minnetonka's history, notably during the 1930s and late 1980s. Water levels reached a record low of 921.78 feet (281 m) above sea level in 1937 and a record high of 931.11 feet (284 m) above sea level in 2014.

Lake Minnetonka typically freezes over with 12 to 18 inches (30 to 46 cm) of ice during the winter months; the median "ice-out" date, which has been recorded on Lake Minnetonka since 1855, is April 14. The earliest recorded ice-out date was March 11, 1878, and the latest recorded ice-out date was May 8, 1856. Water surface temperatures typically peak at around 80°F (26.7°C) in early August.

Freshwater biology[edit]

Lake Minnetonka contains black bullhead, black crappie, bluegill, bowfin, common carp, green sunfish, hybrid sunfish, largemouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, pumpkinseed, rock bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, white sucker, yellow bullhead, and yellow perch;[4] some fish consumption guidelines have been placed on the lake's bluegill, common carp, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleye.[4]

According to local legend, a sturgeon in excess of 10 feet (3 m) in length lurks beneath the surface of Lake Minnetonka and has been sighted on more than one occasion; these sightings have been persistent since the 1980s. The sturgeon is often referred to as "Lou."

Environmental issues[edit]

Lake Minnetonka's environmental issues became a concern after curly-leaf pondweed was discovered in its waters in 1900. Purple loosestrife was discovered in the lake in 1940, as was Eurasian water milfoil in 1987. Zebra mussels were discovered in the lake in 2010.

Lake Minnetonka suffered from significant sewage, fertilizer, and surface runoff pollution until the 1970s. Conditions have since improved, but pollution from fertilizer and surface runoff remains an ongoing issue. Water quality is now closely monitored.

Attractions and activities[edit]

Excelsior Beach

Some of the most visited attractions on Lake Minnetonka are restaurants. Al and Alma's Supper Club and Charter Cruises on Cooks Bay was founded in 1956 and is Lake Minnetonka's longest operating restaurant and cruise line. Lord Fletcher's restaurant in Spring Park has been one of Lake Minnetonka's most popular establishments since opening in 1968. Maynards Restaurant, established in Excelsior in 1998, is currently regarded as Minnesota's most popular waterfront restaurant.[citation needed] Downtown Excelsior and Wayzata have since become Twin Cities culinary destinations as many new restaurants continue to appear there.[citation needed]

The Old Log Theater, located in Greenwood, first opened in 1940 and is now Minnesota's oldest professional theater organization. Alumni of the theater include actors Nick Nolte and Loni Anderson.

Paisley Park, the former home and recording studio of the late musical icon Prince, is located approximately two miles south of Lake Minnetonka in Chanhassen; the complex is now open to the public as a museum.

Lake Minnetonka is home to several regional parks owned by Three Rivers Park District; the largest among these are Lake Minnetonka Regional Park in Minnetrista and Noerenberg Gardens in Orono. Three Rivers Park District also maintains two regional bike trails near the lake. Two other large public parks on Lake Minnetonka include Big Island Nature Park and the Excelsior Commons.

Boating, sailing, and fishing are the most common activities on Lake Minnetonka. Boats of all sizes and horsepower may be legally launched on Lake Minnetonka, but speed and noise restrictions do apply;[5] the lake has four active yacht clubs and an antique and classic boat society known as the Bob Speltz Land O' Lakes Chapter of the ACBS. Several cruise companies operate larger excursion vessels on the lake, the largest of which is Al and Alma's 83 foot (25 m) Bella Vista. Lake Minnetonka's magnificent homes are a common highlight on these sightseeing, dinner, and brunch cruises.

Other activities on Lake Minnetonka include swimming, kayaking, and standup paddleboarding during the summer, and ice fishing, snowmobiling, and ice yachting during the winter.

Several community festivals are held around the lake each year; some of the larger events include James J. Hill Days in Wayzata, Apple Day in Excelsior, and the Spirit of the Lakes Festival in Mound.

In popular culture[edit]

Thurlow Lieurance's song "By the Waters of Minnetonka" was published by the Theodore Presser Company in 1913 and has since been recorded by artists such as Glenn Miller and Desi Arnaz.

It is speculated that Jimmy Hutmaker, a prominent resident of Excelsior, inspired Mick Jagger to write the 1969 Rolling Stones song "You Can't Always Get What You Want" after a chance encounter with the star at a local drugstore in 1964. However, this claim has long been disputed.

Singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt's self-titled debut album was recorded on Lake Minnetonka's Enchanted Island in 1971.

Several scenes from the 1972 films The Heartbreak Kid and Slaughterhouse-Five were filmed at Lake Minnetonka.

Lake Minnetonka is famously mentioned in the 1984 Prince film Purple Rain during a scene in which Prince's love interest, Apollonia (Apollonia Kotero), attempts to "purify" herself "in the waters of Lake Minnetonka." After she enters the water, Prince reveals that the water she has entered is not actually Lake Minnetonka. Dave Chappelle mocked the scene in a 2004 episode of Chappelle's Show when he asked (as Prince), "Why don't you purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka?"

In an episode of the television series Beverly Hills 90210, Dylan (Luke Perry) tells Brenda (Shannen Doherty) that his privileged background enabled him to spend summers in Paris as a child. Brenda reacts by saying "You mean you went to Paris every summer? We went to Lake Minnetonka!"

Lake Minnetonka was briefly featured in the reality television series Keeping Up with the Kardashians in 2011.

Shots of Lake Minnetonka were included in the lyric video for the 2015 song "Cool for the Summer" by Demi Lovato.

Several scenes from the 2017 film Wilson were filmed at Lake Minnetonka.

Lake Minnetonka appears in a February 2018 episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show during a segment in which Dax Shepard and Andy Lassner go snowmobiling prior to Super Bowl LII.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Archived July 18, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Douglas, Marjorie Myers (1998). Barefoot on Crane Island. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 978-0-87351-363-0.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b "Lake information report: Minnesota DNR". MN DNR. MN DNR. 2007-06-11. Archived from the original on 2013-07-26.
  5. ^

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