Lake Minnetonka

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For other uses, see Minnetonka (disambiguation).
Lake Minnetonka
Lake Minnetonka aerial.jpg
Location Hennepin / Carver counties, Minnesota, United States
Coordinates 44°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 inflows Six Mile Creek
Primary outflows Minnehaha Creek
Basin countries United States
Surface area 14,528 acres (59 km2)
Max. depth 113 ft (34 m)
Shore length1 125 mi (200 km)
Surface elevation 929 ft (283 m)
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.

Lake Minnetonka is a 14,528-acre (59 km2) lake in the U.S. state of Minnesota. It is located west-southwest of the Twin Cities of Minneapolis–Saint Paul. The lake is irregularly shaped with numerous bays, peninsulas, and islands that form approximately 125 miles (200 km) of shoreline.[1] The lake is located almost entirely within Hennepin County; however, its southernmost extension, Smithtown Bay, reaches into the City of Victoria, which lies within northeastern Carver County. Lake Minnetonka is divided into two separate sections, the Upper Lake and Lower Lake (which refer to the flow of water from west to east, not geographical location).

Discovery & Early History[edit]

The first known people of European descent to have visited the Lake were two seventeen-year-old boys named Joe Brown and Will Snelling, who canoed up Minnehaha Creek from Fort St. Anthony (later renamed Fort Snelling) in 1822.[2] For the following three decades, few others visited the Lake or even knew it existed.

Lake Minnetonka was given its name by Minnesota's territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, in 1852. He had been informed that American Indians in the area used a phrase sounding like Minn-ni-tanka, meaning “Big Water,” to refer to the Lake. That same year, the first settlements were established along its shores and, in 1853, the first hotel was constructed.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, in 1855, which referred to Minnesota and landmarks of the area such as Minnehaha Falls. This gained the area national and international interest.

1861 saw the introduction of steamboats on Lake Minnetonka, the first of which being the Governor Ramsey, a small side-wheel steamer named in honor of the man who gave the Lake its name. Following the Civil War, a rail line operated by the St. Paul & Pacific Co. was extended to the area in 1867, running through the town of Wayzata.

Glory Years[edit]

The first inland steamboat ever to be equipped with electric lights, the City of St. Louis, was built in Wayzata in 1881 and began servicing lakeshore communities and resorts later that year. In the following year of 1882, the largest vessel ever to operate on Lake Minnetonka was launched and began similar service; the Belle of Minnetonka was 300 feet (91.44 m) long and could carry 2500 passengers.

The 1880s also saw the rise of grand hotels on Lake Minnetonka, the first of which was the Hotel St. Louis in Deephaven, Minnesota. The Lake Park Hotel in Tonka Bay, Minnesota and the largest hotel ever built on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, the Hotel Lafayette in Minnetonka Beach, Minnesota, soon followed. Affluent visitors from around the world, but particularly from the Deep South, came to spend summer-long vacations on the Lake for its beauty and temperate climate.

As the railroad expanded westward throughout the 1890s, many of Lake Minnetonka's visitors began finding new places to spend their summers, such as Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park, as well as North America's West Coast. This caused most of the hotels and steamboats on Lake Minnetonka to cease operations. During this same period of time, however, an increasing number of families began to own private summer cottages and permanent homes in the Lake's vicinity as the metropolitan area of Minneapolis–St. Paul expanded outward.

Golden Years[edit]

Express Boat Hopkins on Lake Minnetonka circa 1915.

In 1905 the Twin City Rapid Transit Company (TCRT) expanded its streetcar system to the town of Excelsior on Lake Minnetonka's southern shore. The Lake saw dramatic growth between 1905 and 1906 as the TCRT opened the Big Island Amusement Park on the eastern side of Big Island and launched its Express Boat system. The Express Boats, informally known as “streetcar boats,” were merely treated as floating streetcars. At first six, and later seven, of these splendid steamboats would transport arriving streetcar passengers from Excelsior to twenty-seven different landings around the Lake. Most of the streetcar boat passengers were commuters who lived in the lake area. Tourists, on the other hand, would board one of three large ferry boats that specifically transported them to Big Island Amusement Park, where they could spend the day relaxing and enjoying several attractions. Big Island Amusement Park closed only five years after it opened due to its excessive operating costs, however the streetcar boats proved successful and remained that way until the 1920s.

The Crane Island, on the western side 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 in the center. Crane Island had originally been a heron rookery until a storm blew down many of its trees in 1906. The Island is now a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[3]

President William Howard Taft made Lake Minnetonka's Lafayette Club his summer White House in 1911[citation needed].

1926 marked the end of Lake Minnetonka's "Golden Years." Roads and automobiles had become more prevalent in the area, and in June of that year three of the beloved Express Boats were scuttled in deep water north of Big Island due to lack of ridership. Three others were scrapped, and one was sold and used as an excursion boat until it, too, was scuttled in 1949. Streetcar service to Excelsior became evermore limited and was eventually discontinued in 1932.

Late 20th century[edit]

The Excelsior Amusement Park (not to be confused with Big Island Amusement Park) opened in Excelsior in 1925. Attractions included a funhouse, the Silver Streak, the Scrambler, a carousel, picnic accommodations, and a roller coaster. The Rolling Stones performed live at the Park's "Danceland" Pavilion in 1964 for a crowd of approximately 300. The Excelsior Amusement Park proved to be a very popular tourist destination until its closure in 1973. Today the site is occupied by a condominium complex and two restaurants.

In 1946, Mound Metalcraft was established in Mound, Minnesota, a town near the northwestern end of the Lake (an area known as "Westonka"). It later changed its name to Tonka Toys. The Company is no longer based in Minnesota.

Excelsior Beach

Lake Minnetonka was mentioned in the 1984 Prince film Purple Rain during a scene in which Prince's love interest attempts to "purify" herself in the waters of the Lake. After she enters the water, Prince reveals that the water she has entered is not actually Lake Minnetonka. Dave Chappelle (as Prince) mocked that scene in an episode of Chappelle's Show when he asked, "Why don't you purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka?" Since his rise to fame in the 1980s, Prince has lived in the area but never on the Lake itself. He has had a home on Lake Ann in Chanhassen.

In 1980 the Steamboat Minnehaha, one of the beloved "streetcar boats" that had been scuttled in 1926, was raised from the bottom of the Lake and completely restored by 1996. This piece of Lake Minnetonka history once again carries passengers between the cities of Excelsior and Wayzata as it did over a century ago. It is currently the only steam-powered vessel-for-hire based in Minnesota. See Museum of Lake Minnetonka.


Boats of all sizes and horsepower may be legally launched on Lake Minnetonka, although speed and noise restrictions apply. Several of the larger bays are used for sailing, however motorboats are in the clear majority as far as quantity. Lake Minnetonka is home to a thriving antique boat community. The Bob Speltz Land O' Lakes chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society hosts an annual antique and classic boat show in Excelsior. There are also many large cruise vessels on the Lake, the largest of which is 83 feet long.


The lake contains black bullhead, black crappie, bluegill, bowfin, carp, green sunfish, hybrid sunfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, sunfish, rock bass, walleye, white sucker, yellow bullhead, and yellow perch.[4] Some fish consumption guideline restrictions have been placed on the lake's bluegill, carp, largemouth bass, northern pike, and walleye due to mercury contamination.[4]

According to popular 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."[citation needed]

Environmental Issues[edit]

Lake Minnetonka's Environmental issues became prevalent after curly-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton crispus L.) was discovered in its waters in 1900. Purple Loosestrife was discovered in the Lake in 1940 and Eurasian Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) in 1987. In 2010, Zebra Mussels were also discovered in the Lake.

Lake Minnetonka also experienced problems with pollution from sewage and fertilizer runoff until the 1970s. The Lake is now closely monitored.


Gray's Bay Dam on the Lake's eastern end helps control Lake Minnetonka's water level. This structure is also called the Headwaters Control Structure of Gray's Bay. The flow over the Dam ranges from zero to 300 cu ft (8.5 m3) per second or a daily rate of up to 193,881,600 gallons. Evaporation from Lake Minnetonka can be as high as 50 million US gallons (190,000 m3) a day. According the Minnehaha Creek Watershed District, annual evaporation from the Lake is about 30 inches (760 mm) of water, or 11.5 billion US gallons (44,000,000 m3). This is countered by an average rate of 28 inches (710 mm) of rainfall, and 20 inches (508 mm) of run off.


On October 26, 1926, Architect Frank Lloyd Wright was arrested for violating the Mann Act while vacationing at a cottage in Tonka Bay, Minnesota with a woman who would later become his wife.

On October 6, 2005, Lake Minnetonka gained national attention due to a scandal in which members of the Minnesota Vikings football team allegedly performed and received sexual favors for and from a variety of individuals during a cruise on a pair of chartered yachts, leading to widespread criticism of the players and embarrassment within the organization.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Lake Minnetonka". Lake Minnetonka Chamber of Commerce. Archived from the original on 2008-04-18. 
  2. ^[dead link]
  3. ^ Douglas, Marjorie Myers (1998). Barefoot on Crane Island. Saint Paul, Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 978-0-87351-363-0. 
  4. ^ a b "Lake information report: Minnesota DNR". MN DNR. MN DNR. 2007-06-11. Archived from the original on 2013-07-04. 

External links[edit]