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 an inland lake located approximately 15 miles (24 km) west-southwest of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The lake lies within Hennepin and Carver Counties and is surrounded by thirteen different municipalities. At 14,528 acres (59 km2), Lake Minnetonka is Minnesota's ninth largest and is one of the state's most popular lakes among boaters, fishermen, and recreationists.


Early History[edit]

The first people who likely inhabited the Lake Minnetonka area were Paleo-Indians 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 often referred to collectively as the "Mound Builders" because they were known to construct large land features which served spiritual, ceremonial, burial, and elite residential functions. The Mound Builder civilization reached its apex circa 1150 CE and ceased to exist circa 1500 CE.

By the 1700s Lake Minnetonka was inhabited by the Mdewakanton People, a sub-tribe 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, also 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 named Joe Brown and Will Snelling who canoed up Minnehaha Creek from Fort Saint Anthony in 1822.[1] For three subsequent decades, however, 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 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.

Glory Years[edit]

Lake Minnetonka experienced a boom in the construction of hotels and boarding houses in 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 boasted over 400 guest rooms. Guests typically hailed from the Deep South and spent entire summers on the lake to enjoy its natural beauty and cooler climate.

Large steamboats also 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. Hazen Burton, one of the club's original founders, is often 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 changed, however, and racing scows became very popular within the sailing community. The Onawa is currently on display in Excelsior.

Many of Lake Minnetonka's visitors began finding new places to vacation when the railroad 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 also began to appear near the lake as the metropolitan area of Minneapolis–Saint Paul grew. Some of these homes and cottages still exist today, including the Thompson Summer House in Minnetonka Beach.

Golden Years[edit]

Express Boat Hopkins on Lake Minnetonka 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 system.

The Express Boats, casually referred to as “streetcar boats,” were merely treated as floating streetcars that served the lake's summer residents. Six (and later seven) of these steamboats connected twenty-six landings around the lake to Excelsior, where passengers could transfer onto streetcars bound for the Twin Cities. Many streetcar boat passengers were lake 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 enjoy live music and ride several attractions. Due to excessive operating and maintenance costs, however, Big Island Park closed only five years after opening.

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 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 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]

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 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, a town in an area known as "Westonka." The company changed its name to Tonka Toys after it became known for manufacturing toy trucks in the 1950s. 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 Deephaven, Mound, and Navarre. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and several deaths were reported.

The steamboat Minnehaha, one of the "streetcar boats" that had been 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, 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 last glacial ice sheet receded northward. The lake is a collection of kettle lakes connected via channels and marshlands which, along with eighteen islands, compose its irregular shape and 125 miles (201 km) of shoreline. Lake Minnetonka is divided into two general 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 (59 km2), Lake Minnetonka is the ninth largest lake in Minnesota.


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 cu ft (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 (760 mm), or 11.5 billion US gallons (44,000,000 m3). This is countered by an average annual rate of 28 inches (710 mm) of rainfall and 20 inches (508 mm) of surface run off.


Boats of all sizes and horsepower may be legally launched on Lake Minnetonka, although speed and noise restrictions apply. Some of the larger bays can be used for sailing, but pleasure boating is more popular.[3] Several larger cruise vessels also operate on the lake, the largest of which is 83 feet (25 m) long. The local antique and classic boat society is known as the Bob Speltz Land O' Lakes Chapter of the ACBS.


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 due to mercury contamination.[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."[citation needed]

Excelsior Beach

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 also discovered in the lake in 2010.

Lake Minnetonka experienced problems with pollution from sewage, fertilizer, and surface runoff until the 1970s. Although pollution remains an ongoing issue, conditions have improved and water quality is now closely monitored.


On October 26, 1926, architect Frank Lloyd Wright was arrested for allegedly violating the Mann Act of 1910 while vacationing at a cottage in Tonka Bay with his mistress Olga Hinzenberg. He was quickly released after allegations against him were found untrue. Wright and Hinzenberg later married in 1928.

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

In Popular Culture[edit]

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1855 epic poem The Song of Hiawatha referred to Minnesota and landmarks of the area such as Minnehaha Falls. This gained the area national and international interest.

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

Singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt's debut album, Bonnie Raitt, was recorded on Lake Minnetonka's Enchanted Island in 1971. The album enjoyed modest commercial success, but received warm reviews from rock critics.

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 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?"

Lake Minnetonka was briefly featured on the reality show Keeping Up with the Kardashians in 2011.

See also[edit]


External links[edit]