Horseshoe Chain of Lakes, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Central -

Also known as:  Horseshoe Chain, Sauk River Chain of Lakes

The Horseshoe Chain of Lakes in Central Minnesota has been a well-loved vacation destination for many years. The chain of over a dozen lakes along the Sauk River has long been known as a great fishing, boating and resort location a bit west of St. Cloud. In recent years the chain has been renamed the Sauk River Chain of Lakes in official publications, but it’s still the Horseshoe Chain to the residents and long-time visitors who know and love it. Two towns skirt the shoreline of the chain: Richmond and Cold Spring. These towns act as headquarters for the many visitors who come to relax, fish and generally enjoy the full lake experience.

Different numbers of lakes are quoted as being a part of the chain. Some count as few as 10 lakes while other reports speak of 17 lakes. In some instances, small adjoining lakes or bays are counted separately, while in others they are included in the main water body. Everyone pretty much agrees on the larger lakes, however, and all are connected as navigable by fishing boats. As proof of its long recreational reputation, the pontoon boat is reported to have been first constructed in the United States at the Horseshoe Chain of Lakes in 1952 by Ambrose Weeres, a local farmer.

The Sauk River enters Horseshoe Lake from the west and leaves the lakes 9.5 miles downstream at Knaus Lake near Cold Spring where it becomes a river again. Not all of the lakes are a part of the direct flow of the Sauk River; many are peripheral lakes connected by channels, mostly natural. The entire chain of lakes contains about 2,500 acres of surface and holds around 31,000 acre-feet of water at normal levels. The major lakes are Horseshoe Lake with 550 acres; Becker Lake with 176 acres; Bolfing Lake with 104 acres; Cedar Island Lake with Mud Lake, East Lake, Little Cedar Island Lake, and Koetler Lake included in the acreage with 998 acres; Great Northern Lake with 356 acres; Knaus Lake and including Park Lake with 205 acres; Krays Lake with 85 acres; Long Lake with 460 acres; Schneider’s Lake with 54 acres; Zumwalde Lake with 106 acres; and Tschumperlin Lake, for which no figures are available. Some lists also count North Brown Lake but don’t identify its location, so it is likely part of another lake.

The Horseshoe Chain of Lakes has been a resort-guest’s dream for nearly a hundred years. Not too long after the Sauk River was dammed near Cold Spring in 1857 to power a mill, vacationers discovered the chain of lakes. The dam stabilized water levels on the natural, glacier-gouged lakes. By 1905, resort steamboats carried customers to and from Richmond. The City of Cold Springs now claims over 30 resorts within a ten-mile radius of town, many on the Horseshoe Chain of Lakes. The dam was last rebuilt in 1980. The Sauk River Chain of Lakes has been actively working with state officials and other interested parties since the mid-1980s to improve water quality and maintain a productive fishery.

Along with the many resorts, a large number of seasonal and permanent homes grace the 76-mile shoreline of the lakes and channels. Boating is a favorite here, and plenty of powerboating, waterskiing, tubing, wakeboarding and sailing fans join the canoes, kayaks and pontoon boats on the water during the warmer months. Most channels are no-wake areas, but these are usually clearly marked. There are public swimming areas available on many of the lakes, and most of the resorts and campgrounds provide a swim area. The Sauk River is a favorite among paddle-sport enthusiasts. Much of the shoreline is natural with many acres of wetlands that harbor birds and native mammals. The Cold Spring great blue heron colony can be seen near the river, along with numerous other species of birds.

The Horseshoe Chain of Lakes has been a famous fishing destination longer than it has been known for resorts. Walleye, muskie, northern pike, bass, crappie, bluegill, and channel catfish are all caught. The lake basins offer a variety of bottom conditions ideal for specific species, so most lakes are known to specialize in one fish or another. At least three public boat launches are listed on the chain, and resorts have their own boat ramps. Some of the resorts may rent boats to non-guests, but most are reserved for their patrons. Although no official marinas are listed for the chain, at least one facility rents fishing craft, pontoons, and jet skis. The smaller lakes and bays are ideal for canoeing and kayaking. In winter, ice fishing on the many narrow channels and non-flowage shallow lakes can begin relatively early in the season as ice forms there first. By mid-winter, the majority of the chain sees good ice cover, and anglers are out in force. Many of the resorts stay open year-round to accommodate both ice fishermen and snowmobilers.

Accustomed to their long role as destination villages, the towns of Cold Spring and Richmond offer amenities such as golf, horseback riding, movie theaters, spas and specialty shops. One golf course along the waterway even has dock space for visiting boaters to come for lunch in their eatery. Besides providing the wide range of services and entertainment expected in a lakeside town, both towns sponsor such events as fishing tournaments and festivals, often in conjunction with nearby resorts. Richmond produces an annual River-Lake Festival, featuring food, fun and entertainment along with a 5K River-Lake Run event. In keeping with the strong German ethnic heritage of area residents, Oktoberfest is a delightful festival featuring brats and beer, along with entertainment.

Other evidence of the German heritage of the early settlers remains in the often-visited Assumption Chapel in Cold Spring. The chapel was built by early residents to keep a promise to construct it if their prayers were answered. An invasion of grasshoppers appeared overnight in 1877 which devoured everything in sight. These Rocky Mountain grasshoppers, the same species and plague described in fiction in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “On the Banks of Plum Creek”, wrought major destruction on prairie farmlands in the 1870s. Everyone, including the Minnesota governor, prayed for relief from the plague that was destroying the crops. When the grasshoppers disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, and didn’t return, the residents built Assumption Chapel to fulfill their pledge. Interestingly, the Rocky Mountain Grasshopper quickly became extinct and disappeared completely by 1902.

Lake resorts share shoreline space with a number of campgrounds and guest cottages. Real estate is usually available, including waterfront lots for development. The nearby cities offer hotels and motels, while the surrounding countryside holds bed-and-breakfasts and unique farm-stay experiences. Because the Horseshoe Chain of Lakes is only an hour-and-a-half from the Twin Cities and 20 miles west of St. Cloud, the area is ideal for a seasonal cottage or year-round home.

*Statistics are for the entire chain, rather than individual lakes.

Things to do at Horseshoe Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Horseback Riding
  • Birding
  • Movie Theater

Fish species found at Horseshoe Chain of Lakes

  • Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye

Horseshoe Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Horseshoe Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

divider

Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Minnesota Dept of Natural Resources

Surface Area: 2,456 acres

Shoreline Length: 76 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,085 feet

Average Depth: 13 feet

Maximum Depth: 79 feet

Water Volume: 30,735 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1980

Drainage Area: 940 sq. miles

Spread the word! Share our Horseshoe Chain of Lakes article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!

Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.

Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


Lakes for Vacation and Recreation

Except as noted, Copyright © LakeLubbers LLC. All Rights Reserved.