Lake Onalaska, Minnesota & Wisconsin, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Southern - Wisconsin - Mississippi-Chippewa Rivers Region -

Lake Onalaska is a popular year-round recreation destination on the upper Mississippi River, located between La Crosse, Wisconsin and La Crescent, Minnesota. When Thomas G. Rowe stood on a Wisconsin bluff overlooking the Mississippi River into Minnesota in 1851, a line from Thomas Campbell’s 1799 poem “The Pleasures of Hope” inspired the name of the town he would build there: “The Wolf’s long howl from Oonalaska’s shore.” Today, Lake Onalaska entertains visitors and residents alike with boating, fishing, ice fishing, waterskiing, windsurfing, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and autumn leaf viewing.

The 29 locks and dams on the upper Mississippi River are to maintain the river flow and a nine-foot channel for navigation. Lake Onalaska is fed by both the Black River and Mississippi River, and is bordered by the Black River Delta on the north and Lock and Dam No. 7 on the south. Lake Onalaska is also impacted by the Dresbach Dam which was instrumental in its creation. Because Lake Onalaska is connected to the main channel of the Mississippi River by a network of secondary channels, it is sometimes difficult to determine where one channel begins and the other ends, and it’s possible to boat in a loop through the lake and river. In addition to the channels, there are several islands in Lake Onalaska including Rosebud Island and three crescent shaped islands built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1989 as part of a Habitat Rehabilitation and Enhancement Project. The Army Corps of Engineers controls the flow of the Mississippi River and Lock, Dam, and Navigation Pool No. 7. They determine how much water from the Mississippi River flows into and through Lake Onalaska, but the lake and Black River are managed by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Mississippi-Lower St. Croix Team and other federal agencies.

Lake Onalaska is in an unusual geological area. Called a Driftless Area, the geography was formed thousands of years ago when glaciers surrounded the area but did not pass over it. The sand and silt left by the melting glaciers was blown into mounds creating the rolling sand prairies. There are several places adjacent to Lake Onalaska to explore the geography of the area. Great River Bluffs State Park, formerly O. L. Kipp State Park, has two designated Scientific and Natural Areas (SNA), the King and Queen’s Bluffs. There are also hiking trails to explore the goat prairies and forest and beautiful views of the Mississippi River. The plentiful wildlife includes coyotes, turkeys and ruffled grouse.

The bird watching around Lake Onalaska is unsurpassed. The lake is part of the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1924, the 240,000 acre 26 mile long refuge is a great place to hunt, fish, and bird watch. Lucky visitors may see tundra swans and bald eagles. The Van Loon Wildlife Area and the 6,226 acre Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge, both north of Lake Onalaska, are great places to explore the prairie and watch the waterfowl.

It is possible to sail or boat down the Mississippi River, through and around Lake Onalaska. Canoes and kayaks, however, are also a great way to explore the lake and islands. Anglers can fish year round on Lake Onalaska; there are abundant populations of northern pike, bluegill, crappie, walleye, largemouth bass, and smallmouth bass.

Kite skiing is popular in winter when Lake Onalaska freezes. Created in Hawaii, skiers or snowboarders use giant kites to pull themselves across the lake. For as much fun as it is to be one of the kite skiers, it’s also fun to be a spectator. The Great River State Trail also runs nearby and draws over 60,000 cyclists a year.

What are you waiting for? Book your vacation rental soon to enjoy the pleasures of beautiful Lake Onalaska.

Things to do at Lake Onalaska

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Wildlife Refuge
  • State Park

Fish species found at Lake Onalaska

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye

Lake Onalaska Photo Gallery

Lake Onalaska Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: US Army Corps of Engineers and WDNR

Surface Area: 7,688 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 633 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 0 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 639 feet

Average Depth: 6 feet

Maximum Depth: 43 feet

Completion Year: 1937

Lake Area-Population: 16,186

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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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.


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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.


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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."


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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