Lake Pepin, Minnesota & Wisconsin, USA

Lake Locations:

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

Lake Pepin is the largest lake on the Mississippi River, formed about 9,500 years ago by the backup of water behind sediments where the Chippewa River empties into the Mighty Mississippi. Lake Pepin occupies a 28-mile portion of the border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. This glacial lake once extended up the Mississippi River to St. Paul, but sediment gradually shaped the lake to its current size of 25,000-29,000 acres.

Lake Pepin was originally named Lac de Pleurs – Lake of Tears – by Father Louis Hennepin in 1680, after observing his Sioux captors grieving over the death of a chief’s son. Lake Pepin and the Village of Pepin, Wisconsin are named after the Pepin brothers, two of the first French trappers to the area. (There are at least 2 other Lake Pepins in Minnesota; this Lake Pepin has the largest surface area.)

Shorelines along the 1 to 3 mile-wide Lake Pepin range from serene to untamed. There are 400-foot bluffs and rocky outcroppings in some areas. Lake Pepin’s meandering shoreline along Highway 61 in Minnesota and Highway 35 in Wisconsin offers many overlooks that are popular inspiration points for painters and poets.

With frequent good breezes that are ideal for sailing, Lake Pepin attracts serious sailors. Houseboats dot the lake and its shores on summer days. Mississippi River barge traffic is common in the main channel. Boaters of all kinds respect Lake Pepin for its swift currents and sudden storms.

Walleye, white bass, and sauger are the most sought-after fish species at Lake Pepin; northern pike, crappie, rock bass, and largemouth bass are less prevalent. The lake freezes over in mid-December and is used for ice fishing, cross-country skiing, skating and iceboating throughout the winter season.

Lake City, Minnesota is the largest waterfront city on Lake Pepin, and is where Ralph Samuelson invented water skiing in 1922. The town of Red Wing, Minnesota – with its vintage downtown centered on the newly-refurbished St. James Hotel – is a popular tourist destination for Minnesotans. Several restored Victorian homes with turrets, verandas and painted gingerbread accents occupy the hills behind Main Street. B&B’s are plentiful. The town of Pepin, Wisconsin celebrates famous author Laura Ingalls Wilder’s birthday in mid-September.

Frontenac State Park, a birdwatcher’s paradise, occupies 2,270 acres of the Minnesota side of the lake. Its centerpiece is a 3-mile sandstone bluff that is 450 feet tall at one point and is capped by a natural arch, In-Yan-Teopa (Dakota for “Rock with Opening”) at another. More than 260 bird species have been recorded in the park.

The 70-mile drive around Lake Pepin is a perfect day trip. Highway 61 in Minnesota and Highway 35 in Wisconsin play hide-and-seek with the lake’s shoreline. The historic steamboat town of Wabasha, Minnesota, at the lake’s southern end, is home of the National Eagle Center. Reads Landing is a prime location for eagle observation with viewing stops along the road.

Maiden Rock, a 400-foot limestone bluff above the town of Stockholm, Wisconsin, provides panoramic views of the lake. Rare wildflowers grow at Maiden Rock, and peregrine falcons nest in the trees. Legend tells of a Chippewa maiden who leaped to her death rather than marry a brave chosen by her chieftain father.

Motorboats, sailboats, or houseboats can be rented or launched at one of the three marinas on the lake. While cruising the lake, keep a look-out for Pepie, a serpentine creature that reportedly lives in the shadowy depths between Maiden Rock. The Lake City Tourism Bureau is offering a $50,000 reward for the person who proves that Pepie exists!

Things to do at Lake Pepin

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Water Skiing
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Birding
  • State Park

Fish species found at Lake Pepin

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Sauger
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Lake Pepin Photo Gallery

Lake Pepin Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 25,600 acres

Shoreline Length: 85 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 672 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 669 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 675 feet

Average Depth: 18 feet

Maximum Depth: 60 feet

Water Volume: 450,000 acre-feet

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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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