Lake Traverse, Minnesota & South Dakota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Central - South Dakota - Glacial Lakes & Prairies Region -

Lake Traverse straddles the border of Minnesota’s Central tourism region and South Dakota’s northeastern Great Lakes and Prairie region. Covering more than 11,000 acres, this geologically unique lake is the southernmost body of water in the Hudson Bay watershed of North America. In pre-history, the south end of Lake Traverse was the southern outlet of glacial Lake Agassiz across the Traverse Gap into Glacial River Warren – the river that carved the valley now occupied by the present-day Minnesota River. Lake Traverse is drained at its north end by the northward-flowing Bois de Sioux River, a tributary of the Red River of the North. A low continental divide separates the land at the southern shore of Lake Traverse from the Little Minnesota River – a part of the Mississippi River System. The narrow lake is joined by two other nearby similar lakes within the Little Minnesota River basin: Big Stone Lake and Lac Qui Parle. These two lakes lie northwest to southeast, where Lake Traverse lies southwest to northeast. For this reason, Native Americans in the area reported to early French explorers that the lake was named Mdehdakinyan, meaning “lake lying crosswise”. The French explorers translated that as Lac Travers and it became Lake Traverse.

For nearly 200 years, the only European visitors to the Lake Traverse area were fir trappers and traders. Records show a trading post located on the lakefront as early as 1786. The Hudson Bay Company established a post here in 1792. The land was gradually settled by settlers after the Homestead Act was passed in 1862. Many were Swedish farm families who lived in sod houses until they could build homes. Land around the lake proved fertile for growing wheat, but winter wheat didn’t fare well in the harsh winters. After a better method of milling spring wheat was made available, the Lake Traverse area became prime wheat farming lands. A stern-wheel tug boat soon was nudging barges filled with wheat down the lake to the rail head. In winter, specially-constructed grain wagons were pulled across the ice by teams of horses. And, of course, the lake was a welcome spot for fishing, swimming and picnicking during church outings and on holidays. Early settlers often augmented the family diet with waterfowl and fish obtained from the lake.

Over the years, several small settlements were born and then faded away along the Lake Traverse shore. None now exist except for Wheaton, about four miles east of the lake and Brown’s Valley a short distance from the south end of the lake. In 1936, construction was begun by the Army Corps of Engineers on the Lake Traverse Flood Control Project. Completed in 1941, the project consisted of building a dike along the continental divide to assure separation between Lake Traverse and Big Stone Lake in times of high water. A dam was constructed across the outlet at the north end of the lake and another at the outlet of smaller Mud Lake just downstream. This benefited flood control along the Bois de Sioux River and lower Red River valley, as well as water conservation for frequent periods of drought. Recreation facilities are provided at White Rock Dam (on Mud Lake), Reservation Control Dam (Lake Traverse) and the Browns Valley Dike. All include picnic areas, shoreline fishing areas and privies. Several boat access sites are provided around the lake. No camping is provided at the Corps sites but campsites are available at Traverse County Park and at other locations around the lake.

Although there are no towns along the shore, there are several scattered areas of development. Several resorts have existed here for many years to serve fishing and hunting tourism. Development is a mixture of year-round homes and summer cottages and hunting cabins. Vacation rentals are often available in the area, many on the lakefront or with lake views. Once in a while, the lucky visitor may even secure one of the cottages on Jackson Island. Although not the Jackson Island of Huck Finn fame, this Jackson Island is likely an even better place for fishing and isolation. Several other small islands are mostly uninhabited. Other lodgings are available in Wheaton and Browns Valley and real estate can often be found available in the surrounding area.

In summer, there are fishing, boating, water-skiing, picnicking and nature watching at both Lake Traverse and adjacent Mud Lake. All sorts of water sports are enjoyed, including sailing, power boating, jet skiing, tubing, pontooning, canoeing, kayaking and swimming. There are many aquatic birds such as herons, egrets, grebes, pelicans and cormorants who visit the lake. As part of the migratory flyway, spring and fall often provide opportunities to view visiting ducks in wide variety as they stop at the shallow lake. The primary fish species caught in Lake Traverse are walleye, northern pike, bullheads, crappies, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bluegill, white bass, channel catfish, freshwater drum and perch. Minnesota DNR maintains a stocking program to assure abundant fishing year round.

Winter ice fishing is a popular activity as fishermen, bundled against the elements, engage in a deadly duel with the wily walleye, pike and perch. The shallow lake is an ideal spot to spear from a ‘dark house’, or unlit shanty to make the fish easier to see under a large spearing hole. Recommended fish consumption guidelines are available at the DNR website. For the shore-bound, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling can be engaged in on the quiet county roads and at the Wildlife Management Areas maintained by the Corps and the DNR around the two lakes. The 1,512 acres of wildlife management areas are open to public hunting in appropriate season. Check with the DNR for specific hunting regulations.

Wheaton and Browns Valley will provide groceries, ice and sundries for the visitor. Wheaton also has a golf course, movie theater, supermarket and shopping. Several festivals and community activities throughout the year are geared toward making visitors feel welcome. As the lake is 95 miles from Fargo, ND and 200 miles from Minneapolis, the area is somewhat remote and guaranteed to be a quiet, enjoyable vacation spot. So, leave the big city and the ‘rat race’ behind and come to enjoy the solitude on Lake Traverse. You’ll wonder why you took so long to get here!

Things to do at Lake Traverse

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Movie Theater
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Lake Traverse

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Freshwater Drum
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Lake Traverse Photo Gallery

    Lake Traverse Statistics & Helpful Links

    divider

    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

    Water Level Control: US Army Corps of Engineers

    Surface Area: 11,200 acres

    Shoreline Length: 35 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 978 feet

    Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 971 feet

    Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 981 feet

    Average Depth: 10 feet

    Maximum Depth: 15 feet

    Water Volume: 164,500 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1941

    Drainage Area: 1,139 sq. miles

    Trophic State: Eutrophic

    Spread the word! Share our Lake Traverse 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.