Lake Winnibigoshish, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Northeast - Northwest -

Also known as:  Lake Winnie

Lake Winnibigoshish is a legend among Minnesota lakes. The lake’s impressive size, covering more than 58,500 acres, reaches into both the Northwest and Northeast tourism regions of Minnesota. Lake Winnie, as it is often called, is a famed vacation destination all over the Midwest.

The existence of Lake Winnibigoshish has been known since at least the late 1600s. Also called Lake Winnepeg, Winnipec and Winnepeek in old texts, the name derives from the same roots as famed Lake Winnebago. In Ojibway, the name translates quite ignobly as “miserable, wretched dirty water”. This seems to be a common name that was given by local Native Americans to shallow, muddy-bottomed lakes. Early explorers mention that storms could rile the shallow waters into a muddy froth very quickly. A Native American village survived on the south shore of the lake for centuries, casting their nets across the shallow Mississippi River outlet for their main food source. The coming of white explorers changed all that.

The Mississippi River flows through Lake Winnibigoshish from its headwaters 170 miles upstream. It was here at the Lake Winnibigoshish outlet that the US Army Corps of Engineers chose to build the first of many dams on the Mississippi River. Labor for the project had to be brought from nearly 200 miles away at Minneapolis, and the dam took several years to complete. Men from the local village were also hired as laborers, but it is unclear if they fully understood what would happen when the dam was finished. When completed in 1884, the lake level was raised 14 feet, inundating the village, drowning their gardens, washing away the graves of their ancestors and destroying their shallow fisheries. Within a short time, the most easily accessed timber was logged and floated downstream with the assistance of the higher river level. Most of the Chippewa moved away to other nearby lakes.

The original timber dam was replaced by concrete in 1890. Within a few short years, travelers were arriving at Lake Winnibigoshish to camp and fish near the dam. So many arrived that the Corps was forced to provide camping facilities for the visitors that just seemed to keep coming. The popularity of the lake grew as the idea of vacations and fishing trips caught on with the growing American middle-class. Several resorts were developed to provide lodgings for the visitors. Many of those same resorts still exist around the perimeter, but a large portion of the shoreline remains undeveloped. Held as reservation property for several local tribes by 1863 treaty, a large amount of the reservation land has been absorbed by the Chippewa National Forest. This land will remain undeveloped except for hiking trails and rustic campgrounds. The Leech Lake Bands who were granted the land take an active part in monitoring water quality, assigning fishing regulations and handling conservation duties. The tribal reservation encompasses several other large lakes and many small lakes and rivers where they harvest more wild rice for sale than any other reservation.

Always a productive fishery, Lake Winnibigoshish has been actively managed for optimal fishing success by regular planting of fingerlings. Yellow perch, white sucker, walleye, tullibee (cisco), rock bass, northern pike, black crappie and pan fish are regularly caught. A Minnesota state record muskie was caught here in the 1950s. As a precaution, Minnesota lists safe fish consumption guidelines: all can be eaten within reason. Several public access boat launch sites are maintained, and the small towns of Bena and Ryan Village supply bait, tackle, snacks, boat and canoe rentals. Fishing guides can be engaged, but Lake Winnibigoshish is easy for a first time visitor to navigate with an outboard-equipped boat. Canoes and kayaks can be rented to paddle the unspoiled shoreline and are excellent for bird watching and wildlife spotting. The 70,000 acre Chippewa Forest adjacent to Lake Winnibigoshish and connected Cut Foot Sioux Lake also supply many miles of streams for exploring. The Chippewa National Forest boasts 100+ miles of forest trails allowing abundant opportunity for berry picking, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, fall color observing, hunting and cross country skiing.

A bit farther afield, the villages of Deer River, Cass Lake, Bemidji and Grand Rapids work diligently to cater to the visitors to all area lakes. These unique, tourist- friendly communities within an hour’s drive of the Lake Winnie area offer a variety of activities and attractions, showcasing musical productions, historical sites, museums, movie theaters, restaurants, art galleries, gift shops, antique dealers, mini golf courses, bowling alleys, riding stables and more. These towns also host seasonal festivals and craft fairs, and sporting events from biathlons and triathlons to canoe races and ski jumping. Multiple championship golf courses and casinos are just a short drive from Lake Winnibigoshish.

Water sports are a favorite pastime at Lake Winnibigoshish, with power boating, sailing, water skiing, tubing and pontooning occupying the many visitors during the summer. However, visitors certainly don’t slow down in winter. Itasca County publishes maps of marked and groomed snowmobile trails available for download. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular, with downhill skiing available nearby. Hunting season brings its own set of visitors who hunt whitetail deer and upland birds. Especially prized is the ruffed grouse.

But it is ice fishing season when Lake Winnie really shines! Ice fishing here is not just a sport but a rite of passage. And, northern Minnesota does it with a flourish! Most vacation rentals are available year-round, and many rent not only lodgings but ice shanties in varied stages of elegance. Visitors are perfectly welcome to bring their own small skidded-in ice shanty and can even store it here year-round for a small fee. However, most resorts also rent ice shanties and will set them up on the ice, and even fire up the heater before the fisherman arrives, including spudding the hole! Many of these ‘shacks’ are carpeted, sleep four or more and have satellite TV, cooking facilities, portable toilets and a stocked bar. Something of a competition ensues in the building of such facilities, with the amenities becoming more outrageous and the merriment more contagious as the years go by. And nearly every northern town with a lake nearby will have an annual ice fishing festival where parades, costume contest and fishing derbies hold sway. Such festivities are worth the trip to attend even if one never wishes to fish.

All types of vacation rentals area available on and near Lake Winnibigoshish. Along with the many small family resorts, there are private cottage rentals, campgrounds (including the original Corps campground near the dam) and hotel facilities in the area towns. Real estate is often available in the area, some on the lakefront. Lake Winnie is 120 miles from Duluth and 225 miles from the Minneapolis-St Paul metro area. The distance is reasonable for a week-end visit or a longer stay. As you can see, there is something for visitors in every season. So, bring your boat – or your ice shanty – and come to Lake Winnibigoshish. You’ll wonder why you didn’t come here years ago!

Things to do at Lake Winnibigoshish

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Miniature Golf
  • Movie Theater
  • Antiquing
  • Casino Gambling

Fish species found at Lake Winnibigoshish

  • Bass
  • Black Crappie
  • Cisco
  • Crappie
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Sucker
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • Yellow Perch

Lake Winnibigoshish Photo Gallery

    Lake Winnibigoshish Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

    Surface Area: 58,544 acres

    Shoreline Length: 141 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,298 feet

    Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,297 feet

    Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,300 feet

    Average Depth: 15 feet

    Maximum Depth: 70 feet

    Water Volume: 220,000 acre-feet

    Completion Year: 1884

    Drainage Area: 1,442 sq. miles

    Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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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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