Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Minneapolis-St. Paul Metro -

Also known as:  Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake, Brownie Lake

The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes is an urban recreation gem of five lakes: Lake Harriet, Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, Cedar Lake, and Brownie Lake. Together, the group of lakes and their associated park land create over 1500 acres of urban park, with nearly 1100 acres of water surface. A 13-mile system of walking and biking trails connects the five lakes. In addition, channels dug between the northernmost four lakes (except Lake Harriet) provide exceptional paddling opportunities.

Gasoline motors are prohibited on all Metropolitan Parks lakes, so electric motors, sailboats, canoes and kayaks rule at the Chain. The system of engineered lakes was begun early in the Twin Cities’ history, when the new Parks board first contemplated adding lakes to their expanding city amenity list in 1883. Over 130 years later, the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes is still in development with improvements and additions.

Lake Calhoun is the largest of the five lakes, with 422 acres of water surface and nearly 100 acres of dry park land surrounding it. Three swimming beaches adorned with adjacent picnic grounds and recreational fields complement the shoreline. Boat rentals are a popular concession here, and sailing is a favored activity. Lake Calhoun’s water level dropped five feet when the channel to Lake of the Isles was opened. Lake Calhoun was the first of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes to have its own dedicated police officer-a woman-who was hired in 1913 to enforce the rule that women’s bathing costumes must extend four inches below the knee!

Lake Harriet is second in size of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. With 344 surface acres, Lake Harriet greets visitors who come to sail, swim at its two beaches, enjoy picnics and concerts at the famed Bandshell, first constructed in 1888. An additional 126 acres of parkland provide walking and cycling trails connected to the other lakes in the chain. The parkland includes Beard’s Plaisance Park and Lyndale Park which showcase the Roberts Bird Sanctuary, the Rose Garden and the Peace Garden (also known as the Rock Garden).

Cedar Lake, named for the red cedar trees that used to rim the shoreline, is third in size at the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes. Cedar Lake is 173 acres, and the park includes another 115 acres with three popular swimming beaches. In a thoroughly modern reversal of the 1913 concern over abbreviated swimming costumes at Lake Calhoun, Cedar Lake has Hidden Beach, a popular nude beach that allows night-swimming. Cedar Lake is also popular with fishermen, providing a fishing dock, plenty of shore suitable for fishing, and a good selection of largemouth bass, muskie and northern pike. A canoe launch is provided. Cedar Lake was also larger before the channel was opened to Lake of the Isles. The dropping lake levels caused a former island to become a peninsula attached to the shore.

Lake of the Isles has fewer islands than it did before the water levels were engineered. Two of the islands were converted to dry land due to dredging activities and became part of the shoreline. Lake of the Isles is 118 acres, with an additional 90 acres of parkland. Always popular, an ‘off-leash’ dog park is located here for the furry friends of residents and visitors. Lake of the Isles is connected to the other lakes in the system by walking, rollerblading and biking paths and is a favorite for quiet hikes and paddling. In winter, the paths are used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. The setting is quiet with fewer visitors than the larger lakes.

Smallest and most northerly of the five lakes in the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, little Brownie Lake covers less than 10 acres. Brownie Lake was larger at one time, but lost some of its size when a railroad was built across the shoreline. Another ten feet of depth was lost when the channel was opened to Cedar Lake in 1917, leaving it even smaller. Only 18 acres of additional park land is left, after a sizable chunk was sold off for development in the last century. The tiny lake is popular among kayakers and canoeists, who can rent storage rack space from the Parks Department beside the lake. It’s a quiet spot for fishing and contemplation, with paths for walking and cycling throughout the area.

The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes adds a full 13 miles of trails to the famed 50-mile Grand Rounds Scenic Byway of roads and hiking trails in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Visitors marvel at the 1500 acres of what appears to be natural environment, without realizing that little here is in its original form. The original lakes were shallow; dredging deepened them and provided fill for creating beaches and park space from former wetlands. Water pumped in from the Mississippi River to augment levels added nutrients that degraded water quality and encouraged aquatic growth.

Now, efforts are geared toward undoing what was done in the past in the name of progress. Wetlands are being reconstructed to filter run-off water naturally and to hold that water in the area. Fewer new buildings are being permitted near the lakes, and efforts are being made to return some of the area to a far more natural landscape to encourage wildlife to gravitate here. The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes is changing for a more sustainable future, so they will continue to delight residents and visitors for many generations.

Although there is little housing available on the lakes themselves, the surrounding area offers every possible type of lodging, shopping to meet every taste, and a wide variety of dining and entertainment. A popular annual event is the Aquatennial celebration, begun in 1939, that takes place during the third week in July. And perhaps best of all, the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes welcomes visitors to its trails and beaches and quiet backwaters. So bring your walking shoes when you visit this city .

* Sources disagree as to size statistics of the individual lakes. We have used the figures from the approved Parks publication, “Parks, Lakes, Trails and So Much More” to provide consistency.

Things to do at Minneapolis Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Minneapolis Chain of Lakes

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Minneapolis Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 1,100 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 855 feet

Average Depth: 25 feet

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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