Prior Lake, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

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

Also known as:  Lower Prior Lake, Upper Prior Lake

Thousands of years ago, when glaciers crept through the part of North America that is now Minnesota, they left behind a series of natural features that would eventually become the beautiful natural body of water now called Prior Lake. The glaciers lost speed as they passed through the area and began to melt. Because they were full of debris, the glaciers left behind a variety of deposits that created the irregular topography of small peaks and valleys. The lake was named in honor of Charles Prior, who brought the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad to the area in 1872. The railroad brought growth to Prior Lake, and vacationers soon followed. Prior Lake is conveniently located just 20 miles southwest of Minneapolis.

Prior Lake, which in total contains 1,340 surface acres, is actually two separate lakes connected by a navigable channel. Upper Prior Lake, at 415 acres, is the smaller of the two; Lower Prior Lake, at 925 acres, is the deeper of the two. Water quality in Lower Prior Lake has remained consistently good for many years (mesotrophic status) with good stewardship. Although water quality in Upper Prior Lake is improving, nutrient levels place it in the eutrophic range. Prior Lake has a volunteer association that focuses on keeping the waters unpolluted, educating area residents about lake health, and protecting and improving the lake’s waters. The Prior Lake Association has been in existence since the 1950s and is currently active in the aforementioned areas, as well as weed control, invasive species control, and drafting an updated map of the lakes.

A unique aspect of Prior Lake is its location in heart of the city of Prior Lake, Minnesota, which is in Scott County. This city has a population of more than 23,000, and there are 14 lakes within the city limits. Upper Prior Lake and Lower Prior Lake, together as Prior Lake, make up the largest lake in the south metropolitan area. The shoreline is heavily developed due to its city location, scenic beauty, and recreational offerings.

Prior Lake is truly an outdoor enthusiast’s perfect vacation area with at least six golf courses in the vicinity, plus miles of hiking trails and community parks, campgrounds, lake tours, and more natural attractions close by. The Prior Lake area has more than 50 parks boasting more than 60 miles of trails and walkways for those who enjoy strolling in nature and hiking in the wilds. Prior Lake has a shoreline length of about 21 miles, and there are regular sightings of wildlife and birds along the many sightseeing trails. Wildlife surrounding Prior Lake includes such endangered birds species as the common loon, trumpeter swans, and bald eagles. Two public beaches are available for relaxing on the lake, and two public boat launches are also in use. Prior Lake is popular with water skiers and wakeboarders.

Within the city limits is Lakefront Park, which is a well-developed and nicely maintained area for public use year round. With boat slips, fishing piers, overlook areas, regular farmers markets, an annual boat parade, and classic car shows, as well as well-used swimming areas and sandy beaches, it’s a great summer spot. Soccer fields, baseball fields, volleyball courts, tennis courts, in-line skate rinks, and basketball courts are all laid out for use, and there are amenities such as restrooms, concessions, handicap nature trail access, children’s play areas, and picnic areas and pavilions. In winter, the park transforms into a haven for cold-weather lake lovers, with hockey rinks, sledding hills, ice skating, and more.

Fish are plentiful in both lakes, with the following species noted: yellow perch, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, black crappie, white crappie, hybrid sunfish, bluegill, brown bullhead, black bullhead, carp, golden shiner, pumpkinseed, and walleye. Walleye is most plentiful as it’s stocked regularly, and fishing is a very popular activity on both Upper Prior Lake and Lower Prior Lake. Ice fishing is very popular in the winter; hunting and trapping have their share of enthusiasts as well. Winter activities include snowmobiling, trail riding with off-road vehicles, cross-country skiing, an ice golf tournament on the lake, and a “polar bear plunge” every February, when people swim in the frigid lake as a charity fundraiser.

A popular natural attraction located close to Prior Lake is the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge which extends 34 miles along the length of the Minnesota River. This protected habitat includes eight separate units that connect along the river and welcome visitors. The Long Meadow Lake section is more than 2,400 acres of wetlands, lakes, ponds, and floodplain forest and 11 miles of hiking and biking trails. This area sees the most visitors annually due to its easy access points, as well as its lovely interpretive trail, which surrounds refuge ponds, and its connection to Fort Snelling State Park. Throughout the refuge areas more than 50 species of mammals can be found in residence, including red fox, beaver, red squirrel, and coyote. More than 200 species of birds, including wood duck, great blue heron, bald eagle, and American goldfinch, make the area home, as do 30-plus species of amphibians and reptiles, some of which include the bull snake, leopard frog, and snapping turtle. Many species of migratory birds and animals also inhabit this area during their annual travels.

Prior Lake is part of the Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed. Water flows into Upper Prior Lake from Spring Lake, to the south, through a culvert and channel. Water continues its flow from Upper Prior Lake into larger Lower Prior Lake. A man-made outlet channel from Lower Prior Lake was put into service in 1983. This outlet created a way for the city to maintain the preferred lake levels, as the outlet is equipped with adjustable gates to allow control of the outflow of lake water. The seven-mile channel, which eventually connects Lower Prior Lake to the Minnesota River, has allowed the water level to be better controlled, with the lake elevation remaining fairly constant at around 902 feet. Upper Prior Lake has an average depth of 8 feet and a maximum depth of 43 to 50 feet. Lower Prior Lake has a maximum depth of 56 to 60 feet.

As lakes abound in Minnesota, it’s no surprise that the area boasts many of them. Blind Lake, Buck Lake, Rice Lake, Crystal Lake, Cleary Lake, Campbell Lake, Howard Lake, Arctic Lake, Mud Bay, Markley Lake, Mystic Lake, Haas Lake, Jeffers Fish Pond, Jeffers Wildlife Pond, and Pike Lake are situated near Prior Lake at various distances and in every direction. For those looking for the center of more urban action, a daytrip to Minneapolis is only 20 miles to the northeast. The Mystic Lake Casino is nearby, and the Valley Fair Amusement Park is a short drive for the family, located near the Minnesota River, close to where Prior Lake’s outlet channel merges with it.

A truly unique area for vacationers, Prior Lake often becomes home to those who visit there. Real estate in the area provides a wide range of homes available, including large, spacious, and modern lakeside houses, undeveloped land to build on, townhouses, and cozy rural cottages. Those looking to relocate to Prior Lake will find everything from starter homes to the homes of their dreams in a wonderful area that has everything to offer.

Vacationers delight in the array of vacation rentals, including lakeside homes, cottages, woodsy cabins, plus area campgrounds. Small private inns and large chain hotels mingle with quaint bed and breakfasts–there’s a rental for every vacationer, from those looking for a spontaneous weekend getaway to those planning season-long rentals far in advance.

Things to do at Prior Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Wildlife Refuge
  • State Park
  • Amusement Park
  • Casino Gambling

Fish species found at Prior Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Black Bullhead
  • Black Crappie
  • Bluegill
  • Brown Bullhead
  • Carp
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Pumpkinseed
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • White Bass
  • White Crappie
  • Yellow Perch

Prior Lake Photo Gallery

Prior Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Prior Lake-Spring Lake Watershed District

Surface Area: 1,340 acres

Shoreline Length: 21 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 902 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 893 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 906 feet

Average Depth: 8 feet

Maximum Depth: 60 feet

Completion Year: 1983

Lake Area-Population: 23,000

Drainage Area: 42 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic and 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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