Prior Lake, Minnesota, USA
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
- Ice Fishing
- Water Skiing
- Cabin Rentals
- Ice Skating
- Cross-Country Skiing
- Wildlife Viewing
- National Wildlife Refuge
- State Park
- Amusement Park
- Casino Gambling
Fish species found at Prior Lake
- Black Bass
- Black Bullhead
- Black Crappie
- Brown Bullhead
- Largemouth Bass
- Smallmouth Bass
- White Bass
- White Crappie
- Yellow Perch
Prior Lake Photo Gallery
Prior Lake Statistics & Helpful Links
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
At LakeLubbers.com, we strive to keep our information as accurate and up-to-date as possible, but if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you!
Please let us know about it on our Content Correction form.
Spread the word! Share our Prior Lake article with your fellow Lake Lubbers!