Snowbank Lake, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Northeast -

Remote Snowbank Lake in northeast Minnesota borders the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and serves as a gateway to this popular outdoor adventure-land. Enveloped within Superior National Forest, there is little private property along the lakeshore. The few private homes are clustered in areas near the southwest end of the 4,655-acre lake, and some are located on leased land. Most visitors come to Snowbank Lake either as a fishing day-trip or as guests at one of the few resort lodges located along the shore. Because half of the lake lies within the Boundary Waters Area, the lake serves as an entry point into the wilderness beyond. Many canoeists arrange to spend the night at one of the resort lodges and get an early start into the Boundary Waters at the crack of dawn.

Snowbank Lake allows gasoline motors only on the portion outside of the Boundary Waters zone. A 25 HP maximum electric boat motor limit restricts powered boating on the portion designated BWCA. A BWCAW permit is required for those using the BWCA portion of the lake and for visitors planning to canoe and camp along the routes. Entrants are subject to a quota system to prevent over-use and crowding. The permit system is administered by the US Forest Service, and it is a good idea to consult a local ranger for information on restrictions and acceptable uses. Carved by glacier action, Snowbank Lake is irregular in shape and dotted with islands. The shoreline holds many bays and coves ideal for canoeing and fishing.

Fishing here is very productive, with walleye, lake trout, northern pike and smallmouth bass being the usual targets. The lake is managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) primarily for lake trout and walleye, with lake trout showing good natural reproduction rates. Both smallmouth bass and largemouth bass can often be caught in the shallow bays at the south end of the lake. Anglers often make day-trips to the lake in search of walleye and lake trout, but many will settle for the bass if the ‘big boys’ aren’t biting. Newcomers often engage an outfitter to provide the boat and guide them to the more productive fishing holes. Ice fishing for lake trout is a favorite activity here.

Although there are no designated beaches on Snowbank Lake, resort lodges have sandy swim areas for their guests. The resorts also rent boats, canoes, ice fishing houses and snow shoes. Two public launch sites are available; the lake can also be accessed by a short portage from Parent Lake, Boot Lake, Grub Lake, Flash Lake and Disappointment Lake within the BWCA. The resorts offer a variety of lodgings from motels and suites to private housekeeping cabins to accommodate any size group. In addition, several US Forest Service (USFS) primitive campsites are located along the lakeshore but require a BWCA permit.

Nature is always near at hand, both for resort and lodge guests and to visitors who wish to explore the many trails on National Forest land. Many of the trails leading into BWCA regions are little-used and therefore not well-maintained. This makes for some rather difficult wilderness hiking, but the scenic views and natural vistas are well worth the effort. One trail leads into a section of old-growth pines with an average age of 300 years. Primitive camping is allowed along many of these trails, both at scattered campsites with pit toilets and fire rings and at undeveloped sites. Regulations and permit requirements vary according to jurisdiction, so it is advised that the USFS be consulted and necessary permits be obtained before planning a hiking/camping trip.

A more widely-known trail is the Snowbank Trail, a strenuous 24-mile loop hike in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. This trail joins the Kekekabic Trail in the south back to the trailhead. Accessible year-round, the trail contains numerous camping sites and great rocky overlooks. Snowbank Trail crosses beaver dams, creeks and granite ridges and is not well-marked. Some trails outside of the BWCA are accessible to snowmobiles and ATVs, and all are available to snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Snowbank Lake is 130 miles northeast of Duluth and 265 miles north of the Twin Cities. The nearest settlement is the town of Ely, 23 miles to the west. Ely serves as the home location for many resorts and outfitters in the area. Ely enjoys its status as headquarters for the many nearby lakes and trails and provides tourism-friendly activities. Ely has a number of attractions to excite visitors, such as the North American Bear Center offering exhibits, education on bears and a trio of captive bears living in a two-acre natural enclosure. The International Wolf Center is also located at Ely and available for visits on the weekends much of the year. Primarily a research facility, the International Wolf Center maintains an exhibit pack of ‘ambassador wolves’ to familiarize the public with the little-known facts of life for North American wolves. Ely’s Whiteside Park is the location of the International Snow Sculpting Symposium during the Ely Winter Festival-a celebration of winter for snow-lovers. Ely offers a number of restaurants and entertainment opportunities and is a great place to stay when not ‘at the lake’.

Occasionally private cottages at Snowbank Lake can be found for short-term rental. Real estate is available in the area, both existing housing and lots awaiting development. Plenty of short-term lodgings can be found at the resort lodges on the lake, and many of these are reserved year after year by repeat visitors. Here among the towering old-growth pines, the sounds of nature perform a background chorus accompanying days spent fishing and nights around the campfire. It’s a great place to visit-and an even better place to stay.

Things to do at Snowbank Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Camping
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest

Fish species found at Snowbank Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Lake Trout
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Trout
  • Walleye

Snowbank Lake Photo Gallery

Snowbank Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 4,655 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,427 feet

Maximum Depth: 150 feet

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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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