Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful lake in Minnesota.  It is located about 20 minutes west of Minneapolis.   It is a large lake, 125 miles of shoreline.  However, it is not one big, round lake.  It is made up of many bays and peninsulas.  There are many islands. 

The Steamboat Minnehaha on Lake Minnetonka

The name “Minnetonka” is from the Dakota language meaning “big water.”  It was an important Native site.   The town of Mound, on the lake’s west side, is named for the many Indian burial mounds which had been found there.  The area was also important for maple syrup production in the spring.

For years, it has been a popular place for tourists.  The first hotel was built there in 1853.  Several more followed, many of grandiose stature.  Steamboats began operating on the lake in 1861.  Its popularity grew even more quickly when the railroad first reached the area in 1867.  

Boating has always been a major pastime on Lake Minnetonka.  The largest boat ever on the lake was the Belle of Minnetonka.  It was 300 feet long and could carry 2500 passengers. 

Streetcars began bring visitors from the Twin Cities in 1905.  There, they would meet “streetcar boats,” which resembled the colors and theme of the streetcars.  These boats would then deliver patrons to two different destinations on the lake, included an amusement park on Big Island.  This period was considered the golden age of the lake.

As railroads made their way further west, to more dramatic destinations like Yellowstone Park and ultimately the Pacific Ocean, the excitement began to wane on Minnetonka.  The seven streetcar boats were intentionally sunk in deep water in 1926.  

One of the streetcar boats, the Minnehaha, was raised to the surface in 1980.  After several years of painstaking, volunteer restoration, it returned to service in 1996.  It now carries passengers back and forth between Excelsior, on the south side of the lake, to Wayzata on the north.

Lake Minnetonka played an important role in the movie Purple Rain, starring Minnesota-born performer, Prince.

Tonka Toys started in Westonka in 1946.  Minnetonka Moccasin also began here about the same time.

Today, any summer day will find Lake Minnetonka filled with boats of all types.  In addition to Mound, the town on the west side, there is Wayzata on the north side and Excelsior on the south.   Most excursion boats leave from the docks in Excelsior.   There are many restaurants and shopping opportunities.  The lake is also surrounded by many beautiful homes. 

In winter, ice fishermen will drive out to fishing holes on the lake.  This is something which amazes guests from warm climates.

The lake is surrounded by a huge forest which is especially stunning to observe in autumn.



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Hi Doug, Thanks again! The group was so pleased with the tour and they have been teasing those who arrived late and missed the tour that they missed the best tour they have ever been on! The fact that we were right before Halloween gave them some extra things to see that they hadn't expected!

Brad S., University of Minnesota
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