Marine News from the Great Lakes

Waves of Lake Minnetonka Have Drawn Visitors For Centuries

Published: Sunday, July 1, 2018

Lake life on Minnetonka means year round active fun. The summer is filled with boating, fishing, water sports, grilling, swimming, while winter brings ice fishing, skating, iceboating, snowmobiling and lots more.

Lake Minnetonka is defined as friendly sophistication. Over 110 miles of shoreline welcome visitors with unique street life and eclectic retail centers. The area reflects both a modern atmosphere while respecting the rich history. Bill Damberg, of Brightwater Clothing and Gear, located at 256 Water Street in downtown Excelsior, brought his retail concept to the area stating “this has grown to become the finest collection of independent retailers and restaurants in the Midwest. It’s the place you come to visit, but never want to leave.” Caroline O’Halloran, Taproom and Events Manager at Excelsior Brewing Company, likes the share the story, “I’ve met several visitors from outside the area who instantaneously fall in love with the Lake Minnetonka history. We have named several of our flagship brews after famous Lake Minnetonka icons, such as our best sellers Big Island Blonde and Bridgejumper IPA.”

Located only a half-hour west of Minneapolis, year-round activities both on and near Lake Minnetonka make it a wonderful destination for a day-trip or weekend visit. Launch your boat at Gray’s Bay or Carson’s Bay; several docks are also available at Bean’s Greenwood Marina, Bayside Marine, and Tonka Bay Marina.


Lake Minnetonka, with over 110 miles of shoreline, received its name from the language of the Dakota Indians – “minne” (water) “tonka” (big) – one of several Native American tribes who inhabited its shores prior to the arrival of Europeans from Fort Snelling in 1822. The lake boom era began in the 1850's, when the railroad arrived followed by steamships, grand hotels, towns, amusement parks and new home construction which ranged from weekend cabins to distinctive estates. This heyday ended abruptly with the Great Depression, along with the expansion of railroads that could transport vacationers to further destinations.

Today, Lake Minnetonka remains a year-round playground for boating, fishing, cruise lines and other forms of water and winter recreation. Enjoy the magic of Lake Minnetonka as you ride on the restored 1906 Steamboat Minnehaha or one of the many charter boats. “After our long winter, we’re excited for another summer back on the lake,” Museum of Lake Minnetonka President Jeff Scott said. “During the early stages of her restoration it was thought that the Minnehaha would be just a static display in Excelsior. But thanks to the support of countless volunteers and the generosity of the greater lake community the Minnehaha has now been sailing longer in her second life than in her first.”

Along its beautiful shores, visitors enjoy parks, beaches and charming towns such as Excelsior and Wayzata. There is plenty of family enjoyment including street car/trolley rides, outstanding dining and shopping, as well as special events and festivities.

  • Lake Minnetonka 4th of July –  An annual tradition since 1888, the festivities continue to be the highlight of the summer.  The day begins with the Firecracker 1m, 5K and 10K, the Water Street parade for kids, a popsicle social at the Commons, sand sculpture contest, live music from the 34th Infantry Red Bulls Band, local food vendors, and ends with the biggest fireworks show around!
  • Excelsior Brewing Big Island & Back 10K Paddle – The 5th Annual Big Island & Back 10K Paddle is on Saturday, August 11th starting at 9:00 AM. The race starts near the swim area at Excelsior Commons Park.
  • Wayzata James J. Hill Days – September 7, 8 , 9, 2018. An annual celebration and a way to thank Mr. Hill for helping to preserve Wayzata’s history as it has become a thriving Lake Minnetonka community.
  • Excelsior Apple Day and Park Nicollet Apple of the Lake 5K - September 22, 2018. A lakeside festival celebrating community, featuring locally produced food, art, antiques, handcrafts and a good old-fashioned street dance.
  • Excelsior Christkindlsmarkt – November 23, 24, 25, 2018. A three-day festival held annually in downtown Excelsior,  a celebration of the holiday season filled with activities for the whole family.
  • North American Pond Hockey Championship – January, 2019 at Maynard’s Restaurant in Excelsior Bay.
  • Excelsior Brewing Big Island & Back 10K Nordic Ski Dash – February, 2019
  • Wayzata Chilly Open – February, 2019. The largest, most well known, and unusual golf tournament held on a frozen lake.
  • Excelsior Bridgewater Bank Luck o’ the Lake 5K – March 16, 2019.
  • Excelsior Art on the Lake – June 8 and 9, 2019. Excelsior Art on the Lake is an engaging creative event that connects the artist's personal story with a vibrant lake community, while showcasing an array of outstanding artistic work from multiple disciplines.
  • Wayzata Art Experience - June, 2019. Wayzata Art Experience, held in the heart of downtown Wayzata, provides a 2-day celebration of art, music, classic boats, food, and fun for all ages.

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This article first appeared in the Summer Issue (Jul/Aug) 2018 of Great Lakes Scuttlebutt magazine.

tags: Destination, Inland Boating, Lake Superior

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