Urban Paddle: Chain of Lakes

The Chain of Lakes is the name

given to five small, interconnected bodies of water flanking the southwestern edge of Minneapolis. Established as a series of parks by the city in the early twentieth century, a local publication described the verdant-shored lake system as “a necklace of diamonds in settings of emerald”. True to its origin, the Chain of Lakes is a local treasure trove of paddling experiences.Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 9.06.29 PM

One of seven districts

of the Grand Rounds Scenic Byway, a green space circling the city, the waterway’s parkway padded peripheries include bike trails, sand beaches and manicured sporting and leisure spaces. Non-motorized craft of all kinds – canoes, kayaks, paddle boards and sailboats – can be put in to ply these waters.

A direct round trip paddle from Lake Calhoun up to Brownie is around 4 miles. Add distance with additional exploration around the isles and bays, searching for  your preferred beach or picnic spot.

Bringing your own boat?

Put in where you find parking. Access along the waterfront is never far away.

Use the MN DNR LakeFinder for more in depth information.

Paddling LAKE CALHOUN   401 acres 87 feet max depth 


The crown jewel of the City of Lakes, if size is the determining factor, it is on Calhoun where paddle power is trumped by the pull of the wind filled sail. The Calhoun Yacht Club and Lake Calhoun Sailing School send plenty of boats out to take advantage of this local sailing sanctuary. Kiteboarders and windsurfers carve, scoot and shoot above waves and whitecaps.

Paddling Routes:

  • Circumnavigate the shoreline, 3 miles


  • North side, slip under W Lake St into LyndalePark Pond, underneath the Midtown Greenway and Lake of the Isles Parkway into Lake of the Isles


  • Calhoun North Beach (NW)
  • 32nd St Beach (NE)
  • Calhoun Thomas Beach (S)


  • Wheel Fun, near Tin Fish on the northeast corner.


Paddling LAKE OF THE ISLES   109 acres 31 feet max depth


Explore the long north arm and the pair of isles resting in this lake. Mike’s Island and Raspberry Island are virgin wood wildlife refuges and landing is prohibited, but keep your eyes trained to identify shore birds.

Paddling Routes:

  • Circumnavigate the shoreline including the upper arm, 2.5 miles
  • Circle the isles and continue west, 1 mile


  • West side, slip under parkway bridge into the lagoon, cruise the tree canopied canal into Cedar Lake
  • South side, under two bridges, into Lyndale Park Pond and Lake Calhoun


Paddling CEDAR LAKE   169 acres 51 feet max depth


Several wooded points reach into the center of Cedar with sandy, scenic beaches on two. Weeds fade on the northern end of the lake and you can enjoy a swim on the open water. The northern edge of the lake is framed by the Cedar Lake Trail and a BNSF railroad.

Paddling Routes:

  • Circumnavigation, 2.5 miles
  • Lake of the Isles traverse to Brownie Lake, 1 mile


  • Southeast, canal to Lake of the Isles
  • Northwest, squeeze through a concrete culvert into secluded Brownie Lake


  • South Cedar Beach (S)
  • East Cedar Beach (Hidden Beach)
  • Cedar Point Beach (W)


 Paddling BROWNIE LAKE   12 acres 47 feet max depth


The most remote pool of the playground, Brownie Lake is entered by a tight-tunneled squeeze beneath railroad tracks. This little, calm, wood sheltered gem is home to blankets of lilies, bursts of purple irises and a wide variety of fish species. Expected redevelopment projects in the next couple of years include a canoe landing, updated hiking trails and a new mountain bike trail on the Western wooded slopes.

Paddling Routes:

  • Circumnavigation, ½ mile


  • Southeast corner into Cedar Lake


Paddling LAKE HARRIET   335 acres 85 feet max depth

Lake Harriet anchors the chain. Separated from the upper waterway by Lakewood Cemetery, a less than half mile portage along the parkway deposits you beachside next to the  iconic Bandshell. Another quarter mile portage south on Minnehaha Parkway arrives at a put in on 51st street, and so begins another paddling adventure descending Minnehaha Creek.

Paddling Routes:

  • Circumnavigation, 3 miles


  • North Beach
  • South Beach


  • Wheel Fun, at the 43rd St junction on East side
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