11 Amazing Recreational Lakes near Rochester, MN

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Rochester has no shortage of fantastic lakes and reservoirs – the selection here is diverse. Some lakes are natural glacial bowls, some are former quarries, and others are river impoundments.

Local spots like Cascade Lake and Foster-Arend Lake are popular swimming destinations in summer. Silver Creek Reservoir and Willow Creek Reservoir are serene fishing holes. And Zumbro Lake and Pepin Lake are well-known waterskiing spots.

In winter, many of the lakes transform into ice fishing meccas, with snowshoeing and cross-country skiing opportunities to add.

There are plenty of options for any activity and any season. Check out what Rochester has to offer!

Lakes near Rochester:

  1. Cascade Lake
  2. Foster-Arend Lake
  3. Chester Lake 
  4. Silver Creek Reservoir
  5. Willow Creek Reservoir
  6. Zumbro Lake
  7. Rice Lake
  8. Albert Lea Lake
  9. Lake Onalaska
  10. Lake Pepin
  11. Cannon Lake/Wells Lake
Lakes near Rochester Minnesota Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Cascade Lake

  • Website: Cascade Lake
  • Distance from Rochester: 5 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Located within the city, Cascade Lake has experienced a renaissance with recent improvements to the surrounding parklands. 

Less than 5 miles from downtown, this lake reopened after a series of renovations that took more than a decade. 

With more than 90 surface acres and more than 2 miles of shoreline, Cascade Lake Park is a popular destination with a beach, designated swimming areas, and a 2.4-mile loop path. 

Although Minnesota is known as the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,” Olmsted County had no natural lakes before settlers transformed the landscape. 

The area along Cascade Creek, where the lake is today, was once a gravel mining area. Improvements to the site have created a popular outdoor urban destination. 

Bluegill, largemouth bass, and black crappie are common catches. 

2. Foster-Arend Lake

Lake during Sunrise in Minnesota
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Foster-Arend Lake
  • Distance from Rochester: 6 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Less than 6 miles north of downtown, the 18-acre Foster-Arend Lake is the focal point within a Rochester city park. 

Similar to Cascade Lake, the site of Foster-Arend once served as a reclaimed gravel pit. The municipality obtained this tract of land in 1981 to transform former industrial space into Foster-Arend City Park

Water-based activities bring many visitors to this location. Summertime swimming and a beach area attract bathers. 

A new water park in Foster-Arend Park is popular with children and families. The deepest section of this former pit has created a lake with a depth reaching 42 feet.

A fishing pier and carry-in boat access offer anglers opportunities to fish throughout the lake. Fishing occurs throughout the year, with ice fishing a very popular attraction for wintertime visitors who congregate at Foster-Arend Lake

Commonly caught fish include bluegill, black bullhead, rainbow trout, largemouth bass, white crappie, walleye, yellow perch, and green sunfish. 

3. Chester Lake 

Chester Woods Park in Minnesota
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Chester Lake
  • Distance from Rochester: 10 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating (electric), Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

Located 10 miles east of Rochester, Chester Lake represents an impoundment of Bear Creek near its headwaters. 

Olmsted County incorporated this 110-acre lake into a park of more than 1,300 acres known as Chester Woods Park. Wildlife that frequent this area include herons, eagles, egrets, geese, deer, painted turtles, turkeys, wood ducks, and rabbits. 

The park includes a campground, a seasonal swimming beach, approximately 15 miles of trails, and five miles of groomed trails for winter activities. 

In addition to ice fishing, wintertime visitors enjoy snowshoeing, fat tire biking, and cross-country skiing in the woods, savannah, and bluff prairie. The park is generally less crowded than Foster-Arend.

Fishing is a popular year-round activity. Residents praise Chester Lake as a great source for channel catfish, bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, sunfish, trout, and yellow perch. 

4. Silver Creek Reservoir

  • Website: Silver Creek Reservoir
  • Distance from Rochester: 8 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating (electric), Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics

Silver Creek Reservoir is a short drive southeast of downtown. Silver Creek runs westward into this reservoir, created after crews built an earthen dam that formed the reservoir with a surface area of 107 acres. 

The creek continues westward toward Rochester after passing through the dam. Anglers first had access to this reservoir in 2007, after many years when this body of water was closed to the public. 

Those unfamiliar with the area may confuse Silver Creek Reservoir with Silver Lake Reservoir, a portion of the South Fork of the Zumbro River in an urban area of Rochester. This area of the river was transformed after a dam was built along the river in the mid-1930s. 

At Silver Creek Reservoir, farther upstream along Silver Creek, year-round fishing is a popular activity. A growing number of anglers consider this reservoir to be one of the best destinations in the area for ice fishing. 

The reservoir hosts bluegill, northern pike, sunfish, largemouth bass, yellow perch, black crappie, and the occasional sunfish. 

5. Willow Creek Reservoir

Willow Creek Reservoir in Minnesota
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Willow Creek Reservoir
  • Distance from Rochester: 8 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

A drive less than eight miles south of the city leads to another artificial lake with a dam along a creek. Willow Creek Reservoir collects water from the meandering Willow Creek as it flows northward. 

The area around the 36-acre Willow Creek Reservoir offers visitors a great location for walking, running, and birdwatching along a 2.3-mile loop. 

A generally quiet location, this reservoir offers an ideal spot for canoeing or kayaking during the summer months, as well as ice fishing when temperatures plummet. The earthen dam sits on the northern section of this impounded body of water. 

With the deepest point of 24 feet, Willow Creek Reservoir has both shallow and deep areas for schools of fish to congregate. 

Green sunfish, bluegill, yellow bullhead, crappie, smallmouth bass, and largemouth bass are commonly found in this reservoir. 

6. Zumbro Lake

Lake in Minnesota with boats during sunset
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Zumbro Lake
  • Distance from Rochester: 21 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Zumbro Lake is located a short drive of 21 miles north of downtown. This 600-acre reservoir came into existence after workers built a hydroelectric dam along the Zumbro River in 1919. 

The Lake Zumbro Dam has served Rochester Public Utilities for more than a century. Water within this lake flows through the dam to generate power before continuing its journey southward into Rochester. 

Those who wish to explore a nearby portion of the Zumbo River and reconnect with nature may want to take a drive eight miles northeast to the Zumbro Falls Woods Scientific and Natural Area

Although this preservation land has no facilities or regularly maintained trails, it offers a peaceful place to enjoy bird and wildlife watching, nature photography, hiking, and wintertime snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. 

The waters of Zumbo Lake host an abundance of fish. Anglers will enjoy the laid-back setting enjoyed by those who frequent the area that locals often refer to as “Lake Zumbo.” 

Channel catfish, bluegill, muskellunge, northern pike, yellow perch, black and white crappie, and smallmouth and largemouth bass swim within this body of water. 

7. Rice Lake

Lake and Cloud Reflection in Minnesota
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Rice Lake
  • Distance from Rochester: 36 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking

The 750-acre Rice Lake sits along an area of Steele County eight miles east of the county seat, Owatonna. A drive of a little more than 30 miles west of Rochester, this shallow kettle lake traces its origins to retreating glaciers during the end of the last Ice Age. 

The average depth of this lake barely reaches three feet, limiting the types of watercraft that can safely navigate its waters. Rice Lake serves as the headwaters of the Zumbro River’s South Branch, Middle Fork. 

Rice Lake State Park surrounds the entire lake. Lands adjacent to the lake include forests with elm, basswood, maple, and oak trees, along with some meadows. Park activities include camping, canoeing, and hiking. 

Guests will have a chance to observe nature throughout the year, from spring and fall bird migrations to wildflower growing seasons and winter scenes enjoyed while snowmobiling or cross-country skiing on trails. 

The wetlands in this area once sustained wild rice crops harvested by Native Americans. Today, the harvests from Rice Lake include bluegill, black crappie, largemouth bass, and yellow perch. 

8. Albert Lea Lake

Albert Lea Lake in Minnesota
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Albert Lea Lake
  • Distance from Rochester: 61 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking

A 61-mile drive southwest of downtown Rochester, Albert Lea Lake gives a deceptive appearance to first-time visitors. The lake covers an expansive surface area of approximately 2,685 acres. 

Despite its size, this body of water has a mean depth of only 3.5 feet, and the deepest area does not even reach six feet below the surface. Such a large yet shallow lake has created a mecca for wildlife for thousands of years and is a perfect place for canoes and kayaks. 

An early lake dam built in 1864 did enlarge and slightly deepen the lake. Along its eastern side, the waters share a boundary with the 2,000-acre Myre-Big Island State Park, which includes a variety of trails perfect for wildlife and wildflower viewing. 

Prairie landscape, wetlands, and oak savanna are common in the park, and the 116-acre Big Island section of the park is a popular destination. The lake’s western side reaches the city of Albert Lea. 

Fishing in the lake’s shallow waters is generally excellent throughout the year. Fish found in these waters include perch, pumpkinseed, crappie, channel catfish, bullhead, green sunfish, and largemouth bass. 

9. Lake Onalaska

Lake Onalaska in Wisconsin
Source: flickr/CC BY 2.0
  • Website: Lake Onalaska
  • Distance from Rochester: 68 miles (1h 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A year-round destination on the Minnesota-Wisconsin line, Lake Onalaska was formed along the Mississippi River after Lock and Dam #7 impounded the area near and northwest of the La Crosse (Wisconsin) Regional Airport. 

This lake fluctuates at around 8,000 surface acres and is considered the widest point along the Mississippi River, with a width of approximately four miles. 

The reservoir is a great destination for boating, waterskiing, windsurfing, fishing, ice fishing, and other outdoor activities. Wildlife viewing is popular, including the migratory flow of birds in the fall and spring. 

Fishing along this portion of the Mississippi River focuses on bass, northern pike, walleye, crappie, and bluegill. Numerous commercial establishments exist on both sides of the lake. 

Great River Bluffs State Park doesn’t have access to the lake but offers seasonal campgrounds for exploring the area.

10. Lake Pepin

Lake Pepin View
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lake Pepin
  • Distance from Rochester: 64 miles (1h 10min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Similar to Lake OnalaskaLake Pepin is a designated section of the Mississippi River located approximately 80 miles upriver (northwest) of Onalaska and more than 60 miles north of Rochester. 

With a surface area of 24,550 acres, this naturally-occurring lake has boat landings that offer public access. Lake Pepin is approximately 22 miles long and two miles wide.

The largest lake on the Mississippi River, Lake Pepin is often credited as being the birthplace of waterskiing. 

The shared waters within this lake, divided between Minnesota and Wisconsin, are popular fishing destinations throughout the year. Anglers cast lines for bass, panfish, northern pike, walleye, crappie, and bluegill. 

11. Cannon Lake/Wells Lake

Lake in Minnesota with a platform
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Cannon/Wells Lakes
  • Distance from Rochester: 61 miles (1 h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

A drive 61 miles northwest of Rochester allows a visit to neighboring lakes in Rice County: Cannon Lake and Wells Lake. Located west of Fairbault, Wells Lake is the northernmost and smaller of the two. 

Approximately 677 acres in size, Wells Lake is a shallow estuary with the deepest point less than five feet below the surface.

Separated by two narrow peninsulas joined by a bridge, the 1,593-acre Cannon Lake is immediately south of Wells Lake. 

A larger body of water, Cannon Lake has the deepest point that extends 15 feet below the surface. Docks and marinas offer convenient launch points for both of these lakes. 

Shager Park on Cannon Lake’s eastern shore is an excellent spot for the first visit. It has a paved boat ramp, picnic spots, hiking and snowshoeing trails, and a popular beach for summertime fun.

Fish found in both of these lakes attract anglers. Common fish include catfish, bass, crappie, walleye, and bullhead.