Discover the Oldest Man-Made Lake in Minnesota

Written by Alan Lemus
Updated: August 23, 2023
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Key Points:

  • Lake Phalen, located in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers a peaceful and picturesque escape within the bustling city.
  • As the oldest man-made lake in the state, Lake Phalen carries a historical significance and holds a special place in the hearts of Minnesotans.
  • Lake Phalen has played a crucial role in the development of St. Paul’s park system, contributing to the city’s recreational offerings and natural beauty.
Lake Phalen is the Oldest Man-Made Lake in  Minnesota
Lake Phalen plays a major role in the St. Paul Park System.

Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, boasts not only natural wonders but also some truly remarkable man-made aquatic gems. You might think a state already brimming with lakes wouldn’t need more. But these human-engineered marvels serve unique purposes and showcase our ingenuity.

From idyllic fishing spots to tranquil retreats, these man-made lakes have transformed the landscape, creating recreational havens and vital resources for communities. Visionaries behind these projects saw the potential to harness Minnesota‘s bountiful gifts and sculpt them into something extraordinary.

In this article, we unveil the captivating story of the oldest man-made lake in Minnesota, a testament to human ambition and resilience. Then, we’ll take a journey through time, exploring the rich history and enduring legacy of this beloved local treasure.

The Oldest Man-Made Lake in Minnesota

Nestled within the bustling city of St. Paul, Minnesota, lies a serene, picturesque gem — Lake Phalen. As the oldest man-made lake in the state, Lake Phalen holds a special place in the hearts of Minnesotans. It has been pivotal in the development of the city’s park system. 

From its creation in the 1860s to its present-day status as a recreational haven and wildlife refuge, Lake Phalen has captured the imagination of generations of nature enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and city dwellers seeking respite from the urban hustle. 

Lake Phalen
With a maximum depth of 91 feet, Lake Phalen is the deepest lake in the Twin Cities.

©1,024 × 660 pixels, file size: 76 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg – License

Early History of Lake Phalen

Let’s step back in time to the 1860s when Lake Phalen first came into existence. This enchanting body of water owes its origins to the tireless efforts of civic-minded visionaries who sought to create a beautiful and functional centerpiece for their burgeoning city.

A Labor of Love

The birth of Lake Phalen was a labor of love for those who believed in the transformative power of nature in urban environments. As the city of St. Paul grew, its leaders and residents recognized the need for a place where people could unwind, relax, and connect with the outdoors. Thus, Lake Phalen was conceived as a recreational oasis amid the city’s bustling development.

Water Management and Quality Improvement

In addition to providing a recreational haven, Lake Phalen was designed with practical purposes in mind. The lake served as a vital resource for water management. It helped to control flooding in the area and maintain a healthy balance in the local ecosystem. 

Moreover, the lake’s creation allowed for improved water quality, ensuring that the city’s residents had access to clean water for drinking and other uses.

Pioneers of the Project

The formation of Lake Phalen was made possible by a group of dedicated individuals and organizations who believed in the potential of this ambitious project. Among these early pioneers were influential city planners, engineers, and environmentalists. They all worked together to bring the lake to life. These trailblazers laid the groundwork for the thriving park system that St. Paul enjoys today.

Development of the Phalen Park system

The story of Lake Phalen doesn’t end with its creation. In fact, that was just the beginning. Over the years, the area surrounding the lake has evolved into a vibrant park system. It offers a plethora of outdoor activities and amenities for people of all ages to enjoy. Let’s take a closer look at how the Phalen Park system took shape and became the thriving green space it is today.

Planning and Design

As the popularity of Lake Phalen grew, so did the desire to create a comprehensive park system that would cater to the diverse needs of the local community. City planners and landscape architects worked collaboratively to design a network of parks and green spaces that would be both beautiful and functional. The result is a park system that seamlessly integrates nature, recreation, and urban living.

Land Acquisition and Funding

To bring the vision of the Phalen Park system to life, the city embarked on an ambitious campaign to acquire land and secure funding for the project. Through a combination of public and private support, the city was able to amass the necessary resources to create the expansive park system that now surrounds Lake Phalen.

Key Features and Amenities

The Phalen Park system offers an impressive array of amenities for visitors to enjoy. Miles of walking and biking trails weave their way around the lake, providing scenic routes for exercise and leisurely strolls. Picnic areas and playgrounds dot the landscape, offering family-friendly spaces for relaxation and play. 

Golf enthusiasts can tee off at the Phalen Golf Course, while beachgoers can soak up the sun at Phalen Beach. The crown jewel of the park system, Phalen Regional Park, boasts an extensive range of recreational facilities. They include:

  • Sports fields
  • A boathouse
  • A water park

Integration with St. Paul’s Green Spaces

The Phalen Park system doesn’t exist in isolation. It is part of a larger network of parks and green spaces that make St. Paul a city committed to fostering a connection between its residents and the natural world. The park system around Lake Phalen serves as a shining example of how cities can create vibrant, accessible, and sustainable urban environments that prioritize the well-being of both people and the planet.

Animals In and Around Lake Phalen

One of the many joys of visiting Lake Phalen is the opportunity to encounter a diverse array of wildlife that calls the lake and its surrounding parklands home. From the water’s edge to the treetops, the area teems with life. It offers a glimpse into the rich tapestry of species that thrive in this urban sanctuary. Let’s meet some of the remarkable creatures that inhabit the lake and its surroundings.

Fish Species Found in the Lake

Lake Phalen is home to a variety of fish species, providing ample opportunities for sport fishing and leisurely casting alike. 

The lake’s healthy aquatic vegetation and ongoing habitat improvement efforts contribute to the abundance of these fish populations.


Lake Phalen is a haven for birdwatchers, offering a chance to spot a wide range of feathered friends. 

  • Waterfowl. Waterfowl like ducks, geese, and swans can be found gliding gracefully across the lake’s surface.
  • Shorebirds. Shorebirds such as herons, egrets, and sandpipers forage along the water’s edge.
  • Songbirds. Don’t forget to look up—you might spot songbirds and other native bird species flitting among the trees and shrubs.


The parklands surrounding Lake Phalen provide essential habitat for a variety of mammals. Keep an eye out for white-tailed deer grazing in the meadows or red foxes stalking through the underbrush. Smaller mammals like squirrels, rabbits, and raccoons are also common sights. They scurry about in search of their next meal or a safe place to rest.


Lake Phalen’s wetlands and shoreline are home to a host of amphibians, including frogs and toads. On warm summer evenings, their melodic chorus fills the air, providing a delightful soundtrack for a lakeside stroll. These small but essential creatures play a crucial role in the ecosystem. They act as both predator and prey in the delicate balance of life around the lake.


While Lake Phalen is home to a wide array of wildlife, one group of fascinating creatures that often goes unnoticed is the reptile population. These cold-blooded inhabitants can be found basking in the sun, hiding among the vegetation, and even swimming in the lake’s waters. Let’s take a closer look at some of the reptiles that call Lake Phalen home.

  • Sunbathing turtles. One of the most commonly spotted reptiles around Lake Phalen is the turtle. Several species, such as painted turtles and snapping turtles, can be found in and around the lake. Painted turtles are known for their vibrant, colorful markings and can often be seen basking on logs or rocks near the water’s edge. Snapping turtles, on the other hand, are more elusive and are known for their powerful jaws and distinctive, prehistoric-looking appearance.
  • Slinking snakes. Though they might not be everyone’s favorite, snakes play an important role in the Lake Phalen ecosystem. Garter snakes are the most commonly encountered species in the area, often seen slithering through the underbrush or sunning themselves on rocks. While these small, non-venomous snakes might startle some visitors, they help to keep the rodent and insect populations in check, contributing to the overall health of the lake’s ecosystem.
  • Lizards. While lizards are not as commonly found around Lake Phalen as turtles and snakes, there have been occasional sightings of the five-lined skink, a small, fast-moving lizard with a distinctive blue tail. These elusive reptiles prefer wooded areas with plenty of leaf litter and fallen logs, making the forests surrounding the lake an ideal habitat.

Plants In and Around Lake Phalen

The beauty of Lake Phalen is not only defined by its shimmering waters and abundant wildlife but also by the rich diversity of plant life that flourishes along its shores and throughout the surrounding parklands. From towering trees to delicate wildflowers, the lake’s verdant landscape offers a breathtaking display of nature’s splendor. Let’s explore the lush tapestry of plant life that makes Lake Phalen such a vibrant, thriving ecosystem.


The area around Lake Phalen boasts an impressive variety of trees. They create a canopy of green that provides shade, habitat, and a sense of tranquility. Stately oaks, maples, and cottonwoods dominate the landscape, while willows gracefully drape their branches over the water’s edge. In the fall, the foliage erupts into a dazzling array of colors. It paints the lakeshore in hues of gold, orange, and red.

A Wildflower Wonderland

Lake Phalen’s meadows and woodland edges are adorned with a stunning array of wildflowers, adding splashes of color to the landscape throughout the spring and summer months. Delicate blossoms like trilliums, wild geraniums, and columbines carpet the forest floor. Vibrant milkweed, goldenrod, and coneflowers sway in the open fields. 

These native wildflowers add beauty to the lake’s surroundings. They also play a crucial role in supporting pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Aquatic Plants Beneath the Surface

Beneath the water’s surface, Lake Phalen is teeming with aquatic vegetation that provides essential habitat for fish, insects, and other aquatic life. In addition, plants like water lilies, cattails, and bulrushes thrive in the lake’s shallower areas. 

Submerged plants like pondweed and coontail provide cover and food for various fish species. In addition, these aquatic plants help maintain water quality by absorbing nutrients and stabilizing sediment, contributing to the overall health of the lake ecosystem.

Grasses and Groundcovers

A variety of grasses and groundcovers round out the diverse plant life found in and around Lake Phalen. 

Native prairie grasses like big bluestem and switchgrass create a sea of waving green in the open meadows. Groundcovers such as ferns, mosses, and sedges carpet the forest floor. These low-growing plants provide a habitat for small mammals and insects. They also help prevent erosion and maintain soil health.

Where is Lake Phalen Located on a Map?

Lake Phalen serves as a popular destination for recreational pursuits, including swimming, fishing, paddling, picnicking, and nature viewing. The lake is encompassed by parkland under the management of the City of St. Paul, providing a serene and picturesque environment. Public boating access and a designated swimming beach further enhance the offerings of Lake Phalen.

Here is Lake Phalen on a map:

Key Takeaways

Lake Phalen, the oldest man-made lake in Minnesota, stands as a testament to the power of nature and the value of thoughtful conservation efforts. As an urban oasis nestled in the heart of St. Paul, the lake offers a serene escape for residents and visitors alike. It invites them to explore its picturesque shores, abundant wildlife, and rich history.

More than just a beautiful natural retreat, Lake Phalen is pivotal in fostering community connections, promoting health and well-being, and inspiring environmental stewardship. Its thriving ecosystem and diverse recreational offerings make it a cherished destination for people of all ages and interests. It draws them together in a shared love of the outdoors.

The Featured Image

Bde Maka Ska
Lake Phalen is the oldest and deepest man-made lake in Minnesota.

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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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