Minnesota’s Lake Minnetonka is quiet and pristine during the week — but on summer weekends, it’s hedonism’s headquarters
Words by Lauren Reno
For many, living the “lake life” is relaxing, picturesque and the perfect way to experience nature. For others, it’s more like a scene from Animal House—just with water.
That’s especially the case for those on Lake Minnetonka. One of Minnesota’s largest lakes, Minnetonka—a mere 15 miles from downtown Minneapolis—is the Twin Cities’ watery playground. When the temperatures are hot enough, the lake goes ballistic, especially on weekends. And especially on the Fourth of July.
The biggest attraction? “Big Island.” But it’s less an actual island and more a crowd of hundreds of boats all tied together. Unsurprisingly, craziness ensues. Here are the accounts of three people who survived #BigIsland2016.
Zach Desmond: Student at the University of Minnesota. Avid lake partier.
“[Big Island] is really close to the metro, which is what makes it unique. It’s not by a cabin or anything, so everybody that has a boat can join the party.”
Jimmy Castle: Student at the University of Minnesota. Avid lake partier.
“Usually a lot of people go there during the weekends. You can almost always see hundreds of boats there on big weekends when it’s nice out.”
Susan Fox: Resident on Lake Minnetonka. Grandmother. Avid pontoon rider.
“They’re out on the water, maybe not even every weekend, maybe once a month, and [the partiers] tend to be young people. And there’s usually alcohol involved, so it can be dangerous.”
“The Fourth of July is insane and probably not safe at all.”
“It’s so crazy there, you could get away with anything. As long as you don’t pass out, you’re okay. Everybody is crazy wasted, it’s just a ton of drinking. … One time, I saw a girl who was passed out on a paddle board. She did not look okay, and she was just being pushed through the crowd of people to get her out to the police area for help. That’s how crazy it gets.”
“It’s a pretty obvious place where you’d want to park your boat. It’s protected because it’s on the back side of an island. It’s kind of a crescent moon shape, so it’s pretty protected in that way, but it’s also pretty open to the rest of the lake. I’d say it’s about three feet deep near the island, and it doesn’t drop off or anything. It’s really sandy, so it’s pretty nice to walk around.”
“You’re just trying to get there, link up with someone else’s boat and start walking around. … You just grab as many drinks as you can, and you meet up with as big a group as you can.”
“We just try to stay away from it.”
“Usually, a mass of boats will link together and make up one big sound system, and so those are really fun to get to, and the epicenter of the entire party is around those boats. So if you can get there through all the people, it’s just wild.”
“There are families who are just parked and floating around, but then towards the middle, where that ‘big island’ is, is where it gets louder and there’s a lot of people drinking.”
“I was walking past a group of 15 people popping champagne bottles, with music blaring all around me, and I had no idea where I was. I was like, ‘This is not Minnesota at all. This feels like Miami. It feels like a nightclub in the water.’”
“After big weekends like the Fourth of July, it’s a garbage dump under the water. There’s cans and bottles; food and silverware, and it can be really dangerous.
“Everybody wears sandals because they don’t want to get their feet cut.”
“People sometimes don’t respect the lake because they’re not on it, but that one time, so they just don’t get it.”
“The people who live there probably hate us. Because they live there all year, but we just come for a day and cause damage.”
“You don’t have to be a part of that, but you can’t turn a blind eye to it, either, because it’s destroying the quality of the lake. It’s planet Earth, and you have to love it.”
“It’s just part of Minnesota culture to go out on the lake with your friends and have a good time. It’s just what you do.”