Savoring summer: A guide to activities on the Chain of Lakes

LAKE CALHOUN — It was a blustery day, and Leslie McMurchy was having trouble getting her small sailboat to the dock, where I waited.  

As she jibed back and forth among  the other buoyed boats bobbing in the surf, I stood in my white sailor pants holding my notebook and felt guilty for not bringing swimming trunks.

McMurchy has been sailing on Lake Calhoun for nearly a decade, but when she finally pulled into the dock, yanked a complicated compilation of ropes and told me to jump in, I was shaking in my sandals.  

“There are two types of sailors,” she explained as she deftly maneuvered the boat around the dock and out into the open water. “The intense racers who belong to the yacht club, and people like me. I just, like, know how to steer.”

Although her comment didn’t instill much confidence in me, I realized her words were a humble understatement. She was a knowledgeable sailor who captained a smooth ride. If I were not perpetually nervous about capsizing, I would have enjoyed myself more.

“It’s too windy today,” McMurchy said as she looked with steady eyes at the water ahead of her.

I agreed, and apologized for picking a day that made it a stressful ride on the water.

“Most of the time, it’s calming,” she said.

After a short trip across the lake and back, we pulled up the centerboard and glided into shore. She said she goes out on the water most days during the all-too-short summer months, which are already coming to an end.  

It’s August, but there’s still time to get out and have some fun on the water before the mercury dips.  

Whether you’re looking for thrills or something more leisurely, it’s not hard to find ways to get out on Southwest’s Chain of Lakes. The area offers rental services and instruction camps and provides, most importantly, four big, beautiful bodies of water.

Here are a few wet ways to spend the final days of summer:


Instruction: Lake Calhoun Sailing School teaches classes for both children and adults at lakes Calhoun and Harriet. Lessons are offered for ages 4 to adult. Prices range from $50 to $335, depending on skill, duration of the course and races.

Rental: Not available.

Contact: Larry Salzman at 612-927-8552, or visit

Cool tip: For those with the need for speed, there are two Yacht Clubs in Southwest that organize races. The Lake Harriet Yacht Club holds Wednesday night races and club races. The club also sponsors regattas and seminars for everyone from the physically handicapped to the seasoned sailor. The Lake Calhoun Yacht Club hosts races on Mondays, Wednesdays and weekends, May through Labor Day.


Instruction and tours: The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board offers canoeing instruction and guided tours at different Minneapolis Lakes throughout the summer. Some of the sessions are free, others cost $2. Tours are scheduled Tuesday through Saturday. Registrationis required.

Rental: $15 per hour on lakes Calhoun and Harriet through Wheel of Fun Rentals.

Contact: For tours, call Jaime McBride at 612-313-7725, or visit For rental information, call Wheel of Fun Rentals at 612-823-5765.

Wind surfing

Instruction: Private instructors can be found through the Scuba Center on 50th & Penn. Instructor Jonathan Townsend has been teaching the sport in the area for years.
“It’s a wonderful pastime,” he said.

Rental: Not available. A full wind surfing package can cost around $1,500 and is available at the Scuba Center.

Contact: The Scuba Center
at 612-925-4818 or visit

Other water vessels

Rental: Kayaks, paddleboats and paddleboards can be rented at Lake Calhoun. They are quirky and delightful alternatives to the basic canoe and sailboat mainstay. Prices range from $11 an hour for a single kayak to $21 an hour for a double paddleboat.

Contact: Wheel of Fun Rentals at 612-823-5765, or visit


General information: Lifeguards are on duty at most beaches from noon to 8 p.m. every day of the week until August 17. Do not attempt to swim across a lake. A permit must be obtained and a fee paid to the Park Board to do so.

Beach breakdown

Cedar Lake
East Cedar Beach: Lifeguard on duty Friday through Sunday. Voted best beach in Minneapolis by City Pages.
Cedar Point Beach: Lifeguard on duty seven days a week.
Cedar South Beach: No lifeguard on duty. Also known as Hidden Beach.

Lake Calhoun
Thomas Beach: Lifeguard on duty seven days a week.
North Beach: Lifeguard on duty seven days a week.
32nd St. Beach: Lifeguard on duty Saturday and Sunday.

Lake Harriet
North Beach: Lifeguard on duty seven days a week.
Southeast Beach: Lifeguard on duty Saturday and Sunday.