Lac de Pleurs (Lake of Tears) is the name that was given to Lake Pepin by Father Louis Hennepin who camped near it’s shore in 1680. His circumstance at the time is well known in the annals of history. His captors, a Sioux war party were said to have cried over the death of a Chief’s son on the banks of the lake and hence he called it the Lake of Tears. On other early maps it is known by the name we call it today, Lake Pepin. Some accounts suggest that the lake was named after French king Pepin le Bref who was the father of Charlemagne. Regardless, today’s travelers would name it much differently if they were to be the first to happen upon it’s banks. Lake of Incredible Beauty or Lake of Summer Fun would certainly be among their top choices. Lake Pepin is 1 to 3 miles wide in places, and some 22 miles long. It was formed as the delta of the Chippewa River spread across the span of the Mississippi. The steep grade of the Chippewa River brought in more glacial debris than the Mississippi could carry away. In time, the delta created a natural dam. As water backed up, the lake was formed.
In 1985, the Minnesota Historical Society erected a marker that reads: “City dwellers need go no farther than this if they seek romantic solitude,” wrote panorama artist Henry Lewis in 1848. “One cannot imagine a more lovely expanse of water than Lake Pepin in quiet, clear weather, and no wilder scene than when, whipped by the storm, its waves bound against the rocky cliffs. Between the towns of Red Wing and Wabasha most of the rugged valley of the Upper Mississippi is filled by this river widening known as Lake Pepin. Long before the European explorer Father Louis Hennepin “discovered” what he called the “Lake of Tears” in 1680, it served as a highway for Indian people of many cultures. Their burial mounds and earthworks can still be found along its shores. After the Minnesota Territory was opened to settlement in 1849, Lake Pepin saw a brisk commercial traffic generated by lumbering and agriculture. Huge rafts of logs, some 1,200 feet long and 300 feet wide, were towed down the river. Steamboats brought in thousands of new settlers and carried out the wheat and flour produced on the rich land. The lake itself provided resources for commercial fishermen and for clammers, who sold the clam shells to be used in button making. Today’s “city dwellers” and others still seek “romance” and recreation in sailing, water skiing, and fishing on the beautiful lake that has welcomed generations of visitors to Minnesota.
Visiting the Lake Pepin Area
Today’s visitors can still envision the early beginnings of this area. Travelers who linger here can still feel the history that gave shape and texture to the wonderful cities and towns that have grown on the banks in this lovely place. As many of us know, traveling by water allows for a much different perspective than traveling by any other means. Those of us who are lucky enough to visit this area by water will be able to see it as it was meant to be seen, and feel it’s charm the way it was meant to be felt. There are plenty of resources available to boaters traveling to this area. Hansen’s Harbor Marina has all the services a boater might require including transient slips, on site marine service and marine fuel. Hansen’s Harbor is family friendly with a sandy swim beach in the midst of a quiet, serene, and natural State protected preserve. For those who are seeking on land shopping and dining, Lake City provides a state of the art Marina that is just a short walk from a variety of excellent options. Just a matter of a few steps is all that separates visitors from several quality restaurants. There is something for every taste here, American, Mexican, or Italian food, a full dinner, or just a snack. Try Treats and Treasures if you have a sweet tooth, for confections and homemade fudge. Visit in the evening or on the weekend, and you may even find waterfront entertainment.
Try the Wisconsin Side
If you prefer a little more laid back atmosphere, try the Wisconsin side. Pepin, Wisconsin is home to the Lake Pepin Marina. The Marina is run by some pretty nice folks and like Lake City Marina and Hansen’s Harbor, transient dockage and all Marine services are available. Pepin is small, but it’s got a special feel all it’s own. There are several quality restaurants right there, including The Pickle Factory and the Harborview Café. There’s even a great little grocer just a block away if you are just looking for essentials or something to grill. You can find waterfront entertainment in Pepin too. It’s easy, just listen. If you are looking for a waterway trip, you owe it to yourself to give the Lake Pepin area a try. All the great cities and towns that line the great River have one thing in common, the River is in their DNA. They have grown up with the River and the commercial opportunities that presented themselves along the way. Their river history is deep and very rich, so rich you can feel it when you spend time there–especially if you visit them the same way many settlers did and you come by water.