Cedar Lake is a 169 acre lake located in southwest Minneapolis. It forms part of the Minneapolis Chain of Lakes, connecting to Lake of the Isles through a narrow channel at the southeast corner of the lake and to Brownie Lake through a channel at the northwest corner. The name Cedar Lake is derived from the red cedar trees that line the lake's western shoreline. It is widely considered the least traveled of the major lakes of Minneapolis, and is also one of the few lakes in the city where you can find privately owned lakeshore property.
Cedar Lake can be noted on maps of the area as early as the 1830s, though it was largely spared from further development at the time. In the 1860s, a railroad line heading to the west was run between it and Lake of the Isles with a train station located essentially adjacent to the lake itself. This railroad line and station promoted further expansion toward and around the lake; by the 1900s, the region surrounding the lake was essentially developed.
Even after residential and industrial development was rooted the area, Cedar Lake did not enjoy the same amount of attention as many other lakes and parks did during the early period of the 20th century (a period otherwise characterized by progressive parks policy in Minneapolis). While other lakes were dredged and reshaped, Cedar Lake ended up on a more natural course. It gained a reputation as a quiet oasis in what has become one of the city's most peaceful neighborhoods. An example indicative of this status is Hidden Beach -- a strictly informal and well-concealed beach located on the east side of the lake. For many decades it has provided a very secluded and otherwise unavailable setting for all manner of activities, with the 1960s and 1970s seeing it reach the peak of its popularity.
Through most of the 1980s, the region to the immediate north of the lake was a disused railroad yard. After a decade of inactivity, the site became slated for a new luxury housing development. In response to this, a grassroots community effort was launched to turn this land into a park instead. In time the state government was convinced to provide sufficient funding to buy the land and turn it over to the park board. Beginning in 1991, this parcel of land was developed into a park that further accentuated the native ecosystem of the area and helped to more firmly tie Cedar Lake into the region.
In recent years, an initiative aimed at purifying the water running into the Minnehaha Creek has led to vast improvements in Cedar Lake's water quality. This improvement has been largely achieved using natural means such as runoff ponds and pollution-filtering wetland plants, a technique that worked with such success here that it has since been applied to other lakes in Minneapolis as well.
Cedar Lake today remains something of a hidden jewel in the Minneapolis park system. Unlike its comparatively crowded kin, Cedar Lake offers a refreshingly quiet change of pace in its open waters and uncrowded paths. It is encircled with both pedestrian and bicycle paths that link up with other paths running throughout the Chain of Lakes, as well as an independent bicycle/pedestrian trail (appropriately named the Cedar Lake Trail) that leads to points west and east. A public beach and picnic area are available on the west side of the lake, as well as a fishing dock (sunfish being the primary catch). Hidden Beach still exists on the east side of the lake off 21st Street and Upton Avenue, though in recent years it has waned in popularity due to the loss of some of its concealment-providing foliage and higher police scrutiny at the request of the neighborhood.