Elk Lake is a deep, relatively small lake. The lake is located near the end of the wilderness drive in Itasca State Park. With the exception of a group campsite, there is no development on the lake. Although the lake has a small, forested watershed, its relatively small size coupled with modest nutrient levels makes it particularly vulnerable to future increases in water temperature due to climate change.
The shallow shoreline areas of the lake support abundant emergent (Cattail, Bulrush) and submerged (Coontail, Chara) vegetation. Overall, it maintains a highly diverse plant community with a low frequency of tolerant species, and a high frequency of intolerant species.
The shallow vegetative and deep water habitats of Elk Lake support a diverse community of warm-, cool-, and cold-water fish species. The fish community of Elk Lake includes Walleye, Northern Pike, Largemouth Bass, Bluegill, Yellow Perch, Cisco, Muskellunge, Rock Bass, and a host of non-game species. Elk harbors seven fish species intolerant to disturbance and one species of special concern, the Pugnose Shiner. Muskellunge were introduced in 1982 (Leech Lake strain) and have been maintained through annual stocking. Musky production (in terms of abundance and size) is among the best in the state compared with other lakes in Elk’s lake class, and Elk is used as a brood stock lake for Musky egg production.
Elk Lake was chosen as a Sentinel Lake because of the high quality of the watershed, aquatic habitat, and fish community. Additional factors include this lake’s sensitivity to climate change as well as partnership opportunities with Itasca State Park and the University of Minnesota Itasca Biological Station.