A Guide for Buying and Managing Shoreland

Section 5: Lake and River Classifications

Minnesota's lakes range from the sterile, rock basin lakes of the Arrowhead region to the naturally fertile, shallow lakes of the southwest prairie region. Rivers vary from the urbanized Mississippi in the Twin Cities to remote streams trickling into Lake Superior. These different types of lakes and rivers require different development standards. A classification system was developed so that the appropriate development standards could be applied. Lakes and rivers are divided into the following classes based on a combination of factors.


  • Natural Environment Lakes usually have less than 150 total acres, less than 60 acres per mile of shoreline, and less than three dwellings per mile of shoreline. They may have some winter kill of fish; may have shallow, swampy shoreline; and are less than 15 feet deep.

    Sometimes, it is mistakenly inferred that a natural environment lake designation indicates a wilderness setting with limits on motors, hunting or fishing. This is not the case.
  • Recreational Development Lakes usually have between 60 and 225 acres of water per mile of shoreline, between 3 and 25 dwellings per mile of shoreline, and are more than 15 feet deep.

  • General Development Lakes usually have more than 225 acres of water per mile of shoreline and 25 dwellings per mile of shoreline, and are more than 15 feet deep.


  • Remote Rivers are primarily in roadless, forested, sparsely populated areas in northeast Minnesota.
  • Forested Rivers are in forested, sparsely to moderately populated areas with some roads in northeast, southwest, and north-central Minnesota.
  • Transition Rivers are in a mixture of cultivated, pasture, and forested lands.
  • Agriculture Rivers are in intensively cultivated areas, mainly southern and western areas of the state.
  • Urban Rivers are in high-density residential, commercial, and industrial development areas.
  • Tributary Rivers are all other rivers in the Protected (Public) Waters Inventory not classified above.

Some rivers have special classifications other than those listed above. They include designation as a state or federal Wild and Scenic River, a Critical Area river, a trout stream, or special river management district.