Pelican Lake – One in Ten Thousand



Pelican Lake, Minnesota

The land of 10,000 lakes; Minnesota’s mantra for tourism attracts boating and sport fishing enthusiasts from all over the world. People who are fortunate to live in eastern North Dakota find themselves less than an hour’s drive from hundreds of lakes, big and small. During the summer, the population in northwestern Minnesota swells with summer vacationers and lake cabin owners.


State parks and other recreation areas are a year-around draw. Snowmobiles and skiers travel park trails and ice houses dot the frozen lake surfaces all over the state. Even the mighty Mississippi River gets its gentle nudge southward at Lake Itasca. Visitors to the Mississippi headwaters can brag they walked across the Mississippi River on stones and didn’t even get their feet wet. More information on Lake Itasca can be found here and here.


This post, however, is about Pelican Lake, almost 11,500 acres (about 47 square km) in size; an average depth around 15 feet (4.5 m) and a maximum depth of 38 feet (11.5 m) provide plenty of shelter for a wide variety of sport fish.

The lake and the fishing did not explain our trip to the area on this late spring day, however. One of the several resorts that make their home on Pelican Lake, Fair Hills Resort, featured its annual balloon festival. Three days of manned balloon activities were to take place at the west end of the Wildflower Golf Course at Fair Hills. On Saturday afternoon, with hopes of taking lots of photos of balloons rising into the air in a mini-version of Albuquerque’s world-famous balloon festival, my wife Lynn and I headed east for the planned sunset balloon departures. The evening departures on Friday had been canceled due to unfavorable winds, but the early morning flights departed on schedule.

Not knowing how many people might show up for our first visit to the festival, we arrived in the area early to take a few photos of the lake and the area, and to “scope out” the parking and get an estimate for the best time to arrive at the balloon departure site. We opted for an early dinner at Zorbaz restaurant, a long-time fixture just across the highway from the lake and only a couple miles west of the balloon departure area.

After dinner, we walked across the road and captured some images of the lake and the small marina there. A public boat launch facility packed full of empty boat haulers told the story of how many boaters were enjoying a beautiful day on the water. A gusty breeze bode well for the sailboats on the lake; not so much, however for the balloonists who at this time were just arriving to the departure site.


About an hour before the scheduled 7 PM departures, we headed toward the parking area and walked the short distance up the hill where four vehicles with trailers were getting ready to launch balloons, or so we thought anyway. The admission to watch the departures is free, and for those who wish, advance tickets for balloon rides were available. It wasn’t long, however, before I overheard one of the balloon pilots on his cell phone talking to someone who had scheduled a ride. He said those words I didn’t want to hear. “We are cancelling flights this evening. The winds are too gusty and strong for safe flight.”

I wasn’t surprised by the cancellation. Walking around the lake, we noticed the variable winds. I’m sure balloonists are used to cancelling due to unfavorable winds. Our backup plan for the beautiful day would be to do some more exploring around Pelican Lake. Herewith, I submit a gallery of images taken as we explored the area around Fair Hills Resort and Pelican Lake. Click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner


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