LiDAR Elevation Data for Minnesota

LiDAR ("Light Detection and Ranging") is an active remote sensing technology that uses laser light to detect and measure surface features on the earth. LiDAR-derived high-resolution elevation data products are available for all of Minnesota.


  • Hydrographic Position Index Technical Report:  Combining LiDAR-derived DEM analysis, raster classification and color symbology for pseudo-3D terrain visualization to enhance hydrography interpretation on the DEM landscape, 10/7/2015 (draft)
  • Minnesota Solar Suitability Analysis project, which used Minnesota's statewide LiDAR data, wins Esri Climate Resilience App Challenge award
  • MnTOPO:  A web application for viewing, printing and downloading high-resolution elevation data for Minnesota collected using LiDAR technologyMap Sample
    • View terrain data and contour lines, choose from several basemaps, view flight lines and metadata
    • Create, save and print a map
    • Find the elevation of a point and draw elevation profiles
    • Download LiDAR data by drawing a polygon around your area of interest
      • Select only the layers you need
      • Choose from several formats
      • Tiles in most formats will be mosaicked for the download
    • Tip sheet:  If you get a loading error with MnTOPO, it's likely caused by a "Compatibility View" setting in Internet Explorer browser v11 which is easily fixed.

Data Download

MnGeo's FTP Site

  • Folder names and organization have been changing, so some of the paths given in the readme files need updating. The readmes will be updated once the names and organization stabilize - please let us know ( ) if you are having trouble finding anything.
  • Contents and filesizes of LiDAR Geodatabases:
    • This table summarizes the derived products found in each county geodatabase since not all counties are identical (e.g., not all counties have a building footprint layer)
    • Filesizes for the county geodatabases are included since the filesizes no longer display on the FTP site.
  • If you haven't used this site or LiDAR data before, see the help files.
  • Download problems:
    • Many of the data files are huge and should be downloaded with an FTP client rather than a browser. FileZilla works well.
    • No username or password is needed to download from MnGeo's FTP site. For unknown reasons, sometimes the Internet Explorer (IE) browser may prompt you for a user name and password. If this happens, try using another browser such as Firefox or Chrome, or possibly a different version of IE.
  • Unzipping problems:  Many older unzip programs (including the one built into Windows XP) cannot handle the extended zip format which is used to compress these very large files. They vastly overestimate the filespace needed to unzip the files. We've also had one reported file corruption problem using the Windows 7 unzip. We recommend using 7-zip on Windows and the standard zip/unzip programs on other operating systems.
  • Flight lines and dates of acquisition (where available):

Introductory documentation for the FTP site and the data; the main ones are listed below:

  1. readme_first.rtf:  Description of how the files on the FTP site are organized and what is in each folder.
  2. raw_LiDAR_Data_README.rtf:  Description of the tiled LiDAR point cloud information (LAS format) and the tiled file geodatabases storing derived information.
  3. county_mosaic_readme_first.rtf:  Description of the files in the county mosaics and tips for using them.
  4. watchme_first.swf:  Video (Flash format) describing the FTP site and tips to get started.
  5. LAS_File_Processing_Using_LASTOOLS:  How to work with LAS/LAZ data format and how to export to a neutral format that can be imported into other software such as AutoCAD.

Minnesota LiDAR Facebook page (publicly viewable)

ArcGIS 10.1 Toolbox (MnDNR)
Streamlines downloading and merging LiDAR data associated with a polygon of interest from within ArcGIS software
Requires ArcGIS 10.1 Service Pack 1 or above.

Hillshade layer (LiDAR-derived, black-and-white image) on MnGeo's WMS image service. Documentation

Areas Covered:

  • Arrowhead: 
    • Fall 2012, Duluth Area, taken after the spring 2012 flood.
    • Spring 2011, Carlton, Cook, Lake and St. Louis counties, part of Itasca County, and Voyageurs National Park in Koochiching County.
  • Central Lakes:  Collected Spring 2012. The data covers Aitkin, Cass, Hubbard, Itasca, Todd and Wadena counties and a portion of Koochiching County.
  • Twin Cities Metro:  Collected Spring and Fall 2011. The data cover Anoka, Benton, Carver, Dakota, Goodhue, Hennepin, Isanti, Kanabec, Meeker, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Ramsey, Scott, Sherburne and Washington counties.
    • Documentation
    • Data is available on the FTP site both by county (in the county folder) and by block (in the projects folder). See map showing block boundaries.
    • Tile naming for the Dakota Block, Metro Block and Maple Grove Block:  Since the point density of these collects is higher than the other blocks (2 points/square meter for the Dakota Block, and 8 points/square meter for the Metro and Maple Grove blocks), the vendor tiled the las files further, breaking each standard tile into 16 additional tiles. They are simply appended an A, B, C, or D starting in the upper left and proceeding in a clockwise direction. A sample image, taken from the tile index map that is on the site, shows a single tile with the sub-block lettering scheme. A sample tile name would be: 4243-02-30_a_a.laz. Also, there is a tiling scheme feature class in the elevation_data file geodatabase.
  • Red River Basin (Spring 2008-Spring 2010)
    • UTM Zone 15 version
      • 19 1/2 Minnesota counties available: Becker, Beltrami, Big Stone, Clay, Clearwater, Grant, Kittson, Koochiching (northern part - see map for area covered), Lake of the Woods, Mahnomen, Marshall, Norman, Otter Tail, Pennington, Polk, Red Lake, Roseau, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin counties.
      • Documentation
      • Data is in the county folder of the FTP site.
    • UTM Zone 14 version
      • IWI's LiDAR Applications: entire U.S. portion of the basin in North Dakota, Minnesota, and South Dakota. The site provides a viewer, download options and web services.
      • Documentation
    • Derived Products: Overview of derived products and those in development, 7/15/13 (PDF)
  • Southeast (Fall 2008)
    • Overview article
    • Documentation
    • 8,800 square miles in nine counties:  Dodge, Fillmore, Freeborn, Houston, Mower, Olmsted, Steele, Wabasha and Winona County.
  • Southwest (Spring and Fall 2010)
    • 17,260 square miles in 25 counties:  Brown, Chippewa, Cottonwood, Douglas, Faribault, Jackson, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Le Sueur, Lincoln, Lyon, Martin, Murray, Nicollet, Nobles, Pipestone, Pope, Redwood, Renville, Rock, Sibley, Swift, Waseca, Watonwan, Yellow Medicine.
    • Documentation
  • Other Counties
    • Blue Earth 2012  (2005 also available)
    • Independent county projects: Chisago, Crow Wing, McLeod, Pine, Rice, Stearns, and Wright
      These counties are available for general distribution via agreements between these counties and the State of Minnesota and/or the U.S. Geological Survey. Pine County is available by agreement with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
  • Smaller Projects
    • Lake Superior Bathymetry:  Hydrographic and topographic data collected along the Lake Superior coast of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan for NOAA.  Data extends offshore from the shoreline to extinction depth or 1 km, whichever is closer, and onshore from the shoreline to 30 meters.
    • Lake Shady:  A reservoir on the Zumbro River in Olmsted County.
    • Mille Lacs Kathio State Park:  in Mille Lacs County; see park description; data from an independent project centered on the park.
    • Minnehaha Creek:  in Hennepin County, data from a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.
    • Minnesota River Basin, South Dakota portiondocumentation  Data is in UTM Zone 14 coordinates
    • Red River Basin Block I:  Covers Lake of the Woods and Roseau counties, eastern Marshall County and northern portions of Beltrami and Pennington counties; see a graphic showing location of Block I.
    • Seven Mile Creek:  in Nicollet County
  • Results of May 2012 survey on user needs for LiDAR data
  • Change log of problems fixed:
    • Twin Cities Metro Block A_C:  32 tiles (10/19/12)
    • Arrowhead Block 4:  tile 2742-02-53 (12/11/12)
    • Morrison and Cook county tiles (3/7/13)
    • Carver County building footprints (3/11/13)

Education and Training


  • Minnesota Elevation Mapping Project
    A State of Minnesota Legacy Amendment project to complete LiDAR coverage of the state.
  • 3DEP
    The primary goal of 3DEP is to systematically collect enhanced elevation data over the United States and the U.S. territories.
  • Red River Basin Mapping Initiative
    The goal of the Red River Basin Mapping Initiative is to develop a high resolution DEM for the Red River of the North Basin south of the U.S./Canada border using LiDAR. This webpage includes links to the project specs, status, LiDAR viewers, acquired areas, quality control reports and other information.

Uses of LiDAR in Minnesota

Examples illustrating how LiDAR data is already being used in Minnesota:


Geographic Data Clearinghouse