Surface transient storage (STS) has functional significance in stream ecosystems because it increases solute interaction with sediments. After volume, mean residence time is the most important metric of STS, but it is unclear how this can be measured accurately or related to other timescales and field-measureable parameters. We studied mean residence time of lateral STS in small streams over Reynolds numbers (Re) 5000–200,000 and STS width to length (W/L) aspect ratios between 0.2–0.75. Lateral STS have flow fields characterized by a shear layer spanning the length of the STS entrance, and one primary gyre and one or more secondary gyre(s) in the STS. The study's purpose was to define, measure, and compare residence timescales: volume to discharge ratio (Langmuir timescale); area under normalized concentration curve; and characteristic time of exponential decay, and to compare these timescales to field measureable parameters. The best estimate of STS mean residence time—primary gyre residence time—was determined to be the first characteristic time of exponential decay. An apparent mean residence time can arise, which is considerably larger than other timescales, if probes are placed within secondary gyre(s). The Langmuir timescale is the minimum mean residence time, and is linearly correlated to channel velocity and STS width. The lateral STS mean residence time can be predicted using a physically based hydromorphic timescale derived by Uijttewaal et al. (2001) with an entrainment coefficient of 0.031 ± 0.009 for the Re and W/L studied.