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Sprawling and unspoiled, Northern Light Lake spreads across western Ontario's Granite Shield like a blanket of water. The lake isn't well-known; only a few isolated cabins share the 177-mile shoreline. Two commercial resorts hold campgrounds and cabins. The nearest larger town is Thunder Bay on Lake Superior, a full 75 miles to the northeast at the other end of a rather rough road. Located near Quetico Provincial Park's eastern border, Northern Light Lake skirts the well-known but isolated Boundary Waters Canoe Area on the border between Minnesota and Ontario. For those who come here, though, Northern Light Lake worms its way into their memories . . enough so that many of them come back year after year.
There was never much European settlement around Northern Light Lake. The thin, rocky soil wasn't conducive to crops. Logging interests, along with limited mining, historically have shown the most activity on the land surrounding the lake. Pictographs, or rock paintings on several of the granite outcroppings in the area prove that native tribes once stopped here long enough to perform some kind of ceremonies, perhaps at regular intervals. Other than that, there is little archeological evidence of their long-term presence. So, why is Northern Light Lake so memorable to today's recreational visitors? There are sandy beaches, multiple bays and coves with pine-covered shores, miles upon miles of abandoned logging roads, beautiful scenery, myriad wildlife and plenty of room to simply expand one's personal horizons.
Northern Light Lake has three sections, connected by wide channels. Many islands, both large and small dot the surface. Describing one's location usually involves such landmarks as Savage Bay, Moose Bay, Nelson Bay, Trafalgar Channel, Southeast Bay and other names. Although no figures exist for the surface acreage of Northern Light Lake, an educated estimate is in the thousands of acres. Two lodging locations on the shore rent boats and canoes, offer cabins, meals, boat ramps, swimming beaches and campfire wood. Camp stores provide bait and necessities. Seasonal campsites are available. Access to thousands of square miles of Crown land is just outside the door. And friendly guides offer fishing expeditions to the hottest fishing hole of the season.
Walleye fishing is a major draw to Northern Light lake. Trophy-sized walleye join northern pike, lake trout, whitefish and perch to attract anglers. Because the lake holds varying depths and bottom features, the many species of fish do well here together. One surprise to many is the large number of smallmouth bass that can be caught. Local fishing guides always promote catch-and-release walleye fishing to leave those large fish for yet another day. In winter, ice fishing is also popular, particularly for lake trout. The winter season for lake trout begins in February and lasts through March. All Ontario fishing regulations for Zone six are in effect, and proper licenses must be obtained. The resorts along the shore carry the licenses, along with renting or selling fishing gear.
One of the resorts specializes in kayak treks and ATV trail rides. In winter, the focus switches to snowmobiles. The cabins at both resorts stay open for winter rentals and offer lodgings during hunting season. One advertises black bear hunting in the nearby Bear Management Area. Wildlife viewing and nature photography are popular in all seasons; the area holds not only bear, but moose, deer and grouse along with the usual small mammals and a variety of birds. Numerous other lakes, mostly much smaller, are located nearby and allow for fishing.
At the northeast corner of Northern Light Lake the Arrowhead Peninsula Provincial Park Wildlife Reserve occupies a large peninsula and nearby Paradise Island. Undeveloped, the Park has no formal entrances and no designated trails or campgrounds; some will likely be developed once management plans are completed. The peninsula forms much of one side of Trafalgar Channel, leading to large Trafalgar Bay. From Trafalgar Bay, a twisted watercourse leads to better-known Saganaga Lake to the west. The stream is not navigable due to rapids and waterfalls. Some hardy canoe trekkers make the three-or-four-day journey between the two lakes by portaging around the rapids and waterfalls. Most who attempt this trek arrive from Minnesota's Gunflint Trail and engage a 'tow' to the first portage point for Northern Light Lake by motor boat from outfitters near the Trail. Saganaga Lake is well-known to Boundary Waters users. Northern Light Lake is much less well-known, with most visitors arriving from the east side through the resorts.
The few cabins on Northern Light Lake seldom reach the real estate advertisers; most sell quickly to other lakelubbers by word-of-mouth. It takes a special type of adventurer who is willing to forego modern conveniences, such as electricity and telephones, to isolate themselves in the midst of such a vast expanse of woods and water. Those who love the Boundary Waters Canoe Area know this is exactly what they are looking for. Others simply love the occasional isolation and the great fishing offered by an annual fishing trip to Northern Light Lake. Luckily, this beautiful lake holds plenty of room for both. So, if you have a yen for a remote and unspoiled location for your next vacation, complete with trophy walleye and the occasional bear, by all means make a reservation for a cottage or campsite at Northern Light Lake. You'll find it easy to make it part of your favorite memories.
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