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Otter Lake is located among the beautiful waterways and breathtaking scenery of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). This isolated lake lies within St. Louis County and Minnesota's Northeast Tourism Region and is the perfect stop for a quiet glide through the Boundary Waters. On your map you'll find Otter Lake in the Superior National Forest about 130 miles north of Duluth, 15 miles northwest of Ely and 15 miles south of Ontario, Canada.
Otter Lake is one of Minnesota's glacially-carved northern lakes, once part of the Sioux and Chippewa Nations. European fur traders and explorers were trading with the tribes and passing through the waterways by the mid-1600s. For decades, the boundary waters remained part of the lucrative fur trade and provided the waterways that transported goods to Lake Superior and beyond. During the 1860s northeastern Minnesota was experiencing the birth of the mining industry shortly followed by logging camps and more permanent settlements. Minnesota's far north woods were identified as a potential recreation area as early as 1926. Originally named "The Superior Roadless Areas," the name was changed to the Boundary Water Canoe Area in 1958. It wasn't until 1978 that the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness designation was made to protect over 1,500 miles of canoe routes, over 2,000 designated campsites, and more than 1,000 lakes and streams found in Superior National Forest. Today, 78-acre Otter Lake is just one small body of water tucked within the wilderness area and well worth the effort to find.
Come to the Boundary Waters for paddling, fishing, camping, and hiking. Come to Otter Lake for the serenity of the wilderness. Depending on your starting point, access to Otter Lake can require a bit of effort. When you get there you may just find that you have this small shallow lake to yourself. There are two lake and portage routes that will take you to Otter Lake. To the east of Otter Lake you will find countless waterways leading to 1,121-acre Cummings Lake. A portage connection from Neewin Lake to the north, Big Moose Lake to the northeast, Korb Lake to the southeast, or Buck Lake to the southwest, provide some of the options. From the west end of Cummings Lake a short five-rod carry out connects you to the far eastern end of Otter Lake. To approach Otter Lake from the west, you can enter the waterways at the very popular 39,272-acre Lake Vermilion. Two alternate portage connections (a motorized portage is available here) will take you north to Trout Lake and eastward through Trout Creek, Little Trout Lake, and nine portage connections, running 376 rods to 12 rods in length, to the head waters of the winding Little Indian Sioux River, and into Otter Lake.
On July 4, 1999 a record storm with winds over 100 mph blew through Superior National Forest impacting over 477,000 acres of forest. Otter Lake had mild blowdown damage. Areas south of Cummings Lake experienced moderate damage which can obstruct some of the portage paths. The Superior National Forest Web site continues to maintain updates on blowdown conditions and resulting wildfire hazards.
After a day of rigorous paddling and walking portage connections you can set up camp and immerse yourself in the unspoiled scenery around Otter Lake. A blissfully remote campsite is available at the north end of the two-mile shoreline. In the quiet of the wilderness you may catch a glimpse of loons, bald eagles, beaver, deer, moose, a gray wolf, or black bear. Otter Lake is shallow with a maximum depth of 17 feet. Waiting within those shallow waters are above average populations of white sucker, smallmouth bass, rock bass, northern pike, and bluegill.
Recreational opportunities continue within Superior National Forest's three-million acres. Among the Forest Service list of activities you'll find berry picking, biking, boating, fishing, geocaching, hiking, hunting, scenic byways, and snowmobiling. Outside the forest, visitors to Otter Lake will find resorts, shopping, services, outfitters, and guides available in the surrounding rural towns. Consider finding a vacation home, or permanent residence, among the vacation rentals and real estate properties found in the nearby communities including Soudan, Ely, and Winton.
With a population of about 400 people, the community of Soudan lies approximately 25 miles south of Otter Lake near the edge of the Mesabi Iron Range, one of the largest iron ore deposits in the United States. At the Soudan Underground Mine State Park you can view one of the deepest open pit mines or ride 2,341 feet into the underground mine during the summer months. Also open to visitors is the University of Minnesota's Soudan Underground Laboratory. This High Energy Physics Lab is one of the country's leading science and engineering laboratories.
Ely, located 15 miles southeast of Otter Lake, is considered the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The importance of tourism quickly becomes evident by the number of local businesses and services that support campers, fishermen, hikers, and winter sport enthusiasts. Just about anything a BWCA visitor needs can be found in Ely. On a smaller scale, the neighboring town of Winton offers similar services and has vacation rental properties in their community of about 200 people. Attractions found near Ely's 4,000 residents include the International Wolf Center and North American Bear Center. The mission of these organizations is to advance the survival and population of these animals found in the north woods and elsewhere. Ely has long had a reputation for being a community with a sense of humor. To help lighten your day, the Ely Chamber of Commerce offers access to the Center for the Study of Obsessive Compulsive Fishing (OCF). Those afflicted with this condition may find the link to OCF below.
Those who come to Otter Lake will enjoy a true Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness experience. Choose to paddle rivers and streams, ride rapids, or hike portage connections. Whatever path you choose will lead you to the peaceful solitude of Otter Lake. The deer are watching, the fish are jumping, and the spirit of adventure awaits. Find a vacation rental or real estate property and plan your path to Otter Lake.
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