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Lake Mjosa is Norway's largest lake, covering 89,500 acres. Located about 35 miles north of Oslo, the fjord lake is long and narrow, a drowned valley dug by the action of glaciers. Lake Mjosa plunges to depths of 1,637 feet, the fourth-deepest lake in Norway. Water flows into the lake from the north via River Gudbrandsdalslagen. The usual source is glaciers farther to the north. Because of the location and the extreme depth of the water, the lake is not ordinarily a swimming or water sports lake as the waters remain relatively cold even in summer. However, water temperature does not stop Lake Mjosa from being a major source of recreation in the area.
The area surrounding Lake Mjosa has been agricultural land for many centuries. Farther north, the land becomes more mountainous and offers all types of winter sports activities such as alpine skiing. For many years, the 60-mile-long lake was a major transportation route by ship, carrying the crops and industrial products produced by inhabitants in the area. Several active lighthouses still exist along the shoreline. Eventually, a railroad was built along the eastern bank, reducing water transportation considerably. Today, a modern highway skirts the eastern shore, bringing visitors from Oslo and other parts of the region. Lake Mjosa still sees plenty of boat traffic, but now it is nearly all recreational. The only larger ship plying the surface is a refurbished paddlewheel steamer, the oldest such ship in existence in Europe. Originally built in 1856, the D/S Skibladner today transports passengers from city to city along the length of the lake. The picturesque steamer provides one of the best restaurants available in the area and is an important tourist destination, offering scenic cruises on Lake Mjosa.
Lake Mjosa has an excellent fishery. With 20 species of fish inhabiting the lake, fishing is a huge sport. Trout are the most sought-after fish for anglers. With over 40 incoming small streams, the trout spawning in each stream have developed their own particular sub-species, with some growing to nearly 45 pounds. Trolling is a favored method of catching these big trout, and trolling contests occur here regularly. The best known of these is the Norwegian Trolling Championship, scheduled each June and leaving from the Gjovic harbor on the western shoreline. Other species often caught include grayling, pike, perch and burbot. Fishing licenses may be purchased at tourist offices, sporting goods shops, gas stations and many hotels and motels in the area. Ice fishing is popular along the margins, but the center of the lake often remains ice-free in winter. Fishing regulations are stringent, and visiting anglers should become acquainted with them before starting out to fish.
At the north end of the main lake, the water splits into two branches. Helgoya is a large island located off the point between the two arms that is a favorite of recreational boaters who often dock their boats at the local marina. Most of the lakeshore is not heavily developed. Three larger cities hold much of the local population and main tourism attractions. Lillehammer is located up the western arm of the lake and is a noted skiing and winter sports center. The 1994 Winter Olympics were held here, and infrastructure built for the prestigious events has been converted to tourism uses. The Olympic bobsled run and the Lysgardsbakkene ski jump are major centers for winter recreation. No visitor will want to miss the Maihaugen Folk Museum. There are numerous lodging choices at Lillehammer, plenty of restaurants, golf courses and places to rent bicycles for cycling the many paths in the area.
Hamar is located farther south on the eastern shore of Lake Mjosa. One of its landmark features is the Hamar Olympic Hall. Usually called 'The Viking Ship', the structure looks like an overturned Viking ship's hull and holds the world's largest ice skating rink. Hamar has plenty of other attractions to recommend a visit, including the Hedmark Cultural History Museum. This open-air museum holds over 65 historic buildings and the ruins of medieval Hamar Cathedral, now protected under a large glassed protective cover. The Norwegian Railway Museum is also located at Hamar. Campgrounds and caravan parks are located near Lake Mjosa throughout the area.
Across the lake on the less-populated side, the small city of Gjovik serves as the town center of a mainly agricultural region. The many picturesque farms raise grains, vegetables, potatoes and dairy cattle. The steamer Skibladner is located in the harbor here. Remnant of the 1994 Olympic Games, a giant 'cave stadium' built under a nearby hill hosts conventions exhibitions and sports events. Cycling is a favored way to view the countryside; bike rentals, boat rentals, campgrounds and farm-stays are common. The tourism office in Gjovik has maps of favorite cycling routes, landmarks to see and places to stay in the area. While in town, a visit to the Gjovik Glassworks is rewarding, and the area's largest shopping complex is nearby. The small town of Storgata holds the Gjovik Chocolate Factory-a must-stop destination for anyone with a sweet tooth. Areas further away from Lake Mjosa have on-your-honor, unstaffed cabin stays which require reservations and depend on the guest's honesty to pay the required small fee.
The origins of the Mjosa name are a bit unclear. It appears the name comes from the Norse word mjors which means the 'bright' or 'shiny' one. There has been talk of a lake monster under the waves in the past, but the legend appears to be fading. Certainly there are no pictures of this monster, but it makes for a great campfire story. Inflowing River Gudbrandsdalslagen carries much sediment during the spring thaw, leading to some concerns that additional nutrients will threaten Lake Mjosa as a drinking water supply. The outlet river at the south end, the Vorma, has been dammed for hydroelectric power. Dams have been constructed along the outlet in 1858, 1911, 1947, and 1965, causing the level of Lake Mjosa to rise nearly 12 feet. The lake has flooded to nearly 23 feet on several occasions, causing flooding in Hamar. Lake Mjosa is being monitored carefully to ensure a continued clean water supply and productive fishery.
No visit to Norway would be complete without spending at least a day at Lake Mjosa. Come to see what all the excitement is about!
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