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Namakan Lake's delights await the lucky visitor. Covering more than 24,000 acres with many small islands, about half of the lake is located in Minnesota's Northeast Region and the other half in Ontario, Canada. The USA portion of the lake lies within Voyageurs National Park, a vast expanse of woods and water protected from development to remain in much the same condition as the famed fur trappers and traders found it. Namakan Lake is only a part of the huge reservoir bearing the same name: Namakan Reservoir also includes Sand Point Lake, Little Vermilion Lake, Kabetogama Lake, and Crane Lake. All flow into Namakan Lake. Waters then flow northward into Rainy Lake at three points from Namakan Lake.
Long the property of a succession of lumbering interests, Voyageurs National Park was formed in 1975, creating the only national park within Minnesota. The hundreds of miles of lakeshore on the connected lakes never became developed for private cottages, although several resort properties offered lodgings and fishing trips. Due to distance from large metropolitan areas, with the Twin Cities five hours, Winnipeg four hours and Duluth three hours away, Namakan Lake remained a remote resort lake reached primarily by boat or float plane. When lumbering interests decided to sell their holdings, the USA side promptly became the national park, with a few private cottages located on the Canadian shoreline and on some of the larger islands. The heavily wooded shoreline still presents an unbroken expanse of forested lakefront, providing the signature solitude and wild nature so necessary to a traditional up-north vacation.
Water is always the focus of time spent at Namakan Lake: swimming, paddling, wildlife viewing and nature photography consume most of visitors' days. The clear, cool lake is a delight to swim in, with many natural sandy beaches. The water is so clear that boaters can see over ten feet in depth. All types of boats are permitted except for personal watercraft as long as they are legally registered according to Minnesota law. Boats crossing into Canadian waters must obtain a CANPASS Remote Area Border Crossing permit in advance from the nearest port of entry or by mail. Comparable regulations are in effect when returning to the United States side. These permits are not easily available along the shoreline, so it is best to obtain necessary forms by mail before embarking on any boating adventure. There are no marinas on Namakan Lake, and most boat ramps are located along the Ash River between Namakan Lake and Kabetogama Lake near the Ash River Visitors Center. A number of campsites-all primitive-can be accessed by boat on the Namakan Lake shoreline. Permits are available at the Visitors Center with reservations required for most.
Fishing is always a big attraction at Namakan Lake. Most commonly caught are black crappie, bluegill, northern pike, rock bass, sauger, smallmouth bass, walleye and yellow perch. Fishing guides in the area regularly lead fishing expeditions on Namakan Lake and its connected waterways and may be the better option for first-time visitors because they know where the whoppers are hiding. Those fishing Canadian waters will need an Ontario Non-Resident Fishing License, along with approved Canadian bait. Ice fishing is permitted but not very common due to the distance to the lake from traveled roads. Luckily, snowmobiling within the park is allowed on the many marked trails, and snowmobilers can access the more remote parts of the lake via snow machine.
Many visitors to Voyageur National Park stay at one of the several resorts located along the Ash River. Boats and houseboats can be rented at several locations, and houseboat camping trips are very popular. The several lakes of the Namakan Reservoir are all accessible by boat, and one could spend a month lazily exploring the hundreds of miles of shoreline. A few private cottage rentals are locate on the Canadian side of Namakan Lake, and there is even a limited amount of real estate available-usually in the form of existing cottages. Other properties are located on the many smaller lakes in the area. Most private rentals will help prospective vacationers arrange transportation to their remote properties. Arrival in winter offers the unique opportunity to travel the marked 'ice road'. Wildlife is plentiful, with moose, bear, bald eagles, otters, loons and timber wolves seen along with a wide variety of songbirds.
There is little in the way of tourist accommodations or conveniences available at Namakan Lake. The entire park is meant to be a wilderness experience. Visitors are expected to pack in their food, drinking water and sleeping gear and pack out their trash. The nearest Visitor Center to Namakan Lake is the one located at Ash River, which does offer some services, including food, supplies, maps and boat rentals. The Visitors Center offers extensive information on the history, geology and ecology off the area. Voyageurs National Park is a natural extension of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to the east and receives many paddling visitors from that area.
The Voyageurs National Park Association is a volunteer group which works to protect the area and promote pleasant wilderness experiences to outside visitors. One project they have recently been involved in has been stopping the development of a large hydroelectric dam on the Namakan River, west of Namakan Lake. Their overall goal is to protect the natural environment of this beautiful area, including the natural watercourses. The association coordinates information on local attractions, points of interest, lodgings and restaurants near the park.
Water levels at Namakan Lake are controlled by small dams at Kettle Falls and Squirrel Falls. The entire system within the Park has levels controlled by a larger dam at International Falls, MN/Fort Frances, ON. Because of the cross-border nature of the waterway, the entire system is under the ultimate control of International Rainy Lake Board of Control. Adjustments have been made in recent years to more closely replicate the natural seasonal water level changes so as to provide better habitat for fish spawning. This appears to have improved walleye fishing, which is being closely monitored.
Add Namakan Lake to your 'must-visit' list soon. Such natural beauty and solitude are a rare find in today's busy world.
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