Eagle River Chain of Lakes, Wisconsin, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Wisconsin - Lake Superior Northwoods Region -

Also known as:  Cranberry Lake, Catfish Lake, Voyageur Lake, Eagle Lake, Scattering Rice Lake, Otter Lake, Lynx Lake, Duck Lake, Yellow Birch Lake, Watersmeet Lake.

The Eagle River Chain of Lakes in far northeastern Wisconsin is known to fishermen as prime Musky water, but the lakes are also a prime vacation destination for the entire family. The Eagle River Chain includes nine lakes that span 3,928 acres with 68 miles of shoreline: Catfish Lake, Voyageur Lake, Eagle Lake, Scattering Rice Lake, Otter Lake, Lynx Lake, Duck Lake, Yellow Birch Lake, and nearby Watersmeet Lake. The chain, although partly natural lakes, is created and deepened by the Otter Rapids Hydroelectric Dam at the end of Watersmeet Lake. Vilas County, next to the Michigan state line, and adjoining Oneida County are in the Northern Highlands Lake District of Wisconsin, one of the highest densities of lakes in North America.

The connecting Three Lakes Chain, also known as Burnt Rollways Reservoir, contains another 7,600 acres and 106 miles of shoreline. But, instead of three lakes, there are actually 20 connected in this chain, with several more not technically connected but a very short distance away. All are great fishing lakes: Long Lake, Planting Ground Lake, Rangeline Lake, Townline Lake, Round Lake, Island Lake, Little Fork and Big Fork Lakes, Fourmile Lake, Medicine Lake, Laurel Lake, Spirit Lake, Big Stone Lake, Deer Lake, Crystal Lake, Dog Lake, Big Lake, Whitefish Lake, Maple Lake, and Virgin Lake. Although it is popularly stated that there are 28 lakes in the chain, it appears there are more than that indirectly connected. Together the two chains create the largest inner coastal freshwater chain in the world.

The Eagle River Chain of Lakes and the Three Lakes Chain are connected and navigable by boat via an ingenious tramway at the Burnt Rollways Dam, operated by the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (WVIC). In operation since 1911, the hoist system moves boats from the lower Eagle River Chain (1614 feet) to the somewhat higher Three Lakes Chain (1625 feet). WVIC also maintains the 2.5-mile channel below the hoist into Cranberry Lake (955 acres). Other popular lakes nearby are Dam Lake, North Twin Lake, and Bass Lake. The lakes are relatively shallow; the deepest spot is 57 feet. Although the water is clean, clarity is poor as the water is stained with tannin, a naturally occurring harmless byproduct of vegetation. (Hint for the Musky Hunter: use fluorescent baits at the edges of the weed beds.)

The two chains are bound by Eagle River on the north and Three Lakes on the south. The area saw sporadic settlement throughout the 1800s, but settlers soon found the soil too thin for much farming. As a local wit says, the land wasn’t good for much except growing trees, and it did that in abundance. The few settlers coexisted with local Native Americans for several years.

It wasn’t until the 1880s that there was a major influx of lumbering men and lumber interests to the Eagle River Chain of Lakes area. Coming across from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, loggers flooded into the small settlement of Eagle River. At one point, the town had over 2500 residents, mostly living in hotels and boarding houses. Rail lines soon were laid to transport out the lumber produced. Rail travel opened up the possibility of visits to the northern lakes for many, and the area quickly became popular for hunting, fishing and camping. Currently the population is around 1500 and stays stable at that number. Smaller Three Lakes saw a similar temporary lumber boom and settled back to become a sleepy small town that enjoys its visitor population immensely. Most of the harvestable timber was exhausted by 1910 and has since been replanted and re-grown.

Fishermen come here to pursue the famed and wily Muskellunge but can also catch Walleye, Northern Pike, Crappie, Perch, Largemouth Bass, Smallmouth Bass, Bluegills, Rock Bass, several varieties of Bullhead Catfish, and Shiners. The Eagle River Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center and Musky Clubs Alliance of Wisconsin, Inc. sponsor the Annual National Championship Musky Open Tournament in August each year. There are several other fishing tournaments scheduled annually for the angler’s enjoyment. In winter, there is ice fishing on the lakes. Truly, fisher folk could be happy here year round.

The Eagle River Chain of Lakes never saw the intense resort development of many lakes farther south, likely due to its remote location. It has always sported a few resorts scattered among the lakes and is beginning to develop more resort properties and condos. Some lakes are sparsely populated; none are crowded. There is everything here from exclusive resort complexes with all desired amenities to small fish camp-type properties to family homes. Although some are year-round residences, more are summer cottages. Most services are accessible by boat, and Eagle River has a solid supply of restaurants, activities and entertainment. Water sports enjoyed here include rafting, kayaking, sailing, boating, waterskiing, jet skiing, swimming, snorkeling, diving, and windsurfing, so there’s always plenty for the non-fisherman to do on the water.

The Eagle River Chain of Lakes offers plentiful off-lake activities, too, including golf, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, sledding, tubing, hiking, hunting, horseback riding, and miniature golf. Wildlife viewing is a popular pastime, particularly the many bald eagles in the area. Combine two of these while hiking or biking the Three Eagle Trail starting near Three Lakes. Groomed snowmobile trails add to the enjoyment of the winter months. And the Town of Eagle River is prepared to entertain any discerning visitor with shopping and fine dining.

Visitors to the Eagle River Chain of Lakes soon find that Eagle River is nicknamed the “Snowmobile Capital of the World,” because the World Championship Snowmobile Derby is held at an ice oval on the north side of the city. The Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame is at the Eagle River Stadium in Eagle River. The Historical Depot has displays from early Eagle River area logging days. And, each winter, the historically faithful Klondike Days Voyageur Encampment is held near town.

Yes, the Eagle River Chain of Lakes demands more than a cursory look. It’s a beautiful setting for outdoor activities and year round fun.

Things to do at Eagle River Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Snorkeling
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Snowboarding
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Miniature Golf
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Eagle River Chain of Lakes

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Bullhead Catfish
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • Whitefish

Eagle River Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Eagle River Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Wisconsin Public Service Corporation

Surface Area: 11,528 acres

Shoreline Length: 174 miles

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,614 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,625 feet

Average Depth: 13 feet

Maximum Depth: 57 feet

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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