Nelson Lake, Wisconsin, USA

Welcome to the ultimate guide for history, statistics, local fun facts and the best things to do at Nelson Lake.

If you’re considering Nelson Lake vacation rentals, we’ve made it super easy to explore accommodations and nearby hotels using the interactive map below. Simply click on a listing to compare similar properties, best rates and availability for your dates. Or keep scrolling to read our Nelson Lake guide!

Nelson Lake visitor and community guide

With its undeveloped shoreline and beautiful water, Nelson Lake joins the other Hayward Lakes as a fantastic Wisconsin destination. Historically there wasn’t much logging or farming in the part of Sawyer County around Nelson Lake. So rather than growing from a utilitarian need, Nelson Lake was always intended for recreation. The lake was named after Frank O. Nelson who proposed building a dam in 1934 to create a recreation and wildlife area. Mr. Nelson did not live to see the dam completed, but when it was finished the Totagatic Dam on the Totagatic River created Nelson Lake. The lake and dam are owned by Sawyer County. The Totagatic Flowage is right next to Nelson Lake making it easy to fish or boat on both.

About 50 percent of Nelson Lake’s shore is undeveloped. There are a few floating bogs and sixteen islands. Big Island has been named a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource Land Legacy Site. The half of the lake that is developed has resorts, private homes and boat launches and marinas. The area around Nelson Lake has trails for snow mobiling, cross country skiing, hiking, and biking. There are campgrounds and in the winter there is ice fishing.

Nelson Lake has abundant populations of walleye, northern pike, large mouth bass, crappie, blue gill and perch. Sawyer County has plenty of lakes and the Hayward Lakes which include Grindstone Lake, Round Lake, Lac Court Oreilles, and the Chippewa flowage are all full of fish. Add in trout streams and rivers and anglers are sure to find more fish than they can catch. When they are not fishing anglers and the rest of the family can check out the National Freshwater Fishing Museum in nearby Hayward. Visitors can stand in the mouth of the 143 foot long 41 foot tall musky that holds the museum and read about the ones that didn’t get away.

Sawyer County is also home to the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, and a trip to Nelson Lake should include a visit. The Chequamegon side is over 800,000 acres of Wisconsin Northwoods, and there are trails for hiking, biking, and horse back riding as well as plenty of room to camp and explore. Every year the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest hosts the American Birkebeiner Cross Country Ski Race. The three day race draws thousands of skiers and spectators from all over. Visitors also come to the national forest for the annual Chequamegon Fat Tire Bike Race. The St. Croix National Scenic Riverway also runs through Sawyer County near Hayward. The riverway is 252 miles of the St. Croix and Namakagon Rivers to explore by canoe or kayak. Hayward has restaurants, shopping, museums, and various accommodations. There are also several golf courses and in fact Hayward is known as the golf capitol of Wisconsin.

With all that Nelson Lake and the Hayward Lakes have to offer, it is sure to be a destination to please the whole family. It is truly a place that is intended for both wildlife and recreation.

Custom Nelson Lake house decor

Read our full review of these personalized lake house signs.

Things to do at Nelson Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Nelson Lake

  • Bass
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Trout
  • Walleye

Best hotels and vacation rentals at Nelson Lake

The Nelson Lake map shown above is a simple and stress-free way to search for trip accommodations. But if you want to take a deeper dive to find the ideal waterfront home, cabin, condo, hotel or resort, visit our favorite lodging partners by clicking the buttons below.

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Nelson Lake photo gallery

New photos coming soon!

Nelson Lake statistics & helpful links


Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: Sawyer County

Surface Area: 2,503 acres

Shoreline Length: 31 miles

Average Depth: 10 feet

Maximum Depth: 33 feet

Water Volume: 38,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1940

Lake Area-Population: 2,129

Drainage Area: 54 sq. miles

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