Otter Lake, Minnesota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Minnesota - Northeast -

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.

Things to do at Otter Lake MN

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • National Forest
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Otter Lake MN

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sucker
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

Otter Lake MN Photo Gallery

    Otter Lake MN Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

    Surface Area: 78 acres

    Shoreline Length: 2 miles

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,453 feet

    Maximum Depth: 17 feet

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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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