Lake of the Woods is famous for fishing, hunting, bird watching, camping, hiking, swimming, snowmobiling, sailing, boating and exploring. Just ask anyone in Minnesota, Manitoba or Northwest Ontario and they can tell you how to get to Lake of the Woods. The lake boosts 65,000 miles of shoreline and over 14,500 islands.  

     Lake of the Woods is a unique body of water that has land claims of two countries, Canada and the United States of America. The most open part of the lake is the upper section of Minnesota and its most northern point the “Northwest Angle”. A large peninsula in Manitoba, Canada cuts off land access to the Northwest Angle isolating Angle residents from the rest of the United States. Warroad and Baudette Minnesota sit on the south end of the lake. Rainy River, Morson, Nestor Falls, Sioux Narrows and Kenora shape the Ontario side of the lake. The majority of the lake resides in Ontario, Canada. 

     The early residents were Cree and Sioux and later the Ojibwa or Chippewa. The following story was written about the Cree Indians’ legend of Lake of the Woods.

Legend of the Lake of the Woods

  According to a legend of the Cree Indians who lived in the Lake of the Woods region before the Chippewa, the lake was created by one of their lesser Gods in a fit of whimsy.

  They say it is a magic lake.

  Its waters are of many colors: sometimes blue, sometimes tawny, sometimes the color of black tea and sometimes as thick and green as pea soup.It is said that the Wendigo who created this lake became so enamored of his handiwork that he transformed himself into an image of rock so he might forever remain to marvel at what even a less God can do when the spirit is strong within him.

  “I’ll make a garden of this lake,” said the Wendigo, and he did. From the land of the Sioux he brought maples and planted them among the northern pines. Amid the shrubs and grasses that sleep through the long winters he mixed alien shrubs to remind him of lands of earlier springs. On the most barren of all his islands he planted cactus, where of winter nights the trees are driven by intense cold.

  “I’ll hide treasure in this lake,” said the Wendigo, and he did. He salted the shares and islands with gold, silver, with beryl, mica, feldspar, zinc-blend, galena, antimony, iron, cobalt and fool’s good.

  He was a clever spirit, this Wendigo, and a perverse one, and it is said that on summer nights when the thunderclaps climb like bastions of the Matuba Manito above the mirrored lake, one can still hear his sardonic laughter reverberating among the hills.

  “I’ll make a maze of this lake,” he said, “to confound those who might seek to drive my people from it. I will place puzzles here that will perplex men forever more.” And he did.

  He made the lake so widely different from north to south, from east to west, and from top to bottom, that some men called it the Lake of the Sandhills, some Whitefish Lake, and other Lac aux Iles. Some in saying these names meant a part separately, and some the whole thing together. This three-in-one the Wendigo bounded by the crookest shoreline in the land of the Cree, Chippewa and Assiniboines together a winding, twisting, serrated shoreline of bays, promontories, inlets, and ingenious cul-de-sacs among which an intruder can easily become lost. And to compound confusion he scattered magnetic ore along the shore to addle the compasses of the white man.

  Then, in a final turn of perverse glee, this Wendigo filled the upper lake so full of islands that there were more islands than lake, more rock than water, more trees than waves: in a lake so curiously contrived that it wasn’t a lake at all, but a maze of narrow channels winding amidst forests and walls of rock.

  As many as the leaves of autumn, said the Cree, of the islands in the lake. As many as the stars of a winter’s night, said the coureurs de bois. The Wendigo, by then perhaps, had immolated himself in stone.

  When the white man came to this lake whose islands were as many as the leaves of autumn and the stars of a winter night, they added the final touch of whimsy.Instead of calling it the “Lake of the Islands”, they called it the Lake of the Woods.                                                                                                                        Author unknown 

French fur traders arrived in the late 1600’s. June 8, 1736 was the famous massacre of Father Aulneau, Jean Baptiste de le Vérendrye (son of explorer Pierre de le Vérendrye) and 19 other voyagers on an island close to Fort St. Charles. By the mid 1700’s, Lake of the Woods was part of a busy water route between Winnipeg and Lake Superior. As the 1800’s came to a close, land grants offered by the government attracted many settlers. The need to clear land in accordance with the guidelines of the grants was the impetus for a timber industry and the emergence of a small agricultural community between the Rainy River and Lake of the Woods.

Voyageur Route 

     The busy water route carried passengers by steam boat from Kenora (Rat Portage) via Lake of the Woods to ports along the Rainy River and up Rainy Lake. Lumber companies used the route for towing logs. Lake travelers complained that night travel on the Lake of the Woods was nearly impossible. In response, several lighthouses were put in place during the late and early 1900’s. One such lighthouse is the Tomahawk Island Lighthouse built in 1900. The lighthouse, no longer needed to alert travelers, was moved to mainland, restored and converted to a museum with artifacts pertaining to early lake travel. In addition to dangers on the lake, these steamboats had to be hand maneuvered over rapids on the Rainy River in order to safely move cargo from port to port. The era of the steam ships ended with the completion of the railway systems connected the east to west and south to north.

     What makes Lake of the Woods so great? Its shorelines and islands are largely undeveloped. Travelers can marvel at much of the same scenery that the first voyageurs saw when they discovered this island-studded lake in the center of the continent.

     Centuries old Indian rock paintings on Lake of the Woods stand as remnants of the area’s earliest inhabitants. They are believed to be 800 – 900 years old, Indian rock paintings on Lake of the Woods still mystify historians and chemists. Even though the art is considered primitive, the materials used by the early artists to create it have not been equaled in modern times as evidenced by their durability through centuries of exposure to the climate. On an overhanging cliff on Painted Rock Island is one of many sites of the rock paintings that are known to exist on Lake of the Woods.

     Lake of the Woods holds many different species of fish. Muskie (Muskellunge), Northern Pike, Walleye, Smallmouth Bass, Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Perch and Lake Trout are plentiful. Miles Bay, Obabikon Lake, Sasbaskong Bay and Whitefish Bay are famous for some of the best places to fish on Lake of the Woods. Fishing tactics change as the water clarity and seasonal conditions change. Fish can be harvested each season as long at the species has open fishing and length requirements are followed.

     Lake of the Woods abounds with wildlife like the early voyageurs saw on their travels. Moose, white-tailed deer, black bear, fox, beaver, otter, timber wolves and brush wolves can be spotted on the islands and mainland areas. Hunting for most big game is open to both residents and non-residents.

     Lake of the Woods also boasts many plant species. Wild blueberries, strawberries and raspberries can be found in season. Yellow lady slippers, wild roses and honeysuckle are many of the beautiful flowers in the area.

     Can’t wait to visit the area? Please see “Accommodations” to book your next vacation on Lake of the Woods.

  Island splendor, Feel it!