Wisconsin Boasts World’s Largest Inland Chain of Lakes

The district nestled in and around the picturesque, 664,000-acre Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest of Wisconsin is home to one of the highest densities of lakes in North America.

With 28 lakes, the Eagle River-Three Lakes Chain is the largest inland chain of lakes in the world.

Long Lake, Wisconsin” by jondejong is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Three Lakes community was developed in the 1880s as the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad pushed northward to bring loggers and farmers to the area. Railroad surveyors tried to run a straight line through the timbered highlands. However, three area lakes frustrated the surveyors.

The first, Maple Lake, was named for the virgin maple trees surrounding the lake. The second, Town Line Lake, was named because the survey line bisected the lake. The third, Range Line Lake, was named for a range line running along the west side. “Three Lakes” became the hub of activity for settlers.


What lakes make up the Eagle River Chain of Lakes?

The Eagle River Chain of Lakes includes nine lakes that span almost 4,000 acres: Catfish Lake (1,012 acres), Voyageur Lake (130 acres), Eagle Lake (572 acres), Scattering Rice Lake (267 acres), Otter Lake (217 acres), Lynx Lake (28 acres), Duck Lake (108 acres), Yellow Birch Lake (201 acres), and Watersmeet Lake (100 acres).

The chain, although partly natural lakes, is created and deepened by the Otter Rapids Hydroelectric Dam at the end of Watersmeet Lake.


What lakes are part of the Three Lakes Chain?

The connecting Three Lakes Chain, also known as Burnt Rollways Reservoir (a name derived from an event during the lumbering era), contains an additional 7,600 acres for water recreation.

Instead of three lakes, 20 lakes are actually connected to this chain, with several more not connected but a short distance away: Long Lake (620 acres), Planting Ground Lake (1,012 acres), Range Line Lake (123 acres), Town Line Lake (152 acres), Round Lake (150 acres), Island Lake (295 acres), Little Fork Lake (354 acres), Big Fork Lake (690 acres), Four Mile Lake (218 acres), Medicine Lake (372 acres), Laurel Lake (232 acres), Spirit Lake (368 acres), Big Stone Lake (548 acres), Deer Lake (177 acres), Crystal Lake (124 acres), Dog Lake (216 acres), Big Lake (865 acres), Whitefish Lake (205 acres), Maple Lake (144 acres) and Virgin Lake (277 acres).

The Burnt Rollways Dam at the lower end of Long Lake regulates the chain. Together these two chains create the largest inner coastal freshwater chain in the world.


Can you navigate the Eagle River/Three Lakes Chain by boat?

Yes! 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. The hoist, operated by the Wisconsin Valley Improvement Company (WVIC), has been in operation since 1911 and moves boats from the lower Eagle River Chain (1,614 feet elevation) to the higher Three Lakes Chain (1,625 feet elevation).

In 1952 the hoist was upgraded from a mechanical system based on water current to an electric gantry hoist to handle boats of all sizes. WVIC also maintains the 2.5-mile channel below the hoist into Cranberry Lake (955 acres).

The Eagle River-Three Lakes Chain provides year-round recreation on and off the water. Water sports take center stage during summer, including fishing, boating, jet skiing, kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, swimming, and wildlife viewing.

When the snow begins to fall, groomed snowmobile trails and cross-country trails dish up winter excitement. The Town of Eagle River is nicknamed the “Snowmobile Capital of the World” because it hosts the annual World Championship Snowmobile Derby each year.

Eagle River is also home to the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame at the Eagle River Sports Arena.


Where can I stay on the Eagle River Chain of Lakes?

Use our handy interactive map below to find accommodations at any of the lakes along the chain. Simply type the name of the lake near the heart in the upper right hand corner to compare nearby hotels and vacation rentals.

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