Facts | the 5 largest lakes | Norway

Norway is a land of water, with almost 1 million lakes and ponds of all sizes. Join us in exploring the 5 largest of her lakes, and some more Norway facts.
LA Dahlmann | talk NORWAY
Mjøsa and the Ringsaker church. | Photo: Widerøes Flyveselskap A/S - Anno Domkirkeodden cc pdm.
Mjøsa and the Ringsaker church. | Photo: Widerøes Flyveselskap A/S - Anno Domkirkeodden cc pdm.

A land full of water

Norway is a land full of water; and whether you are walking through an open, mountainous landscape – or find yourself deep inside a lush forest – you cannot walk far before coming across a lake, river, waterfall, creek, or pond. Let us take a closer look at the 5 largest Norwegian lakes.

1. Mjøsa

PS Skibladner. | Photo: Andrez1 - wikimedia.org cc by-sa.
PS Skibladner. | Photo: Andrez1 – wikimedia.org cc by-sa.

369 km2 in size | 107 km long | 122 metres above sea level | 453 metres maximum depth | You can find Mjøsa on Google maps by clicking here

Lake Mjøsa stretches across the regions of Hedmark and Oppland, northeast of Norway’s capital city Oslo. It has quite an iconic place in the minds of the Norwegians. Its name may stem from the Old Norse word mer; meaning twinkle or shine. The lake is both long and wide, and is actually an ancient valley, created by the ice covering the land through several ice-ages, like an inland fjord filled with freshwater. The main inflow enters from the north, via the river Gudbrandsdalslågen, which carries water from the thawing snow in the mountains and valleys along its route. In the southern end, we find the main outlet, the river Vorma, which later connects to Norway’s largest river, Glomma, where the water finds its way towards the ocean, and the saltwater Oslofjord.

On the banks of Mjøsa, we find the cities of Hamar, Gjøvik and Lillehammer. The latter was the home of the 1992 Olympic winter games – and is the location of the television series Lilyhammer. Mjøsa is surrounded by an undulating and fertile landscape, the so-called mjøsbygdene. Mjøsa is also the home of Skibladner, one of the world’s oldest paddle steamer still in regular operation. Her maiden voyage was on 2 August 1856, and she has sunk and been saved twice: in 1937 and 1967. Among the Norwegians, she also goes by the name «Mjøsas hvite svane» – the white swan of Mjøsa.

2. Røssvatnet – Reevhtse (Southern Sami)

The farm Røssvassholmen and the lake Røssvatnet - around 1900-1920. | Photo: Severin Worm-Petersen - Norsk teknisk museum cc by.
The farm Røssvassholmen and the lake Røssvatnet – around 1900-1920. | Photo: Severin Worm-Petersen – Norsk teknisk museum cc by.

218 km2 in size | 383 metres above sea level | 240 metres maximum depth | You can find Røssvatnet on Google maps by clicking here

The size of Røssvatnet was originally 190 km2, but after a dam was built in 1958, it grew to 218 km2. The lake is located in the region of Nordland. The main outlet is the river Røssåga, which runs north, and ends up in the saltwater Sørfjord, at a place called Bjerka. Røssvatnet is surrounded by lush forests and barren mountains. Archaeologists have found evidence of ancient settlements here, stretching as far back as the Stone age. For centuries, Southern Sami family groups were the main human presence in the surrounding landscape. Norse settlers cleared land and established farms here from the 1700s and onwards. The farmers lost sections of the cultivated land in connection with the building of the dam.

3. Femunden

The ferry «Fæmund II» in 2004. | Photo: Dr. Mirko Junge - wikimedia.org cc by-sa.
The ferry «Fæmund II» in 2004. | Photo: Dr. Mirko Junge – wikimedia.org cc by-sa.

203 km2 in size | 662 metres above sea level | 130 metres maximum depth | You can find Femunden on Google maps by clicking here

Femunden stretches across the regions of Hedmark and Trøndelag – and has rich fish resources. It is located south-east of the old mining town Røros. The main outlet is the river Gløta, to the south. In the 1700s, a timber floating canal was built from the lake’s northern end, leading through various rivers and smaller lakes to the river Glomma, potentially taking the timber as far south as the cities of Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad – and the Oslofjord. Just like Røssvatnet, Femunden is surrounded by forests and mountains. To the east, you find Femundsmarka national park, which visitnorway.com describes as follows: «Femundsmarka national park is one of the largest continuous, unspoilt wilderness regions in Southern Scandinavia. A great area for canoeing and fishing. The Norwegian Trekking Association has selected it as one of the three best hiking areas in Norway.» There is an active Southern Sami presence in the area, mainly to the east. The Blokkodden wilderness museum has recreated a historical and traditional Sami settlement that is well worth a visit. The passenger ferry Fæmunden II operates during the summer months, transporting tourists and cargo across the mighty lake.

4. Randsfjorden

Randsfjorden in 1920. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse - Norsk Folkemuseum cc pdm.
Randsfjorden in 1920. | Photo: Anders Beer Wilse – Norsk Folkemuseum cc pdm.

141 km2 in size | 134 metres above sea level | 131 metres maximum depth | You can find Randsfjorden on Google maps by clicking here

Randsfjorden is located in the region of Oppland, south-west of Mjøsa, and north-west of Oslo. It is surrounded by hills, forests, and agricultural land. The lake is long and narrow, and the main inflow of water comes from the northwestern river Etna. The main outlet in the south is the Randselva, which leads the water towards the next lake on our list: Tyrifjorden. Randsfjorden – as the name indicates – is a so-called fjord-lake – or a moraine-dammed lake. This kind of freshwater lakes was created as the ice melted after the last ice-age. The melting ice left mounds of rocks and dirt, acting like dams in the landscape. In his sagas, Snorri Sturluson recorded how the regional chieftain Halvdan Svarte drowned in Randsfjorden, when the horse and sleigh he was travelling with went through the ice. Halvdan was the father of Harald Hårfagre, or Harald Fairhair, often referred to as the first king of the whole of Norway.

5. Tyrifjorden

Ice-fishing on Lake Tyrifjorden in 1966. | Photo: Arnulf Husmo - Mittet & Co AS cc pdm.
Ice-fishing on Lake Tyrifjorden in 1966. | Photo: Arnulf Husmo – Mittet & Co AS cc pdm.

137 km2 in size | 63 metres above sea level | 295 metres maximum depth | You can find Tyrifjorden on Google maps by clicking here

Tyrifjorden is located in the region of Buskerud, north-west of Oslo. Just like its cousin, Randsfjorden to the north, it is surrounded by hills, forests, and agricultural land. Tyrifjorden is also a moraine-dammed lake, but has a very different shape, with its four arms. The main outlet is Drammenselva, the river that leads the water down to the saltwater Oslofjord. The name comes from tyri, which is resin-impregnated heartwood from the pine tree. Tyri is an excellent firewood, and was often used to make torches, and for the extraction of tar.

The 5 runners-up

  • Snåsavatnet | 122 km2 in size | Trøndelag
  • Tunnsjøen | 101 km2 in size | Trøndelag
  • Limingen – Lyjmede | 92 km2 in size | Trøndelag
  • Blåsjø | 81 km2 in size | Rogaland and Agder
  • Altevatnet | 80 km2 in size | Troms

Main sources: Store norske leksikon snl.no | The Norwegian Mapping Authority – kartverket.no

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