Ten Little Known Facts About New Hampshire's Lake Winnipesaukee

Weirs Beach Has Been Inhabited For Thousands of Years

Lake Winnipesaukee has been a vacation destination since before we were a country! In the mid-1700s Governor John Wentworth vacationed on the lake in Wolfeboro, considered the oldest summer resort in the country. Since that time, Lake Winnipesaukee has garnered its fair share of legends, stories, and local lore. 

There are two different interpretations of Lake Winnipesaukee. Some say the name means “beautiful water in a high place.” The second, more popular interpretation is “the smile of the Great Spirit.”

How Lake Winnipesaukee Got its Name

According to legend, Lake Winnipesaukee got its name as “the smile of the Great Spirit” because of the love of two Native Americans.

Long ago a great chief named Wonaton lived on the northern shore of the lake with his beautiful daughter Mineola. Mineola had many suitors, but she refused them all.

One day, a young chief from an enemy tribe in the south paddled across the lake and entered the village of chief Wonaton. The villagers, seeing his bravery, did not stop him. He gazed upon Mineola and fell instantly in love with her, and she with him.

They decided to marry. This infuriated chief Wonaton, and he was so angry he tried to kill Adiwando. Mineola, with no regard for her own safety, rushed between the two men and begged her father to stop, professing her love for Adiwando.

Because he loved his daughter deeply, Wonaton reluctantly agreed to the marriage. After they were wed, the entire tribe got into their canoes and traveled to the middle of the lake. The skies were dark and stormy, and as they began to leave, the sun came out, bathing the young couple's canoe in bright light. Wonaton saw this and proclaimed it a good omen, named the lake, Winnipesaukee – The Smile of the Great Spirit!

Here Are Ten Little Known Facts About New Hampshire's Largest Lake!

  1. How ice out is determined on the lake – Official ice out is when the M/S Mount Washington can reach all five of her ports without touching ice.
  2. The original M/S Mount Washington was built in Lakeport in 1849. The original “Lady of the Lake” was the first boat built over 100 feet in length that provided public transportation on Lake Winnipesaukee.
  3. There are 365 islands on the lake, of which 274 are habitable.
  4. The smallest island is Becky's Island, which is about ten feet wide – depending on the water level!
  5. The largest islands on the lake are Long Island (which has a bridge to it) and Bear Island
  6. Cow Island is sometimes called Guernsey Island. It received its name because it was formerly used to quarantine cows brought to America from Europe.
  7. There are three islands on the lake that share the same name – Loon Island!
  8. Lake Winnipesaukee is home to many species of animal including otters, beaver, muskrat, mink, fisher, moose, deer, black bear, coyote, and bobcats.
  9. Only one dam releases water from Lake Winnipesaukee. It is located at the southern edge of Paugus Bay in Lakeport. Before the dam was built, the water level on the lake was 3 to 5 feet below what it is now.
  10. The name Weirs Beach came from the Native Americans. A weir is a basket used to catch shad that migrated through the channel. The constant use of the weirs in the channel led to the name Weirs Beach.

Lake Winnipesaukee is still one of New England's most popular destinations, even after over 200 years! If you're planning a visit, take a cruise on the M/S Mount Washington and step back in time and experience all she has to offer!

If you're planning a vacation on Lake Winnipesaukee this summer, make sure to visit any Cruise NH ticket office to experience a unique view of New Hampshire's crown jewel! We offer a number of daytime scenic cruises, evening dinner cruises and our spectacular Sunday Brunch cruise leaving Alton Bay.

If you're planning an event, wedding, company outing, or would like to arrange a private charter, give us a call at (603) 366-5531 and let us help you plan a memorable event you'll be talking about for years to come!


  • Brenda Hathaway

    See you all tmrw for Brunch and a cruise with our granddaughter and her hubby here on vacation from DE, she’s in the Air Force there.

  • Christine Nickles

    The Big Lake as I’ve learned to refer to it is a little bit of heaven. First experienced it’s magic in 1976 and have been coming each summer (sometimes winter too). We still dream of a little 2 bedroom cottage with a view of the lake and the beautiful mountains.
    Maybe…..someday. Thanks for sharing

  • Larry rogers

    I moved to Weirs Beach in 2019. Beautiful place to live.

  • Valerie Stelma

    Great 10 known facts about Lake “Winnie”. Thanks for sharing!!

  • Valerie Stelma

    Great 10 known facts about Lake “Winnie”. Thanks for sharing!!

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