** I have changed the format of the site around pretty dramatically. You can now access the full buyers guide HERE.
There are three types of lake access for the lakes in Northern Wisconsin. They are private, semi-private, and public. A private lake is a lake that has no public access points and is surrounded by private land. It is very common for a lake lot in Northern Wisconsin to be advertised as "private" when the lake is in no way private. Private lakes are very, very rare and if you see a place advertised as private, make sure to follow up with questions on access. A semi-private lake is fairly close to a private lake. With a semi-private lake there are currently no public access points. A semi-private lake can become a public lake at a later date, whereas a private lake cannot. Semi-private lakes are generally smaller lakes away from the major cities, but this isn't always the case. A public lake is a lake with easy to get to public access points. Most lakes in Northern Wisconsin are public lakes.
There are many reasons why lake access type is an important factor in assessing a lake lot. The first reason lake access is important is that it determines how busy a lake will be. It is relatively safe to assume that a public lake will have people fishing and boating on it for pretty much all hours of sun light. Northern Wisconsin is a vacation destination mostly due to being able to be on the lakes. Many people who don't have a place on a lake head to the bigger public lakes (usually lakes on chains or really large public lakes) to do their boating and fishing. This means more people, more people means more noise and activity to deal with than a semi-private or private lake. Some people prefer the activity, some prefer the quiet and there is no right or wrong answer. A semi-private lake doesn't have easy access so you are far less likely to deal with a lot of people. Now that rentals are allowed on nearly every lake up here, you will find more activity on semi-private lakes than you would find on a completely private lake. Many semi-private lakes have private launches where the owners will allow access, sometimes for a fee. A semi-private lake is far more quiet than a public lake, but is less private than a private lake. A private lake will almost always be quieter than other lakes just because only current owners have access to the lake. People who buy on private lakes are typically looking for peace and quiet and their lake use is more laid back than what you would typically find on public bodies of water.
The second reason lake access is important is the "feel" of the lake. A feeling is difficult to put into words but I will try to do my best. For this illustration, I am going to compare owning a lake lot in Northern Wisconsin to a family outing at a water park. When owning on a public lake it feels like you took the family to the waterpark for the day of fun. There is always stuff to watch and take part in, but in the sea of people, you are just another one of the dots. Everything you do will be seen, but it will be seen by people you probably have never seen before and will probably never see again. You can still spend quality time with your family, but it is in the public view. A lake lot on a semi-public lake is like going to the water park on a corporate outing. You know more of the people that are out and about on the lake, but not everyone. A lake lot on a private lake is like going to the water park on a day where a group of people you know rented the whole park for the day. You still do the same things you would have if a bunch of strangers were there, but it is far less crowded and you are at least vaguely familiar with everyone you bump into. It is also more private and safer when there are no strangers on your lake. Having spent a lot of time on a private lake, I can assure you that there is a feeling of being part of a community with common interests that isn't available on the other types of lakes.
The final reason lake access is important is restrictions/protections. Public lakes are public lakes with public rules. Private lakes often come with protective convenants. Things like boating hours, fishing regulations, and architectural styles are often covered by protective covenants. When looking at a lot on a private lake, it is important to ask what sort of additional protections have been put on the lake. If you want to ride your jet ski until sunset every day or just don't like being restricted by rules of any sort, a private lake with "quiet hours" in the evening would not be for you. If you are into fishing and fish management, you are more likely to see lake associations trying to improve the fishery on private and semi-private lakes.