Lake Vänern, Sweden's largest lake (area 5,546sq.km/2,170sq.mi), lies in a tectonic basin in the south of the country, northwest of the road from Göteborg to Örebro. The lake is divided into two parts, Stora Vänern to the northeast and the Dalbosjö to the southwest, by two peninsulas, Värmlandsnäs and Kållandshalvö, the island of Kållandsö, off the Kållandshalvö, and a number of smaller islands. Since the country around the lake is considerably lower the water level is falling at the rate of about 8cm/5in each century.There were plans for regulating the lake and the associated waterways from the 16th century onwards, but it was only in 1938 that regulatory measures were carried out. There is now heavy shipping traffic on the lake, largely because of the link it provides between the Kattegat and the Baltic by way of Trollhättan and the Göta Canal.
Vänersborg (pop. 36,000), chief town of Älvsborg county, lies at the northern tip of a promontory reaching out into Lake Vänern. It has an attractive lakeside promenade, Birger Sjöbergsväg. with Sträcklan Park. Here too can be seen a statue by Axel Wallenberg of "Frida", a figure much celebrated in song. The town has preserved its small town image with the old houses and check pattern layout.Nearby is the Municipal Museum, with material on the history of the town and a collection of exotic birds presented by the explorer Axel Ericson. In the town center are a number of handsome 18th century buildings, among them the Governor's Residence (by Carl Hårleman, 1754). Nearby is the church (1780).
Kinnekulle (306m/1,004ft) is a tabular hill (14km/8.5mi long by 6km/4mi wide) covered with fir forests, of a type very characteristic of Västergötland. From the top of the hill there are extensive views of Lake Vänern. The hills in this area came into being some 500 million years ago, when the ancient rocks (gneiss) sank under the sea. For millions of years sand, soil and remains of algae, insects, crustaceans and fish were deposited on the sea floor and in course of time turned into stone. Streams of lava later thrust up through clefts in the rock, enclosing certain areas; then, when the land gradually re-emerged from the sea, the more exposed strata were eroded away, while those protected by the lava remained. The result of this development can be seen on Kinnekulle, with its series of "steps" showing the succession of strata from the ancient rocks upward and throwing important light on the geological history of the region.
Mariestad (pop. 24,000), at the mouth of the Tida, is a busy industrial town. It was almost completely rebuilt after a fire in 1895. To the north of the town is the Cathedral (1593-1619; restored 1958-58). On an island in the river stands Marieholm Castle, residence of the governor of Skaraborg county, with a local museum.Mariestad offers a wide range of sports and culture activities. The surrounding lakes have abundant fish and bird life, which attract thousands of tourists annually.
25km/15mi beyond Karlstad the road turns south and comes to Säffle (pop. 18,000), on the west side of the Värmlandsnäs peninsula. The town lies on the Byälv, a short distance from Lake Vänern and the Harefjord. Fishing, canoeing, boating, and biking are popular activities as is a chance to become part of a crew on a Viking ship. In addition to the Billerud woodworking and papermaking plant it has a number of metalworking, engineering and furniture-making factories. It is traversed by the Säffle Canal, which links the Glavsfjord to the northwest with Lake Vänern. In Kungsgården, by the water tower, is Olof Trätäljas Hög, said to be the burial mound of the legendary King Olof Trätälja.