The 10 Largest Lakes in Canada

January 3, 2024

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Rocky beach on the shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota

Canada has about 20 percent of the planet’s freshwater, with nearly nine percent of the country’s surface covered by glaciers, rivers, and lakes. 

There are an estimated two million freshwater and saltwater lakes in Canada. Some of these are natural, while others are manmade.

It is difficult to know exactly how many lakes Canada has because much of the country is inaccessible, and many of the lakes are so small. However, it is estimated that the country is home to over 870,000 lakes! But how big are its largest lakes?

Continue reading to find out what Canada’s largest lakes are according to their surface area.

1. Lake Superior

Coastline of Lake Superior on a sunny fall day
Coastline of Lake Superior on a sunny fall day
Area: 82,100 km² (31,700 sq mi)
Volume: 12,070 km³ (2,900 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 406 m (1,332 ft)
Location: Ontario, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin

With a surface area of 82,100 square kilometers, Lake Superior is the largest lake in Canada. It is also the second-largest lake in the world, and with a volume of 12,070 cubic kilometers, it holds 10 percent of Earth’s surface freshwater. There are claims that the water contained in Lake Superior could cover the entire land mass of both North America and South America.

Along with Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, Lake Superior is one of North America’s five Great Lakes and it is located on the Canada-United States border.

More than 200 rivers drain into the lake, including the Bois Brule, Nipigon, Pic, Pigeon, and St. Louis.

While Lake Superior is home to more than 80 fish species — such as the bloater, brook trout, chinook salmon, sea lamprey and white perch — it has lower biodiversity than many other lakes of a similar size, due to low nutrient levels.

2. Lake Huron

Colorful rock formations around Lake Huron
Colorful rock formations around Lake Huron
Area: 59,600 km² (23,000 sq mi)
Volume: 3,521 km³ (845 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 229 meters (750 feet)
Location: Ontario, Michigan

Canada’s second-largest lake is Lake Huron, which has a surface area of 59,600 square kilometers.

Like most of the other Great Lakes, it is located on Canada’s border with the US. Lake Huron is shared by the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of Michigan. 

The straits of Mackinac connect Lake Huron to Lake Michigan and its main inlet is the St Mary’s River, while its main outlet is the St. Clair River. The world’s largest island in a lake — Manitoulin Island — is situated at Lake Huron’s northern end and it is home to Canada’s First Nations indigenous peoples.

Some of the fish species that can be found in the lake include round whitefish, smallmouth bass, white bass, white perch, yellow perch, and white sucker. However, biodiversity has been affected by invasive species which were introduced for commercial purposes.

3. Great Bear Lake

Grizzly bear swimming in lake
Great Bear Lake was named after the grizzly bears that inhabit its shores
Area: 31,153 km2 (12,028 sq mi)
Volume: 2,234 km³ (536 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 446 m (1,463 ft)
Location: Northwest Territories

Great Bear Lake may only come third on this list, but at 31,153 square kilometers, it takes first place as the largest lake located entirely in Canada. 

It can be found in the boreal forest on the Arctic Circle in Canada’s Northwest Territories.

The lake’s most notable characteristics are that it consists of five arms with their own names — Dease, Keith, McTavish, McVicar, and Smith — is overlooked by Grizzly Bear Mountain, which is located on the south side of the lake, and it is covered with ice from late November to July.

Great Bear Lake has 16 species of fish, but some only live in one of its arms as the lake is so large they don’t migrate. Some of the animals that live around the lake include caribou, moose, musk oxen, and — as indicated by the lake’s name — grizzly bears.

4. Great Slave Lake

View of Great Slave Lake from Pilots Memorial, Yellowknife
View of Great Slave Lake from Pilots Memorial, Yellowknife
Area: 27,200 km2 (10,500 sq mi)
Volume: 1,115 km³ (268 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 614 m (2,014 ft)
Location: Northwest Territories

Fourth place on the list of the 10 largest lakes in Canada goes to Great Slave Lake, which has a surface area of 27,200 square kilometers.

Like Great Bear Lake, it is located entirely within Canada, in the Northwest Territories. Some of the settlements that have been built on the lake’s shores include Behchokǫ̀, Dettah, Fort Resolution, Hay River, Yellowknife, and the hamlet of Łutselk’e, which is the only community in the lake’s East Arm. 

Great Slave Lake has two arms — East and North — and four chief inlets — the Hay, Slave, Lockhart, and Taltson rivers — with the Mackenzie River flowing out of it.

Each year, thousands of fishermen visit Great Slave Lake for the Arctic Grayling, Northern pike, and trout that live within its waters.

5. Lake Erie

Sunset over Lake Erie
Sunset reflecting on stones over Lake Erie
Area: 25,700 km² (9,920 sq mi)
Volume: 488 km³ (117 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 64 m (210 ft)
Location: Ontario, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York

The fifth-largest lake in Canada is Lake Erie, with a surface area of 25,700 square kilometers. By depth and volume, it is the shallowest of the Great Lakes.

Situated on the Canada-US border with its northern shores in Ontario, and Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York on its western, southern, and eastern shores, it is the southernmost of the Great Lakes. While Cleveland is the largest city on the lake’s shoreline, other major cities include Buffalo, Erie, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Toledo.

Lake Erie’s main outlet is the Welland Canal, and its primary inlet is the Detroit River, which flows as a strait in the Great Lakes system.

For decades, environmentalists have been concerned about the health of Lake Erie, due to issues like overfishing, pollution, and excessive algae. In the 1960s and 1970s, the lake was declared dead, with wildlife like the lake whitefish and burrowing mayfly declining or disappearing completely. Thankfully, it has since been restored, although it does still experience yearly dead zones.

6. Lake Winnipeg

View of low water level at Gran Beach Lagoon
Projects have been undertaken to improve the waterflow between lake Winnipeg and Grand beach Lagoon (pictured)
Area: 24,514 km² (9,465 sq mi)
Volume: 294 km³ (71 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 36 m (118 ft)
Location: Manitoba

Lake Winnipeg is Canada’s sixth-largest lake, measuring 24,514 square kilometers.

Again, it is located entirely within Canada, in the province of Manitoba, with its southern tip about 55 kilometers north of the city of Winnipeg.

The lake’s most notable natural features include pristine rivers and boreal forests — one of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site — sandy beaches, large limestone cliffs, bat caves, and numerous islands, with a reserve on Turtle Island.

Unfortunately, the environmental health of Lake Winnipeg is under threat due to issues including excessive algae and invasive species. That said, the lake still has enough fish to significantly support Manitoba’s fishing industry.

7. Lake Ontario

Aerial view of trees and Lake Ontario
Aerial view of Lake Ontario
Area: 18,970 km² (7,320 sq mi)
Volume: 1,631 km³ (391 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 244 m (802 ft)
Location: Ontario, New York

Measuring 18,970 square kilometers, Lake Ontario is Canada’s seventh-largest lake. By surface area, it is the smallest of the five Great Lakes of North America.

The Canadian-US border runs through the middle of the lake, with the Canadian cities of Hamilton, Kingston, Mississauga, and Toronto on the northern shorelines, and the US city of Rochester on the south shore.

Lake Ontario receives most of its water supply from the Niagara River, which rises in another of the Great Lakes — Lake Erie — but other rivers that drain into the lake include the Black, Cataraqui, Don, Genesee, Humber, Little Salmon, and Trent. The lake is drained by the St. Lawrence River, which flows into the Atlantic Ocean.

A diverse array of bird, fish, reptile, amphibian, and plant species can be found in and around Lake Ontario.

8. Lake Athabasca

View of the Athabasca River which drains into Lake Athabasca
The Athabasca River drains into Lake Athabasca
Area: 7,935 km² (3,064 sq mi)
Volume: 204 km³ (49 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 124 m (407 ft)
Location: Alberta, Saskatchewan

In eighth place is Lake Athabasca, which has a surface area of 7,935 square kilometers.

It is the fourth lake on this list that is situated entirely in Canada, with 26 percent of it lying in the province of Saskatchewan and 74 percent in Alberta.

Fort Chipewyan, one of Alberta’s first European settlements, can be found on the lake’s western shores, while the northern shore is a mining site for gold and uranium.

Lake Athabasca forms part of a biologically diverse wetland called the Peace-Athabasca Delta. The delta is partially located in the Wood Buffalo National Park UNESCO world heritage site, where North America’s largest bison herd can be found. In the lake itself, there are 23 fish species, including burbot, goldeye, lake whitefish, longnose sucker, and yellow perch.

9. Reindeer Lake

Arctic Grayling waiting for food to float by
Reindeer Lake has an abundance of Arctic Grayling
Area: 6,650 km² (2,570 sq mi)
Volume: 113 km³ (27 cu mi)
Maximum Depth: 219 m (719 ft)
Location: Manitoba, Saskatchewan

At 6,650 square kilometers, Reindeer Lake is the ninth-largest lake in Canada but the fifth-largest lake located entirely in Canada.

The lake borders two Canadian provinces, with the vast majority (92 percent) in Saskatchewan and the other eight percent in Manitoba.

Reindeer Lake is characterized by its numerous small islands and heavily indented shoreline. Deep Bay — a crater that was caused by a meteorite hitting Earth millions of years ago — can be found at the lake’s southern end.

Fishermen come to the lake for its abundance of fish species which include Arctic grayling, lake trout, lake whitefish, and northern pike.

10. Smallwood Reservoir

View of a limited amount of water flowing down Churchill Falls
Much of the Churchill River was diverted away from Churchill Falls and into the reservoir
Area: 6,527 km² (2,520 sq mi
Volume: 32.64 km³ (12.6 cu mi)
Location: Newfoundland and Labrador

Smallwood Reservoir takes tenth place on the list of Canada’s largest lakes. It measures 6,527 square kilometers, making it the world’s second-largest reservoir after Lake Volta in Ghana.

Again, located entirely in Canada, it can be found in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador and was created for the Churchill Falls hydroelectric power station. Unlike other reservoirs — where water is contained by a single dam — water content is maintained by 88 dikes that stretch for 64 kilometers.

Brook trout, lake trout, northern pike, salmon, trout, and whitefish are some of the fish species that have been found in Smallwood Reservoir.

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