The 10 Largest Lakes in the United States

January 19, 2024

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Aerial view of Lake Superior

The United States is world-renowned for its diverse environment, from its mammoth mountains to the vast stretches of desert. The country is also home to thousands of lakes, some freshwater, some saltwater, and others man-made.

Lakes are an essential part of the United States landscape. They provide drinking water for millions of people, as well as an ecosystem for marine life. Local communities use the lakes for transport, food, and leisure activities.

We’ve compiled a list of the ten largest lakes in the United States based on surface area. Continue reading to find out where they’re located, what creatures live in the lakes, and much more!

1. Lake Superior

The sun rising on the horizon of Lake Superior
Sunrise over Lake Superior
Area: 82,100 km² | 31,700 sq mi
Volume: 12,070 km³ | 2,900 cu mi
Maximum Length: 560 km | 350 mi
Maximum Depth: 406 m | 1,332 ft
Shoreline States/Provinces: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ontario

Not only is Lake Superior the second-largest lake on Earth, it’s also the world’s largest freshwater lake. It’s one of five of North America’s Great Lakes (which also include Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario). These five lakes account for 21% of the world’s freshwater supply.

Lake Superior, which is located on the border between the United States and Canada, is the northernmost and westernmost of the Great Lakes of North America. Due to the surrounding area’s cool climate and poor soil, Lake Superior has little agriculture and is sparsely populated. The basin is heavily forested.

Lake Superior flows into the St. Marys River, through the lower Great Lakes, into the St. Lawrence River, and finally out into the Atlantic Ocean. It stretches approximately 560 km (350 mi) and has a maximum width of 260 km (160 mi).

The lake has a wide array of animals that live in and around the lake. Moose, wolves, and black bears are just of the animals that live in Lake Superior’s basin. Beavers are also common in the lake, as are western-painted turtles, great blue herons, and over 80 species of fish.

Some of the major cities in Lake Superior’s basin include Sault Sainte Marie in Ontario, Duluth in Minnesota, and Marquette in Michigan.

2. Lake Huron

Red bulk freighter sailing out onto the vast waters of Lake Huron
Bulk freighter heads out onto Lake Huron
Area: 59,600 km² | 23,000 sq mi
Volume: 3,521 km³ | 845 cu mi
Maximum Length: 332 km | 206 mi
Maximum Depth: 229 m | 750 ft
Shoreline States/Provinces: Michigan, Ontario

Next on our list is Lake Huron, the second-largest Great Lake and the fourth-largest lake in the world. The Lake was originally called ‘La Mer Douce’ by French explorers, which means ‘the freshwater sea’. It was later renamed Huron after the local Huron people who lived near the lake’s shores.

Approximately three million people live in Lake Huron’s basin. Of this population, 1.4 million rely on Lake Huron for drinking water, and many more use the lake for food, recreation, and their livelihood. Lake Huron boasts beautiful sandy shores, such as  Sauble Beach and Wasaga Beach, which are some of the longest beaches in the world.

One-third of Canada’s rare species (many endemic) live in Lake Huron’s watershed. This includes the likes of the Five-Lined Skink and the Huron Grasshopper. Over half of the lake’s watershed is forested, including the magnificent Carolinian forests.

The largest city on Lake Huron is Sarnia in Ontario, which has a population of over 72,000. Other major cities in the lake’s basin include Bay County and Alpena in Michigan and Saugeen Shores in Ontario.

3. Lake Michigan

Shore of Lake Michigan in West Olive, Michigan
Sandy shore of Lake Michigan under a blue, cloudy sky
Area: 58,030 km2 | 22,404 sq mi
Volume: 4,930 km³ | 1,183 cu mi
Maximum Length: 494 km | 307 mi
Maximum Depth: 281 m | 921 ft
Shoreline States: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin

Lake Michigan’s name is derived from the Ojibwa words ‘Michi Gami’, which means ‘Great Lake’. The lake’s influence was so great over the surrounding area that the state is named after it. Of North America’s five Great Lakes, Lake Michigan is the only one entirely contained within the United States. The lake is connected to Lake Huron through the Straits of Mackinac and is technically one large body of water.

Over 12 million people live in Lake Michigan’s basin, as well as in metropolitan Chicago, which also uses the lake as a source of drinking water. The basin contains cold, clear, nutrient-poor water, which provides a good habitat for certain types of fish. Salmon, trout, and whitefish all thrive in the lake.

Some areas of the lake have excess nutrients, which encourages the growth of algae. When the algae dies and decomposes, it creates ‘dead zones’ in the lake due to oxygen deprivation. Lake Michigan’s Green Bay, the world’s largest freshwater estuary, is vulnerable to this process.

Although around 136 fish species live in Lake Michigan’s watershed, the lake itself only contains approximately 68 species. Overfishing and invasive species have affected native fish populations. However, the lake is subject to water quality regulations and habitat restoration in a bid to aid the recovery of some species.

4. Lake Erie

oat on Lake Erie next to the docks. Buildings line the shore and a bridge is visible in the distance. The sun is setting, and the golden light is reflected on the water
A boat sails out onto Lake Erie
Area: 25,700 km² | 9,920 sq miles
Volume: 488 km³ | 117 cu mi
Maximum Length: 388 km | 241 mi
Maximum Depth: 64 m | 210 ft
Shoreline States/Provinces: Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Ontario

Despite being home to approximately 12.4 million people, Lake Erie is one of the smallest Great Lakes in North America. Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario are all partly contained within the lake’s drainage basin. Due to the fertile soil, the basin is extensively farmed and the most densely populated of North America’s Great Lakes.

Lake Erie’s name is derived from the  Iroquoian word ‘erielhonan’, which means ‘long tail’. The name was likely inspired by the 40 kilometer (25 mile) peninsula that stretches out into the deepest part of the lake. Lake Erie has a maximum depth of 64 meters (210 feet) and an average depth of 19 meters (62 feet).

Of the five Great Lakes, Lake Erie is the most biologically diverse. This is largely due to its warm, shallow waters. Some of the most common fish species in the lake include walleyes, steelheads, and smallmouth bass.

5. Lake Ontario

City skyline of Toronto in the background of Lake Ontario
Toronto skyline on lake Ontario
Area: 18,970 km² | 7,320 sq mi
Volume: 1,631 km³ | 391 cu mi
Maximum Length: 311 km | 193 mi
Maximum Depth: 244 m | 802 ft
Shoreline States/Provinces: New York, Ontario

Due to its close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, Lake Ontario is crucial for transport and fish migration. The basin has a diverse range of habitats, from sand dunes and wetlands to forests and cliffs.

As the last lake in the Great Lakes chain, all the water from the Great Lakes basin eventually passes through Lake Ontario. The lake provides drinking water to over nine million people and is home to thousands of different species.

The province of Ontario in Canada was named after the lake. Some of the major cities on the lake’s shores include Toronto, Hamilton, and Kingston in Canada and Rochester in the US. The majority of Lake Ontario’s watershed consists of agricultural and rural land on the Canadian shores. On the American side of the lake, the watershed isn’t subject to much farming.

Canada’s largest fish, the lake sturgeon, can be found in Lake Ontario. Other common species include the Atlantic salmon, bluegill sunfish, and the brook trout.

6. Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods and a snow-capped Mount McLaughlin in the distance
Mount McLaughlin as seen from Lake of the Woods, Oregon
Area: 4,350 km2 | 1,680 sq mi
Volume: 19.4 km3 | 4.6 cu mi
Maximum Length: 109 km | 68 mi
Maximum Depth: 64 m | 210 ft
Shoreline States/Provinces: Manitoba, Minnesota, Ontario

Stretching 109 kilometers (68 miles), Lake of the Woods straddles both the United States and Canada. The Rainy, River, Shoal Lake, and Kakagi Lake feed into the lake. Lake of the Woods outflows into the Winnipeg River.

The lake’s name is a translation of the French ‘Lac des Bois’, which was inspired by the heavily forested area. However, its original Ojibwe name was ‘Minitic’, roughly translating to ‘Islands in a River’. There are over 14,500 islands in the freshwater lake, which provide habitat for animals such as white pelicans, blue herons, and otters. Beavers, deer, and moose are also commonly found in the area.

Some of the most common fish species in the lake include walleye, lake sturgeon, and the northern pike. Whitefish, smallmouth bass, and perch have also been found in its waters.

7. Iliamna Lake

Close-up shot of a northern pike being held out of the water in someone's hands
Northern Pike are commonly found in Iliamna Lake
Area: 2,622 km2 | 1,013 sq mi
Volume: 115.5 km3 | 27.7 cu mi
Maximum Length: 124 km | 77 mi
Maximum Depth: 301 m | 988 ft
Shoreline States: Alaska

Located in southwest Alaska is Iliamna Lake, which is the seventh-largest lake in the United States. It’s the largest lake in Alaska and the second-largest lake entirely contained within the United States. The lake shares its name with the Iliamna River (which flows into the lake) and a nearby village.

The lake has an average depth of 44 meters (144 feet) and a maximum depth of 301 meters (988 feet). Along its shores are several villages, such as Newhalen, Kokhanok and Pedro Bay. Local residents have a number of stories surrounding the so-called Iliamna Lake Monster. While the exact nature of the ‘monster’ is unknown, some people believe the sightings were of white sturgeon. If this is the case, this would be the northernmost point where white sturgeon have been found.

Fish species that are commonly found in the lake include sockeye salmon, northern pike and rainbow trout.

8. Great Salt Lake

Barren Antelope Island on Great Salt Lake
Antelope Island on Great Salt Lake
Area: 2,500 km² | 950 sq mi
Volume: 18.92 km³ | 4.5 cu mi
Maximum Length: 121 km | 75 mi
Maximum Depth: 10 meters | 33 feet
Shoreline States: Utah

As you might guess, Great Salt Lake is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere. It inspired the name for the city in Utah, although the ‘Great’ of Salt Lake City was dropped in 1868. The river is fed by the Bear, Weber, and Jordan rivers and has a maximum length of 121 kilometers (75 miles).

Great Salt Lake is slowly shrinking. In 2021, the lake reached its lowest level since records began in 1875. Part of the reason for the lake’s decline is the growing population in the local area. Utah is the fastest-growing state in the US, and it’s estimated demand for drinking water may exceed supply by 2040.

Due to the high salinity and excessive growth of algae, the Great Salt Lake doesn’t support fish. Instead, the lake has a thriving population of brine shrimp and brine flies, which birds feed on when they migrate to the area.

9. Lake Okeechobee

Lake Okeechobee at dusk. The shoreline and trees are reflected in the water.
Lake Okeechobee at dusk
Area: 1,900 km2 | 734 sq mi
Volume: 5.2 km³ | 1 cu mi
Maximum Length: 57.5 km |  36 mi
Maximum Depth: 3.7 m | 12 ft
Shoreline States: Florida

Next on our list is Lake Okeechobee. With a maximum length of 57.5 kilometers (36 miles), this is Florida’s largest freshwater lake and the tenth-largest freshwater lake in the US. Its name means ‘big water’ in the local Seminole Indian language.

Lake Okeechobee is renowned amongst anglers for its Large Mouth Bass and Speckled Perch. Manatees, alligators, and various wading birds are also found in the lake.

The lake gave its name to the city of Okeechobee, which has a population of just over 5,000. In 1928, the city was damaged during the Okeechobee Hurricane, the North Atlantic’s first recorded Category 5 hurricane.

10. Lake Oahe

Aerial view of Lake Oahe
Aerial view of Lake Oahe in South Dakota
Area: 1,774 km² | 685 sq mi
Volume: 29 km3 | 7 cu mi
Maximum Length: 372 km | 231 mi
Maximum Depth: 62 m | 205 ft
Shoreline States: North Dakota, South Dakota

And finally we have Lake Oahe, which is a reservoir next to Oahe Dam on the Missouri River. It’s the fourth-largest man-made reservoir in North America with a surface area of approximately 1,497 km². The lake has a maximum depth of 62 meters (205 feet).

Lake Oahe is popularly used for water sports and fishing. The lake is even used for ice fishing in the winter when the water freezes over. Alongside recreational use, Lake Oahe is also used for irrigation (supplying water to crops) and hydroelectric power generation.

Some of the fish species found in the lake include walleye, channel catfish, and smallmouth bass. Chinook salmon, a popular target for anglers, is artificially maintained in the lake. The endangered pallid sturgeon has also been found in Lake Oahe.

Overview: Largest lakes in the United States

RankLakeArea (km²)Area (square miles)Volume (km³)Maximum depth (m)
1Lake Superior82,10031,70012,070406
2Lake Huron59,60023,0003,521229
3Lake Michigan58,03022,4044,930281
4Lake Erie25,7009,92048864
5Lake Ontario18,9707,3201,631244
6Lake of the Woods4,3501,68019.464
7Iliamna Lake2,6221,013115.5301
8Great Salt Lake2,50095018.9210
9Lake Okeechobee1,9007345.23.7
10Lake Oahe1,7746852962

The largest lake in the United States is Lake Superior, which is also the largest freshwater lake in the world. Great Salt Lake, the sixth-largest lake in the country, is the world’s largest saltwater lake. Each of the lakes that feature in this list are integral parts of the local economy, natural habitats and transport. They provide millions of people in the US and Canada with drinking water and are home to thousands of species.

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