The 10 Largest Lakes in the World

January 12, 2024

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Aerial image of the Caspian Sea, the largest lake in the world

Lakes are large bodies of water that are naturally occurring in a basin that is completely surrounded by dry land. There are millions of lakes all over the world, many of which are a source of drinking water, food and livelihood for locals who live nearby.

Although it can be difficult to measure the exact size of a lake, we’ve based on our list of the largest lakes on their surface area.

Carry on reading if you want to find out how big these gigantic lakes are, what wildlife inhabits them and much more!

1. Caspian Sea

View of Ramsar, on the Caspian Sea
Ramsar, Iran overlooking the Caspian Sea
Area: 371,000 km² | 143,000 sq mi
Volume: 78,200 km³ | 18,800 cu mi
Maximum Length: 1,200 km | 745 mi
Maximum Depth: 1,025 m | 3,362 ft
Shoreline Countries: Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan

Despite its name, the Caspian Sea is the largest lake in the world. It has a whopping area of approximately 371,000km² (143,000 square miles) and a length of around 1,200 kilometers (745 miles). The area of the lake is larger than Germany (which measures 357,588 km²

The Caspian Sea accounts for around 40 to 44% of the world’s lacustrine waters (inland wetlands and deepwater habitats). Around 850 species of animal and over 500 different species of plants live in the lake, many of which are endemic (only found in the lake). This includes the Caspian seal and the Caspian lamprey.

Five countries border the Caspian Sea, including Russia and Iran. The lake also contains 50 small islands, such as Chechen, Tyuleny and Morskoy.

2. Lake Superior

Trees on the banks of Lake Superior
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 Countries: Canada, United States

The largest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Superior measures 82,100 km² (31,700 square miles) and is approximately 560 kilometers (350 miles) long. Lake Superior accounts for approximately 10% of the world’s freshwater. The lake stretches from the upper peninsula of Michigan in the United States to Ontario, Canada.

Ice can cover between 40 to 95% of the lake’s surface in the winter months. It’s the coldest of the four great lakes in the US and measures an average temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 200 rivers flow into Lake Superior, including the Saint Louis from the west and the Nipigon from the north.

Over 80 fish species live in the lake, such as the native species of bloater, banded killifish, and brook trout. Other species have also been introduced to the waters, including pink salmon, Atlantic salmon and carp. The lake is also home to various plant species, including around 60 types of orchids.

3. Lake Victoria

Fisherman on Lake Victoria
Fisherman on Lake Victoria
Area: 69,484 km² | 26,828 sq mi
Volume: 2,424 km³ | 582 cu mi
Maximum Length: 337 km | 210 mi
Maximum Depth: 83 m | 272 ft
Shoreline Countries: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda

Africa’s largest lake flows through Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, with Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda also sharing the lake’s basin. The basin area, which is home to approximately 40 million people, has one of the world’s highest population growth rates (growing by 3.5% each year).

The lake has been part of the African landscape for around 400,000 years. Four million people rely upon the lake for their livelihoods, with around 200,000 local people involved in the fishing industry. However, unsustainable practices around the basin have caused an estimated loss of 70% of the forest cover in the lake’s areas.

A wide range of species are found in the lake, including the hippopotamus, Nile crocodile and over 200 types of fish. Over the past 50 years, it’s estimated that the population of the indigenous fish species in the lake has decreased by 80%. This is largely due to overfishing and water pollution.

4. Lake Huron

Boat with American flag, sails on Lake Huron
Boat with American flag, sails on 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 Countries: Canada, United States

The second largest of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Huron covers an area of 59,600 km² (23,000 square miles). It ranks number one in terms of the longest Great Lakes shoreline, with a length of approximately 332 km (206 miles). The lake is located between the eastern shore of Michigan, US and Ontario, Canada, in the north.

Three million Canadians and Americans rely upon Lake Huron for drinking water, recreation and their livelihood. Lumber and fishing are major industries in the basin region, as are the numerous beef and dairy farms on the Bruce Peninsula on the eastern side of the lake. The world’s largest limestone mine and the world’s largest salt mine are both located on the shores of Lake Huron.

One-third of Canada’s rare species are found in Lake Huron, many of which are endemic. The lake also contains 30,000 islands, including Manitoulin Island, which is home to 12,000 people.

5. Lake Michigan

Chicago at dusk, on the shoreline of Lake Michigan
Chicago at night on the shore of Lake Michigan
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 Countries: USA

Spanning the entire length of the west coast of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Lake Michigan measures 494 km (307 miles) long. It is the only Great Lake that is located entirely within the United States. Around 12 million people live on the shoreline of Lake Michigan, which includes major port cities such as Chicago, Illinois and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Lake Michigan gets its name from the Algonquian Indian term michigami or misschiganin, which means ‘big lake’. It covers an area of 58,030 km2 (22,404 square miles) which is roughly the size of Croatia.

There is a variety of native fish species in Lake Michigan, although the population has dwindled in recent years due to overfishing and the introduction of aggressive invasive species. The invasive Zebra and Quagga mussels were accidentally introduced to Lake Michigan in the 1980s. Although they have helped to make the water clearer by filtering nutrients, these mussels pose a threat to local native species.

6. Lake Tanganyika

A straw umbrella stood on the white sandy shore of Lake Tanganyika
A straw umbrella stood on the white sandy shore of Lake Tanganyika
Area: 32,900 km2 | 12,700 sq mi
Volume: 18,750 km³ | 4,500 cu mi
Maximum Length: 673 km | 418 mi
Maximum Depth: 1,470 m | 4,822 ft
Shoreline Countries: Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Burundi

The landlocked Lake Tanganyika was formed an estimated 9 to 13 million years ago. It covers an area of 32,900 km2 (12,700 square miles) and stretches 673 km (418 miles). Lake Tanganyika flows through four African countries, with 46% of the lake covering the majority of Tanzania.

Approximately 10 million people live in Lake Tanganyika’s basin, with a population density of between 13 and 250 persons per km2. There are around 350 species of fish in the waters, including the giant Nile perch, which can weigh up to 80kg. Fishing is banned on Lake Tanganyika between December and February as part of conservation efforts.

Lake Tanganyika is the second deepest lake in the world, with an average depth of 580 meters (1,902 ft) and a maximum depth of 1,470 meters (4,822 miles). However, the lake ranks first as the world’s longest freshwater lake.

7. Lake Baikal

Five Baikal seals lying on rocks above Lake Baikal
A group of Baikal seals sun themselves on rocks above Lake Baikalv
Area: 31,722km2 | 12,248 sq mi
Volume: 23,610 km³ | 5,660 cu mi
Length: 636 km | 395 mi
Maximum Depth: 1,642m | 5,387 m
Shoreline Countries: Russia

Although only the seventh longest lake in the world, Lake Baikal is considered the world’s oldest and deepest lake. It is thought that the lake formed around 25 million years ago: approximately 20 million years before the first humans walked the Earth!

Lake Baikal has an area of 31,722km2 (12,248 square miles) and stretches 636 kilometers (395 miles) through Siberia, Russia. In 1996, the lake became a designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is considered an ‘outstanding example of a freshwater ecosystem’.

Over 2,000 species of animals and plants live in Lake Baikal, of which two-thirds are endemic to the lake. This includes the Baikal seal (known locally as ‘Nerpa’), which is the world’s only freshwater seal species.

8. Great Bear Lake

Great Bear Lake, with high slopes on the banks and black spruce trees on the top of the slopes
Black spruce trees on high banks of Great Bear Lake
Area: 31,153 km2 | 12,028 sq mi
Volume: 2,234 km³ | 536 cu mi
Length: 320 km | 200 mi
Maximum Depth: 446 m | 1,463 ft
Shoreline Countries: Canada

Great Bear Lake is the largest lake located entirely in Canada. It has an area of 31,153 km2 (12,028 square miles) and a maximum length of 320 kilometers (200 miles). The only settlement on the shoreline of the lake is the tiny village of Deline, which has a population of just over 500. The majority of the village’s population is indigenous to the area.

Musk-oxen, Golden Eagles and grizzly bears, amongst numerous other species, can be found along the lake’s basin. Around five different species of trout can be found in the waters, along with Arctic Grayling, Lake Whitefish and Arctic Char. The lake flows across the Arctic Circle, which means it is frozen for most of the year.

Great Bear Lake is estimated to be over 250,000 years old, although the exact age is unknown. One of the earliest recorded instances of hockey being played in Canada was by the men of Fort Franklin during Sir John Franklin’s expedition in 1825–27.

9. Lake Malawi

Pink sunset over Lake Malawi
Sunset over Lake Malawi
Area: 29,600 km2 | 11,400 sq mi
Volume: 8,640 km³ | 2,070 cu mi
Length: 560 km | 350 mi
Maximum Depth: 706 m | 2,316 ft
Shoreline Countries: Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique

Lake Malawi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site flowing through the African countries of Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique. It’s the third-deepest lake in the world, with a maximum depth of 706 meters (2,316 feet). The lake has a maximum length of 560 kilometers (360 miles) and has an area of approximately 29,600 km2 (11,400 square miles)

The main source of the lake is the Ruhuhu River in the northern part of Malawi, and its only outlet is the Shire River. Around 1.6 million rely upon the river for fishing, with approximately 56,000 fishermen catching over 100,000 tonnes of fish each year.

Nile crocodiles, hippopotamuses and over 500 different species of fish are a common sight in the lake. Monkeys, elephants and African fish eagles also inhabit the banks of the lake.

10. Great Slave Lake

Banks of the lake in the Northwest Territories
Banks of the lake in the Northwest Territories
Area: 27,200 km2 | 10,500 sq mi
Volume: 1,115 km³ | 268 cu mi
Length: 469 km | 291 mi
Maximum Depth: 614 m | 2,014 ft
Shoreline Countries: Canada

Named after the ‘Slavey’ Dene Native Canadians who live in the area, Great Slave Lake is the second largest lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It has an area of approximately 27,200 km2 (10,500 square miles) and a length of 469 kilometers (291 miles).

Human settlements on the shores of the lake can be traced back to 5,000 BCE. The current population of people living on the shore of the Great Slave Lake is just under 7,000 people. Living alongside the local human population in the lake’s basin is a variety of different species, such as black bears, coyotes and Canada Lynx.

Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories, is located at the north end of Great Slave Lake. The lake feeds into the Mackenzie River, which travels thousands of miles out toward the Beaufort Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

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