The lakes of the US are often thought of as great holiday destinations. All of them provide a combination of hiking, boating, fishing, camping, and other holiday-related activities. Indeed, many Americans and tourists enjoy their offerings year-round.
But there’s so much more to a lake. There’s history, fun facts, and monsters! Among the many beautiful lakes in the US, it’s interesting to look at just a short list of the 27 largest. It gives you some idea of the immense riches that exist within the waterways and lake systems within the country.
These lakes represent a wide range of contexts and regions, and each one has a unique fact or two to offer the curious mind. Here are a few intriguing tidbits about each of the 27 largest inland lakes in the US.
27 Largest Inlands Lakes in the US You’ll Love
Table of Contents
- 27 Largest Inlands Lakes in the US You’ll Love
- 1. Lake Superior
- 2. Lake Huron
- 3. Lake Michigan
- 4. Lake Erie
- 5. Lake Ontario
- 6. Lake of the Woods
- 7. Iliamna Lake
- 8. Great Salt Lake
- 9. Lake Oahe
- 10. Lake Okeechobee
- 11. Lake Pontchartrain
- 12. Lake Sakakawea
- 13. Lake Champlain
- 14. Becharof Lake
- 15. Lake St. Clair
- 16. Red Lake
- 17. Selawik Lake
- 18. Fort Peck Lake
- 19. Salton Sea
- 20. Rainy Lake
- 21. Teshekpuk Lake
- 22. Devils Lake
- 23. Toledo Bend Reservoir
- 24. Lake Powell
- 25. Kentucky Lake
- 26. Lake Mead
- 27. Naknek Lake
- Final Thoughts on Largest Lakes in the US
If you’re a nature enthusiast at heart or simply want to enjoy some of the most iconic natural spaces in North America, these lakes are sure to meet your expectations.
1. Lake Superior
Size: 31,700 square miles / 82,103 sq km
Image by css bonawitz from Pixabay
It’s not surprising that we start off in the Great Lakes, all of which feature on this list. The appropriately named Lake Superior is not only the largest freshwater lake in the US but also the largest inland lake in the world. It has a maximum depth of 406 metres.
It holds a remarkable 10% of the entire planet’s fresh surface water. If you drained Lake Superior and spread that water over the land, both North and South American continents would be a foot underwater.
Adding to this lake’s remarkable description is its purity. Superior is regarded as one of the cleanest lakes on the planet, with visibility in some areas of the lake reaching up to 30 metres.
2. Lake Huron
Size: 23,000 square miles / 59,570 sq km
Image by David Phelps from Pixabay
Whereas Superior is the largest of the lakes, Huron boasts the longest shoreline. Partially due to the extraordinary amount of islands in Lake Huron (30,000), the shoreline extends more than 6100 km. On its own, Lake Huron is the second largest lake of the great lakes. It has an average depth of 195 feet.
Now, if we were to observe the technical rules, Huron and Superior are actually one lake, making it an even bigger body of water. As it stands, it is agreed that the two bodies are separated by the Straits of Mackinac. I think fans of both lakes prefer it that way.
Lake Huron is home to an area called Georgian Bay, which was initially considered a lake. Georgian Bay itself would qualify as one of the 20 largest lakes in the world.
3. Lake Michigan
Size: 22,300 sq miles / 57,757 sq km
Image by 12019 from Pixabay
All of the Great Lakes, except for one, share borders between the US and Canada. The only great lake that doesn’t is Lake Michigan, which splits its miles of shoreline between four US states.
The lake does, however, have a dubious distinction. There is reportedly a sort of Bermuda Triangle situated somewhere within the body of water. This is where several mysterious incidents have been alleged to have happened, including disappearances that have never been resolved.
According to reports, even highly funded government bodies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have come up empty-handed when investigating the reports, which date back to the 19th century.
Lovers of all things creepy can also take a look at the Tugboat Graveyard, which features dozens of disused tugs sitting and waiting.
4. Lake Erie
Region: Michigan–New York–Ohio–Ontario–Pennsylvania
Size: 9,910 sq miles / 25,667 sq km
Image by Falkenpost from Pixabay
In terms of water volume, Lake Erie is the smallest of the Great Lakes. It is, however, not the smallest in terms of surface area (thank you, Lake Ontario).
There is a sea monster residing in Lake Erie (according to legend). Much like Nessie in Loch Ness, Scotland, Bessie has haunted the waters of Lake Erie for years. The first reports date back to the late 1700s. This means that Bessie is either hundreds of years old or the local alcohol is very strong.
Side note: Lakes and beasts have a long and beloved connection. Around 265 lakes around the world have well-known legends involving resident monsters. Here at the Great Lakes, Erie and Huron contribute to that folklore.
5. Lake Ontario
Region: New York–Ontario
Size: 7,340 sq miles / 19,011 square kilometers
Image by SRail from Pixabay
The name of this lake originates from an Iroquois term, which translates to “a beautiful lake.” It also happens to be the 14th biggest lake in the world.
The smallest of the Great Lakes nonetheless contains about 2000 islands in its misnamed Thousand Islands region. The largest island in the area is Wolfe Island, measuring 124 sq km.
One of the remarkable notes about Lake Ontario concerns its fish life. The lake is known for producing many fish species including giant goldfish.
6. Lake of the Woods
Size: 1,679 sq miles / 4,349 sq km
Image by 12019 from Canva.com
Some lakes have a few islands, and some have more than others. But the Lake of the Woods has a mind-shattering 14,522 of them! A useful statistic to put that in context: If you planned to visit one every day, it would take you 39 years to see all of them.
Lake of the Woods hasn’t remained the same size over time. This is due to a dam being constructed on the river. Over the years, the lake’s surface has steadily risen, with water levels leading to an increase in volume and surface area.
Lake of the Woods prides itself on its fishing and sells itself as a top contender for Walleye Capital of the World.
7. Iliamna Lake
Size: 1,600 sq miles / 4,100 sq km
Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay
Alaska really should be ranked as a country with the most beautiful lakes in the world. Many are flanked by mountains and wilderness. Lake Iliamna is one such and is the largest lake in Alaska. It is the second largest fresh water lake completely contained within the US.
In typical Alaska fashion, you cannot reach the lake by land. You will either have to fly into the airstrip or arrive by boat.
Like some previous lakes mentioned here, there is a mythical monster in the lake. There is a theory that the “monster” is, in fact, a school of sturgeon fish. If that is the case, it would still be interesting, as sturgeon are not normally found this far north.
8. Great Salt Lake
Size: 950 sq miles / 2,460 sq km
Image by 12019 from Pixabay
When you think of Salt Lake, you think of Utah and its vast salt plains. The Salt Lake itself is an abundant lake of salt water (there are only 30 salt lakes in the world). It is the largest saltwater lake in the Western Hemisphere and its deepest point is estimated to be 35 metres.
Interestingly, Great Salt Lake near Salt Lake City is an endorheic or closed lake. This means that it does not flow into any other river or water system. It is the fourth-largest lake of this kind in the world. Antelope Island is the largest of 11 islands within the lake. It contains a state park known for its large bison herds.
Guess what? There’s a monster in this lake, too! Descriptions include one detailing a horse head and crocodile body. A railroad also traverses the lake, which has resulted in each side developing a slightly altered ecological balance. Some say that each side is slightly different in color.
9. Lake Oahe
Region: North Dakota–South Dakota
Size: 685 sq miles / 1,774 sq km
Image by Joesboy from canva.com
Lake Oahe was formed in part due to the construction of the Oahe Dam in South Dakota. Today, the lake is about 231 miles of Missouri’s length.
One of the interesting historical aspects of the lake is its geographical position. It is positioned in an area where the Lewis and Clarke expedition is said to have explored.
10. Lake Okeechobee
Size: 730 sq miles / 1,890 sq km
Image by Ernie A. Stephens from Pixabay
Also known as Lake O, this big beauty is the second largest freshwater lake in the country. It provides irrigation and drinking water for several urban settlements and is a valuable source of it for local wildlife.
The Everglades water mass is popular with anglers and holidaymakers looking for a swim and water skiing. Its size accounts for the name, which is derived from a Seminole Indian word meaning “Big Water”.
11. Lake Pontchartrain
Size: 631 sq miles / 1,634 sq km
Image by will tucker from Pixabay
Aside from being on this impressive list of largest lakes in the United States of America, Lake Pontchartrain is famous for another reason. This is where the longest continuous bridge in the world can be found.
For such a large lake (although technically an estuary), it’s surprisingly shallow, averaging about four metres. That makes it ideal for many different species of birds and other animals to use as breeding grounds. That includes sharks among those found spawning here.
Lots of marine life from the open ocean in the Gulf of Mexico can sometimes be found here. This is because the lake connects to the gulf through the Chef Menteur and Rigolets passes.
12. Lake Sakakawea
Region: North Dakota
Size: 520 sq miles / 1,347 sq km
Image by CelzoDiniz from Canva.com
If the name Sakakawea sounds familiar to you, there’s a good reason. From account to account, the name slightly differs (Sacagawea, for example). It refers to a Native American woman who served as a guide and interpreter on the Lewis and Clarke expedition.
Visitors to the lake often combine their trip with an exploration of Sakakawea State Park, which sits on the south end of the shoreline. The reservoir itself was created with the construction of the nearby dam in the 1950s.
13. Lake Champlain
Region: New York–Vermont–Quebec
Size: 435 sq miles / 1,126 sq km
Image by kahern from Pixabay
An often forgotten fact: Lake Champlain was at one point declared a sixth Great Lake. Apparently, or at least according to one theory, devoted lovers of the Great Lakes were not impressed by this and campaigned to have it undeclared as such.
This was just another episode in the eventful presidential administration of Bill Clinton, who signed the bill making it a Great Lake on March 6th, 1998. A mere 18 days later, the bill was rescinded.
The lake also holds the distinction of being the lowest point in the Adirondack region.
14. Becharof Lake
Region: 453 sq miles / 1,173 sq km
Image by Sorincolac from Canva.com
This lake is a small reminder of Russian history in the area, being named after Dmitry Bocharov, who noted the lake in 1791. Among the varied wildlife and fascinating animal species found here are moose, bears, and caribou.
The lake sits in the Aleutian range and was officially named in 1868.
15. Lake St. Clair
Size: 440 sq miles / 1,140 sq km
Image by Margaret Saldais from Pixabay
Another candidate for the title of Great Lake Number Six, Lake St. Clair, is an important reservoir for the surrounding area’s population. It supplies drinking water for about five million people in the region. It also plays host to the largest Great Blue Heron rookery in the US.
The lake creates a delta system at its northern end, which is a significant habitat for birds and fish. Another factor helping this is the shallowness of the lake, averaging less than four metres. This is also the largest delta in the Great Lakes vicinity.
16. Red Lake
Size: 427 sq miles / 1,106 sq km
Image by Willard from Canva.com
You know you’re in for a treat when you visit a place called Red Lake on account of its unique colour. The red tint in the water is caused by iron oxide and other minerals, which are in high concentration.
Minnesota’s largest natural lake is deep and has notoriously unpredictable currents, making it somewhat dangerous to swim in. On the other hand, the walleye is renowned here, and the water is great for fishing.
17. Selawik Lake
Size: 404 sq miles / 1,046 sq km
Image by 12019 from Canva.com
The third largest lake in Alaska is 50 km long, sitting alongside the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge near the town of Selawik. The name derives from an Inupiaq name that was documented in the mid-1800s.
The location is remote, in the northwest of the state on the cusp of the Arctic Circle. A plane, a dog sled, or a boat is required to get there. The untouched terrain features all sorts of Alaskan and Arctic wildlife.
Views around the lake include mountains, forests, and vast tundra, a sight truly worth travelling for.
18. Fort Peck Lake
Size: 393 sq miles / 1,018 sq km
Image by boboblaw from Canva.com
Fort Peck Lake was created in the 1930s and is closely associated with Fort Peck nearby. The reservoir sits within the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge.
As a result, the immediate area is wild, with lots of smaller trails and back roads leading around the reserve. But what is even more special is the surprising lack of dense forest. Much of the land surrounding the lake is marked by rolling hills and brush, as opposed to tall trees and forests.
19. Salton Sea
Size: 347 sq miles / 899 sq km
Image by 12019 from Pixabay
California’s largest lake is so named for its very salty water. It is famous for its incredible diversity and abundance of birdlife. At one point in the year, it is said more than three million birds can be counted at the lake.
Fun Fact: The Salton Sea is 25% saltier than the ocean.
20. Rainy Lake
Size:345 sq miles / 894 sq km
Image by johnandersonphoto from Canva.com
No prizes for guessing what the people who named this lake were experiencing. It has a few other interesting, unique notes, though.
For example, the Fort Frances settlement on the lake is likely the oldest European establishment west of Lake Superior (est. 1688). There is also a mermaid statue in the lake, accessible only by boat.
21. Teshekpuk Lake
Size: 320 sq miles / 829 sq km
Image from Canva.com
Welcome to the largest thermokarst lake in the world. Thermokarst lakes are formed by melting permafrost and are usually found very high in the Arctic Circle.
One of this lake’s wonderful aspects relates to moulting geese. When they are in the process of moulting, they cannot fly. The lake supplies them with all they need to feed and sustain at this time. Good thing it’s hard for humans to access.
22. Devils Lake
Region: North Dakota
Size: 300 sq miles / 777 sq km
Image by Yinan Chen from Pixabay
Devil’s Lake is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota, flowing into the Sheyenne River. Near the lake, you will find the Spirit Lake Reservation and the cities of Devil’s Lake and Minnewaukan.
According to legend, the name Devil’s Lake came about as a result of a misinterpretation. The original Ho-Chunk Native American phrase “Tawacunchukdah” is actually more accurately transcribed as “Sacred Lake”. It’s unclear why exactly the misunderstanding of the phrase arose.
23. Toledo Bend Reservoir
Size: 284 sq miles / 736 sq km
Image by Joe_McUbed from Canva.com
The largest reservoir in Texas is found on the Sabine River and formed by the Toledo Bend Dam, which started construction in 1963. Water and electricity resources from the project are shared by both Louisiana and Texas.
On the lake, visitors can also find North Toledo Bend State Park, which offers the usual park fun like hikes, fishing, watersports, and activities.
24. Lake Powell
Size: 251 sq miles / 650 sq km
Image by Brigitte Werner from Pixabay
One remarkable statistic about this impressive lake is that it took 17 years to fill. The Glen Canyon Dam was first constructed in 1956, and the lake started to form in 1963. The dam reached its full capacity in 1980.
Among the lake’s interesting aspects is the remarkable amount of canyons branching from it (196). Lake Powell sits in an area known as “The Painted Desert” because of its beautiful, colourful rock formations.
Read More: 23 Lakes in Arizona
25. Kentucky Lake
Size: 250 sq miles / 647 sq km
Image by Kim Martin from Pixabay
Kentucky Lake was created (or impounded) by the Kentucky Dam. It’s known for fishing, particularly since a number of impressive size records for fish have been documented here. It’s a popular holiday spot offering two state parks, boating, beaches, and hikes.
26. Lake Mead
Size: 247 sq miles / 640 sq km
Image by 12019 from Pixabay
Freshwater Lake Mead is known in part as one of the best scuba-diving lakes in the US. Among the many exciting dive sites in the lake is a World War II B-29 Bomber wreck. The guided tours here provide a unique experience not found anywhere else. Mead is filled as a result of the construction of the Hoover Dam.
27. Naknek Lake
Size: 242 sq miles / 27 sq km
Image from Canva.com
Salmon fishing is among the top attractions at Naknek, which sits in Katmai National Park and Preserve. King, sockeye, pink, and chum salmon are all found here. Another of the pristine and gorgeous Alaskan lakes on this list is Naknek, which drains into Bristol Bay, sitting along the Alaskan Peninsula.
Final Thoughts on Largest Lakes in the US
There’s a lot more to these lakes than simply being on a list of the largest in the US. These are vast ecosystems that support life in the truest sense. Some are man-made reservoirs, others completely natural lakes. All provide valuable resources for people, animals, birds, and the planet in general.
Visiting these lakes and appreciating their beauty and value is a worthwhile experience for everyone. For more lake fun, check out these 29 stunning lakes in Canada,