What Are the Largest Lakes in the US?

Dan Cavallari

The largest lakes in the US are often known as the Great Lakes, and they are, in descending order, Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario. These bodies of water are clustered fairly close together in the midwestern United States, though some of these largest lakes in the US are actually partly in the country of Canada. After the Great Lakes, the Great Salt Lake near Salt Lake City, Utah is the next largest lake. As a clarification, a lake is described as a large body of fresh water that is surrounded by land on all sides; the body of water is usually still or close to still.

Detroit is considered a Great Lakes city.
Detroit is considered a Great Lakes city.

By surface area, Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, though it is the third largest by volume. At its deepest point, this lake is 733 feet (223 meters) below sea level, making it the deepest point in the continental United States. Islands do exist within Lake Superior, and those islands often feature lakes of their own, with islands inside those lakes. Superior host many important shipping routes, and lake freighters can frequently be seen on this waterway.

Michigan is known as the Great Lakes State for its five major lakes and more than 11,000 inland lakes.
Michigan is known as the Great Lakes State for its five major lakes and more than 11,000 inland lakes.

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Strangely, a dispute has arisen as to the order of the largest lakes in the US, since Lakes Michigan and Huron are technically one lake. The two bodies of water are connected by the Straits of Mackinac, which technically makes the pair larger in surface area than Lake Superior. Superior is considered the larger lake only if Michigan and Huron are considered independent lakes rather than one large body of water. By volume, the two lakes combined are still the fourth largest in the world; Superior is larger by volume.

Lake Superior is the largest lake in the United States.
Lake Superior is the largest lake in the United States.

Of the largest lakes in the US, the Great Salt Lake is perhaps one of the most interesting. This terminal lake — a lake that does not train into any tributaries or other bodies of water — has an exceptionally high salinity, or content of salt. It is saltier than ocean waters, in fact, and it is sometimes called America's Dead Sea. The surface area of the Great Salt Lake can fluctuate, and the depth remains generally quite shallow consistently. The water tends to remain warm as well, which can cause lake effect snowfall. Large snowstorms are known to dump high amounts of snow all at once due to the air circulation above the lake.

With a surface area of nearly 2,000 km, Lake Pontchartrain is one of the largest lakes in the U.S.
With a surface area of nearly 2,000 km, Lake Pontchartrain is one of the largest lakes in the U.S.

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Discussion Comments

Drentel

There have been many ships wrecked on the Great Lakes, and some of the mishaps involved very large ships. Actually, the waters of the Great Lakes can be especially difficult to navigate because of the reefs, and the strong storms that hit the areas where the lakes are located.

Laotionne

This article mentions that there are islands within the various Great Lakes. What is surprising is just how many islands there are in these bodies of water. I was reading a book about all of the little known islands in the world. Many of the islands are actually for sell.

Anyway, according to the book I was reading, there are more than 30,000 islands located in the Great Lakes. Of course, many of them are very small. Some of them are tiny, but no matter the size, that is a large number of islands where you would not expect to find them.

Sporkasia

Here's an interesting fact. Many of the lakes in the United States were created many years ago when glaciers melted and left depressions that later filled with water. When you look at the climate in the United States today, it is difficult to imagine these huge chucks of ice were once on this continent.

Feryll

I had a friend in college who lived near Lake Michigan. For the people in that area, going to the lake was similar to going to the ocean for people living on the coasts in the United States. When I went with my friend to the lake, there were crowds of people all over the place.

There were boats all over the water. Some people were fishing and others were water skiing. Having grown up on the east coast, it was strange when I talked to the people there and learned that many of them had never seen an ocean. For them, the lake was just as good as the ocean.

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