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America's 20 Largest Lakes

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key point

  • Lakes are a valuable resource that not only provide water but also nurture nature and create ecosystems.
  • Lakes have many more uses, such as hydroelectric power and fishing, and provide an ecosystem for marine life to thrive.
  • The lake is also a great tourist attraction, offering many activities that boost the economy and earn a living.

A lake is a freshwater or saltwater aquatic environment that typically contains large quantities of water. The United States is home to many lakes, including some of the largest in the world! However, we can also look at available information to determine which lakes in the United States are the largest. We've listed the 20 largest lakes in the United States, and we'll show you how they rank by size, length, and depth!

What is a lake?

Before we define the 20 largest lakes in the United States, it's important to understand what a lake is. Many people wonder about the difference between a lake and a pond because they are very similar. However, lakes have the following properties:

  1. Depth: Lakes are deeper than ponds, at least 20 feet deep in most cases.
  2. Shape: Lakes are more oval than ponds
  3. Water Type: Lakes are mostly freshwater, but may also be brackish or saltwater. The pond is completely fresh water.
  4. Open Outlet: A lake is open to other bodies of water from which it draws water.
  5. Size: Lakes are usually larger than 0.3 square miles.

These concepts should help you understand what a lake is and how it differs from other forms of water such as ponds, oceans, and rivers.

animals found near lakes

Lakes are an important source of water and nutrients for many animal species.

Here are some animals commonly found near lakes:

  • Birds: Ducks, geese and other waterfowl are common around the lake.
  • Fish: The lake is home to a variety of fish including trout, bass and catfish.
  • Mammals: Many mammals are found near the lake, including beavers, muskrats, and otters.
  • Reptiles: Turtles and snakes are often seen near lakes as they use the water as a food source and a place to bask.
  • Insects: A variety of insects have been found near the lake, including dragonflies, mayflies and mosquitoes.

Lakes are rich and diverse ecosystems that are home to a wide variety of animals.

America's 20 Largest Lakes

The United States has a large number of lakes. Many of the lakes in the United States are among the largest in existence. Looking at the 20 largest lakes in the United States, it's clear that even on this list, the largest lakes are much larger than the others. Our list will give you an idea of how large some of these bodies of water are relative to lakes near you.

20. Rainy Lake

America's 20 Largest Lakes 1
rainy lake in minnesota and canada

© Ken Lund / flickr – License

area length depth
360 square miles 50 miles 106 feet

Rainy Lake is a natural lake located on the border of Minnesota and Canada, so it's not entirely within the United States. This part of the United States is very cold in the winter, and the lake is home to many winter sports. People come from all over the area to fish, ski and snowmobile around the lake, which requires an ice road to access.

19. Salton Sea

The Salton Sea is as salty as it sounds


area length depth
343 square miles 34.8 miles 43 feet

As the name suggests, Salton Sea is a saltwater lake, and it is an artificial lake. The lake is entirely within the state of California, and a project to turn the area into a river began in 1900. Interestingly, the lake, known as the Sea, is even more saline than the nearby Pacific Ocean.

18. Fort Peck Lake

Fort Pike Lake was first filled in 1947 as part of the Missouri River dam system


area length depth
393 square miles 134 miles 76 feet

Located in Montana, Fort Pike Lake was designed as a system of reservoirs and dams to facilitate navigation on the Missouri River. The river was constructed between 1933 and 1940, and the reservoir first reached capacity in 1947. The area is a tourist attraction, known for hiking and other sports.

17. Lake Selavik

Lake Selavik near the Pacific Ocean

©USFWS/pixnio – License

area length depth
404 square miles 31 miles No message

Lake Selavik is located in Alaska and is the third largest lake in the state. It is located in northwestern Alaska, almost on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. This lake is near the Selavik National Wildlife Refuge.

16. Red Lake

Red Lake is divided into two parts by a peninsula

© Andrew Filer / Creative Commons – Licensed

area length depth
430 square miles 20 miles 270 feet

The lake is located in northern Minnesota, entirely within the Red Lake Indian Reservation. Interestingly, the lake is actually divided in two by a peninsula, but it is not completely cut in the middle, so it is still a single lake. Red Lake is famous for the variety of fish that live in it.

15. Lake St. Clair

Lake St. Clair shares shoreline with the United States and Canada

© iStock.com/Brian Sewald

area length depth
440 square miles 26 miles 27 feet

Lake St. Clair is connected to other large bodies of water such as the Detroit River, Lake Erie, and the St. Clair River. The lake straddles Michigan and Ontario, so it's in the US and Canada.

14. Lake Besharov

Becharof Lake is a very deep lake in the southern peninsula of Alaska

©USFWS/pixnio – License

area length depth
453 square miles 37 miles 600 feet

Lake Becharof is located on the Alaska peninsula and was discovered in the 18th century . It became part of the United States in 1867. Although it is the 14th largest lake in the United States by area, it is the 8th largest due to its great depth.

13. Lake Sacakavia

Lake Sakakawea is a reservoir, an artificial lake created in 1953

©Kit Leong/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
480 square miles 178 miles 180 feet

The lake is a man-made structure located entirely in North Dakota. Built in 1953, the reservoir is the second largest man-made lake in the United States. Today, the lake is a popular spot for camping, boating, hiking and fishing. It is administered by several agencies, including the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

12. Lake Champlain

Lake Champlain is a lake full of history

© Mark Castilla/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
514 square miles 107 miles 400 feet

Lake Champlain is a natural lake that extends into the states of New York and Vermont in the United States and the province of Quebec in Canada. The lake was the site of historic moments such as the Battle of Valcourt Island and the War of 1812. The water area is the transit area for goods and people passing through railroad crossings and ferries.

11. Lake Pontchartrain

The lake is famous for its levee breach in 2005

©Mark Runde/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
631 square miles 40 miles 65 feet

Due to its proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana is a naturally brackish lake. The lake is famous for having several dams breached during Hurricane Katrina by the force of the storm. The impact of the rift is still there today, and the lake water has been seriously polluted.

10. Lake Okeechobee

Florida's Inland Sea is another name for this large, shallow lake

©Allison Michael/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
662 square miles 36 miles 12 feet

The lake is known as Florida's inland sea because, when water is abundant in the atmosphere, it can cover more than 700 square miles. Although the lake is large, it is not very deep, with an average depth of about 12 feet across the lake. Unfortunately, the lake has suffered greatly from toxins in the harmful runoff.

9. Lake Auch

Lake Oher is another man-made lake that stretches from North Dakota to South Dakota

© C.drefs/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
685 square miles 231 miles 205 feet

Lake Oher is a reservoir on the Missouri River long enough to straddle the state between North Dakota and South Dakota. The lake is an important recreational area and many fishermen come to the area. The lake is currently in the middle of various legal battles because the Dakota Access pipeline was supposed to run a section under it.

8. Lake Iliamna

The lake is the third largest lake located entirely within the United States


area length depth
1,014 square miles 77 miles 144 feet

Lake Iliamna, located in Alaska, is the third largest lake in the United States. Famous in local lore for being believed to be home to monsters, the lake is also a popular fishing spot. The lake is natural and located in the southern region of Alaska, almost close to the peninsula.

7. Lake of the Woods

Lake of the Woods is located primarily in Canada; a small portion is also located in Minnesota


area length depth
1,679 square miles 68 miles 210 feet

Lake of the Woods separates land in Minnesota and parts of Canada, the vast majority of which is within Canada. The area is home to the Royal Lakes of the Woods Yacht Club as well as many leisure enthusiasts. The lake has several dams that provide drinking water to Winnipeg.

6. Great Salt Lake

The saltwater lake has been shrinking in recent years due to massive drought

©Bella Bender/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
2,117 square miles 75 miles 33 feet

Located entirely in Utah, the Great Salt Lake is known for its high salinity. In fact, this water is much saltier than seawater. Currently, the lake has shrunk considerably due to drought in one of its tributaries. The lake has a unique ecosystem and many animals live in the area.

5. Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario gets its name from the Huron word for "great lake"

© iStock.com/RM Nunes

area length depth
7,340 square miles 193 miles 801 feet

Lake Ontario spans the space between New York and Ontario and is one of the five Great Lakes. It is the only Great Lakes region that does not have a shoreline from Michigan. An interesting fact about Lake Ontario is that the word comes from Huron, which means "great lake." Therefore, the Great Lake itself is called "Great Lake".

4. Lake Erie

Lake Erie is known for its wild weather


area length depth
9,910 square miles 241 miles 210 feet

The fourth largest lake in the United States is one of the five great lakes. Lake Erie has shorelines across Canada, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and Michigan. The lake is known for frequent thunderstorms, which makes traversing the lake somewhat dangerous. The lake is also known for its numerous lighthouses.

3. Lake Michigan

12 million people live along the shores of Lake Michigan


area length depth
22,300 square miles 307 miles 922 feet

Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume, but the third largest in the United States by area. The lake shares shorelines with the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. It has 12 million people living in cities along the coast.

2. Lake Huron

Lake Huron is a large lake connected to Lake Michigan

©EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
23,000 square miles 206 miles 276 feet

Lake Huron is another of the Great Lakes that shares a shoreline only in Michigan and the Canadian province of Ontario. The lake is sometimes referred to together with Lake Michigan as Lake Michigan-Huron. However, many do not adopt this definition despite the fact that the two lakes share water flow.

1. Lake Superior

Lake Superior holds 10% of the world's surface fresh water

© Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock.com

area length depth
31,700 square miles 381 miles 1,333 feet

Lake Superior is the largest lake in the United States. The lake shares its shoreline with parts of Michigan, Minnesota, and Ontario. The lake is known for holding 1/10th of the fresh water on Earth's surface; that's huge. The lake's maximum depth is over 1,000 feet!

What is the largest lake in the world?

The largest lake in the world is the Caspian Sea. Although the lake is brackish and called a sea, it fits the definition of a lake.

What is the largest lake in the United States?

The largest lake that lies entirely within the United States is Lake Michigan, as it does not share a shoreline with any other country.

What is the deepest lake in the United States?

Lake Superior is the deepest lake in the United States, with an average depth of several hundred feet but maximum depths of 1,300 feet or more.

The 20 largest lakes in the United States round up

rank lake where to flow By area size-length-depth
20 rain lake border of minnesota and canada 360 square miles–50 miles–106 feet
19 Salton Sea california 343 square miles–34.8 miles–43 feet
18 fort peck l. Montana 393 square miles–134 miles–76 feet
17 selavik l. Alaska 404 sq miles – 31 miles – no info
16 red lake Minnesota 430 square miles–20 miles–270 feet
15 lake st clair Michigan and Ontario, Canada 453 square miles–37 miles–600 feet
14 becharov l. Alaska 453 square miles–37 miles–600 feet
13 sacacavia l. North Dakota 480 square miles–178 miles–180 feet
12 lake champlain New York, Vermont and Quebec, Canada 514 square miles–107 miles–400 feet
11 lake ponchartrain Louisiana 631 square miles–40 miles–65 feet
10 lake okeechobee Florida 662 square miles–36 miles–12 feet
9 auch l. North Dakota and South Dakota 685 square miles–231 miles–205 feet
8 iliamna l. Minnesota and Canada 1,014 square miles–77 miles–144 feet
7 lake of the woods Minnesota and Canada 1,679 square miles–68 miles–210 feet
6 great salt lake Utah 2,117 square miles–75 miles–33 feet
5 lake ontario New York and Ontario, Canada 7,340 square miles–193 miles–801 feet
4 lake erie Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Michigan and Canada 9,910 square miles–241 miles–210 feet
3 lake michigan Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin 22,300 square miles–307 miles–922 feet
2 Lake Huron Michigan and Ontario, Canada 23,000 square miles–206 miles–276 feet
1 Lake Superior Michigan, Minnesota and Ontario, Canada 31,700 square miles–381 miles–1,333 feet


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about the author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in various fields such as Managed Service Providers, Animals and Retail Distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading and writing.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

Which Great Lakes are good for boating?

The best lakes in the US for boating include Lake Powell, Lake Shasta, Lake Birch, Lake Table Rock, and more.

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