Looking at the Largest Lakes in the United States
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What are the Largest Lakes in the United States?
When it comes to finding the best fishing destinations in the United States, bigger often does mean better.
Often, these mammoth lakes are also popular destinations for boating, tubing, jet skiing, kayaking, and other recreational activities.
It should come as no surprise to readers that the five lakes classified as Great will be on this list. Outside of those, however, most people are often unsure of which lakes come next in the sequence.
Below, we are going to take a look at the thirteen largest lakes in the United States.
List of the Largest Lakes in America
Located on the border of New York and Vermont, Lake Champlain also extends into Quebec, Canada. At its longest point, Champlain spans an impressive 107 miles. With a maximum width of 14 miles and a surface area of 490 square miles, it is easily New York’s largest non-“Great” lake.
One of two massive North Dakota lakes on this list, Lake Sakakawea is located near the central part of the state.
Spanning six counties — Mercer, McLean, Mountrail, Dunn, McKenzie, and Williams — Lake Sakakawea is roughly an hour’s drive from state capital Bismarck.
In addition to being a popular fishing destination, Sakakawea is also home to some of the region’s top recreation, from water skiing, boating, and rafting. Thousands also camp around the lake each year.
Of note is that Sakakawea is only one of two man-made lakes in the top thirteen largest lakes in the United States. It shares that distinction with another Dakota lake.
Perhaps best known for its namesake bridge — Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which is the longest continuous bridge that extends over water in the entire world — this oval-shaped Louisiana lake is also known for falling just outside the top ten largest lakes in the United States.
Spanning six counties (or parishes, for the locals) in Louisiana, Pontchartrain covers a monstrous 630 square miles. It has a maximum width of 24 miles with a max length of 40 miles.
Created several thousand years ago, the lake was known as Okwata to the indigenous peoples of the area. It was renamed for the chancellor of a French commune around the turn of the 18th century.
Considered one the best fishing lakes in Florida — and often the best — Lake Okeechobee is also, by far, the largest in the Sunshine State.
Known as one of the best bass fisheries in the country, Okeechobee is also the tenth largest lake in America. Often called Florida’s inland sea, this massive natural lake spans 662 square miles.
With a maximum length of 36 miles and max width of 29 miles, Okeechobee is actually derived from the Hitchiti phrase meaning “big water.”
Martin, Palm Beach, Hendry, Glades, and Okeechobee counties in Florida all converge at the center of the lake.
Despite being one of America’s largest lakes, however, Okeechobee is deceptively shallow. With an average depth of 9 feet, the lake has a shockingly low maximum depth — only 12 feet!
The second of two mammoth Dakota lakes on the list, Oahe actually spans both the North and South states.
With a maximum length of 231 miles, Lake Oahe runs from the center of South Dakota and runs north into North Dakota. Covering 685 square miles, Oahe is the 9th largest lake in the United States (and the largest man-made lake in the country). It narrowly edges out Okeechobee (10) and Pontchartrain (11) in terms of square mileage.
Lake Oahe is also considered a fine fishery, playing home to quality catfish, northern pike, walleye, and smallmouth bass fishing. It also artificially maintains a population of Chinook salmon.
Despite Alaska being the largest state in the country, only one of the ten largest lakes in the United States is found within The Last Frontier. Becharof Lake (14) and Selawik Lake (17) both fall within the top twenty, but are considerably smaller than Iliamna Lake.
Located on the northern edge of the Alaska Peninsula, Iliamna widens the gap from large to massive, spanning a considerable 1,014 square miles. With a 22 mile maximum width and 77 miles of max length, Iliamna gets it name from a term meaning the “island’s lake”.
As a fishery, Iliamna is consistent with other Alaskan lakes in the sense that is a great grayling, trout, and salmon lake. It also is home to freshwater seals — a rarity in North America.
Lake of the Woods
Of the thirteen entries on the list of the largest lakes in the United States, roughly half extend between America and Canada.
Lake of the Woods is one of those lakes.
It spans across both Ontario and Manitoba provinces in Canada, and into Minnesota state.
Covering 1,629 square miles, Lake of the Woods has an unbelievable 65,000 miles of shore land. Perhaps even more remarkable, however, is the fact that over 14,000 islands lie within the lake!
Lake of the Woods is also a prime fishing destination, hosting numerous popular species like: panfish, crappie, largemouth and smallmouth bass, northern pike, lake sturgeon, sauger, walleye, and muskie.
Great Salt Lake
A massive and shallow lake, the Great Salt Lake in Utah is the sixth biggest lake in the United States. It is also the nation’s largest non-“Great” lake — its name not withstanding.
As the largest saltwater lake in the Americas (North and South), the Great Salt Lake also fluctuates tremendously due its aberrant shallowness for a lake of its magnitude.
At its largest recorded size (in 1988), Great Salt Lake held a surface area of roughly 3,330 square miles. At its lowest recorded, in 1983, it dwindled down to 963 squares miles. As of 2020, however, Great Salt Lake has been holding steady with an average surface area of roughly 1,700.
Known as the “Dead Sea of the United States,” Great Salt Lake is actually the remaining portion of Lake Bonneville, which was roughly the size of Lake Michigan before it flooded around 17,000 years ago. Today, Great Salt Lake, along with Sevier Lake and Utah Lake make up the remnant lakes from Bonneville.
And now, if there was any doubt as to which lakes would round out our list, we have our first of the five “Great Lakes.”
Lake Ontario, the eastern-most of the Great Lakes, falls between Ontario, Canada, and New York state.
Fittingly, the lake gets its name from a Huron word meaning “great lake.” Covering over 7,300 square miles (with a maximum width of 53 miles and a staggering max length of 193 miles), Lake Ontario is also a popular fishing and recreational hub.
As with other large lakes over the years, however, pollution and heavy fishing traffic have negatively affected Ontario’s reputation as a world-class fishery.
The fourth largest lake in the United States, Lake Erie touches four U.S. states (Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York) and Ontario in Canada. It is also a world-class fishing destination for a couple species.
Considered one of the top fishing lakes in both Michigan and Ohio, Lake Erie is generally considered the top walleye fishing destination in the world. While anglers can catch trophy-sized bass and crappie here, yellow perch fishing is also considered excellent on Erie.
Covering closer to 10,000 square miles, Erie spans an absurd 241 miles at its longest and 57 miles at its widest points.
It’s not fair to say that any of the lakes on the list thus far have been small, per say.
That said, once you get to Lake Michigan — the third largest lake in the United States — there is a massive disparity between the top three lakes and the rest on this list.
Above, we mentioned that Lake Erie (America’s fourth largest lake) covered almost 10,000 square miles. In comparison, Lake Michigan spans a tremendous 22,300 square miles — more than double the square mileage!
Interestingly, Lake Michigan is the only one of the five Great Lakes that does not border Canada. It rests against the shores of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin, however.
Lake Michigan, at its widest, spans 118 miles. At its longest point, however, it reaches 307 miles!
Covering 23,000 squares miles — less than a thousand more than Lake Michigan — Lake Huron holds the close-but-comfortable distinction of being the third largest lake in the United States.
Brushing the shores of both Michigan and Ontario, Lake Huron has a maximum width of 183 miles and a max length of 206 miles.
While Huron is considered a fine fishing destination, much like Lake Ontario, pollution, invasive species, and over-fishing has diminished its status over the past hundred years.
Efforts have been made in recent years to improve the once-thriving trout population. Chinook salmon and Pacific salmon, which are not native to the region, have also been stocked over the past several decades.
When it comes to Lake Superior, its name is not hyperbole!
By far the largest lake in the United States, North America, and the western hemisphere, Lake Superior spans a gargantuan 31,700 square miles!
In terms of size, only the Caspian Sea — which many think should be classified as a sea rather than a lake — is larger.
With a 160 miles maximum width and 350 mile max length, Superior borders Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin in the United States and Ontario in Canada.
Home to nearly one hundred species of freshwater fish (including smallmouth bass, lake trout, lake sturgeon, muskie, and northern pike), Lake Superior is considered an excellent fishing destination despite the affects of decades of over-fishing.