The Largest Lakes in the World

The largest by surface area don't necessarily have the most water

Caspian Sea

 Elmar Akhmetov/Getty Images

The North American Great Lakes aren’t great just because Americans say they are. Four out of five of them also rank in the top 10 in the world in terms of volume.

Some consider the Caspian Sea not to be a lake, but it is surrounded by land and thus meets the generally accepted definition of a lake. However, it is full of saltwater rather than freshwater. If we would include the Caspian Sea on the list, we’d find it dwarfing everything else. It holds 18,761 cubic miles (78,200 cubic km) of water by volume, more than three times more water than all of the U.S. Great Lakes combined. It’s also the third deepest 3,363 feet (1,025 m).

Only about 2.5 percent of the Earth’s water is liquid freshwater, and the world’s lakes have 29,989 cubic miles (125,000 cubic km) of it. More than half is among the top five. 

Note that figures were converted from cubic kilometers and rounded to the nearest number.

01
of 10

Baikal, Asia: 5,517 cubic miles (22,995 cubic km)

Cracks on icy Lake Baikal

 Wanson Luk/Getty Images

Lake Baikal holds one-fifth of the world's freshwater. It is also the deepest in the world, with its deepest point at (1,741 m)—even deeper than the Caspian Sea. To add to the accolades, it might also be the one of the oldest on the planet, no less than 25 million years. More than 1,000 species there are unique and found nowhere else.

02
of 10

Tanganyika, Africa: 4,270 cubic miles (17,800 cubic km)

Mixed forest, chimpanzee habitat. east shore, Lake Tanganyika, Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania.

Auscape/Getty Images 

Lake Tanganyika, like some other large lakes on this list, was formed by movements of tectonic plates and thus is called a rift lake.

03
of 10

Lake Superior, North America: 2,932 cubic miles (12,221 cubic km)

An aerial shot of the abandoned and iconic Ore Dock in Marquette, Michigan along the shore of Lake Superior.

Rudy Malmquist/Getty Images 

The largest freshwater lake by surface area in the world at 31,802 square miles (82,367 sq km), Lake Superior is more than 10,000 years old and holds 10 percent of the world’s freshwater.

04
of 10

Lake Malawi (Lake Nyasa), Africa: 1,865 cubic miles (7,775 cubic km)

Turquoise clear water and granite rocks, Mumbo Island, Cape Maclear, Lake Malawi, Malawi, Africa

 Michael Runkel / robertharding/Getty Images

People in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Malawi rely on Lake Malawi for freshwater, irrigation, food, and hydroelectricity. Its national park is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site, as it has more than 400 fish species, nearly all endemic.

05
of 10

Lake Michigan, North America: 1,176 cubic miles (4,900 cubic km)

USA, Illinois, Chicago, City skyline and Lake Michigan

Gavin Hellier/Getty Images 

The only Great Lake that is entirely in the United States,it was created by glaciers, like other North American bodies of water.

06
of 10

Lake Huron, North America: 849 cubic miles (3,540 cubic km)

settings Lighthouse By Lake Huron Against Sunset Sky

Vikrant Agarwal / EyeEm/Getty Images 

Lake Huron has 120 lighthouses on its beaches, but its bottom is home to more than 1,000 shipwrecks, which are protected by the Thunder Bay Marine Sanctuary.

07
of 10

Lake Victoria, Africa: 648 cubic miles (2,700 cubic km)

The source of the while nile river flowing from lake Victoria in Jinja, Uganda.

Ashit Desai/Getty Images

Lake Victoria, the largest in Africa by surface area ([69,485 sq km]), has 84 islands in it.

08
of 10

Great Bear Lake, North America: 550 cubic miles (2,292 cubic km)

Star trails over Patricia Lake and Pyramid Mountain in Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada.

Alan Dyer/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images 

Lying within the Arctic Circle, the pristine Great Bear Lake is the largest in Canada but is covered in ice and snow the majority of the year. It is a protected UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

09
of 10

Issyk-Kul (Isyk-Kul, Ysyk-Köl), Asia: 417 cubic miles (1,738 cubic km)

Lake Issyk-köl ( Kyrgyzstan)

 Franck Metois/Getty Images

Pollution, invasive species, and species extinction are threatening Issyk-Kul, but conservation efforts achieved naming it a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Preservation efforts had the 16 bird species in mind, as between 60,000 and 80,000 birds overwinter there. About half a million people live near it. 

10
of 10

Lake Ontario, North America: 393 cubic miles (1,640 cubic km)

Ice capped rocks on wintery Lake Ontario

 Philippe Marion/Getty Images

All of the water in the Great Lakes flows through Lake Ontario. Before dams were built on the St. Lawrence River, fish such as eel and sturgeons migrated between Lake Ontario and the Atlantic.