The Largest Lakes in the US by Surface Area

Scenic vista, Presque Isle State Park, along Lake Erie, Erie, Pennsylvania

Dennis Macdonald/Getty Images

The United States is home to thousands of lakes. Some of the largest are found in high mountain areas, while others are located at low elevations. Many include man-made reservoirs created through damming rivers. One way of comparing size is by measuring surface area, as is done here. Lakes are listed from largest to smallest.

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Lake Superior

A part of Lake Superior

Matt Anderson Photography/Getty Images

Surface Area: 31,700 square miles (82,103 sq km)

Location: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada

Because it’s so big and deep (1,332 ft [406 m]), the annual fluctuations in height of Lake Superior are no more than 12 inches (30 cm)—but that doesn’t mean the area around it is immune to flooding. The waves can do serious damage. The highest wave ever recorded on the lake was in 2017, 28.8 feet (8.8 m) high.

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Lake Huron

Floating ice pieces covered with snow along forested Lake Huron shore, Detour, Michigan

Kerstin Berrett/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 23,000 square miles (59,570 sq km)

Location: Michigan and Ontario, Canada

Lake Huron is named for the people who inhabited the region before European explorers’ arrival; when the French first saw it, they named it “La Mer Douce,” which means “The Sweetwater Sea.”

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Lake Michigan

Chicago skyline with lake Michigan against clear sky,Illinois

aaaaimages/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 22,300 square miles (57,757 sq km)

Location: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin

The only Great Lake that lies completely in the United States, Lake Michigan used to have the Chicago River draining into it, which was reversed in 1900 with the construction of a canal. The reversal aimed to prevent city sewage from flowing into the lake.

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Lake Erie

Sunset At Lake Erie

Yuri Kriventsov/Getty Images

Surface Area: 9,910 square miles (25,666 sq km)

Location: Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Ontario, Canada

About one-third of the people who reside in the Great Lakes basin live in the watershed home to Lake Erie, including 17 metro areas with at least 50,000 residents.

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Lake Ontario

Toronto skyline and Lake Ontario at dusk, Ontario, Canada

india | blue ./Getty Images 

Surface Area: 7,340 square miles (19,010 sq km)

Location: New York and Ontario, Canada

Lake Ontario might be the smallest of the Great Lakes, but it’s deep; it holds four times the water of Lake Erie, even though their widths and lengths are similar.

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The Great Salt Lake

Great Salt Lake, Utah

Scott Stringham photographer/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 2,117 square miles (5,483 sq km)

Location: Utah

The Great Salt Lake’s size fluctuates greatly in size over time based on its evaporation and the size of the rivers that feed it. At its highest level in 1873 and the mid-1980s, it was about 2,400 square miles (6,200 square km), and at its lowest in 1963, about 950 square miles (2,460 square km.)

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Lake of the Woods

Lake of The Woods

 Jesse Durocher/Getty Images

Surface Area: 1,485 square miles (3,846 sq km)

Location: Minnesota and Manitoba and Ontario, Canada

The northernmost part of the United States, Angle Township, Minnesota, can be accessed only by crossing the Lake of the Woods or crossing the border into Canada first.

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Iliamna Lake

Hunter Wades With His Rife Across His Shoulder In Lake Iliamna

 Scott Dickerson / Design Pics/Getty Images

Surface Area: 1,014 square miles (2,626 sq km)

Location: Alaska

Ancient lore says that Iliamna Lake was the home of a gigantic blackfish that could bite holes into canoes.

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Lake Oahe

Lake Oahe Bridge
Joesboy / Getty Images

Surface Area: 685 square miles (1,774 sq km)

Location: North Dakota and South Dakota

People catch walleye, bass, northern pike and perch in this man-made lake. The dam that created the lake contains hydroelectric turbines that produce enough power for 259,000 homes per year.

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Lake Okeechobee

Professional fishing tournament in Lake Okechobee

Mitch Kezar / Design Pics/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 662 square miles (1,714 sq km)

Location: Florida

Florida’s Lake Okeechobee might have been named “Big Water” by the Seminoles, but the lake averages only 9 feet deep (2.7 m). A 2006 drought in Florida allowed previously lost vegetation to re-emerge.

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Lake Pontchartrain

Man canoeing through Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana

Sam Spicer/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 631 square miles (1,634 sq km)

Location: Louisiana

Lake Pontchartrain is part of the basin where the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico meet. It's the second-largest saltwater lake (actually an estuary) in the United States and is still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

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Lake Sakakawea

Dock on Lake Sakakawea
sakakawea7 / Getty Images

Surface Area: 520 square miles (1,347 sq km)

Location: North Dakota

Lake Sakakawea, created after the completion of the Garrison Dam, is one of the top three largest man-made reservoirs in the United States.

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Lake Champlain

Algae bloom on Lake Champlain, St. Albans Bay, St. Albans, Vermont, USA

 Corey Hendrickson/Getty Images

Surface Area: 490 square miles (1,269 sq km)

Location: New York–Vermont–Quebec

Lake Champlain lies between the Adirondacks and the Green Mountains and was strategically important during America's early years. If you're a trained scuba diver, you can tour wrecks from the 18th through 20th centuries.

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Becharof Lake

Becharof Lake

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters/Flickr/Public Domain

Surface Area: 453 square miles (1,173 sq km)

Location: Alaska

Named for a Russian explorer, Becharof Lake has a large sockeye salmon population, which is essential economically to its area of Alaska (and for its wildlife). The lake is part of a large National Wildlife Refuge.

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Lake St. Clair

Cloudscape Over Lake St. Clair, Michigan

Pam Susemiehl/Getty Images

Surface Area: 430 square miles (1,114 sq km)

Location: Michigan–Ontario

Lake St. Clair connects the St. Clair River and Lake Huron with the Detroit River and Lake Erie. It's a major recreation area in Detroit and was the subject of several citizen-aided testing and cleanup efforts in 2018. 

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Red Lake

Upper Red Lake,Northern Minnesota,late summer

Ryan/Beyer/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 427 square miles (1,106 sq km)

Location: Minnesota

Red Lake is two connected lakes, Upper Red Lake and Lower Red Lake. Walleye fishing has rebounded there since 2006 after the population had crashed in 1997 due to overfishing. Only Red Lake tribal members can fish there, commercially or for pleasure.

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Selawik Lake

Selawik National Wildlife Refuge, Arctic Alaska

 Kevin Smith / Design Pics/Getty Images

Surface Area: 404 square miles (1,046 sq km)

Location: Alaska

Selawik River, Lake, and National Wildlife Refuge lie northwest of Anchorage. As Alaska is so far north, the effects of climate change there are more dramatic than in other parts of the nation. This can be seen in reduced sea ice, glacier retreat, and melting permafrost (increasing CO2 in the atmosphere that had been locked away), and a noticeable rise in temperatures.

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Fort Peck

Fort Peck Dam & Lake harnesses the Missouri River

Stephen Saks/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 393 square miles (1,018 sq km)

Location: Montana

The man-made Fort Peck Reservoir, Montana's largest body of water, has more than 50 types of fish. It was created by damming the Missouri River. Surrounding it is a national wildlife refuge of more than 1 million acres (4,046 sq km.)

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Salton Sea

Salton sea

Eric Lowenbach/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 347 square miles (899 sq km)

Location: California

The bed of the Salton Sea is only about 5 feet higher than the lowest point in Death Valley, and the basin it lies in is part of the prehistoric Lake Cahuilla. As it evaporates and cities increasingly divert water from flowing into it, the salinity increases, killing off its fish that eat the algae in it and making the ecosystem inhospitable to other species. As it shrinks, boating access becomes more limited and toxic dust threatens nearby residents, especially asthma sufferers.

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Rainy Lake

Photograph of Rainy Lake

Jeff Kantor / Flickr / CC BY-SA 3.0

Surface Area: 345 square miles (894 sq km)

Location: Minnesota–Ontario

Rainy Lake's landscape is known for its starry skies, picturesque sunsets, and the ability to see the northern lights. Only about a third of the lake is in the United States.

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Devils Lake

Devils Lake Landcape OR

 Moelyn Photos/Getty Images

Surface Area: 300 square miles (777 sq km)

Location: North Dakota

The largest lake in North Dakota, Devils Lake has been affectionately known as the "Perch Capital of the World" since the 1980s. In the mid- to late 1990s, more farm fields near it became tiled and drained into it, doubling its size and displacing more than 300 homes and flooding more than 70,000 acres of farmland.

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Toledo Bend Reservoir

Submerged trees in Toledo Bend

 Elizabeth W. Kearley/Getty Images

Surface Area: 284 square miles (736 sq km)

Location: Louisiana–Texas

A popular fishing lake for lovers of largemouth bass, the Toledo Bend Reservoir gives anglers more fish in cooler seasons due to fish being more active during cooler water temperatures. It's the largest man-made lake in the South and was created when a dam on the Sabine River was built. 

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Lake Powell

Lake Powell, Arizona, USA

 Tony Sweet/Getty Images

Surface Area: 251 square miles (650 sq km)

Location: Arizona–Utah

Another man-made reservoir due to the construction of a dam in the 1950s, Lake Powell has been mired in controversy. Some environmental groups, such as the Glen Canyon Institute, advocate draining it.

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Kentucky Lake

Kentucky Lake at Dusk Images

Surface Area: 250 square miles (647 sq km)

Location: Kentucky–Tennessee

The man-made Kentucky Lake came into being when the Kentucky Dam, part of the Tennessee Valley Authority, was completed on the Tennessee River in 1944. 

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Lake Mead

Lake Mead

Photographed by Randi Ang/Getty Images 

Surface Area: 247 square miles (640 sq km)

Location: Arizona–Nevada

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, America's first such designated place, is 1.5 million acres of desert, mountains, valleys, and canyons. It was created through dams across the Colorado River. It's one of the National Park System's most visited places, but the lake is presenting officials and residents challenges as it dries up.

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Briney, Amanda. "The Largest Lakes in the US by Surface Area." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Briney, Amanda. (2020, August 28). The Largest Lakes in the US by Surface Area. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "The Largest Lakes in the US by Surface Area." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 31, 2023).