American Lake, Washington, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Washington - Seattle & Puget Sound -

Less than three miles inland from Puget Sound, American Lake is one of the lesser known vacation destinations in Washington’s Seattle-King County Region. Lovely American Lake is often bypassed for the grandeur of Puget Sound. Little do visitors know what they’re missing at American Lake. Part of the lake is within the City of Lakewood, a suburb southwest of Tacoma. American Lake therefore has become a popular day use destination boating, picnicking and fishing . From the water, American Lake appears more as a scenic wilderness lake with majestic Mount Rainier as a backdrop to the southeast. Much of the shoreline is owned by the United States military, allowing it to keep its tree-lined, undeveloped perimeter. Camp Murray is home to the Washington National Guard while Fort Lewis, across the lake, is an Army installation. Fort McCord Air Force Base, near Fort Lewis, completes the trio. All three have waterfront access and facilities for current and past military members, but most of their shoreline properties remain undeveloped.

The presence of the military at American Lake goes back to before the United States boundary with Canada was fully determined. Originally the Steilacoom and Nisqually tribes of Native Americans camped, hunted and fished the lands surrounding the lake. Located midway between the Columbia River and the city of Vancouver, BC, the area was chosen by the British in 1833 as the site of Fort Nisqually, one of the fur trading post operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company. The boundary was finally set at the 49th parallel in 1846 and in 1869, Fort Nisqually was finally closed and the property sold to the United States. The United States Army formally commissioned Camp Murray in 1889 but the camp has been in use since 1866 during the Indian Wars. The camp became National Guard headquarters in 1922 – 15 years earlier than Fort Lewis. As for the name? Some believe its because American settlers claimed the lake even though it technically belonged to the British and the name stuck.

Two public parks – Harry Todd Park and American Lake North Park & Marina – give the public access to the water. Both have lakeside beaches ideal for picnicking, swimming and fishing. The marina features a boat launching area; Harry Todd Park has tennis courts. Many of the regular visitors to the parks come from Tacoma and Seattle to enjoy a day of power boating, water skiing, tubing, sailing, jet skiing, swimming and fishing. Both sailing and rowing clubs utilize the lake on a regular basis and often have events scheduled that visitors can take part in. City-owned American Lake Seaplane Base is located on the northeastern shore and is the largest full-service seaplane facility in the western part of the United States. Located very near Interstate 5, the lake is easy to get to and a welcome recreational oasis near Tacoma, Kent, Seattle and other cities along the I-5 corridor.

Fishing is always attractive at American Lake, with largemouth bass, cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, rock bass, sockeye salmon (kokanee) and perch The Sockeye salmo and perch are the most sought-after game fish. The Washington Dept of Fish and Wildlife monitors the state of the fishery, stocking favored species regularly to guarantee good fishing. There are several spots where visitors can try their luck from the shore but boat rentals are available. The wooded shoreline lends itself perfectly to kayaking and canoeing. Silcox Island holds several summer cottages and year-round homes while most of the smaller islands are uninhabited. The hardy lakelubbers of Silcox Island can be reached only by boat or seaplane and finally were serviced with electricity in 1968. One enterprising islander owned an amphibious vehicle at one time for trips to the store!

Both Camp Murray and Fort Lewis maintain military museums on their properties that are open to the public. Military history buffs can easily get their fill of the views of tanks, planes and armaments used over the past century. Hours vary so its wise to call ahead for tour information.

The aspiring visitor to American Lake will find that vacation rentals of all types can be had in the immediate vicinity. Some are located on the waterfront; others have lake views. Bed-and breakfast locations can be found nearby and one resort exists in the form of a restored, former manor house from the turn of the century. Lodgings are plentiful in Lakewood and Tacoma for those who wish to be closer to the shopping, nightlife and cultural activities of the bigger city. Also in Lakewood is Lakewold Gardens, complete with restored formal gardens, rare plants and carefully-designed garden vistas to delight the eye. Tacoma is the cultural center of South Puget Sound, with five carefully preserved historical districts, many art galleries and many public art works.

Just to the west of American Lake,the old town of Steilacoom sports a public beach on the Sound, a walking tour of some of the oldest homes in Washington state and variety of seasonal activities to delight visitor and resident alike. Here, one can take a ferry across the Sound, explore trails along the shore or enjoy the Farmers Market in season.

East of American Lake, one can explore the area around Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range, with many hiking trails to access several scenic waterfalls and Mount Rainier National Park. Primitive camping is available in much of the park, with developed campgrounds located between Mount Rainier and American Lake. Here, too, vacation rentals can be found. Real estate is often available near American Lake and the entire Cascade area is a popular place for scenic home sites. Visitors to American Lake quickly realize that the view of the mountains above the water is what they want to wake up to each morning and start looking for the perfect property to call their own. Give American Lake a try – you’ll wonder what took you so long!

Things to do at American Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Tubing
  • Tennis
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at American Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Cutthroat Trout
  • Kokanee Salmon
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sockeye Salmon
  • Sunfish
  • Trout

American Lake Photo Gallery

American Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 1,100 acres

Shoreline Length: 12 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 235 feet

Average Depth: 53 feet

Maximum Depth: 90 feet

Water Volume: 60,000 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 25 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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