Elk Lake, Michigan, USA

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A visit to Elk Lake is a fisherman’s dream come true. The huge lake is nearly 200 ft deep in some areas and is actually deep enough to offer lake trout fishing winter and summer. Further, it’s affordable and versatile enough to keep the entire crew happy. Elk Lake is the tail-end of the 14 lakes and rivers in the Elk River Chain of Lakes. A mile or so up the Elk River and you will find yourself in Grand Traverse Bay. Elk Lake is not an extension of the Bay, but a glacial lake gouged into the river valley and sports its own ecology and fish populations. It is the third largest inland lake in Michigan-only Houghton and Torch Lakes are larger. About eight miles long and up to four miles wide, there is plenty of space for all types of fishing and other water sports.

The area was first home to Native Americans known as the Anishinabek, believed to be of the Chippewa group of tribes. Elk Lake was originally named Meguzee Lake, a Native American name meaning Eagle, in honor of the chief who signed the Treaty of 1821 and Treaty of 1826. Its main settlement, Elk Rapids, was originally named Stevens when platted in 1852. After a set of elk horns was found in the river rapids, the town, the river and the lake were all re-named Elk. And Elk it has been since 1858.

Although Elk Lake is one of the lesser-known lakes, the fish it gives up are famous among anglers. In the past few years, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has planted over 117,000 rainbow and brown trout in Elk Lake. These are usually caught using the time-honored trick of hanging a lantern over the bow of the boat at night in 30 to 50 ft of water and tempting them with small jigs tipped with wrigglers. In addition, lake trout lurk in the deep hole in the long central basin of the lake. The flesh of these lakers is of a deep orange hue and said to be much tastier than those caught in the Great Lakes. This is one of the few locations where one can catch lake trout through the ice, far safer here than braving the sometimes thin and unreliable ice of the Bay.

Those wishing for pan fish often target the perch and smallmouth bass that inhabit the waters. In the past few years, several record fish, including muskies over 50 inches, and smallmouth bass over 21 inches in length have been taken from Elk Lake. Rock bass, muskellunge, ciscoes, and whitefish can also be caught. Since the boater can enter shallower Skegemog Lake from the short channel at the southeast corner of the lake, a day of fishing can provide for varied conditions and prey without ever having to take the boat out of the water.

For the non-fisher-folk of the family, other water sports abound, such as waterskiing, wakeboarding, tubing, kayaking, sailing, and, in winter, ice-boating. As Elk Rapids is the only village of any true size, the village acts as headquarters for visitors and tourists. A lake marina is located here, with other launch facilities at the many tourist resorts and cottages available for rent in the area. Nearly every type of watercraft is available for rental. Another free public launch is located at the Whitewater Township Park south of town. Given the close proximity of Elk Rapids to Traverse City (20 miles south) and Charlevoix nearly the same distance north, Elk Lake lodging can be found at bargain rates compared to these more expensive resort areas.

Elk Rapids sits at the small spit of land between Elk Lake and the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Highway 31 is the most convenient way to access Elk River, unless you come by boat, either one of the beautiful sailing yachts on Lake Michigan or a small watercraft through the chain of lakes. Elk Rapids has much to offer visitors even if they aren’t there for the lake fishing or sport. The new municipal harbor can accommodate all kinds of larger boats; there are several waterfront parks and a municipal golf course fronting either Elk Lake or the bay. One of the oldest resort cottage complexes actually fronts both the lake and the bay. And, where else could you camp at an RV park within walking distance of the village, across the road from the golf course and with beach front access to the bay?

Elk Rapids and Elk Lake are old-school vacationland Michigan. Some cottages have been in the same family for over 80 years. New condos have sprung up and there are always occasional lakefront properties for sale along the nearly 26 miles of shoreline. Elk Rapids has worked diligently to provide for visitor amenities, and activities are in abundance particularly in the summer months. On Wednesday nights, River Street hosts free movies, live entertainment and a variety of food and activities for both adults and children. Special events include the Harbor Days festival and annual boat show. Most amenities are open year round and available for visitors coming to take advantage of fall color tours, hiking trails, nature paths, winter skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing and local special events. The municipal golf course with a spectacular view is available to serve landlubbers who haven’t yet developed their sea-legs.

For an affordable fishing or waterfront vacation, pack up family and friends and head up US 31 to Elk Rapids. At less than 350 miles from Chicago and only 250 miles from Detroit, this is a do-able destination for a week’s vacation.

Things to do at Elk Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Tubing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Snowmobiling
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Fish species found at Elk Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Brown Trout
  • Cisco
  • Lake Trout
  • Muskellunge
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Elk Lake Photo Gallery

Elk Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 7,730 acres

Shoreline Length: 26 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 587 feet

Average Depth: 54 feet

Maximum Depth: 192 feet

Trophic State: Oligotrophic

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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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