Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - Northwest Territories -

Great Slave Lake is the fifth-largest lake (by acreage) in North America and, following Great Bear Lake, is the second-largest in Canada. A natural lake, it is located in south-central Northwest Territories (NWT). Located just south of the Arctic Circle, Great Slave Lake is frozen about five and a half months out of the year. With an area of nearly 7 million acres and more islands than can be named, Great Slave Lake is an outdoor utopia for visitors who seek the peace and quiet of a large, beautiful, mostly untouched lake. The area was explored by Samuel Hearne in 1771 who initially named the lake Lake Athupuscow. The city of Yellowknife was started in 1935 with gold being discovered; in 1967 it became the capital of the Northwest Territories. With gold mining petering out, Yellowknife grew as a government center and now is growing again with the discovery of diamonds.

Pre-glacial valleys formed the bottom of Great Slave Lake. Its west side is mostly forested wilderness, and the north and east arms join with the barren tundra. At a maximum depth of over 2000 feet, Great Slave Lake is the deepest lake in North America. It is irregular in shape, almost 300 miles long, and 12 to almost 70 miles wide. A pristine lake environment, its water sources are numerous streams and rivers including Hay, Yellowknife, Snare, Beaulieu, Emile, Snowdrift and the Taltson. The lake drains into the Mackenzie River.

The Great Slave Lake area affords a wonderful boating milieu for kayakers, canoeists and sailing enthusiasts. As one might expect on a lake surrounded by wilderness, there are multitudes of inlets, islands and quiet bays to try. Imagine luxuriating in the quiet outdoors. Sport fishing is super with trophy size lake trout, artic grayling, northern pike and whitefish the main attractions. Ice fishing expeditions are frequent, again with trophy size catches for the avid angler. Guides offer dog team tours in winter, snowmobiling across the vast expanses of ice. There are a number of geocaches around Yellowknife for the intrepid ‘cacher’ – anyone visiting should try these for an unusual ‘find’.

Great Slave Lake hosts the month-long Winter Festival each March on Yellowknife Bay. An elaborate ice castle is constructed each year to house the festival, which includes an auditorium, courtyard, cafe, slide, and turrets. During the winter, an ice road connects Yellowknife to the First Nations community of Dettah. Another treat for visitors near the spring and fall equinoxes are the Northern Lights, the Aurora Borealis, that create spectacular displays of color in the nighttime skies.

Great Slave Lake wildlife viewing is great; caribou, musk ox, black bear, and bald eagles are to be spotted on most any excursion. A trip to one of the remote lodges from November to April is recommended for Northern Lights viewing and a meal of musk ox, a unique experience.

Houseboat living in Yellowknife Bay is a way of life for some rugged individualists. About 40 houseboats make the Bay their home. In 2014, the television channel Animal Planet began a reality show titled “Ice Lake Rebels” that followed a small group of houseboaters who choose to live off-the-grid, following their challenges during the long, harsh winters.

The wilderness setting of Great Slave Lake provides a spectacular scene in which to participate with the rustic outdoors. A trip there will be an outstanding adventure.

Things to do at Great Slave Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Snowmobiling
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding

Fish species found at Great Slave Lake

  • Grayling
  • Lake Trout
  • Northern Pike
  • Pike
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Great Slave Lake Photo Gallery

Great Slave Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 6,721,280 acres

Shoreline Length: 1,900 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 510 feet

Average Depth: 130 feet

Maximum Depth: 2,010 feet

Water Volume: 1,284,095,982 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 374,905 sq. miles

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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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