Houghton Lake, Michigan, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Michigan - Northeast -

Houghton Lake is a shallow, marshy lake with a sandy, gravely bottom. Warm in the summer, freezing over during the winter months, and staying cool during the spring, the lake averages around 7-1/2 feet deep. The maximum depth is 22 feet measured in the lake’s East Bay, but depths greater than 17 feet are uncommon. The water levels drop about 6 inches during the winter to allow for expected snowmelt and the precipitation of spring rains and rise again in the summer.

The lake sits between Interstate 75 and US-27 in Roscommon County, Michigan (less than three hours from Detroit) and lies in the areas of four townships (Markey, Denton, Roscommon and Lake Townships). It measures about 7-1/2 miles long and 4-1/2 miles wide and boasts over 32 miles of shoreline. Houghton Lake takes its name from Michigan’s first state geologist, Douglas Houghton, who surveyed the region around 1832 to 1837.

Three towns border the lake – Houghton Lake and Houghton Lake Heights to the southwest and Prudenville to the southeast. There is a historic village in Prudenville that takes visitors back to the old ways of the area. The village includes a historic schoolroom built in 1876, a 19th-century pioneer village, a village museum, a playhouse and a wooded nature area for relaxation.

The community around the lake began developing when the lumbering industry in Michigan was booming and was settled in 1873. You may enjoy a visit at the Hartwick Pines Logging Museum in the Hartwick Pines State Park (in the vicinity of the nearby town of Grayling), where visitors re-visit the 19th century era of logging, and learn about the fascinating lifestyles of the time. The museum stands among one of Michigan’s last preserves of virgin white pine that once covered the Michigan peninsula.

Cut River brings water from Higgins Lake (lying to the north of Houghton Lake), and is Houghton Lake’s primary inflow. Houghton Lake is Michigan’s largest inland lake. Its surface area measures approximately 20,044 acres and it is the source of the Muskegon River, the mouth of which opens out from the North Bay in the northwestern corner of Houghton Lake. Muskegon River flows for over 200 miles before letting out into Lake Michigan.

Houghton Lake is affected by a number of water level controls. The State of Michigan sets the legal water levels for Houghton Lake, and the Roscommon County Drain Commissioners are responsible for regulating Houghton Lake levels (as well as the levels on nearby Higgins Lake and Lake St. Helen) through a series of dams. Water levels are typically six inches lower in winter than in summer to make room for winter snowmelt in the spring.

Houghton lake lies at an elevation of approximately 1,139 feet, almost 4 feet higher than the lake would be naturally. Because of that, seawalls have been constructed around most of Houghton Lake. There are also numerous culverts and two pumping stations on the Houghton Lake Flats on the west edge of the lake. The Flats are 670 acres of marshy wetlands that were once connected to the lake. It is a prime wildlife area and many enthusiasts will pull into the overlooking wildlife observation deck on Old US-27 (some hundred feet off US-27) to watch osprey and heron. The pumping stations occasionally pump water into Houghton Lake to allow maintenance of the marsh and are managed by Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources.

A diversity of aquatic plants live in Houghton Lake, including chara, elodea, various species of pondweed, and Eurasian milfoil. At one point the milfoil covered 11,000 acres of the lake and has responded to various treatments since 2002, when the Houghton Lake Improvement Board (HLIB) decided to resolve the problem. Treatments included a herbicide, called Sonar, and weevil stocking. The quantity of milfoil has greatly decreased since 2002.

The lake supports a wide range of recreational activity, but it is so big that it is never crowded. Visitors have their pick of nearly any water sport – jet skiing, boating, canoeing or fishing. Northern pike, walleye, panfish, crappie, yellow perch, and largemouth bass are common game; Houghton Lake is one of the most popular fisheries in Michigan. The immensely biodiverse area also attracts hunters, hikers and other nature enthusiasts. Roscommon County boasts 12 golf courses, varied enough for both novice and experienced golfers. Golf packages are available for serious golfers.

Winter activities are a great attraction on Houghton Lake. Snowmobiling, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, and ice fishing are of the most popular activities. Every winter, the seventh largest winter festival in the United States is held. It is called Tip-Up Town and occurs the last two weekends every January. The festival was created in 1951 as a way to have fun during the winter months and now draws crowds of people in the thousands. The festival incorporates lots of winter sports and features games, a parade, quirky elections for Mayors, Marshalls and Queens, fireworks, a hidden medallion to be found with different clues given each day, fishing contests and grand prize drawings.

If you plan your trip on a major holiday, such as Memorial Day, July Fourth or Labor Day, you may stop to take in the Arts and Crafts Show put on by local arts and crafts groups. The machine and computer quilting at A.J. Quilting might add a fun dynamic to your Houghton Lake experience, or you can check out the Kirtland Center for Performing Arts for a taste of Michigan’s cultural flavor.

Tourism is the Houghton Lake area’s largest source of revenue for the local economy and offers dependable options for lodging and dining. Campground, motel, hotel, lodge, or resort – whichever suits your style – in the Houghton Lake area, you have the luxury of choice. Make your stay a wildly fulfilling one.

Things to do at Houghton Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Canoeing
  • Jet Skiing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Houghton Lake

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Crappie
  • Grayling
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Walleye
  • Yellow Perch

Houghton Lake Photo Gallery

Houghton Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Roscommon County

Surface Area: 20,044 acres

Shoreline Length: 32 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,138 feet

Average Depth: 8 feet

Maximum Depth: 22 feet

Water Volume: 165,072 acre-feet

Lake Area-Population: 11,000

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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