Huron River Chain of Lakes, Michigan, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Michigan - Southeast -

Also known as:  Portage Chain of Lakes, Pinckney Chain of lakes, Little Portage Lake, Big Portage Lake, Base Line Lake, Tamarack Lake,Whitewood Lakes, Gallagher Lake, Strawberry Lake, Zukey Lake, Bass Lake, Ore Lake

One of the best places for lakeside living in Southeastern Michigan is along the lakes and canals of the Huron River Chain of Lakes. Called ‘pontoon heaven’ by waterway fans, eight main lakes can be accessed by most watercraft, with at least one more accessible only by small boat. Some areas cannot be accessed by pontoon due to low under-road clearances or narrow passages. The lakes in the chain include Little Portage Lake, Big Portage Lake, Base Line Lake, Whitewood Lake, Zukey Lake, Tamerack Lake, Gallagher Lake, Strawberry Lake and Ore Lake. All lakes are residential with many year-round homes. Round-trip boating through the major lakes takes about four hours, covering a distance of 13 miles.

The Huron River Chain of Lakes starts at the north end upstream with 191-acre Ore Lake. This is the only lake that cannot be accessed by larger boats. Just across the Huron River lies the Huron Meadows Metropark with over 1,500 wooded acres for walking, nature enjoyment and cross-country skiing. Downstream, the first fully navigable lake is 257-acre Strawberry Lake. Attached to Strawberry Lake by a wide boating channel is Zukey Lake with 155 acres. Immediately to the west of Zukey is 141-acre Bass Lake. An assortment of man-made canals constitutes something of a maze among all three lakes, but the waterways appear to be well marked. Maps are available locally.

Downstream from Strawberry Lake lies Gallagher Lake with 76 acres, and beyond is 65-acre Whitewood Lakes. Whitewood’s name is plural as there are two basins connected by a broad channel. Heading downstream along the Huron River, a channel branches off to little 16-acre Tamarack Lake, while the main river enters Base Line Lake. With 254 acres, Base Line Lake is the home of the University of Michigan Sailing Club. The end of the chain is next with Big Portage Lake, and it’s attached to Little Portage Lake. With 644 acres, Big Portage Lake is the best-known lake in the chain and sports a marina, major Department of Natural Resources (DNR)concrete boat ramp, and a locally famous pizza parlor where pontooners are likely to tie up for an evening pizza. Little Portage Lake is the least developed in the chain; its 101 acres are rimmed by wetlands with few homes.

Lucky residents on the Huron River Chain of Lakes can enjoy sailing, power boating, water skiing, jet-skiing, tubing, wakeboarding and leisurely rafting. Canoes and kayaks explore the many bays and inlets, while the Huron River is a well-known destination for paddle sports. Big Portage Lake is noted as a sailing destination, but launching from the DNR boat ramp is problematic due to a low road under-clearance that does not allow for masts. Most experienced sailors know they will need an auxiliary motor to get to the lake before they can raise a mast and unfurl sails. Those who regularly sail here join the Portage Yacht Club, a full-service membership-supported sailing club that sponsors regular races and regattas. A marina located near the south end of Big Portage Lake serves as a source for boat gas, repairs, dock space, boat rentals and incidentals. The marina regularly rents pontoons to lake visitors and can provide waterway maps. The marina also rents canoes and kayaks and offers a wide range of classes and tours.

Nearby Ann Arbor offers a wide variety of eclectic food and shopping experiences. In addition to several venues offering art displays and galleries, many of the larger night spots offer world-class entertainment in all genres. The city has almost a dozen museums to visit, including its excellent Museum of Natural History, U of M Museum of Zoology, U of M Kelsey Museum of Archaeology, a Hands-On Museum, and even a Museum of Dentistry. Plenty of historical activities grace the area around the city, with historical parks and living history homesteads. Close proximity to both the University of Michigan and the U of M Medical Center and nearby St. Joseph Hospital make the Huron River Chain of Lakes a popular residential area for professionals. Both Brighton and Ann Arbor have many hotels and other forms of lodging, and a lucky few can find a short-term rental on the Chain of Lakes. Campgrounds and bed & breakfasts are located nearby.

The connected lakes aren’t the only lakes in the area. The chain’s 235 square mile sub-watershed contains 172 lakes over five acres in size and 22,000 acres of wetlands. Although some lakes have problems with aquatic weed overgrowth, all are used for boating, swimming, fishing and water sports. The location is ideal. The lower lakes are only about 15 minutes from the City of Ann Arbor. Ore Lake is only a few miles from Brighton. Nearby is a wealth of recreational public lands, including Brighton Recreation Area, Pinckney State Recreation Area, and Hudson Mills Metropark. Recreational opportunities in the area are the sort that appeal to the larger University population such as nearby Mt. Brighton Ski Hill, canoe and kayak liveries, and plenty of hiking trails. The entire Huron River is a noted smallmouth bass fishery, while largemouth bass, bluegill, northern pike, walleye, rock bass, yellow perch, catfish and other warm-water fish species can be caught. In winter, ice fishing is popular.

The Huron River Chain of Lakes is a part of a large swath of natural glacial pothole lakes spread across southeastern Michigan. Other lake chains exist nearby that are less well-known and farther from metropolitan areas. Only 20 miles to the west, another Portage Lake borders yet another Little Portage Lake in Jackson County with drainage to the Grand River and eventually Lake Michigan. Two Portage Rivers are involved in the mix, leaving no doubt that the entire area was an important water transportation route for early Native American travelers. In years past, much of the fertile muck lands were ditched and drained to raise crops of vegetables for commercial use. Ditching altered much of the natural hydrology of the area, and as most vegetable cropping is no longer occurring, the ditches have been allowed to revert to their natural fens, bogs and marshlands. It is easy to see why early explorers considered most of Michigan a swamp and therefore considered it worthless. Wildlife, waterfowl and birds in the area thrive in this rich tapestry of wetlands, ponds and creeks. Increasingly, the area’s true natural wealth is recognized by a new generation of visitors.

Come visit the Huron River Chain of Lakes and enjoy all this waterway has to offer. Explore the areas nearby and prepare to be surprised at the wide array of wildlife and birds which inhabit the areas around the lakes. Only 50 miles from Detroit and the Canadian border, the chain is easy to get to and hard to leave.

*Statistics listed are only for Big Portage Lake. The sub-watershed acreage is for all of the lakes in the chain.

Things to do at Huron River Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Tubing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • Museum
  • Shopping

Fish species found at Huron River Chain of Lakes

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • Yellow Perch

Huron River Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Huron River Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 644 acres

Shoreline Length: 6 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 856 feet

Maximum Depth: 84 feet

Drainage Area: 235 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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