Kanas Lake, Northwest China, China

Lake Locations:

China - Northwest China -

Also known as:  Hanas Lake, Kanasi Lake

One of the most interesting and beautiful tourist destinations in China’s far northwest region is Kanas Lake. Located in the Altay Mountains, the glacially-carved lake forms a kidney-shaped gem along the glacier-fed Kanas River. At 4,396 feet elevation, the surroundings are alpine with spectacular scenery. Heavily wooded, the entire lake lies within the 216,217-acre Kanas Lake Geopark with the immediate area considered a nature refuge. Over 1,000 local Tuvans and Kazakhs inhabit this area of China that borders Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan. These semi-nomadic herdsmen maintain a way of life, religion and customs they have continued for hundreds of years.

The water in Kanas Lake originates from the Kanas Glacier, 78 miles upstream. Partly because of glacial rock ‘flour’ carried by the river, Kanas Lake is well-known for the changing hues of the water. All shades of blue and green, sometimes a milky white, can be seen at the lake depending on the season, the weather and the angle of the sunlight. Early morning rainstorms, mists and fog enshroud the surrounding hills at various times, with the sunlight creating an other-worldly atmosphere. This is only one of the reasons the Mongolian word Kanas was assigned to the lake; the word means “rich and beautiful, mysterious and enigmatic”. Another reason is no doubt the long tradition of the ‘lake monster’ inhabiting the deep and cold waters.

Although the local people often depend on fish to supplement their diet, certain tribes in the area refuse to approach Kanas Lake because of the ‘lake monster’. Recent tourist videos suggest that the ‘monster’ may be a species of carnivorous Siberian salmon that can reach six feet long.
Others insist that the monster is simply a myth invented to increase tourism to the area. Speculation simply adds another layer of excitement to the beautiful lake and is something tourists taking the boat tour always watch for. There doesn’t appear to have been much scientific study of Kanas Lake to date. Depth soundings have revealed that the lake reaches over 600 feet in depth. Considering the lake’s age, roughly estimated at 200,000 years and the average depth of nearly 400 feet, it is entirely possible that undiscovered species could inhabit the depths.

The Chinese government has been heavily promoting Kanas Lake as a tourism destination. Paying the entrance fee at the gate includes bus travel within the park and is the only way to travel other than walking or horseback. The park buses cover most of the more popular spots within the Geopark, but entrance to some popular attractions isn’t included in the ticket price. Kanas Lake is at the northern end of the park, within sight of Friendship Peak designating the border between China and Russia/Mongolia. Tours can be arranged for either one day or two. Those planning to do much hiking will usually choose one of the more flexible options. As this is a border area, a permit is required for foreign visitors to travel here.

Bus tours usually go to local scenic spots such as Moon Bay, Crouching Dragon Bay and Immortal Bay-favored stopping points along the Kanas River and not on the lake itself. The Fishing Pavilion is a spot where tourists usually opt to pay an extra fee to reach; atop a mountain, the Fishing Pavilion offers fantastic views of Kanas Lake and the surrounding landscape. One can either reach the top by bus or walk the stairs-a rather breathtaking jaunt. At the lakeside itself, hostels run by local families can provide communal lodgings, and many local street-side restaurants offer a variety of Chinese dishes with a few Mongolian favorites adding variety.

There are a wide range of walking paths and hiking trails within the Geopark. Officially there is no camping within the park, but some tour groups appear to have made arrangements with park officials. The area within the Geopark is the only place in China where southern Siberian species of plants and animals can naturally be found. Because of the elevation, weather can be unpredictable. Even mid-summer nights can get quite cold at Kanas Lake. All visitors are advised to come prepared with a heavy jacket. Although many of the nearby tribesmen follow a nomadic seasonal lifestyle, living here only in certain seasons in their yurts, others have become full-blown entrepreneurs catering to the tourist trade. Some of their offerings include guides for hiking, orienteering, paragliding, rock climbing, rafting, and camping. Hemu Village is an interesting place for the adventurous to stay overnight and use as a base for trekking the nearby mountain pathways.

In consideration of the local environment, the nearly one million visitors here a year are causing Chinese officials to explore moving all tourist accommodations away from the lakeside, likely to Hemu Village about 20 miles away. The nearest rated hotel is outside of the park area. Reaching Kanas Lake from the nearest large city is a 12-hour bus trip, so this is an amazing number of visitors for such a remote location. Altay City is 153 miles away over rough roads. The best time to visit Kanas Lake is between June and September, although October can provide a colorful backdrop to the lake with a golden screen of changing foliage. Many travel agents can arrange for tours to Kanas Lake. Experienced travelers may wish to make their own arrangements but should be sure to secure adequate lodgings-and take plenty of warm clothing. Visitors should also expect that everything will cost extra in this remote location.

Travelers familiar with other parts of China will be surprised to find Kanas Lake so unlike most of this populous nation. Those who treasure scenic nature and unique cultural experience will find Kanas Lake filled with photographic opportunities and rare glimpses into ancient cultures little changed in hundreds of years. Kanas Lake is definitely ‘bucket-list’ material.

Things to do at Kanas Lake

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Rock Climbing
  • Horseback Riding

Fish species found at Kanas Lake

  • Salmon

Kanas Lake Photo Gallery

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Kanas Lake Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 11,300 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 4,396 feet

Average Depth: 394 feet

Maximum Depth: 618 feet

Water Volume: 43,616,369 acre-feet

Lake Area-Population: 1,000

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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".

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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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