Lake Khovsgol, Mongolia

Lake Locations:

Mongolia -

Also known as:  Lake Hovsgol

Often referred to as “The Dark Blue Pearl”, Lake Khovsgol is Mongolia’s largest and deepest lake. Located in the northernmost province and surrounded by wooded mountains, Lake Khuvsgul is 84 miles long, 22 wide, 860 feet deep and sits at an altitude of 5,397 feet above sea level. It is frozen from January until April or May. Lake Khovsgol is the second largest fresh water lake in Central Asia and is inhabited by nine species of fish. It is also home to a number of hearty animals including sheep, ibex, bear, yak, reindeer and moose, as well as over 200 species of birds. Reindeer breeding and herding are a main tourist attraction along with hiking and fishing.

It is only in recent years that sport fishing has become popular at Lake Khovsgol. Fish in include Siberian grayling, Kosogol grayling, Asian trout, Arctic cisco, Siberian roach, pike, perch, salmon and sturgeon. Make sure you bring your own fishing gear as the area surrounding Lake Khovsgol is sparsely populated and there are few stores. Fishing usually takes place from shore or a bridge at the southern end near the town of Khatgal. Some small coves are accessible by kayak and offer excellent fishing. The fishing season is rather short with fishing prohibited before July 10. Ice fishing is nearly impossible as the lake is covered with four feet of ice for nearly have the year. The lake does not completely thaw until early June.

The water of Lake Khovsgol is about as pure as it gets and can be consumed right out of the lake. Although pollution is slowly on the rise, steps are being made to keep large trucks from driving across the ice. Around 40 trucks have fallen through the ice over the years.

The best time to visit Lake Khovsgol is in the summer although this can be a rainy season. The lake is surrounded by thick pine forests and lush meadows dotted with grazing yaks, horses and reindeer. Wildflowers and colorful birds are also in abundance. Autumn is another beautiful time to visit when the leaves are turning color and daytime temperatures are still pleasant. Winter is incredibly cold with an average temperature of -13 degrees. The lake freezes over and due to the clear water, you can look down through the four feet or more layers of ice and see the lake floor. Locals claim that the lake is most beautiful this time of year. The temperature rises a little in the spring, but it is still very cold and there is plenty of snow on the ground. Although a chilly region, there are an average of 250 sunny days a year in Mongolia often with clear blue, cloudless skies. Mongolia is known to the world as a country of “Blue Sky”

When not covered in ice, a ferryboat operates between Khatgal and Khankh, two towns on the southern and northern shores of Lake Khovsgol within the boundaries of the Khovsgol National Park. The park, established in 1992, covers over two million acres of which 620,232 are forest. Sections of the forest are strictly protected. Hiking and jeep trails wind their way through the trees and offer some spectacular views of the lake. There are several campsites in the park as well as a boat launch onto the lake. A visit to this park is a must if you plan on spending time in the area. The local wildlife, unique geological features and virtually untouched mountain ranges are unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else.

Some of the main roads around Lake Khovsgol are not maintained and travel by jeep or horseback is the best way to explore the area. Horses can be rented from stables and private individuals in the area. A guide is recommended for any extended horse riding trips into the mountains. A complete circuit around the lake on horseback will take anywhere from ten days to two weeks.

Traveling by canoe or kayak is relaxing way to explore Lake Khovsgol. The lake is full of small coves perfect for camping and fishing. If you’re feeling adventurous, the island of Modon Huys is located almost exactly in the middle of the lake. Several large boats remain moored at the Khatgal docks and occasionally take passengers up to Khankh. Tent camping is allowed, but there are no designated camping areas outside of Khovsgol National Park. As long as you are not on protected or posted land, you can pitch a tent. Many of the people of Mongolia are nomads and live in what are called ger camps. Gers are semi-permanent tents. Ger camps often have extra tents for rent if you’d like to see how these unique people live.

Khatgal is the largest town near Lake Khovsgol located at the southern end of the lake. Khatgal has some of the best budget accommodations in Mongolia and is a good launch pad for the lake. The town is actually on the river, the Egiin Gol, at the outlet of the lake. 96 rivers flow into Lake Khovsgol, while only one river flows out – the Egiin Gol,

East of Lake Khovsgol is Tsagaan Uur sum, well known for its historic cave. The cave is an ancient pilgrimage site where a deified shaman was venerated. The cave is nearly 100 feet long and one of the most impressive in Mongolia. There are numerous caves around the lake but finding them will require a guide.

The Tsaatan or Reindeer People are a small ethnic group whose lives revolve around the survival of their indigenous reindeer. They live in teepee like huts and follow their herds of reindeer to different grazing areas around Lake Khovsgol. Although a rather mysterious group of people, they are very friendly and welcome tourists.

Despite its long, cold winter, Lake Khovsgol is a popular tourist destination. Visitors can fish, boat or even swim in the crystal clear water. Hundreds of birds migrate through the area offering marvelous opportunities for bird watching. You can hike or horseback ride through some of the highest and most beautiful mountains in the region. Explore a cave, milk a reindeer, pet a yak, or spend a day with some of the most interesting people in the world. Whatever your interest, Lake Khovsgol is a vacation destination you will not soon forget.

Things to do at Lake Khovsgol

  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • National Park

Fish species found at Lake Khovsgol

  • Cisco
  • Grayling
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Roach
  • Salmon
  • Sturgeon
  • Trout

Lake Khovsgol Photo Gallery

Lake Khovsgol Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 682,008 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 5,397 feet

Average Depth: 453 feet

Maximum Depth: 876 feet

Water Volume: 250,267,163 acre-feet

Drainage Area: 1,900 sq. miles

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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