Lake Ontario, Great Lakes, USA & Canada

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Lake Ontario, one of the world’s five Great Lakes, weaves over state and country borders, delighting Americans, Canadians, and visiting tourists with its deep, clear, clean waters. Proudly home to a staggering 4,700,000 acres (7,340 square miles), Lake Ontario is the smallest of the Great Lakes, the perfect testament to the sheer size and importance of these great, glacial lakes. Having served as home to many over the years, Lake Ontario is today bordered by Toronto, Hamilton, and Rochester, serving as an aquatic playground to all who visit its shores.

Lake Ontario’s name comes from a Huron word, meaning “great lake,” counterpart to the neighboring Iroquois people’s “Skanadario.” In addition to its Native American names, the colossus has held several others, including “Lac Ontario ou des Iroquois,” “Ondiara,” and “Lac Frontenac.” Such a wide variety of monikers reflects the massive reservoir’s rich history, whose human intervention began with the Iroquois and Huron nations. Etienne Brule, the first modern European to set eyes on the lake, arrived in 1615, though artifacts indicate that he was beaten by the Norse, who arrived long before him. Today, Lake Ontario remembers its rolls in contemporary history, serving in the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, and the War of 1812.

About 80% of the water coming into Lake Ontario arrives from its western neighbor, Lake Erie, via the Niagara River. Lake Ontario tributaries and precipitation provide the rest. Over 90% of Lake Ontario’s water flows to the St. Lawrence River with the rest being lost to evaporation, often falling in northern New York State as huge winter snowfalls. As the last of the downstream Great Lakes, issues relating to any of the lakes in the Great Lakes system are of major concern both here and as far upstream as Lake Superior. A dam at Kingston, Ontario regulates Lake Ontario water levels for hydroelectric power generation. The lake’s water levels are managed by the International Joint Commission through the Board of Controls.

Though Lake Ontario is the smallest Great Lake by surface area, it is still a giant body of water. As the world’s 14th largest lake, the lake measures approximately 193 miles long and 53 miles wide, affording an astounding 712 miles of navigable, hike-worthy, scenic shoreline. Its 802-foot depth makes Lake Ontario the second deepest Great Lake, appropriately inferior to Lake Superior.

With so much water, it’s no wonder that Lake Ontario is world-renowned for its fantastic fishing opportunities, as anglers make yearly pilgrimages to fish in its waters. Black bass, brown trout, coho salmon, king salmon, lake trout, perch, spring kings, steelhead, and walleye are all area favorites, and avid anglers can choose to head out with a fishing charter, or on their own. For all those who venture onto Lake Ontario’s fish-infested waters, however, a day of exciting fishing and beautiful nature watching await. As your hook dangles beneath the lake’s lightly-rippling surface, drink in deep gulps of fresh New York-Ontario air, appreciate the scenery all around, and watch as boats pass in the distance. Indeed, the deep blue waters and complementary green scenery promise to relax you as much as its record-breaking fish do to get your pulse racing.

If you love the idea of a lazy day on the lake without the fish, boating will suit your tastes to a tee. If you don’t bring your own boat, there are many marinas and boat rental companies around Lake Ontario that can suit your needs and preferences with canoes, kayaks, speed boats, pontoon boats, and even sailboats. With so many miles of shoreline and lake acreage to explore, don’t preoccupy yourself with visiting the entire lake; instead, focus on your own, small slice of aquatic paradise. You’ll investigate quiet coves, race over smooth water, and discover secret spots throughout the day, accompanied by just the sun and scenery. Watch for birds swooping overhead, animals drinking at the shoreline, and brave waterskiers doing tricks and jumping lake wake.

Back on land, you won’t want for things to do. Lake Ontario is surrounded by parks and protected areas, and home to some of the best birding in the region. Around the lake’s huge shoreline, you’ll find tens of thousands of diving ducks, in addition to Atlantic Brant, Black-crowned Night Herons, Caspian Terns, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, Common Terns, Double-breasted Cormorants, Dunlin, Greater Scaup, King Eider, Oldsquaw, Red-breasted Merganser, Red-shoulderd hawks, Red-tailed hawks, Ring-billed Gulls, Sharp-shinned hawks, Surf Scoter, and White-winged Scoter, and so many more. Bring your binoculars, birding books, and cameras, because Lake Ontario promises to be one of the best birdwatching experiences you’ve ever had.

Adding to its diverse birding options, Lake Ontario is literally surrounded by biking and hiking trails, state parks, and national parks, which promise to fulfill your every outdoor urge. The multi-use, 485-mile Waterfront Trail, which winds through Ontario’s residential roads, parks, and marinas is an excellent place to start your Lake Ontario journey. Around each bend, you’ll find each view more fascinating, more spectacular than the one before it, and every photo op stop will do double-duty, allowing you to catch your breath and recover from the amazing sights before you.

For the closest local parks, check out the state and provincial offerings for your Lake Ontario location. Amazing nature awaits, like New York’s Chimney Bluffs State Park, home to sculpted, spiraling bluffs that are so spectacular that you won’t believe your eyes. Hiking and biking trails wind their way through almost every Lake Ontario lakefront park, and picnic areas are perfect for a relaxing, waterfront lunch. In winter, many of these state and provincial parks change focus, gearing up for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, and all other kinds of snowball fun.

Lake Ontario’s gigantic size and unique natural beauty will make your days here blissful. With large cities bordered by protected areas, this American-Canadian lake is sure to satisfy every pleasure, whether it be the outdoor adventurer in search of an undiscovered scenic overlook, or the trained urbanite, hunting for city bargains. One thing is sure, though: once you give Lake Ontario a chance, you run the risk of never leaving this pristine, beautiful Great Lake.

Things to do at Lake Ontario

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Water Skiing
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Hunting
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Provincial Park
  • National Park
  • Playground

Fish species found at Lake Ontario

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Brown Trout
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Coho Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Perch
  • Salmon
  • Steelhead Trout
  • Trout
  • Walleye

Lake Ontario Photo Gallery

Lake Ontario Statistics & Helpful Links

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Water Level Control: International Joint Commission Board of Controls

Surface Area: 4,697,600 acres

Shoreline Length: 712 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 243 feet

Average Depth: 283 feet

Maximum Depth: 802 feet

Water Volume: 1,328,025,600 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 6 years

Lake Area-Population: 2,700,000

Drainage Area: 24,720 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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