Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - North Dakota - Northwest -

The second-largest reservoir by surface acreage in the United States (and third-largest in volume), Lake Sakakawea stretches 178 miles from Garrison Dam northwest to Williston, North Dakota, and has a surface area of about 382,000 acres. Lake Sakakawea averages between two and three miles in width and is six miles wide at its widest point. Located 75 miles north of Bismarck, North Dakota, the gently rolling prairie and the 1,300 miles of shoreline offer a wide verity of activities for visitors. Recreational activities include camping, boating, fishing, sailing, nature watching, hunting, and ice-fishing.

Lake Sakakawea was created by impounding the Missouri River. Authorized under the Flood Control Act of 1944, or the Pick-Sloan Plan, construction of Garrison Dam began in 1947. Upon completion in 1954, Garrison Dam stretches 2,050 feet wide at the base and tapers off to 60 feet wide at the top, and is now the fifth largest earthen dam in the world. In addition to hydropower production, Garrison Dam provides a variety of benefits to the public, such as fish and wildlife preservation, flood control, navigation, irrigation, and recreation. Visitors can take a tour at the power plant, where they can also see exhibits that display the construction and operation of the Garrison Dam.

Lake Sakakawea, rooted in early American history, was named after Sacajawea, a Shoshoni woman who was invaluable to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Many of the original campsites of Lewis and Clark are now underwater due to the damming of the Missouri River. On the south shore of Lake Sakakawea, adjacent to Garrison Dam, visitors will find the Lake Sakakawea State Park. Originally developed by the US Army Corps of Engineers and called Garrison Lake State Park, North Dakota Parks and Recreation assumed management in 1965 and renamed the park to honor the famous guide of Lewis and Clark. Lake Sakakawea State Park offers a full-service marina and hosts special events such as Visitor Appreciation Day (where the entrance free is waived) and the Great Plains Salmon Derby. Every weekend throughout the summer there are amphitheater programs, children’s Dakota Explorers activities, and nature hikes. The 1,293-acre park is an excellent place for nature watchers. Visitors may see some rare species of birds, including the piping plover, least tern, eastern bluebird, whooping crane, and the golden eagle. Other than birds, white-tailed deer, ring-necked pheasants, raccoons, jackrabbits, and coyotes may be seen. Check the Lake Sakakawea State Park web site for a bird and plant checklist.

Also nearby is Fort Stevenson State Park, located on the north shore of Lake Sakakawea. Fort Stevenson State Park takes its name from an old military fort that was located about two miles southwest of the present park site. Although the original site is now underwater, a replica of the fort’s guardhouse has been constructed in the park and houses interpretive exhibits on the history of the fort and the Missouri River. Fort Stevenson State Park is known as the walleye capital of North Dakota, and hosts many great fishing opportunities and tournaments such as the Governor’s Cup Walleye Fishing Derby and the Garrison Fall Walleye Classic. Although the park’s marina, swim beach and concession are closed, visitors can still enjoy modern campgrounds, sleeping cabins, visitor center, prairie dog town, and boat launching facilities.

There are 35 recreation areas around Lake Sakakawea including Lake Sakakawea State Park and Fort Stevenson State Park. Year round fun can be found at Lake Sakakawea whether it is ice fishing in the winter or sail boating in the summer. Visitors can enjoy a relaxing time while taking in the beauty of the vastness of Lake Sakakawea.

Things to do at Lake Sakakawea

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park

Fish species found at Lake Sakakawea

  • Perch
  • Salmon
  • Walleye

Lake Sakakawea Photo Gallery

Lake Sakakawea Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Artificial Reservoir, Dammed

Water Level Control: U. S. Army Corps of Engineers

Surface Area: 382,000 acres

Shoreline Length: 1,340 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 1,838 feet

Minimum Elevation (Min Pond): 1,806 feet

Maximum Elevation (Max Pond): 1,854 feet

Average Depth: 66 feet

Maximum Depth: 180 feet

Water Volume: 23,821,000 acre-feet

Completion Year: 1955

Drainage Area: 123,900 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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