Lake Superior, Great Lakes, USA & Canada

Lake Locations:

Canada - Ontario - Great Lakes - USA - Midwest - Michigan - Upper Peninsula - Minnesota - Northeast - Wisconsin - Lake Superior Northwoods Region -

Skipping over state and country borders, Lake Superior, the largest, deepest, coldest, cleanest, least developed, and most pristine of the Great Lakes, reigns as the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. By volume, this 31,820 square mile colossus ranks fourth – a whopping 2,900 cubic miles (9,799,680,000 acre feet), or 400,000 gallons of water for every person on Earth. Today, these many acres are home to national parks, water sport activities, and myriad ways to pass the hours.

Lake Superior goes by many names: in the indigenous Ojibwe language, it is called Gichigami, meaning “big water”. In both The Song of Hiawatha (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (Gordon Lightfoot), the giant lake is referred to as “Gitche Gumee.” Finally, French explorers dubbed the lake le lac superieur, or Upper Lake, in the 17th century, from which came the English “Lake Superior.”

Though not an inland sea, the lake is astounding in its enormity: its 20,288,000-acre surface area is larger than South Carolina and stretches more than 350 miles in length and 160 miles in width. Waves on Lake Superior can easily exceed 30 feet, and at 733 feet below sea level, the lowest depth of the lake — 1,333 feet deep — is also the lowest point on the North American continent. The lake offers 2,726 miles of shoreline to explore, and if you could uncork the lake’s drain plug, it would flood both North and South America, covering the continents in over a foot of water. Truly, Lake Superior is an impressive body of water. Water levels on Lake Superior are regulated for hydroelectric power generation by gates on the Saint Marys River at Sault Sainte Marie. The lake’s water levels are managed by the International Joint Commission through the Board of Controls.

The lake was first populated by the Plano 10,000 years ago, after the retreat of the last Ice Age’s frozen glaciers. About 5,000 years later, the Shield Archaic peoples arrived, leaving evidence of their bows, arrows, canoes, and fishing equipment throughout the region. These early people are believed to be the direct ancestors to the Ojibwe and Cree, the lake’s most recent indigenous inhabitants. However, by the 1700’s, European influence around Lake Superior was strong, due largely in part to the booming fur trade. Today, what were once old mining and shipping towns have given way to modern shipping and a new industry: tourism.

Sprawling out over Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario (Canada), Lake Superior is lined with only a few small cities and towns, including Duluth (Minnesota), Superior (Wisconsin, Marquette (Michigan), Sault Ste. Marie (Michigan), Thunder Bay (Ontario), and Sault Ste. Marie (Ontario). It is by far the largest of the Great Lakes, able to contain the other four, plus and additional three Lake Erie’s, and is also the coldest of these aquatic greats. Its isolation has allowed the lake to remain almost untouched, and its chilly waters have created a unique aquatic environment. In fact, one of the lake’s most popular attractions is fishing, as it is home to more than sixty species of fish.

Going fishing on Lake Superior offers the chance to drink in a healthy gulp of clean air, stare in awe at incredible lake views, and quietly observe the many animals that come to drink at the lake’s edge. From the seat of your boat, you will have front-row access to all that the lake offers, and as you troll in search of your next catch, you are sure to be constantly entertained by the tranquility and peace of Lake Superior. When you do get a bite, you’ll likely catch coho salmon, king salmon, or lake trout, the Lake Superior’s three most popular species. Otherwise, expect carp, herring, whitefish, muskellunge, pike, melt, bass, walleye, or perch to be dangling off the hook, delicious for your next meal.

For outdoor enthusiasts, one of the best ways to explore Lake Superior is on foot, hiking the many miles of trails available to visitors. The Superior Hiking Trail in northeastern Minnesota stretches 205 miles long, following the rocky coastline of the lake and snaking through the area’s wild wilderness. There are several American and Canadian national parks are also filled with many trails, ranging from easy to strenuous, and offering you views of incredible forest, waterfalls, and even indigenous pictographs. Our U.S. National Parks — Isle Royale National Park (Michigan), Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore (Michigan), Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (Wisconsin), and Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota) — bordering the lake, you are sure to find the type of trail you yearn for.

Depending on your Lake Superior location, your visit will not be complete without visiting one of the lake’s incredible parks. Isla Royale National Park, located in scenic Michigan, is accessible only by boat or seaplane. Visitors to this park are welcomed by incredible hiking trails, pristine waterways for canoeing and kayaking, and several shipwrecks ready for exploration. Neighboring Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, also located in Michigan, promises sandstone cliffs, beaches, sand dunes, waterfalls, lakes, forest, and shoreline that will beckon you to dip your toes into Lake Superior’s cool, clean waters, which hug the park’s acreage for more than 40 miles. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, in nearby Wisconsin, is home to the Apostle Islands, known as the “Jewels of Lake Superior.” 21 islands and 12 miles of mainland play host to a unique blend of cultural and national resources, where you can hike, paddle, sail, or cruise to enjoy it all. Grand Portage National Monument, Minnesota’s slice of Lake Superior, is home to a Native American Reservation that helps form a bridge between people, time, and culture, connecting modern visitors to the Ojibwe families that tapped maple trees every spring along these Lake Superior shores.

For many, the lure of the outdoors is strong, and hiking and exploring trails and national parks is only the beginning of the journey. Along many of these trails, sprinkled throughout both the Canadian and American portions of Lake Superior, lie many campgrounds, offering everything from primitive camping to luxury RV-hookups with hot-water showers and playgrounds to keep the youngest family member happy. Sleeping under the starts on Lake Superior is a rare and wonderful opportunity, for in few other places will you be in such authentic nature surroundings.

Lake Superior is a vast lake, offering many opportunities for recreation and relaxation. From boating and hiking, to fishing and wildlife watching, the reservoir welcomes all visiting nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. And whether you bask in summer’s heat or play in winter’s powdering blanket of snow, a trip to Lake Superior will be one of quiet nature, adventurous days, and lots of fun.

Things to do at Lake Superior

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Hiking
  • Waterfall
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • Playground

Fish species found at Lake Superior

  • Bass
  • Carp
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Coho Salmon
  • Lake Trout
  • Muskellunge
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Salmon
  • Trout
  • Walleye
  • Whitefish

Lake Superior Photo Gallery

Lake Superior Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: International Joint Commission Board of Controls

Surface Area: 20,288,000 acres

Shoreline Length: 2,726 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 600 feet

Average Depth: 483 feet

Maximum Depth: 1,332 feet

Water Volume: 9,799,680,000 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 191 years

Lake Area-Population: 607,000

Drainage Area: 49,300 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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