Lake Union, Washington, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - West - Washington - Seattle & Puget Sound -

Also known as:  Meman Hartshu, Small Lake, Tenass Chuck, Little Water

Surrounded by four vibrant urban neighborhoods, Lake Union sits in the heart of Seattle, Washington. From orcas playing in Puget Sound to sea kayakers paddling inland waterways, Seattle is closely tied to the sea and lakes with Lake Union uniting the two. Whether you choose to live on the lakefront, bicycle through neighborhood parks or paddle your way to a new urban adventure, Lake Union is central to it all.

Lake Union was formed about 15,000 years ago when glaciers retreated from the Pacific Northwest, leaving scenic lakes and hillsides that would become Seattle’s landscape. Attracted to fertile land and excellent fisheries, the Lake Union and Puget Sound areas were originally inhabited by people of the Duwamish tribe who called the lake Meman Hartshu (“small lake”) or Tenass Chuck (“little water”) in Chinook. Set between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, the tribe’s prime location brought them into contact with fur traders and loggers of the 1800s. By the mid-1800s settlers were beginning to establish homes, and industry was reaching the shore of Lake Union. It was during this time that Thomas Mercer gave Lake Union its name, believing that one day the lake would unite neighboring Lake Washington and Puget Sound. By 1934 Mercer’s prediction came true.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ construction of the Lake Washington Ship Canal began in 1911, and upon completion in 1934 connected Lake Washington to Puget Sound. The construction of the Ship Canal and early industrial use of Lake Union significantly altered the lake from its original size and water flow. The current 580 acre lake is about one-third smaller than its original size. The natural inflow from Cedar and Sammamish Rivers was diverted, and opening of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks on the Ship Canal now introduces saltwater into Lake Union while it controls the lake’s water level. Moving from east to west, boat traffic can now move from Lake Washington through Union Bay and Montlake Cut into Portage Bay which is the new source of inflow into Lake Union. Outflow from Lake Union now passes through Fremont Cut, Salmon Bay and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks before entering Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound. With the completion of the Ship Canal, goods could be easily transported from Lake Union’s growing industries to international ports. Except for park land, the estimated four-mile Lake Union shoreline is completely developed with house boats, dry docks, marinas, and other commercial businesses. Among the major companies finding its origins on the shores of Lake Union were the Boeing Company and Kenworth Motor Truck Company. Today, the mix of industry, medical centers, museums, parks and neighborhoods make Lake Union an exciting place to live and work.

Home to the first Boeing Company assembly plant, the Eastlake neighborhood has changed its identity over the decades. Residents now come home to a diverse collection of boat launches, swimming beaches, parks, a dry dock, NOAA Pacific Marine Center, floating homes and small protected coves where you will find waterside retreats and wildlife habitats. Eastlake has been a residential neighborhood since the 1890s. With a delightful mix of vintage homes, new developments and house boats, Eastlake is attracting a growing number of residents and renters to Lake Union.

Residents of the South Lake Union neighborhood actively work to preserve Seattle’s maritime and cultural history. Home to the Center for Wooden Boats and new 12-acre South Lake Union Seaport Park, residents have access to recreational and educational activities including the Historic Ships Wharf and future collaborations with United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, Northwest Native Canoe Center, and the Museum of History and Industry. South Lake Union is also a wonderful place to work and live. With the neighborhood becoming home to numerous medical and life science research facilities, new apartments, condominiums and real estate properties are in demand by fortunate residents of South Lake Union.

Westlake neighborhood lies on a narrow strip of land bordering Lake Union’s western shore. Home to Kenmore Air Harbor seaplane terminal and beautiful lakefront scenery, water is at the heart of Westlake. This neighborhood extends on to floating homes, one of which served as the setting for the film “Sleepless in Seattle.” Whether Westlake residents live in high-rise condominiums, apartments, or house boats, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, biking and hiking Lake Union are activities right at their front door.

Home to a large ship yard and scenic views of boats cruising the Ship Canal, Northlake neighborhood is a mix of contrasts. Originally the site of a 1906 gas plant, Gas Works Park sits on the northern shore of Lake Union. A popular destination for all Seattle residents, the city park offers residents “a picnic shelter with tables, fire grills and an open area. The former exhauster-compressor building, now a children’s play barn, features a maze of brightly painted machinery.” Fishing urban lakes is a popular pastime in Seattle, and Gas Works Park is the perfect place to cast your line. Found in the lake’s 50-foot depth and 34-foot average depth are smallmouth bass, salmon, trout, whitefish, sunfish, perch and an occasional flounder. Be sure to check fishing regulations and fish consumption advisories for Lake Union at the links provided. In Seattle’s tradition of reusing and repurposing land, 27 miles of abandoned railroad tracks now form the Burke-GilmanTrail. A portion of this trail crosses the University of Washington campus before heading west into Northlake. This wonderful mix of industry, residential neighborhoods and recreational facilities is called home to steelworkers and students alike.

When clouds break over Lake Union, the view of Mount Rainier’s snowy peaks remind residents that water is only part of the beauty found in the Pacific Northwest. A two-hour drive southeast of Seattle will take you into Mount Rainier National Park where hiking, camping, skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and snowmobiling awaits. With an amazing mix of climates, Olympic National Park sits to the west of Puget Sound. A designated World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve, the Olympic Peninsula includes a mountain wilderness, dense temperate rainforest, subalpine meadows and sandy Pacific beaches where you can explore nature at its best.

Soon to connect the businesses, parks, and four Lake Union neighborhoods is the 6.2-mile Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop. This multi-use trail will encircle neighborhoods rich in diversity, progressive in their planning and forever tied to the water. Whether you prefer Eastlake, South Lake Union, Westlake or Northlake, choose from the exciting selection of vacation rentals and residential real estate properties and begin to call Lake Union home.

Things to do at Lake Union

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Canoeing
  • Kayaking
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Snowboarding
  • Snowmobiling
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Park
  • City Park
  • Museum

Fish species found at Lake Union

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Flounder
  • Perch
  • Salmon
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Trout
  • Whitefish

Lake Union Photo Gallery

Lake Union Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

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

Surface Area: 580 acres

Shoreline Length: 4 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 16 feet

Average Depth: 34 feet

Maximum Depth: 50 feet

Water Volume: 20,000 acre-feet

Water Residence Time: 52 times per year

Lake Area-Population: 3,000

Drainage Area: 571 sq. miles

Trophic State: Mesotrophic

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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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