Portage Lake (Manistee County), Michigan, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Michigan - Northwest -

Portage Lake is a fantastic stop for Lake Michigan travelers. The lake is connected to Lake Michigan by a channel. Boating and sailing visitors often stop here on their way along the Lake Michigan shore.

Portage Lake started out as a land-locked lake separated from Lake Michigan by a narrow strip of land. A small, rapid flowing creek drained from the west end into Lake Michigan. Although likely visited by Father Marquette, the first Europeans to live for any length of time near Portage Lake were the crew of the schooner Prince Eugene that wrecked on November 15th, 1835 a few miles south of the present-day channel between Portage Lake and Lake Michigan. Out of necessity, they built a log cabin in the dunes and waited for spring. The Portage Lake area gradually drew settlers as the lumber business reached the area. By 1845, a small dam was built to power a sawmill at the outlet. The sawmill did a booming business and soon included a wooden pier built on Lake Michigan for water traffic and freight.

Unfortunately, when the mill was sold, the formerly good relations with area farmers and residents soon turned sour. The new mill owners constantly increased the dam, raising the lake level as much as six feet and flooding properties around the lake. in 1868, residents took the mill owners to court and won an injunction against them over the constant lake level problem. This apparently didn’t end the problem, because residents decided to dig a channel to lower the lake level. Unfortunately, when the coffer dam holding back the water on the Portage Lake side was removed, water rushed out and cut a channel 500 feet wide and 12 feet deep, lowering the previously higher lake to the level of Lake Michigan several feet below. The old Portage Creek immediately dried up, ending the sawmill business. Suddenly, Portage Lake was now a port.

In 1878, Congress appropriated funds to develop Portage Harbor of Refuge, established a light on the pier head, and dredged the channel to a depth to allow for steamships. By 1914, steamships regularly called at the new town of Onekama on the north shore of Portage Lake. Along with the steamships came summer residents and the building of resorts. Many of the lumber barons of the Midwest built lavish homes along the shore. Resorts large and small soon followed. Several church groups developed resort properties for the use of their members. At one time, there were as many as six resorts on the lake.

An added attraction to these resorts was the many artesian springs in the area, reputed to be laden with beneficial minerals. Many of these old buildings survive and have been refurbished into modern resorts and, in one instance, Portage Lake condos. The artesian wells and mineral springs still exist and are an interesting side trip for visitors.

The resorts did a flourishing business during Prohibition when high-grade alcohol was shipped in from Canada on schooners. At least one resort had a deep-water marina and could accommodate the very largest Great Lakes steamers. There are even a couple of shipwrecks at the bottom of Portage Lake. One, the steamer, Music – a pleasure steamer that offered moonlight concert tours – caught fire at the Onekama dock and was set adrift, burning vigorously. A report from that era reminisces that the Music made a glorious sight, floating off into the darkness engulfed in flames. Interestingly, the other shipwreck was the result of fire aboard. Several resorts also burned in Portage Lake’s history, victims of the very industry that brought them to fruition.

The first sailing club established on Portage Lake was the Onekama Sailing Club, in operation from 1896 to 1910. In 1936, the Portage Lake Yacht Club was established to promote small boat sailing on the lake. The club still continues to award the Pabst Cup, originally donated by the Pabst Brewery to the old Onekama Sailing Club. Portage Lake is still an extremely popular recreational lake and receives large numbers of sailboats, pleasure boats and fishing boats each year. Several Lake Michigan fishing charter boats operate out of Onekama. In winter, ice boating has become popular.

There are two public boat launches on Portage Lake, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR)-owned launch in the northwest corner, and one owned by the Village of Onekama in town. Several bass tournaments are hosted on the lake each year. Other fish species caught are Walleye, Northern Pike, Bluegill, Crappie, Chinook Salmon and Coho Salmon. Ice fishing is very popular, with many anglers spending most weekends on the ice.

For a change from water sports, there are plenty of other activities for visitors to enjoy. Hiking trails are plentiful in the area. An RV park on the south side of Portage Lake can accommodate those who enjoy ‘roughing it’ in motor home style. In winter, there is plentiful snowmobiling, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating. Within a five mile radius visitors will find Little River Casino, wine tasting, tennis courts, Bear Lake, award-winning restaurants, several golf courses and more. A bit farther away are Manistee, Arcadia, Frankfort, Crystal Mountain, The Ramsdell Theatre, Interlochen Arts Academy, Point Betsie Lighthouse, and the Sleeping Bear Dunes.

Special events close to Portage Lake are plentiful and include Bear Lake Christmas, Victorian Port City Festival, Muzzleloaders Shoot-time, The Victorian Christmas Festival, Manistee National Forest Festival, Frankfort Art Fair, Onekama Fall Festival, Bear Lake Days and other events.

Real estate in the area is not yet overly expensive in many areas. There are properties to be had with lake frontage, even in the village of Onekama. Weekly and summer vacation rentals are plentiful. Come visit Portage Lake this summer. If you come by boat, call ahead to the local marina and check the depth of the channel: the channel sometimes becomes too shallow if the sand hasn’t been dredged out recently, and large boats can’t make it in stormy weather.

Things to do at Portage Lake (Manistee County)

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Ice Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Cabin Rentals
  • Hiking
  • Ice Skating
  • Downhill Skiing
  • Cross-Country Skiing
  • Snowmobiling
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • National Forest
  • Casino Gambling

Fish species found at Portage Lake (Manistee County)

  • Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Chinook Salmon
  • Coho Salmon
  • Crappie
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Salmon
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye

Portage Lake (Manistee County) Photo Gallery

Portage Lake (Manistee County) Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 2,110 acres

Shoreline Length: 9 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 581 feet

Average Depth: 20 feet

Maximum Depth: 60 feet

Drainage Area: 25 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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