Winter Haven Chain of Lakes, Florida, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - South - Florida - West Central -

The Winter Haven Chain of Lakes is a very special place. These natural, spring-fed lakes in Florida’s West Central region have delighted residents and visitors for over a hundred years. Before hordes of tourists descended on the coastal beaches to vacation and enjoy the salt air, this middle-Florida region saw development from the more leisurely kind of visitors . . the kind who came to fish, golf and enjoy the water sports denied them in the colder northern climates. Polk County is a veritable treasure-trove of freshwater lakes, with over 500 recorded in the county. What makes these lakes special is that they are all connected by man-made canals which allow for boating the entire chain. The two connected chains of lakes virtually surround the entire downtown area of the small City of Winter Haven.

Lakes in the two chains number about 23, although some reports claim only 16, while others go as high as 25 lakes. Two more lakes, Lake Blue and Lake Marianna, connect only during periods of exceptionally high water. All of the lakes are relatively shallow, with some including extensive wetlands on their perimeters. Lakes and channels are well-populated with lakeside homes and vacation cottages. The connecting channels were begun in 1915, with much of the work completed during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Wooden pilings originally provided the seawalls to keep the soft soil from caving in, but many have since been replaced with steel and aluminum seawalls. The Southern Chain with about 16 lakes and the Northern Chain with another possible nine lakes were historically separate chains until the recent opening of a lock between the two chains in the last couple of years.

The Southern Chain consists of Lake Eloise (by far the largest with 1178 acres), Lake Cannon (377 acres), Lake Hartridge (443 acres), Lake Howard (614 acres), Lake Idylwild (100 acres), Lake Jessie (189 acres), Lake Lulu (304 acres), Lake May (43 acres), Lake Mirror (124 acres), Lake Roy (65 acres), Lake Shipp (284 acres), Lake Spring (25 acres), Lake Summit (56 acres) and Lake Winterset (554 acres). Little Lake Eloise and Little Lake Winterset are actually bays of the larger lakes of the same name but are sometimes counted as separate lakes. The Northern Chain includes Lake Conine (238 acres), Lake Rochelle (582 acres), Lake Haines (728 acres), Lake Smart (278 acres) and Lake Fannie (832 acres). Also connected to the Northern Chain are Lake Hamilton (2,184 acres acres), Middle Lake Hamilton (103 acres acres), Little Lake Hamilton (367 acres) and Lake Henry (848 acres) – all connected through Lake Fannie and Lake Hamilton but often not included as part of the chain. Two manual boat lifts ease the way for boats between Lake Smart, Lake Fannie and Lake Hamilton. The new lock connects Lake Hartridge in the Southern Chain to Lake Conine in the Northern Chain.

A number of public boat launch sites provide access to the waterway. Large Lake Eloise does not have a public launch site, but connecting Lake Summit does. Lake Eloise is likely the lake that made Winter Haven famous, as the famed Cypress Gardens on its shore drew millions of visitors to see the water skiing exhibitions, amusement park and lush grounds. Water skiing is one of the main attractions of the Winter Haven Chain, along with jet skiing, power boating, pontooning and sailing. A number of water ski schools give lessons in barefoot skiing along with the more traditional forms.

Fishing is also popular; the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes hold healthy largemouth bass, bluegill, and back crappie populations. Fishing tournaments are held on the lakes regularly. Some of the lakes have had man-made fish habitat structures installed to improve fish viability. The wetlands offer ideal spawning grounds for several species. At least 30 other lakes, mostly quite small, lie within a mile or two of the Chain, although these lakes do not connect. Several of these also have public boat launches. A couple marinas serve boaters, and several lakeside businesses provide bait, boating essentials and convenience foods.

As Florida has struggled with drought the past few years, some of the canals have become impassible to larger boats due to low water levels. Efforts are underway to deepen the channels by two feet to avoid the problem in the future. It’s a large undertaking, as many of the older seawalls risk being undermined and must be replaced. The Winter Haven Chain residents are not deterred, however, and are going through with plans to complete as many of the channels as possible. In the near future, all of the canals will again be filled with water, boating from lake to lake will resume, and life will be back to normal fun at the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes.

Winter Haven is a very tourism-friendly city, with a number of campgrounds and RV parks near the lakes and a full complement of shops, restaurants and entertainment in the downtown area. The area supports several golf courses, numerous parks, and a nature park. A new amusement park (Legoland) has taken the place of the closed Cypress Gardens, geared toward families with children under age 12. Lovely and historic Bok Tower Gardens is nearby in Haines City, and the attractions surrounding Walt Disney’s famous mouse are only 40 miles away. Both the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico can be reached within an hour and a half, and the interesting ecological features of the Lake Wales Ridge can be accessed from numerous parks and state lands a short distance away. Far less hectic than the beaches along the coasts, the Winter Haven area is perfect for a relaxing, laid-back vacation or even a permanent home. There are formal lodgings available, with a number of hotels, motels, resorts, private rentals and bed-and-breakfasts within a short distance. Some private properties are often available on the lakeshore or canals between the lakes. These often include watercraft in the rental agreement. And, with homes along so many miles of shoreline, there is nearly always real estate for sale.

* Statistical information is difficult to discern as catchment areas overlap. Surface acreage for the entire chain is the sum of all available acreages.

Things to do at Winter Haven Chain of Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Fishing Tournaments
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Golf
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Amusement Park

Fish species found at Winter Haven Chain of Lakes

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Sunfish

Winter Haven Chain of Lakes Photo Gallery

Winter Haven Chain of Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Not Dammed

Surface Area: 10,500 acres

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 131 feet

Trophic State: Eutrophic

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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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