As Americans, we love our lakes. They provide us with beautiful scenery and a place to play. The United States (US) has millions of lakes, many unnamed. You may wonder which are the deepest lakes in the US. Let’s dive in and find out!
What Is a Lake?
A lake is a body of water surrounded by land, typically a depression in the Earth’s surface filled with water. Lakes may be open or closed. All freshwater lakes are open, meaning water exits by an outlet like a river.
Water only exits closed lakes by evaporation. Since evaporation leaves salts behind, closed lakes often become saline or salty. Most lakes are freshwater. The Dead Sea in Asia and the Great Salt Lake in Utah are prime examples of saltwater lakes.
Lakes can be classified in other ways as well. They are regularly classified based on how they were formed, such as by glaciers or volcanoes. Lakes can also be artificial, like Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Why Do We Love Lakes?
Something about a tranquil lake warms our hearts and induces a sense of calm. When not admiring the beauty of our lakes, we happily utilize them for recreation. We enjoy summer activities like swimming, boating, paddling, fishing, and skiing. Even in winter, we use lakes for things such as ice skating and ice fishing.
Beyond picturesque settings and abundant recreational opportunities, we rely on lakes for water, hydroelectric energy, routes for travel and trade, crop irrigation, and more. Those same lakes support vast ecosystems of fish, aquatic plants and animals, birds, and other wildlife. The life-sustaining natural playgrounds deserve our love and respect.
I don’t know about you, but when I gaze into a lake, my inner voice instantly says, “I wonder how deep that is?” To satisfy our curiosity, here are America’s ten deepest lakes.
Nestled in the southern Oregon Cascade Mountains, Crater Lake formed from Mount Mazama, a collapsed volcano. It is the deepest lake in the US, with a maximum depth of 1,943 feet.
Visitors are regularly mesmerized by the lake’s deep blue color. The hues likely result from the lake being fed only by rain and snow. Visitors can admire the pure waters by driving the 33-mile Rim Drive in Crater Lake National Park. You gain stunning panoramic views from the drive’s 30 overlooks.
While private boats are not permitted, park visitors may take a boat tour in summer through Crater Lake Hospitality, a park-certified concessioner.
America’s second-deepest lake and North America’s largest alpine lake has a maximum depth of 1,645 feet. Lake Tahoe straddles the borders of California and Nevada, a cobalt playground in the Sierra Nevada. The region boasts world-class skiing in winter and excellent water sports and mountain biking in summer.
Lake Tahoe is one of Earth’s purest bodies of water, with an average annual clarity of 72 feet in 2022. To see it in person is mind-boggling. Julie and I were shocked at how clear the water was. No matter when you visit, the scenery is spectacular, rivaling the beauty of any national park.
A narrow 50.5-mile long crystal-clear lake in north-central Oregon, Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the US at 1,486 feet. Sprawling vineyards, soaring peaks, and charming small towns surround the glacier-fed lake.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the area attracted many people prospecting for gold, silver, copper, and zinc. Today, the fertile region is renowned for producing tasty apples and grapes. With stunning beauty and over 300 days of sunshine, you can visit during any season.
One of the Great Lakes in North America, Lake Superior is the fourth deepest lake in the US at 1,332 feet and the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. Its shores expand across sections of Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Ontario. The lake is home to many iconic lighthouses, including over 30 in Michigan.
Lake Superior is so big it contains more water than the other four Great Lakes combined. Although its average annual water temperature is 40 degrees Fahrenheit, it rarely freezes over due to its massive size.
Lake Pend Oreille
Located in northern Idaho, Lake Pend Oreille ranks fifth at 1,158 feet deep. The state’s biggest lake is 43 miles long and yields 111 miles of primarily non-populated shoreline. Carved out by Ice Age glaciers, the lake provides picturesque landscapes of fragrant pines and soaring mountains.
The lake’s name may appear odd. “Pend Oreille” is French for ear-hanging or pendant. An aerial perspective reveals that the body of water resembles a human ear. Legends say the Kalispel Indian peoples who made the region their home were known for donning ear pendants.
Located 30 miles south of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in southwest Alaska, Iliamna Lake measures 988 feet deep. The lake is renowned for fishing, especially trout and salmon. The remote lake also harbors the country’s only population of freshwater seals.
Nestled along Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Tustumena Lake has a maximum depth of 950 feet. With no roads directly to the lake, it is only accessible by the Kasilof River.
Tustumena Lake comprises all five species of Pacific salmon, rainbow, and lake trout. Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, known for inhabiting moose, surrounds the lake.
The second Great Lake on the list, Lake Michigan, plunges to a depth of 923 feet. While Lake Michigan touches the shores of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin, it is the only Great Lake that does not wash up against Canada.
Riding a ferry through Death’s Door is one of my favorite travel experiences. Beyond the beautiful scenery, the passage between Lake Michigan and the Bay of Green Bay has a lot of history, claiming over 275 shipwrecks. Door Peninsula has excellent local cuisine, outdoor adventures, and stunning views of the bay and Lake Michigan.
Located at the Alaska Peninsula’s base in the state’s south-central region, Lake Clark is 860 feet deep. It is part of the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, one of Alaska’s eight national parks. Due to its remote location, the national park is one of America’s least visited, typically seeing less than 20,000 people annually.
The region has many transient and resident bird species and unique wildlife like bears, moose, and wolves. Amidst the surreal, rugged landscapes, the area offers visitors world-class brown bear viewing, hiking, fishing, camping, and kayaking.
The third Great Lake to make the top ten, Lake Ontario, reaches a depth of 802 feet, lapping against the shores of New York and Ontario. Its name means “lake of shining waters.” The lake drains into the St. Lawrence River, which carries fresh water from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.
Lake Ontario comprises over 100 beaches and about 2,000 islands. People live on several of the islands. The famed Thousand Islands archipelago sits near the start of the St. Lawrence River.
Sometimes, it is challenging to fathom how deep these lakes are. For comparison’s sake, the Statue of Liberty in New York is 305 feet tall, and the Washington Monument in Washington, DC, is 555 feet. Neither would be visible if placed in any of the ten deepest lakes in the US.
If you stacked the iconic monuments on top of one another, just the tip would appear in Lake Clark. The stacked monuments would still be submerged underwater in the top eight deepest lakes.
Other Notable Lakes
You may be surprised to see a few prominent lakes not crack the top ten. Most notably, two Great Lakes finish outside the top ten. Lake Huron is 750 feet deep, while Lake Erie is surprisingly shallow, with a maximum depth of 210 feet.
Seneca Lake, the deepest of the Finger Lakes in Upstate New York’s wine region, is 618 feet deep. Lake Champlain, thought by some to be the sixth Great Lake, is 400 feet deep. Florida’s Lake Okeechobee is only 12 feet deep. Great Salt Lake is more salty than the ocean and measures 33 feet at its deepest point.
Preserving Our Lakes
Regardless of a lake’s depth, each body of water is a valuable natural resource that supports life and provides recreational opportunities. We can show our love for lakes by recreating responsibly, using water efficiently, and properly disposing of our waste. If we do our part, future generations can enjoy our precious lakes.
Featured image credit: National Park Service
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