All of the Best Basic Facts about the Great Lakes
If you live in Michigan, also known as The Mitten State, you are probably already pretty familiar with the great lakes. The lakes are: Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Eerie, and Lake Superior. As a whole, the 5 Great Lakes hold about 20% of the world’s fresh water supply. Lake Superior holds about half of that on its own! Let’s take a short tour of these massive, magnificent bodies of water.
Lake Michigan is my favorite Great Lake, as I have lived within an hour’s drive from it my entire life. It is the only Great Lake entirely inside the United States, and boasts the most freshwater dunes in the world. Here are some more fun facts about Lake Michigan:
- In terms of surface area, Lake Michigan ranks 3rd out of the 5 Great Lakes.
- It is the 6th largest freshwater lake on the planet!
- The deepest recorded point of Lake Michigan measures 923 feet deep!
- The area surrounding the lake is often referred to as the “Third Coast”.
- Technically, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are one body of water; they connect in the straits of Mackinac.
- The islands of Lake Michigan are almost exclusively located on the north end.
- 12 million people make the lakeshore home, with the majority in Chicago and Milwaukee.
- The Petosky stone, the state stone, can only be found on the northern beaches of Lake Michigan.
- Two ferries serve as a quick way directly across the lake for passengers and cars.
- Lake Michigan was created by glaciers during our last Ice Age.
What a spooky name for a lake! The name for Lake Erie came from the Erie people for a Iroquoian word “erielhonan” that means “long tail”. Lake Erie is located below Lake Huron and is an outlet for the Detroit River. Some more unique facts about Lake Erie include:
- The surface area of Lake Erie measures to just under 10,000 square miles, at 9940.
- The name long tail refers to the shape of the body of water, as it looks like a tail.
- The deepest point of Lake Erie measures at 210 feet. Of all the Great Lakes, this is the shallowest.
- Even though it is the warmest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is the one that freezes over the most often.
- Lake Erie was the location of much combat during the War of 1812, and even had a base called Fort Erie.
- More walleye than any other lake in the world call the western shores of Lake Erie home.
- Lake Erie produces more fish than all of the other four Great Lakes combined.
- The water flowing into the lake from the Detroit River, makes up 80-90% of the total water volume.
- Lake Erie touches four U.S. states: New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.
- The main output of Lake Erie goes into Niagara Falls.
Lake Huron got its name from French traders who decided to call the body of water Huron, after the natives that lived there. It is the second largest Great Lake, and is located on the east coast of Michigan. A few cool tidbits of information about Lake Huron include:
- There are several sinkholes in Lake Huron. A sinkhole is an area with a high sulfur level, and low oxygen levels.
- More than a thousand sunken shops speckle the bottom of Lake Huron. You can even take tours to see 22 of them on a boat with a glass bottom!
- One of the most popular characteristics about Lake Huron is the water’s clarity.
- Lake Huron plays host to the world’s largest freshwater beach, Wasaga Beach.
- The lake has its own “unsolved mystery monster” like Loch Ness, called Mishebeshu, or “giant lynx”.
- Lake Huron is home to Flowerpot Island, which is famous for its unusual stacks of limestone along the shores.
- Technically, Lake Huron and Lake Michigan are the same body of water, connected through the Straits of Mackinac.
- The largest freshwater lake in the world, Manitoulin Island, calls Lake Huron home.
- Manitoulin Island has over 1,000 freshwater lakes of its own.
- Known for its storms and occasionally dangerous waters, Lake Huron has over 100 lighthouses dotting the shore.
While the name may not suggest any American affiliation, Lake Ontario has coastline in both the United States and Canada. With a surface area of only about 7,400 square miles, this lake is the smallest of the Great Lakes in that respect. In terms of volume, Lake Ontario is definitely not the smallest Great Lake.
- Lake Ontario is the easternmost Great Lake and sits directly under Niagara Falls to catch its water.
- The St. Lawrence River acts as the outlet for Lake Ontario to the ocean.
- While it has a similar size in terms of area as Lake Erie, Lake Ontario contains about 4 times as much water.
- The water levels reached their highest in 100 years in 2017. This led to a lot of flooding and damage.
- Lake Ontario ranks 14th globally for the largest surface area of a fresh water lake.
- Of the 5 Great Lakes, many people consider Lake Ontario to be the most polluted from runoff.
- The general temperature of this lake stays relatively warm, almost never freezing over, and only freezing at the edges.
- The deepest part of the lake measures just over 800 feet, and it ranks second to Lake Superior in terms of average depth.
- A small archipelago containing 1,864 islands that range in size, sits in Lake Ontario.
- The first person to swim across the lake did so in 1954 as a 16 year old. Today over 50 people have done so as well.
The northernmost lake in the Great Lakes, Lake Superior is also the largest by surface area. Lake superior is so expansive that it can hold all of the other Great Lakes’ surface areas within its own, as well as another Lake Erie sized spot. When it comes to volume, this lake ranks third. Here are some more facts about Lake Superior:
- It was named by the Ojibwe Native Americans. “Gichi-gami”, means “great sea”.
- Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake by surface area on the planet.
- The first people lived around the shores of this lake around 8000 BC.
- The deepest point in Lake Superior measures 1.333 ft.
- There has been an estimated 350 shipwrecks on the lake, and over 10,000 people killed on it.
- You can find 78 different species of fish in Lake Superior alone.
- Lake Superior acts as the outlet for over 300 other different rivers and streams.
- This lake is the clearest of all the Great Lakes. In some areas, you can see over 75 feet under water.
- The tallest wave ever recorded on this Great Lake was over 30 ft tall!
- In the winter time, the lake becomes covered in about 40-95% ice, and almost never freezes over.
The Great Lakes are some of the most precious bodies of water on the planet, and it is crucial that we take care of them. Be sure to clean up after yourself whenever you go to the lakes, and if you can, clean up something someone else may have left behind!