Recreational Boating

Facts and Figures on the Great Lakes

The familiar shape of the Great Lakes is plainly visible from the moon. Covering more than 94,000 square miles and draining more than twice as much land, these freshwater wonders of the world hold about 6 quadrillion gallons of water.

  • Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world.
  • Lake Michigan has the world's longest freshwater beach.
  • All five of the Great Lakes rank among the world's 18 largest.
  • Spread evenly across the mainland U.S.A, the lakes would cover it in about 9.5 feet of water.

From the east, access to the Great Lakes is through the St. Lawrence Seaway from Montreal, on the St. Lawrence River. By the time a ship reaches Duluth, at the head of Lake Superior, it has risen 600 feet, the height of a 60-storey skyscraper, through a series of 15 locks, and traveled 2,342 miles from the Atlantic Ocean - more than the distance across the Atlantic itself.

The Great Lakes basin includes eight U.S. states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York) and the Canadian province of Ontario.

  • The Great Lakes states are home to 4.2 million recreational boats, with another 1.2 million registered in Ontario.
  • Each Lake harbors between 45 and 100 species of fish, pursued with zeal by commercial and recreational fishers.

There are 110 U.S. state parks located directly on the water, and 38 Canadian provincial parks, as well as the American Isle Royale National Park, four U.S. National Lakeshores, and five Canadian national parks.

Lake Superior

  • largest of the Great Lakes in surface area and volume, also coldest and deepest
  • largest surface area of any freshwater lake in the world
  • 350 miles from west to east, 160 miles north to south
  • shoreline 2,980 miles long
  • average depth - 483 feet
  • contains almost 3,000 cubic miles of water, an amount that could fill all the other Great Lakes plus three additional Lake Eries
  • fish species - 45

Lake Michigan

  • second largest of the Great Lakes in volume, with 1,180 cubic miles of water
  • the only Great Lake entirely within the United States
  • 307 miles long north to south, 118 miles wide west to east
  • miles of shoreline - 1,659, including many sandy beaches and the world's largest freshwater sand dunes
  • average depth - 279 feet
  • fish species - 78

Lake Huron

  • third largest of the Great Lakes in volume, with 850 cubic miles of water
  • miles of shoreline - 3,827, with shallow, sandy beaches in the south and the rocky, islanded shores of Georgian Bay in the north; has the longest shoreline of the Great Lakes, counting its 30,000 islands
  • 206 miles long west to east, and 183 miles wide from north to south
  • average depth - 195 feet
  • fish species - 87
  • Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is the largest freshwater island in the world

Lake Erie

  • shallowest of the Great Lakes (averaging only 62 feet) and overall the smallest by volume (116 cubic miles)
  • 241 miles long east to west, 57 miles wide, north to south
  • 871 miles of fertile shoreline, intensively farmed and the most densely populated of the five lake basins
  • not as deep as the other lakes, Erie warms rapidly in the spring and summer and is often the only Great Lake to freeze in winter
  • warmest and most biologically productive of the Great Lakes - 100 fish species; the walleye fishery is considered the best in the world
  • Marblehead Lighthouse, built in 1822, is the oldest active light tower on the Great Lakes

Lake Ontario

  • holds almost four times more water than Lake Erie, 393 cubic miles
  • average depth 283 feet
  • 193 miles long, west to east, and 53 miles wide, north to south
  • 726 miles of shoreline
  • Canadian shoreline is heavily urbanized
  • 90 fish species
  • lies 325 ft (99 m) below Lake Erie, at the base of Niagara Falls