Lakes are critical for their utilitarian and aesthetic values. They provide water for irrigation, drinking, and recreation. They also provide habitats for many plants and animals. Many also are beautiful.
External forces can change lakes over time, and some changes are detrimental to the lake’s habitat, beauty, and usefulness. Chemicals such as phosphorus and nitrogen can damage lakes. Oxygen depletion, which can be caused by climate change raising the water temperature, can also cause fish species’ death.
More than 300 million lakes are in the world, but they make up less than 3 percent of the earth’s surface, according to Lake Scientist. Some regions have more lakes than others because lakes require enough rain to sustain their water supply.
Lakes also require depressions in the land to form. Lakes are generally landlocked, and most have fresh water.
You can measure the size of lakes in several ways, including water volume and surface area. We have developed our list of the ten largest lakes in the world based on surface area.
What We Cover
- The Largest Lakes in the World
- 1. The Caspian Sea
- 2. Lake Superior
- 3. Lake Victoria
- 4. Lake Huron
- 5. Lake Michigan
- 6. Lake Tanganyika
- 7. Lake Baikal
- 8. Great Bear Lake
- 9. Lake Malawi
- 10. Great Slave Lake
- Types of Lakes
- Which continent contains the most lakes?
- What are some popular activities at the largest lakes in the World?
- Can I visit the largest lakes in the world?
The Largest Lakes in the World
1. The Caspian Sea
The Caspian Sea is the world’s largest lake. It has a surface area of 143,000 miles and accounts for more than 40 percent of the lake waters in the world.
Although its name includes “sea,” it is considered a lake because it is landlocked and does not feed into an ocean. More than 500 plants and 850 animals depend upon its ecosystem.
Its northern waters are fresh, but its southern portion is slightly salty. The surrounding oil industry has been draining the lake and causing harm. Global warming also has decreased water volumes.
The countries of Kazakhstan, Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan are on its shoreline, and the Caspian Sea is near many attractions. Rice fields abound! Historical sites such as Citadel Naryn-Kala and the Derbent Dzhuman Mosque are along its shoreline.
Coastal cities offer the opportunity for luxury cruises, windsurfing, historical and cultural tours, and romantic holidays. The lake is particularly famous for its caviar.
See Related: Best Lakes in Germany
2. Lake Superior
Lake Superior, at 31,700 square miles, is the largest of the Great Lakes and the largest freshwater lake in the world. It is also the third-largest freshwater lake by volume.
Lake Superior straddles the borders of the United States and Canada in the province of Ontario and the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Global warming is causing less ice on the lake and may lead to changes in lake-effect snow belts along the shore.
Lake Superior contains several islands, one of the most prominent in Isle Royale in Michigan. Grand Island in Wisconsin contains the Grand Island National Recreational Area, a great place for camping, biking, and hiking.
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Michigan, the Ashland Murals in Wisconsin, the Great Lakes Aquarium in Minnesota, and Kakabeka Falls in Ontario also are key attractions near Lake Superior.
There are also plenty of tour operators, from fishing charters and lake cruises to flightseeing tours of Lake Superior. If you’re considering where to stay near this massive body of water, check out some of our favorite Lake Superior cabins.
See Related: Best Lakes in Minnesota (Ranked!)
3. Lake Victoria
Lake Victoria, named after Britain’s Queen Victoria on its discovery, is a freshwater lake with a surface area of 26,590 square miles. It is Africa’s largest lake by surface area and the world’s largest tropical lake.
Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania share the lake formed when a crustal block dammed westward-flowing rivers about 400,000 years ago. The lake receives about 80 percent of its water from direct rainfall.
Many mammal, reptile, crustacean, snail, and fish species live in the lake, including the Nile and other types of crocodiles. Lake Victoria also supports Africa’s largest inland fishery. Many species of endemic cichlid fish have disappeared due to human-caused environmental issues.
The top attractions are the chimpanzee sanctuary on Ngamba Island, the Mabamba Bay wetlands, and Ssese Island, which features sandy beaches, horseback riding, biking, hiking, fishing, and birding.
4. Lake Huron
Lake Huron is the second largest of the Great Lakes and has a surface area of about 23,000 square miles. Ontario, Canada, and Michigan, United States, are on its borders.
The lake has the longest shoreline of any of the Great Lakes, including along 30,000 islands. Lake Huron used to support several deepwater fish species, including trout; however, invasive species have become prevalent lately.
More than 1,000 shipwrecks have happened in the lake, most in Saginaw Bay. Shipwreck tours are one of the top activities to do along the shoreline of Lake Huron. Other Lake Huron activities include exploring lighthouses, taking charter fishing tours, and enjoying beach days at Cove Beach, Cheboygan State Park, and Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park.
See Related: Best Lakes in Montana to Visit
5. Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan has 22,000 square miles of surface area. Although it is the third-largest Great Lake by area, it is the second-largest by volume.
It is the only one of the North American Great Lakes completely within the United States; Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana are on its shores. The Straits of Mackinac join it with Lake Huron. Lake Michigan also has several islands; Beaver Island is the largest.
Lake Michigan supplies drinking water to millions of people; however, steel mills and refineries are polluting the lake. Many tourists get to see Lake Michigan when they visit Chicago. It’s remarkable to see a bright blue lake on the edge of one of America’s most industrial cities.
Lake Michigan is often called the “Third Coast” of the United States because of its great beaches. One popular beach is Petoskey State Park. The water on all the beaches is usually cool and clear, and the sand is soft and off-white.
Parks like Indiana Dunes National Park and Saugatuck Dunes State Park feature expansive dune formations. Other attractions along Lake Michigan are the Empire Bluff Trail and Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. It’s also popular for cruises, with many short lunch and dinner cruises departing from Chicago.
See Related: Chicago vs Detroit: What’s Better to Visit?
6. Lake Tanganyika
Lake Tanganyika has a surface area of 12,600 square miles and borders Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is the second oldest freshwater lake in the world and the second deepest lake in the world too.
Reptiles, including Nile crocodiles, terrapins, and cichlid fish, are among Lake Tanganyika’s major animal species. Hippopotamuses lie on the lake’s shores.
Non-cichlid fish species, 83 snail species, and 11 bivalve species also are found in Lake Tanganyika. The lake’s fishery provides 40 to 60 percent of the region’s protein.
Several environmental challenges threaten the ecosystem of Lake Tanganyika. Among them are increased population and the overuse of resources, pollution, climate change, invasive species, and habitat degradation.
Still, Lake Tanganyika is very popular for tours and excursions. Main attractions along the lake’s shore are Zambia’s “secret beaches,” Nsumbu National Park, and Burton and Speake Square near Nyanza Lac in southern Burundi, which provide monuments to Henry Morton Stanley and David Livingston. Tourists also might like to try Mukeke, a unique regional fish.
7. Lake Baikal
Lake Baikal is in Southern Siberia, Russia, and has a surface area of 12,200 square miles. It is the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume and the world’s deepest lake at 5,387 feet at the deepest point. It is home to the Baikal tribe, which raises goats, camel, horses, and sheep.
UNESCO designated Lake Baikal as a World Heritage Site in 1996. Its estimated age is 30 million years, making it the world’s oldest lake. The Mal’ta-Buret culture inhabited Mal’ta, about 100 miles northwest of the lake, as early as 24,000 years ago.
Lake Baikal provides a habitat for more than 1,000 plants and 2,500 animals. The lake also is a major economic zone and a popular tourist spot.
Tourists come during the ice season, from January to April, or in the summer. During the ice season, tourists can access ice figures on Olkhon Island.
During the summer, they can hike, fish, and watch birds and animals. A popular hiking trail runs from Listvyanka to Bolshoye Goloustnoye along the lake’s coast.
8. Great Bear Lake
Great Bear Lake is 12,000 square miles. Located in Canada’s Northwest Territories, it is the fourth-largest lake in North America and the largest completely within Canada. The region around the lake is rich in uranium and copper deposits.
Climate change is affecting the lake, thawing the permafrost. Since the region’s infrastructure depends on permafrost, its thawing could damage buildings and roads.
Three lodges around the lake are popular hunting and fishing destinations. A 72-pound lakewater trout, the largest caught by an angler, was caught in Great Bear Lake.
Snowmobile tours and dogsledding are popular activities for Great Bear Lake region visitors. Tourists also come to see the floating lights of the aurora.
See Related: Lake Lucerne Travel Guide: Best Things to See & Do
9. Lake Malawi
Lake Malawi borders Malawi, Tanzania, and Mozambique and has 11,400 square miles of surface area. It has more fish species than any other lake in the world and several animal species, including hippopotamus, monkeys, and African fish eagles. Lake Malawi also is a major source of fish for the region.
Mozambique has declared its portion of the lake a reserve; Malawi has included part of the lake in Lake Malawi National Park. Lake Malawi is one of the world’s oldest lakes, yet it is one of the most threatened. Overpopulation, climate change, and overfishing are the culprits.
UNESCO has named the lake a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The lake also is popular with tourists because its clear waters are great for snorkeling and diving. Lake Malawi and its banks also offer tour opportunities to view many species of wildlife, and several tour companies offer safaris.
See Related: Best Pink Lakes in the World to Visit
10. Great Slave Lake
The 10,000-square-mile Great Slave Lake is in the Northwest Territories of Canada. It has an irregular shoreline, and its eastern arm has many islands. Great Slave Lake is partially frozen for at least eight months each year.
The lake is rich in aquatic life; fish species include lake whitefish, lake trout, cisco, walleye, and suckers. Global warming is decreasing the amount of time the lake has ice, negatively impacting its fish.
Fishing, boating, and wildlife watching are popular activities along Great Slave Lake. Tourist attractions include the Northern Lights, the Thaidene Nene National Park Reserve on the lake’s East Arm, the Bison Sanctuary, and Fort Resolution.
Types of Lakes
According to geologists and geographers, there are eleven different types of lakes:
|Form from movements in the Earth’s crust, like faulting, tilting, folding, and warping.
|Occupy depressions created by volcanoes.
|Formed from glacial processes.
|Come from running water.
|Formed from the dissolution of bedrock on the earth’s surface.
|Come into being because a mudflow, rockslide, or scree has blocked a valley.
|Created by wind actions such as blown sand.
|Form when currents create uneven beach accretion or from blocked estuaries.
|Form because of the actions and interactions of plants and animals.
|Created from meteors and other extraterrestrial objects hitting the Earth.
Which continent contains the most lakes?
North America contains the most lakes. Canada alone has more than 2 million. Europe has the second most lakes. Antarctica has the fewest lakes. Africa, with only a few hundred lakes, has only a few more than Antarctica.
What are some popular activities at the largest lakes in the World?
The largest lakes and their shorelines provide great opportunities for fishing, boating, hiking, and often snorkeling. Because they have many species of plants and animals, they also are excellent spots to observe nature.
Many of the largest lakes also have important historical and cultural sites near them. Two of the largest lakes — Lake Malawi and Lake Baikal — are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Can I visit the largest lakes in the world?
Yes, the North American Great Lakes are easy to visit. Of course, traveling to lakes outside your country will require you to get a passport. US citizens also need visas in many countries. Also, some countries may be less safe than others, depending on factors such as political unrest.