Michigan’s two peninsulas are bordered by some of the largest bodies of fresh water in the world. Affectionately known as the Great Lakes, this collection of five lakes is one of the most valuable resources in the region.
For centuries, the Michigan Great Lakes have powered community life, development, commerce, and trade in the state, and the incredible beauty of these bright blue waters has long inspired residents and visitors alike. Let’s learn some interesting facts about the amazing lakes.
35 Things You Probably Never Knew About The Great Lakes
- Lake Superior is not just a lake, but an inland sea, making it one of the largest bodies of freshwater in the world.
- Lake Superior is so massive that all four of the other Great Lakes, plus three additional lakes the size of Lake Erie, could fit inside it.
- Isle Royale, which is located within Lake Superior, is a large island that contains several smaller lakes, creating a lake on a lake.
- Despite its enormous size, Lake Superior is relatively young, having formed only 10,000 years ago.
- Lake Superior contains enough water to submerge North and South America in one foot of water.
- Lake Superior contains 3 quadrillion gallons of water, which is half of the total volume of all five Great Lakes combined.
- Lake Superior contains 10% of the world’s fresh surface water.
- Lake Superior is home to an estimated 100 million lake trout, which is nearly one-fifth of the human population of North America.
- It takes two centuries for all the water in Lake Superior to replace itself due to its small outlets.
- Lake Erie, the smallest Great Lake in depth, is the fourth-largest in surface area and the 11th largest lake in the world.
- Lake Erie is home to a legendary 30- to 40-foot-long monster named Bessie, which has been sighted since 1793.
- Water in Lake Erie replaces itself in only 2.6 years, which is significantly faster than Lake Superior.
- Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax originally contained a line about Lake Erie’s poor conditions, but it was removed after the Ohio Sea Grant Program argued that conditions had improved.
- Lake Erie is surrounded by the most industry of all the Great Lakes, with 17 metropolitan areas bordering its basin.
- The U.S. defeated the British in a naval battle called the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, forcing them to abandon Detroit.
- The shoreline of all the Great Lakes combined is nearly 44% of the circumference of the planet.
- Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are considered one lake hydrologically because they have the same mean water level and are connected by the Straits of Mackinac.
- The Keystone State was a luxurious wooden steamship that was one of the largest during the Civil War. However, it mysteriously disappeared in 1861 and was only found in 2013, 30 miles northeast of Harrisville and under 175 feet of water.
- Goderich Mine, the largest salt mine in the world, runs underneath Lake Huron at a depth of over 500 meters.
- Below Lake Huron, prehistoric animal-herding structures that are 9,000 years old can be found from when the water levels were much lower.
- Massive sinkholes in Lake Huron contain unique ecosystems due to their high sulfur and low oxygen levels, which replicate the conditions of Earth’s ancient oceans 3 million years ago.
- Lake Huron is the second-largest Great Lake and the fifth largest freshwater lake in the world.
- Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that is entirely within the borders of the United States and ranks third among the Great Lakes and sixth among all freshwater lakes in the world in size.
- The shores of Lake Michigan are lined with the largest freshwater sand dunes in the world.
- Despite being similar in size and depth, Lake Michigan takes 77 years longer to replace all its water than Lake Huron because water enters and exits through the same path.
- When the temperature of Lake Michigan drops below freezing, unique ice formations can be observed.
- Lake Michigan has a “triangle” with a reputation similar to the Bermuda Triangle, where many strange disappearances have occurred, including alleged UFO sightings.
- Singapore, Michigan, was a ghost town on the shores of Lake Michigan that was buried under sand in 1871 due to deforestation caused by pirates who stole timber from the lake.
- In 1998, Jim Dreyer swam 65 miles across Lake Michigan, and in 2003, he swam the entire length of the lake, which is 422 miles.
- Lake Michigan was the location of the first recorded “Big Great Lakes disaster” when a steamer carrying 600 people collided with a schooner delivering timber to Chicago, resulting in the death of 450 people.
- Lake Ontario is the smallest Great Lake in surface area and the second smallest in depth, but it is still the 14th largest lake in the world.
- The province of Ontario was named after Lake Ontario, not the other way around.
- In 1804, the Canadian warship His Majesty’s Ship Speedy sank in Lake Ontario. In 1990, wreck hunter Ed Burtt discovered the wreckage, but he has not been allowed to recover any artifacts until a government-approved exhibition site is found.
- Babe Ruth hit his first major league home run at Hanlan’s Point Stadium in Toronto, and the ball is believed to have landed in Lake Ontario, where it may still remain.
- A lake on Saturn’s moon Titan is named after Lake Ontario.
More Fun Facts About Michigan’s Great Lakes
How Many Great Lakes Are There?
There are FIVE Great Lakes – four of which border Michigan. The five Great Lakes are Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior.
Many people use the acronym H.O.M.E.S. to help them remember the names of the five Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes are famous for being the world’s biggest freshwater system.
These five lakes make up the largest freshwater system on the planet – a surface area of more than 94,600 square feet. They make up 84% of North America’s surface fresh water and close to 21% of the world’s supply of surface fresh water.
These massive bodies of freshwater share a border with Canada and span more than 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) from west to east, providing water for consumption, transportation, power, recreation, and a variety of other purposes
The lakes are connected by hundreds of rivers and lakes that spread fresh water throughout the region, making them a pivotal source of life for Canada and the American Midwest.
Over 20% of the fresh water in the world is in the Great Lakes.
Fresh water is one of the world’s most valuable — and scarce — resources, so many people living in the Great Lakes region often do not realize how lucky they have it.
With about 5,500 cubic miles and about 6 quadrillion gallons of water, the Great Lakes have an abundance of fresh water and one of the largest concentrations of fresh water in the world. Only the polar ice caps and Lake Baikal contain more water.
The Great Lakes boast more than 11,000 miles of shoreline.
Including the shores of the islands that can be found in the lakes, the Great Lakes are home to more than 11,000 miles of shoreline. As a result, the lakes create the most freshwater shoreline in the world.
In some areas, the shore is rocky and isolated, while other shorelines are defined by white, sandy beaches or towering dunes. Each lake has created its own masterpiece from the land that surrounds it, which has inspired explorers and travelers for centuries.
More than 6,000 shipwrecks have occurred in the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes played a critical role in the shipping industry from the time that European settlers discovered them. However, the deep waters of the lake can be notoriously unpredictable.
As a result, thousands of shipwrecks have taken place on the five lakes. It is estimated that more than 30,000 people have died in these wrecks.
One stretch of Lake Superior’s shoreline is particularly dangerous, having earned the nickname the Shipwreck Coast. Along this stretch of shoreline on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, there are more than 200 known shipwrecks — including the infamous wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
You can learn all about this area and the shipwrecks at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.
More than 40 million people rely on fresh water from the Great Lakes.
The Great Lakes provide fresh water to the people of Michigan, Canada, and the Midwest region, as well as replenish people around the country. The Great Lakes contain more than 90 percent of the United States’ surface fresh water.
No matter where you stand in Michigan, a Great Lake is no more than 85 miles away.
The Great Lakes are young compared to other bodies of fresh water around the world.
The Great Lakes as they exist today were created by glaciers during the ice age. Having formed about 10,000 years ago, though, the Great Lakes are actually considered young by comparison.
How Were the Great Lakes Formed?
One theory explains that the present-day lakes are the result of glaciers advancing and retreating over thousands of years. A lake that is created by a glacier is referred to as a glacial lake. It is created by the large ice sheets eroding the land and then filling the spaces when the glacier melts.
The ice sheets are on the Earth’s crust, which is “floating” on the Earth’s mantle, the molten layer beneath the Earth’s crust. The weight of the glaciers pushes the Earth’s crust down. As the glaciers retreat, the Earth’s crust slowly rebounds (centimeters per century).
This process is known as isostatic rebound. The land that is eroded is deposited by the glaciers as they advance and retreat. These formations, known as moraines, make up the boundaries of the present-day Great Lakes.
Also, this long process has formed a continuous drainage basin. This continuous path is important for shipping because it provides direct access to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Lawrence Seaway.
It has resulted in various lake stages within the Great Lakes basin too. Some of these prehistoric lakes include Lake Algonquin, Lake Nipissing, and Lake Chippewa.
Lake Algonquin was a large glacial lake that was present roughly 11,000 years ago when the Laurentide Ice Sheet was retreating north from the Great Lakes region.
It covered an area of approximately 100,000 square miles with maximum depths of 1,500 feet. Geologists have determined that the shoreline steadily rose as it moved north.
Lake Nipissing was created as the Wisconsin ice sheet receded north and represents a high point in the Great Lakes water levels. Lakes Michigan, Huron, and Superior were combined into one body of water.
Since Michigan is almost completely surrounded by the Great Lakes, you are never too far from the system’s waters.
Isostatic rebound raised the North Bay to levels of two previously existing lakes. Over 1,600 years, erosion slowly lowered the lake levels to present-day Lake Superior.
Lake Chippewa was a lower lake stage of Lake Michigan, created when the retreating ice sheet uncovered the St. Lawrence Seaway, a sea level outlet. It was the result of significantly lower lake levels, referred to as the Chippewa low levels.
Now, a gorge that was carved by the Lake Chippewa outflow lies submerged below the Straits of Mackinac.
Little-Known Facts About Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan has its own eerie triangle of mystery.
Similar to the Bermuda Triangle in the Atlantic Ocean, the Lake Michigan Triangle has become known for being the location of a strange series of occurrences.
There are several documented cases of missing ships and planes that have been lost in the area, leaving people wondering what it is about this section of the lake that is so dangerous and bewildering.
The largest dunes on freshwater shores are located along Lake Michigan.
Lake Michigan is famous for the soft, sandy dunes that tower along the shoreline, but many do not realize that this is the largest collection of freshwater sand dunes in the world.
Whether you are climbing the dunes near Saugatuck Michigan or visiting the iconic Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, you will quickly see why these mountains of sand appeal to people of all ages.
The tallest dune on Lake Michigan can be found in the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and it reaches more than 450 feet high.
Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake entirely located within U.S. borders.
All of the other lakes in the system share a border with Canada, Michigan’s international neighbor to the north.
There are more than 1,600 islands along the coast of Lake Michigan.
Many of the islands in the waters of Lake Michigan are small and uninhabited, but several have become prominent tourist attractions over the years. Perhaps the most famous islands in Lake Michigan are Beaver Island and the North and South Manitou Islands.
Lake Michigan is the only place in the world where you will find Petoskey stones.
Known for their distinct geometric pattern, Petoskey stones have become one of the most beloved souvenirs in Michigan. These fossils can only be found in the waters of Lake Michigan, making Petoskey stone hunting a favorite activity along the shoreline and beaches.
Lake Superior Facts & Figures
Lake Superior is the world’s biggest freshwater lake.
The Caspian Sea may be the largest body of inland water in the world, but Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake.
With a surface area of more than 32,000 square miles, it is larger than most people imagine. In fact, if you combined the waters from the other four Great Lakes, it would all be able to fit within Lake Superior.
Half of the water in the Great Lakes system rests in Lake Superior.
Lake Superior is known for its dark, icy, deep waters, and many people do not realize that more than 50% of all water within the Great Lakes is found in this breathtaking lake.
At any given moment, there are more than 3 quadrillion gallons of water in Lake Superior. As a result, the lake rarely ices over, unlike its counterparts in the system.
Lake Superior is so deep that the Empire State Building could rest underneath its dark waters.
Lake Superior is not only massive but also incredibly deep. The lake is as deep as 1,332 feet at a certain point, which means that the Empire State Building, which towers above New York City at 1,250 feet, could sink below its waves.
88 fish species are swimming in Lake Superior.
Fishing has long been a pastime — and a way of life — on the waters of Lake Superior. That’s not too surprising, considering nearly 90 species of fish call these waters home.
The most common fish in the lake are lake trout and salmon, but there are many other types that fishermen set their sights on as well.
Lake Superior played a pivotal role in the fur trade.
The Great Lakes were discovered by European explorers and settlers in the 17th century. Those who found the lakes began to map them and quickly realized that they could play an important role in shipping and trading goods.
Historians note that Lake Superior was first mapped and charted in 1667. Soon after, it became a major shipping channel for the fur trading industry.
Waves have reached as high as 28 feet in Lake Superior.
Lake Superior has notoriously rocky waters, but the waves reach their peak heights during the stormy months of October and November. The tallest waves ever recorded were about 28.8 feet high, but most scientists believe that waves on this lake have reached greater heights in the past.
Interesting Lake Huron Facts
Lake Huron is known for having the longest shoreline of all the Great Lakes.
Lake Huron is not the largest of the Great Lakes, nor does it boast the greatest volume of water. However, it is famous for having the longest shoreline, spanning more than 3,800 miles.
The lengthy shoreline can largely be attributed to the fact that more than 30,000 islands rest in its waters.
Beneath the waters of Lake Huron, you can find an underwater forest.
Off the coast of the charming Michigan town of Lexington, there is a petrified forest resting nearly 40 feet below the surf of Lake Huron.
This underwater forest is believed to be more than 7,000 years old, allowing scientists and researchers to begin to understand what life along the Great Lakes shoreline was like during ancient times.
Technically, Lake Huron combines with Lake Michigan to create one large lake.
The Straits of Mackinac are considered to be the border between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, but in reality, the two bodies of water combine to make one massive lake. Thousands of years ago, the Straits of Mackinac did not exist. Instead, there was land between the two lakes.
Lake Huron is home to one of Michigan’s most well-known islands — Mackinac Island.
There may be more than 30,000 islands in Lake Huron, but the most famous by far is Mackinac Island. It is a small island between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas.
With a circumference of just 8 miles, Mackinac Island is a treasured tourist attraction known primarily for its automobile-free policy and rich, delicious homemade fudge. More than 1 million people visit it each year, making it one of the most popular destinations in Lake Huron.
You can enjoy both the sunrise and sunset along some Lake Huron shores.
The unique position of these towns along Lake Huron and Saginaw Bay gives visitors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience both beautiful experiences from the same beaches.
Insightful Facts About Lake Erie
The warmest Great Lake is Lake Erie.
Lake Erie is the smallest Great Lake by water volume, and it is also the southernmost Great Lake, which is why it’s not surprising that it’s the warmest of all the lakes.
While it may be the most comfortable lake to swim in during the summer months, it’s actually the most likely to freeze over during the winter. The mighty Lake Superior may be known for its icy waters, but it rarely freezes over, while Lake Erie freezes over much more frequently.
Lake Erie hosted a pivotal battle during the War of 1812.
In September 1813, the Battle of Lake Erie took place along the lake’s shores. During this battle, which pitted the U.S. Navy against the British Navy, the United States was able to take back the city of Detroit as well as regain control of Lake Erie.
The battle represented a turning point in the war, but nearly every soldier who fought in the battle perished. A total of 934 U.S. soldiers went into the battle, but only a couple dozen survived.
Lake Erie is known for its thriving walleye population.
Walleye is one of the most common species in Lake Erie, which makes it a favorite among the fishermen who cast their reels into the water. Of course, fishing is a treasured pastime during the summer months, but Lake Erie is also popular among ice fishermen, largely because it freezes over quite easily.
Lake Erie has the shallowest depth of all the Great Lakes.
While the other Great Lakes are known for their deep and dark waters, Lake Erie is notoriously shallow. Across the lake, the average depth is just 62 feet.
At the deepest point in the lake, the waters stretch down about 210 feet. The shallow depths of this lake allow for warmer water temperatures and aid in allowing the lake to freeze over completely during the cold winter months.
Explore the Michigan Great Lakes for Yourself
Now that you know a little bit more about the mighty Great Lakes, you will be ready for an authentic Michigan experience. This is the right moment to begin planning your next awesome Michigan experience.