Top 14 Amazing Facts About Lake Michigan

It’s one of the most famous lakes in the United States and a popular tourist destination as well.

In this post, you’ll discover the ultimate list of facts about Lake Michigan.

1. It’s one of the Great 5 Lakes of North America

Lake Michigan is one of the 5 Great Lakes of North America, located in Canada and the United States. The other ones are Lake Superior, Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, and Lake Erie.

All these 5 freshwater lakes are located close enough to be interconnected with each other and are all located on the Canada-United States border.

Satellite image of the 5 Great Lakes of North America. / Wiki Commons

2. It’s connected to another lake

Technically, Lake Michigan and Lake Huron are directly connected and therefore form one single lake, even though they are counted as separate lakes.

This connection is called the Straits of Mackinac, narrow waterways located in the northeast of Lake Michigan and northwest of Lake Huron. This also means that these lakes have the same surface level.

These waterways are located directly between Michigan’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas, which are connected by one of the most famous bridges in the United States, the Mackinac Bridge.

Mackinac Bridge crossing the Mackinac Waterways. / Source

3. It’s not the biggest lake by volume and surface area

Lake Michigan is the second-largest of the Great Lakes by volume but only the third-largest by surface area. It has a volume of 1,180 cubic miles (4,900 cubic kilometers) and a surface area of 22,404 square miles (58,030 square kilometers).

The combined surface area of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, which are technically one lake, is the largest body of fresh water in the world.

Lake Michigan has an average depth of just 279 feet (85 meters) and a maximum depth of 923 feet (281 meters). Lake Baikal in Russia is way deeper which means it has a much higher volume of water, even more than all 5 great lakes of North America combined.

facts about Lake Michigan

4. It’s the only Great Lake located completely in the United States

One of the most interesting facts about Lake Michigan is that it’s the only lake that is completely located within the borders of the United States. The 4 other lakes are all shared with Canada.

This effectively makes Lake Michigan the largest lake by surface area that is located within 1 country in the entire world.

Lake Michigan United States
The lake lies within the borders of the United States. / Wiki Commons

5. There’s a connection to the ocean

For centuries, the Great Lakes, even though they are connected through various waterways to the Atlantic Ocean, were facing obstacles such as the Niagara Falls and the rapids of the St. Marys River.

The two main waterways that solved this problem are called the “Saint Lawrence Seaway” and “Great Lakes Waterway.” This allows many ships to reach the Great Lakes from the Atlantic Ocean. Large container ships can’t pass through the locks of these waterways though.

The Illinois Waterway allows ships to go directly to the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois River and the Mississippi River.

Part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway
Part of the Saint Lawrence Seaway. / Wiki Commons

6. The area has been inhabited since at least 100 B.C.

The first humans to settle around Lake Michigan were the Hopewell Indians, a name used to describe various groups of people living in the area. They lived near the lake from around 100 B.C. until 500 A.D.

After their culture declined around 800 A.D., the land became home to the Late Woodland Indians of which descendants lived in the area until European explorers discovered Lake Michigan.

These Native Americans were the Ojibwe, Menominee, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Miami, Ottawa, and Potawatomi.

Ojibwe Chiefs in the 19th century
Ojibwe Chiefs in the 19th century. / Wiki Commons

7. The first Westerner to see Lake Michigan as a French explorer

It’s uncertain exactly which year the first European reached Lake Michigan, but it’s believed to have been a French explorer named Jean Nicolet.

He’s also the first European to set foot in the US State of Wisconsin and also explored Mackinac Island and Green Bay, all of this around the 1630s.

Jean Nicolet arriving in Wisconsin, painting made in 1910
Jean Nicolet arriving in Wisconsin, painting of 1910. / Wiki Commons

8. It used to have a different name on European maps

Shortly after the lakes had been discovered, maps were being made in Europe of the region. On many of those maps, the name of the lake wasn’t Lake Michigan but “Lake Illinois.”

The name Illinois came from the “Illinois Confederation,” a group of 12 or 13 Native American tribes who lived in the upper Mississippi River valley of North America.

Lake Michigan facts

9. Two forts near the Straits of Mackinac were built in the 18th century

The Straits of Mackinac had been an important trade route for Native Americans for many centuries. So the first settlements that were built around the lake by Europeans were two forts in this area.

The first was a French fort built in the year 1715 called Fort Michilimackinac, which was located in what is now Mackinaw City, Michigan, on the southern side of the Straits.

On the eastern end of the straights, there was a British colonial and early American military base called “Fort Mackinac,” located on Mackinac Island. This fort was founded in the year 1781.

Fort Mackinac
Fort Mackinac / Drdpw /

10. Many towns were built in the 17th and 18th centuries

As these centers of trade grew in popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries, various other ports and trading communities were growing alongside the lake.

One of these settlements was Green Bay in Wisconsin, which was actually founded by Jean Nicolet himself in the 1630s and was originally referred to as a trading post called “La Baie des Puants,” and eventually the town “La Baie Verte,” which translates to the “Green Bay.

Green Bay around 1867
Green Bay around 1867. / Wiki Commons

11. Lake Michigan played a major role in the development of Chicago

About 12 million people live on the shores of Lake Michigan, and most of them live in the metropolitan areas of Milwaukee and Chicago.

The lake has been crucial in the development of especially the Chicago metropolitan area, which has grown exponentially since the 19th century.

Chicago is now a major metropolis with over 9.5 million inhabitants in the Chicago metro.

Downtown Chicago with lake Michigan in the background
Downtown Chicago with Lake Michigan in the background.

12. A prehistoric lake formed a basin in Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan has two main bays, one in the northwest named the Green Bay and one in the northeast named the Grand Traverse Bay.

In between these two great bays, we can find the deepest point of the lake, an area referred to as the Chippewa Basin.

One of the most fascinating facts about Lake Michigan is that this basin was named after a prehistoric lake named “Lake Chippewa,” a former and relatively smaller lake that is now incorporated into Lake Michigan.

Part of the Grand Traverse Bay / Wiki Commons

13. Lake Michigan is famous for its numerous beaches

One of the coolest facts about Lake Michigan is that it’s often referred to as the “Third Coast” of the United States, this because it literally has dozens of beaches.

Apart from its numerous beaches, there are also dozens of parks that are popular for people who love to explore nature.

Some of these parks are located on one of the dozens of islands located in the lake as well such as Beaver Island, which is the largest island in Lake Michigan with a size of 55.8 square miles (145 square kilometers), The Manitou Islands, and the Fox Islands.

Beach near Chicago
Beach near Chicago / TonyTheTiger /

14. The state of Michigan was named after the lake, not vice versa

Perhaps one of the most fascinating facts about Lake Michigan is that it wasn’t the lake that was named after the state of Michigan, but the exact opposite.

The word Michigan is derived from the Native American Ojibwe word “Michi-gami,” which literally translates to “Great Water.”

So yes, the word Michigan refers to the lake, and the state was directly named after this amazing lake, not the other way around!

Lake Michigan interesting facts
Lake Michigan during the fall. / Source