America’s Most Extreme Lakes

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: August 10, 2023
© CrackerClips Stock Media/
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America is famous for its beautiful lakes and landscapes. Fortunately, most of these lakes are open to the public. So, you can explore fun activities like swimming, scuba diving, fishing, hiking, etc. here. However, as fun as it might be to visit these lakes, some are not as friendly as they look. Annually, some of these lakes also record casualties that range from drowning to boat accidents. So, if you are open to exploring the lakes in America, you should know what some of America’s most extreme lakes are.

Mono Lake is practically a massive heap of salt but just in liquid form.

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is the third largest lake in America.

©Sean Pavone/

America’s home to one of the Great Lakes in the world. Lake Michigan is in fact, the third-largest lake in America. But that is not all. It also contains greenish fresh water and is the 6th largest of its kind. It’s no surprise at all that the lake is accorded such recognition. It has about 1,600 miles of shoreline – that’s the same distance between New York to Cheyenne. Besides, it’s been estimated to contain about 1,180 cubic miles of water. 

Not many lakes in the world can meet the greatness of Lake Michigan, both in volume and largeness. But Lake Superior is able to exceed Lake Michigan’s vast size. The more interesting fact about the lake is that its waters are not limited to just the borders of Michigan. The lake runs down to the cities of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Lake Michigan merges with Lake Huron at the Straits of Mackinac. 

You might be wondering: Can I swim in this Great Lake? Although a marvelous view, the lake is a dangerous place to swim. It’s not advisable to take a dip in the currents of this lake outside areas monitored by lifeguards or other professionals. There’s a history of death casualties resulting from the drowning of some swimmers. The lake has powerful undercurrents, and it doesn’t even help that it experiences occasional fluctuations in its temperature. Unfortunately, it recorded 53 deaths by drowning in 2020.

Lake of the Ozarks

Lake of the Ozarks is highly contaminated.


The list of extreme lakes in America does not stop in Michigan. Right in Missouri, between the Ozark Mountains, lies the Lake of the Ozarks. And of course, it is a sight to behold and a tourist attraction. Maybe that’s because it was artificially created and perfected for tourist viewing (or maybe not). Interestingly, the lake stretches for up to 1,150 miles of shoreline. But here’s the kicker: Lake Ozark is not as friendly as it looks. It records deaths annually. Boat accidents cause most of the casualties recorded. 

The lake and its nearby surroundings also host a variety of venomous snakes like rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. As a matter of fact, part of the lake is off-limits to swimming, but fishing is permitted. Additionally, you may want to stay away from the water due to its unhygienic nature in places. Being a public lake, the water is highly contaminated and notoriously known to contain bacteria like E. Coli. The lake has a few secure beaches, but for your safety and health, you may want to avoid swimming in this lake.

Mono Lake

Mono Lake
Mono Lake is a lake with very high salinity levels providing a unique type of lake experience


It’s almost impossible not to be attracted to the unique view of Mono Lake. This natural saline lake in California is as old as 760 millennia. But as attractive as this lake is, it’s not advisable to take long dips in its water. Why? Because the lake is practically a massive heap of salt but just in liquid form. The lake has high alkaline levels with a pH level of 10, which can be abrasive to cuts or your eyes. Due to its high salt content, a dip in Mono Lake is more about floating than activity swimming.

Since it has a higher salinity than the ocean, no fish species survive in Mono Lake. The brine shrimp and alkali flies are the only organisms known to thrive in its salty waters. Besides, the lake is isolated and highly polluted because it is stagnant and has no outlet. Over the years, there’s been a build-up of arsenic concentrate as well. When it comes to Mono Lake, it’s best to avoid its waters.

Lake Mead

Lake Mead is one of America’s deadliest.

© Pavone

Most scuba divers in America are very familiar with Lake Mead. Even first-time visitors would love the great under-sites in the waters when they go there for scuba diving. But apart from being an excellent spot for scuba diving, the lake is also widely recognized for its freshwater properties. Lake Mead is a habitat for many aquatic animals, including channel catfish, bluegills, and striped bass. 

But as beautiful as this lake is, it is one of America’s deadliest. Lake Mead is notorious for its annual death cases. From 2006 to 2016, the lake claimed the lives of 275 victims. In 2017, 25 deaths were estimated to occur at the lake annually. Scary, isn’t it? More reason why you should be more careful when visiting.

Unfortunately, most of the recorded death victims drowned in its waters. Moreover, swimmers often get affected when they ingest toxins produced by blue-green algae sprouting on the lake’s surface. But drowning is not the only cause of death on the lake. If you are a fan of boat cruising, you should be careful when you are on this lake. Many of the recorded casualties on the lake were a result of boat accidents. 

Lake Erie

The most polluted Great Lake is Lake Erie.


Lake Erie, on the face of it, looks absolutely harmless. In fact, it is famous for being one of the Great Lakes. However, the lake has the reputation of being the most polluted of the five that exist. It’s notorious for its algae growth and invading leeches. Besides, it also records drowning cases annually. The lake claimed the lives of six victims, but more people still swim in it. It’s okay to go boat cruising on this lake, though children should be monitored to ensure their safety.

Summary of America’s Most Extreme Lakes

1Lake MichiganIllinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin
2Lake of the Ozarkssouth-central Missouri
3Mono LakeSierra Nevada in California
4Lake MeadOn the Colorado River, southeast of the city of Las Vegas, in Nevada and Arizona
5Lake ErieBorders Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Canadian province of Ontario
Summary Table of America’s Most Extreme Lakes

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