Discover the Deepest Lake in North Dakota

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Updated: April 22, 2023
© North Dakota / Flickr – License / Original
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North Dakota has some surprisingly large lakes including some of the largest man-made reservoirs in the country. Lake Sakakawea is a 360,000 acre lake in North Dakota that was built on the Missouri River with the Garrison Dam. Lake Oahe spreads across North Dakota and South Dakota, starting at the Oahe Dam and expands northward to Bismarck, ND. Devil’s Lake is the largest natural lake in North Dakota and covers 4,435-acres. But are these bigger lakes also the deepest lakes? What kind of fish love deep water lakes? How is the fishing in North Dakota’s deepest lake? Let’s find out all about the deepest lake in North Dakota!

What is the Deepest Lake in North Dakota?

The deepest lake in North Dakota is Lake Sakakawea. Lake Sakakawea is located in west central North Dakota and is entirely in the state. The deepest point is 180 feet. Lake Oahe is in North Dakota and South Dakota and has the deepest point of 205 feet, but that is at the Oahe Dam which is in South Dakota. For this article we will take a look at the deepest lake entirely in the state. As you can imagine, the fishing on the cool, deep Lake Sakakawea is pretty amazing.

Lake Sakakawea in North Dakota is the deepest lake.
Lake Sakakawea is the deepest lake in North Dakota with a depth of 180 feet.

©MatthewUND / Creative Commons – License

How Big Is Lake Sakakawea?

Lake Sakakawea is 360,000 acres, measuring 180 miles long! The lake is a man-made reservoir created by damming the Missouri River. An embankment separates Lake Sakakawea from the neighboring (also massive) Lake Audubon. The division of the lake makes way for Highway 83 and offers two distinct lakes. Lake Audubon is 16,612 acres and 59.90 feet deep at the deepest point. The embankment was completed in 1953.

Where Is Lake Sakakawea Located on a Map?

The lake covers parts of McKenzie, Dunn, Mercer, McLean, Williams, and Mountrail counties. It is around 75 miles by the Missouri River to North Dakota’s capital Bismarck.

How Is the Fishing on the Deepest Lake in North Dakota?

The fishing on Lake Sakakawea is excellent with multiple state parks, marinas and boat ramps to fish from. Three of the most sought after fish include chinook salmon (they love cool deep lakes), walleye and northern pikes.

Are There Any State Fishing Records from Lake Sakakawea?

Yes! There are three current state records caught on Lake Sakakawea. The biggest northern pike (commonly called “northerns” or “pike”) ever caught in North Dakota was reeled in off of Lake Sakakawea back in 1968. Melvin Slind caught a 37 pound 8 ounce northern that still is the record to break today. His northern measured 48 inches long … that’s 4 feet!

The biggest freshwater drum in the state was caught by Larry Harris who was fishing in the Bear Den Bay of the lake when he snagged a 26 pound 2 ounce drum. His record dates back to July 20, 1988.

Another older record is from October 6, 1971 when Mike Fischer caught a record breaking sauger that weighed in at 8 pounds 12 ounces. Sauger are in the perch family and look quite similar to walleye.

Northern pike on Lake Sakakawea
The biggest northern pike ever caught in North Dakota was caught on Lake Sakakawea weighing 37 lb 8 oz and measuring 4 ft!

©Martin Prochazkacz/

What Parks Are on Lake Sakakawea?

Lake Sakakawea State Park is on the south shore of the lake and has a campground, marina and swimming beach. In the fall anglers will fish from the shore at the park to catch chinook salmon. But the full service marina is a great option for launching your boat, kayak, paddleboard or canoe.

Fort Stevenson State Park is three miles south of Garrison on the north shore of Lake Sakakawea. As a former fort you can visit the Guardhouse Interpretive Center to learn all about the history behind Fort Stevenson. There are several popular events hosted by the lake each year like Maple Sugaring Days and the Skyfest Kite Festival. Walleye are the target fish on the lake off the shores of Fort Stevenson but you will find plenty of pike and sauger as well. The park has a spacious campground and boat rentals in the summer months.

Lewis and Clark State Park is on one of the upper bays of the lake near Williston, ND. The park features a marina with a boat ramp for putting in your boat or you can rent kayaks, canoes and paddleboards. The fish in this area of the lake are biting as well, with sauger, walleye and northern pike. The park has a nice swimming beach for sunbathing and cooling off in the summer as well as a large campground with full-hookup campsites for your RV, modern tent campsites and two cabins for rent.

Shoreline of Lake Sakakawea at Fort Stevenson State Park, North Dakota
Fort Stevenson State Park is found along the north shore of Lake Sakakawea where you can enjoy fishing, trails, views, and a museum.

©David Becker, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons – License

How Does the Deepest Lake in North Dakota Compare to the Deepest Lake in the U.S.?

The deepest lake in North Dakota is 180 feet deep. That is really quite deep for the prairie state of North Dakota, where most of the lakes are closer to maxing out at 20 feet. But when you compare it to the deepest lake in the U.S. it doesn’t seem to be that impressive.

The deepest lake in the US is 1,943 feet deep. Crater Lake is located in southern Oregon and was formed in the top of an old volcano. While Lake Sakakawea is a long lake built along the Missouri River, Crater Lake is nearly round with two islands popping up. You can hike down to the edge of the lake on the Cleetwood Trail where you can take a dip but be prepared for a chilly swim. The surface temps rarely get about 60 degrees , even in the summer.

How Does the Deepest Lake in the U.S. Compare to the Deepest Lake in the World?

Crater Lake is 1,943 feet deep but when you compare that to the deepest lake in the world, it seems less impressive. Lake Baikal in Siberia, Russia is 5,315 feet deep!

Lake Baikal is considered the oldest lake on the planet and is also the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world. Much of the wildlife that inhabits the lake and ecosystem are only found in Lake Baikal. The Baikal Seal, for example, is also called the nerpa. These are some of the only freshwater seals. One of the remarkable feats of the nerpa is their deep diving capabilities. They certainly can’t reach the bottom of Lake Baikal but reaching the bottom of Lake Sakakawea would be easy. The Baikal seal can dive almost 984 feet!

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Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota
Various Areas of Lake Sakakawea, North Dakota
© North Dakota / Flickr – License / Original

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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  1. North Dakota Parks & Recreation, Available here:
  2. North Dakota Tourism, Available here:
  3. North Dakota Game and Fish Department, Available here:
  4. WWF, Available here: