The 10 Best Michigan Lakes for Fishing, Swimming, Beaches, and More!

Written by Sean Moore
Updated: November 12, 2022
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Key Points

  • Michigan is renowned for its proximity to the Great Lakes and the natural beauty and biodiversity they provide.
  • Lake Superior, with a maximum depth exceeding 1,000 feet, is the world’s largest freshwater lake and excellent for fishing and camping.
  • Lake Erie with a maximum depth of 210 feet is a great deal shallower but contains the greatest quantity of fish and supports an extensive range of wildlife.

The state of Michigan is home to some of the most amazing and massive lakes in the entire world. The Great Lakes were carved millions of years ago and have been forming and evolving ever since. Michigan is surrounded by the Great Lakes and has many other fascinating bodies of water.

Lake Superior is the largest of the Great Lakes with Lake Huron being the second largest. Mullet Lake and Burt Lake, are in the north-central part of the state and offer excellent fishing. With its amazing beaches, Torch Lake is Michigan’s own, somewhat hidden, Caribbean!

The state is also home to the lesser-known Lake St. Clair referred to as the “heart” of the Great Lakes. Lake Charlevoix is notoriously mentioned in the work of the famous writer Ernest Hemingway. Michigan is one of the best areas in the United States for lakes, if not the whole world!

Let’s dive into 10 of the best lakes in Michigan, inside this list you’ll find a little bit of everything!

1. Lake Huron

Lake Huron is the second largest of the Great Lakes and the fifth largest freshwater lake in the entire world

©iStock.com/Paul Massie Photography

● Surface Area: 14.727M Acres

● Max Depth: 750 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Second Largest Great Lake, Historic Shipwrecks, Mackinac Island, Longest Shoreline of Any of the Great Lakes, Third Largest Freshwater Lake in the World,  

The expansive waters of Lake Huron actually extend into Lake Michigan with the Straits of Mackinac being the only separation. By itself, Lake Huron is the fifth largest freshwater lake in the entire world and it’s the second-largest of the Great Lakes. Just a few of the popular activities at Lake Huron include beautiful beaches, amazing sand dunes, wetlands, massive forests, and extensive river systems.

Lake Huron has origins dating back millions of years ago along with the other lakes in the Great Lake system and named after the native Huron tribes of the region. Retreating ice sheets at the end of the last Ice Age carved out the lake we know today.

The primary water source flowing into Lake Huron is the St. Marys River with water flowing out through the St. Clair River. Lake Huron is also home to Manitoulin Island which is the world’s largest lake island.

Fish species at Lake Huron have changed over time although large lake trout once dominated the lake’s waters. Through invasive species, introduction, and stocking the lake supports a very different range of fish than it once did. Today anglers can expect to catch alewife, lake sturgeon, smallmouth bass, rock bass, catfish, Chinook salmon, steelhead, and yellow perch. Au Gres lake trout, brown trout, lake whitefish, northern pike, walleye, pumpkinseed, and rainbow smelt.

2. Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is the third largest of the Great Lakes by surface area and the only Great Lake located entirely within the USA

©Frederick Millett/Shutterstock.com

● Surface Area: 14.34M Acres

● Max Depth: 922 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Third Largest Great Lake by Surface Area, Chicago & Lake Shore Drive, Frozen Pier and Lighthouse, The Lake Michigan Triangle, Only Great Lake Entirely In USA, 

Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake that’s entirely held within the United States and the third largest of the five Great Lakes by surface area. Like the other Great Lakes, it was glacially formed. The immense Lake Michigan is also the largest lake by area located in a single country!

Cities with ports that surround Lake Michigan include Milwaukee & Green Bay, Wisconsin; Chicago, Illinois; Gary, Indiana; and Muskegon, Michigan. Roughly twelve million people inhabit these cities, primarily in Chicago and Milwaukee. Lake Michigan has many waterfront homes and beaches along the one thousand six hundred and thirty-eight-mile shoreline; with the southern end being used commercially.

Many types of fish can be found in Lake Michigan from the commercially harvested lake whitefish to many sports fishing varieties including salmon, whitefish, smelt, lake trout, and walleye. In total one hundred and thirty-four fish species inhabit Lake Michigan. Just a few of them are largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, white bass, yellow perch, Atlantic salmon, Chinook salmon, pink salmon, coho salmon, bullhead, catfish, rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, crappie, steelhead, northern pike, and muskellunge.

3. Lake Erie

Lake Erie
Lake Erie is the fourth largest of the Great Lakes and the eleventh largest lake in the entire world; it even has its own monster named Bessie!

©iStock.com/becky johnson

● Surface Area: 6.361M Acres

● Max Depth: 210 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Fourth Largest Great Lake, Eleventh Largest Lake in the World, Bessie the Lake Monster, Walleye Capital of the World, Sports Fishing, Commercial Fishing, Diverse Wildlife Habitat 

Lake Erie is the fourth largest of the Great Lakes and home to its own version of the Loch Ness Monster named Bessie. Lake Erie is one of the largest freshwater commercial fisheries in the world with an annual harvest of nearly fifty million pounds of fish; mostly walleye and yellow perch. Just a few notable and well-known attractions at Lake Erie include the Marblehead Lighthouse, Liberty Aviation Museum, Maritime Museum of Sandusky, South Bass Island, Kelleys Island, Presque Isle Bay, and the immense amount of fish swimming in the lake’s waters.

Out of all of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie contains the most fish making it a prime location for anglers. Lake Erie has over one hundred and thirty different species of fish including excellent smallmouth bass and of course walleye. Other types of fish found at Lake Erie include rainbow trout, steelhead, northern pike, brown trout, lake whitefish, round goby, lake sturgeon, coho salmon, largemouth bass, common carp, alewife, white bass, gizzard shad, burbot, sea lamprey, emerald shiner, rainbow smelt, longnose gar and bigmouth buffalo.

Lake Erie’s huge size provides home and shelter to a vast array of wildlife with Canada lynx, the bald eagle, gray wolf, and moose being key species. Twenty-four types of amphibians inhabit the area including the northern redback salamander. Other wildlife at Lake Erie includes American toads, green frogs, bullfrogs, cricket frogs, leopard frogs, red-spotted newts, and chorus frogs.

4. Lake St. Clair

Lake Saint Clair
Lake St. Clair is referred to as The Heart of the Great Lakes and is one of the best muskie fishing lakes in the world!

©iStock.com/Brian Sevald

● Surface Area: 275,200 Acres

● Max Depth: 27 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: “The Heart” of the Great Lakes, Best Muskie Lake in the World, Boating 

Formed with glacial activity along with the other Great Lakes, Lake St. Clair isn’t always considered a part of the Great Lake system. The lake was first named Lac Sainte-Claire by René Robert Cavelier in 1679 the English later updated it to the modern Lake St. Clair, said to honor American Revolutionary War General Arthur St. Clair. Despite it being one of the smaller of the Great Lakes, roughly one-third of the yearly sport fish haul is pulled from Lake St. Clair.

Lake St. Clair supports a dense fish population with over one hundred and ten different types. Primary species targeted by anglers at Lake St. Clair include yellow perch, walleye, and smallmouth bass. In addition, the lake is a highly popular destination for muskie fishing with the best time being the autumn season.

The St. Clair National Wildlife Area at Lake St. Clair is an important home to twenty at-risk wildlife species including many types of birds, mammals, fish, insects, reptiles, and plants. Some of the at-risk species include bald eagle, common nighthawk, peregrine falcon, red-headed woodpecker, red-shouldered hawk, rusty blackbird, short-eared owl, eastern fox snake, northern map turtle, queen snake, and snapping turtles. Invasive species are also rampant including common carp, round goby, mute swan, Canadian geese, American crow, double-crested cormorant, and feral cats and dogs.

5. Houghton Lake

Houghton Lake
Houghton Lake is a popular area for hunting and hosts the Tip-Up-Town USA Ice-Fishing Festival in the colder months

©HoverSolutions/Shutterstock.com

● Surface Area: 20,075 Acres

● Max Depth: 21 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Fishing, Tip-Up-Town USA Ice-Fishing Festival, Bud Bash Lake Party, State Record Channel Catfish, Michigan’s Largest Inland Lake, Hunting

Located in north-central Michigan, Houghton Lake was named after the first state geologist, Douglass Houghton, who once explored the area. In the winter months, the lake is known for the Tip-Up-Town USA Ice Fishing Festival and in summer the Bud Bash Lake Party. Houghton is also a very popular area for hunting and happens to be Michigan’s largest inland lake.

Seven access sites are scattered around the lake’s shoreline for fishing. Primary fish species at Houghton Lake include walleye, northern pike, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and bluegill. Other fish species anglers can expect to hook at Houghton Lake include lake trout, perch, crappie, brown trout, rainbow trout, pumpkinseed sunfish, rock bass, and bowfin.

Houghton Lake and surrounding areas are often referred to as a “hunter’s paradise” due to the density of huntable wildlife. Following regulations and with proper licensing the following types of game are available to hunt at Houghton Lake include bear, deer, elk, turkey, and waterfowl. Accessible access to hunting is also presented at four different spots around the Houghton Lake area.

6. Torch Lake

Torch Lake is known for its amazing crystal clear waters and pristine beaches, it’s even been called the Caribbean of Michigan

©AnotherViewDroneService/Shutterstock.com

● Surface Area: 18,722 Acres

● Max Depth: 285 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Michigan’s Longest Inland Lake, Caribbean of Michigan, Beaches, Fishing, Summer Lake Parties 

Torch Lake, located in northwest lower Michigan, is sometimes called the Caribbean of Michigan. The lake’s pristine and crystal clear water combined with sandy beaches make it an extremely popular destination for locals and tourists to the state. In fact, the lake was ranked by National Geographic as “the third most beautiful lake in the world.”

Popular activities at Torch Lake include snorkeling, boating, paddleboarding, kayaking, fishing, and windsurfing. According to rumor the musician Kid Rock owned a house on the amazing lake at one point in time. Summer is prime time at Torch Lake with hundreds of boats on the lake’s sandbars and huge parties.

Torch Lake is also a fantastic lake for fishing with many species available including smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, brown trout, lake trout, steelhead, rock bass, yellow perch, Atlantic salmon, muskie, and northern pike. Anglers in the know head to the northwest part of the lower peninsula of Torch Lake for the optimum fishing spots.

7. Lake Charlevoix

Lake Charlevoix
Lake Charlevoix is the third largest inland lake in the state of Michigan and is notorious for appearing in the writing of Ernest Hemingway

©iStock.com/Paul Massie Photography

● Surface Area: 17,268 acres

● Max Depth: 120 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Third Largest Inland Lake in Michigan, The Historical Ironton Ferry, Petoskey, and Charlevoix Stones, Earl Young Mushroom Houses, Ernest Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories

Once referred to as Pine Lake and Long Lake and then renamed Lake Charlevoix in 1926, it’s the third-largest inland lake in the state of Michigan. Lake Charlevoix is located in the northern part of Michigan near the towns of Charlevoix, Horton Bay, and Ironton. The lake has a myriad of inlets that serve as its water source which eventually flow out to Lake Michigan.

Lake Charlevoix provides excellent fishing opportunities due to the many different depths and characteristics of the lake. The primary fish species anglers can find at the lake include walleye, bluegill, smallmouth bass, rock bass, and yellow perch. Beyond fishing, visitors can also enjoy one of the many other various forms of recreation provided at Lake Charlevoix including swimming, kayaking, sailing, fishing, diving, boating, water skiing, and just relaxing on the beach.

Other popular activities at Lake Charlevoix include sky diving, searching for Petoskey and Charlevoix stones, viewing the historical Ironton Ferry, and touring the Earl Young Mushroom Houses. The Lake Charlevoix area is notorious for being visited by Ernest Hemingway and appearing in his writing. The spot is known today as Hemingway Point and is referenced in The Nick Adams Stories.

8. Burt Lake

Burt Lake
Burt Lake is located in northcentral Michigan, west of Mullet Lake, and it was named after William Austin Burt who surveyed the area in the 1840s.

©Ross Ellet/Shutterstock.com

● Surface Area: 17,120 Acres

● Max Depth: 73 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Michigan’s Fifth Largest Inland Lake, Burt Lake State Park, Popular Michigan Fishing Lake, Walleye Fishing

Burt Lake is seated in northcentral Michigan just to the west of Mullet Lake and on the eastern side of Little Traverse Bay. Burt Lake is named to honor William Austin Burt and John Mullett, who initially surveyed the area from 1840 to 1843. The main sources that feed Burt Lake are Maple River, Sturgeon River, Crooked River, and Carp Creek which then flows into the Indian River.

Anglers can expect to find an assortment of different fish species in Burt Lake including black crappie, black bullhead, bluegill, brown bullhead, brown trout, channel catfish, green sunfish, lake sturgeon, largemouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, pumpkinseed, rainbow trout, rock bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, white crappie, yellow bullhead, and yellow sunfish. There’s no wonder why Burt Lake is one of the most popular fishing lakes in Michigan!

Additional activities await lake visitors at the Burt Lake State Park located on the southeast corner of the water. The park offers a two thousand foot sandy shoreline great for relaxing, sun tanning, and swimming. Birdwatching is also quite popular at Burt Lake with commonly viewable species being Baltimore oriole, mallard, hairy woodpecker, blue jay, common raven, black-capped chickadee, tufted titmouse, white-breasted nuthatch, dark-eyed junco, and American crow.

9. Mullett Lake

Mullet Lake was named after John Mullett, who surveyed the area in the 1840s, and home of the state record lake sturgeon!

©Hgjudd / Creative Commons – License

● Surface Area: 16,630 Acres

● Max Depth: 148 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: State Record Lake Sturgeon, Diverse Range of Fish Species, Part of The Inland Waterway, Interstate 75 

Mullet Lake, located in northcentral Michigan, was named after John Mullett, who surveyed the area in the 1840s with William Austin Burt. Mullet Lake sits to the west of Burt Lake and is the smaller of the two lakes, but not by much. The primary sources of water for the lake include the Indian River, Pigeon River, Little Pigeon River, and Mullett Creek, and the major outflow is the Cheboygan River.

Anglers at Mullet Lake can expect to find a very diverse range of fish species. Some of the different types of fish in the lake include brown trout, brook trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, smelt, northern pike, muskellunge, yellow perch, walleye, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, and sunfish. The state record lake sturgeon was pulled from Mullet Lake making it a highly sought-after destination by locals and tourists to the state.

Mullet Lake is part of a Native American trade route known as The Inland Waterway. The trade route was subsequently opened to more modern recreational traffic. The Inland Waterway is a thirty-eight-mile stretch from Crooked and Round lakes near Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan crossing to Lake Huron.

Largest Lake In Michigan 

10. Lake Superior

spray falls
Lake Superior is the largest out of all of the Great Lakes; it’s approximately the size of the country of Austria

©Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock.com

● Surface Area: 20.288M acres

● Max Depth: 1,333 Feet

● Camping/Overnight Available: Yes

● Boating/Docks Available: Yes

● Swimming Permitted: Yes

● Fishing Permitted: Yes

● Best For: Largest Great Lake, Largest Freshwater Lake by Surface Area in the World, 

Lake Superior is the largest lake in the Great Lakes and the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area. The gigantic lake holds ten percent of the entire world’s surface fresh water and drains into Lake Huron through the St. Marys River. Over three hundred streams and rivers flow into Lake Superior, the largest Nipigon River in Ontario.

The lake offers superior fishing opportunities with over eighty recorded fish species, thirty-four of them being native. A few of the fish species anglers can expect to catch at Lake Superior include lake whitefish, sea lamprey, lake trout, lake sturgeon, walleye, burbot, muskie, coho salmon, king salmon, and northern pike. In addition to the wide fish species variety at Lake Superior, the nearby Nipigon River is home to the world record brook trout.

The size of the massive lake presents the opportunity for shipwrecks, with over three hundred recorded instances. Lake Superior visitors can learn more about the lake’s historical shipwrecks at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. Lake Superior’s origins date back to over one billion years ago and is world known today for its rich history and huge size.


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About the Author

Sean is a professionally published author, mostly in the tech space. He's worked as a writer, editor, and reviewer for O'Reilly Media, Adobe, Manning, Addison-Wesley, and many more. Sean is also a lifelong musician and writes about audio production. Recently he's been focused on web3 and music NFTs.

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