The 12 Largest Freshwater Lakes in the World

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: April 10, 2022
Image Credit norikko/Shutterstock.com
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Most of the world’s drinkable water is contained in freshwater lakes. Although it may seem like the amount of freshwater is small compared to saltwater, and it is, there is still a lot of fresh water in the world. To help you better understand the presence of fresh water in the world, we’re going to look at the 12 largest freshwater lakes in the world. These are the largest bodies of water that are not brackish or saline!

What Are Freshwater Lakes?

Freshwater lakes are lakes that contain freshwater that is neither brackish nor saline. While we’re on the topic, we have to ask another question: what is a lake? A lake is a body of water that has the following qualities:

  • Depth: Lakes are deeper than ponds, reaching at least 20 feet in depth in most cases.
  • Shape: Lakes have a more oval-like shape than ponds
  • Water Type: Lakes are mostly freshwater, but they can also be brackish or saline. Ponds are solely freshwater.
  • Open outlet: Lakes have an opening to other bodies of water from which they derive their water.
  • Size: Lakes are typically larger than 0.3 square miles.

Lakes are very distinct from ponds because they are larger, have an open outlet, and have a certain depth.

The 12 Largest Freshwater Lakes in the World

The lakes on our list will vary from about the size of New Jersey all the way up to Great Lakes that are more than 20,000 square miles. Let’s dive into the 12 largest freshwater lakes in the world!

12. Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario is the smallest Great Lake

Michael J. Eves/Shutterstock.com

AreaLengthDepthVolume
18,960 km2 7,320 sq mi311 km 193 mi244 m 801 ft1,639 km3 393 cu mi

Lake Ontario is the smallest one of the Great Lakes by area alone. However, it does have significant depth and volume compared to some of the other Great Lakes. This lake is known for being a tourist attraction and a place where swimmers frequent during the warmer months. Like many other Great Lakes, this lake borders both the United States and Canada.

11. Lake Winnipeg

Lake Winnipeg is the third-largest freshwater lake that is only in Canada

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AreaLengthDepthVolume
24,514 km2 9,465 sq mi425 km 264 mi36 m 118 ft283 km3 68 cu mi

Lake Winnipeg is a large lake that is only in the country of Canada. The lake is a remnant of a former glacier, and many forms of wildlife live in the area. This freshwater lake is known for having the largest lake watershed of any in Canada, and it even receives water from various states in the U.S. Its watershed is almost 400,000 square miles!

10. Lake Erie

Lake Erie is the least voluminous of all the Great Lakes

IanSkylake17/Shutterstock.com

AreaLengthDepthVolume
25,700 km2 9,900 sq mi388 km 241 mi64 m 210 ft489 km3 117 cu mi

Lake Erie is one of the Great Lakes, and it shares a shoreline with the United States and Canada. In terms of volume, Lake Erie is the smallest of all the Great Lakes, but it has a larger area than Lake Ontario. A large portion of this lake freezes over every year, so people come from far away to enjoy the scenery.

9. Great Slave Lake

This lake is due for a renaming

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AreaLengthDepthVolume
27,000 km2 10,000 sq mi480 km 300 mi614 m 2,014 ft1,560 km3 370 cu mi

The Great Slave Lake is a lake with a very unfortunate name that originates from the days of the fur trade in the 18th century. The name refers to Cree enslavements of other tribes. The lake is located in the far northern reaches of Canada, and it’s known for being the deepest lake in all of North America at a depth of some 2,014 feet! The lake is known for being the location of Operation Morning Light, a recovery of nuclear materials.

8. Lake Malawi

Lake Malawi has more species of fish than any other lake in the world

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AreaLengthDepthVolume
29,500 km2 11,400 sq mi579 km 360 mi706 m 2,316 ft8,400 km3 2,000 cu mi

Located in Mozambique, Malawi, and Tanzania, Lake Malawi is an important freshwater lake for drinking water and transportation. Lake Malawi has more species of fish living in it than any other lake in the world. An interesting tidbit about this lake was that it was the site of Britain’s first naval battle in World War I. Also, it’s a meromictic lake, and that means its different layers of water do not mix.

7. Great Bear Lake

The Great Bear Lake is the biggest in Canada overall

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AreaLengthDepthVolume
31,000 km2 12,000 sq mi373 km 232 mi446 m 1,463 ft2,236 km3 536 cu mi

The Great Bear Lake is another massive lake located in northern Canada. This is the largest lake that is located entirely within the nation of Canada. The lake is surrounded by a massive forest. This lake is known for having a section of an ice crossing located on the lake. The lake is known for its large area and depth. 

6. Lake Baikal

Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world

Julia Kuzenkova/Shutterstock.com

AreaLengthDepthVolume
31,500 km2 12,200 sq mi636 km 395 mi1,637 m 5,371 ft23,600 km3 5,700 cu mi

Lake Baikal is known for being the world’s deepest lake, with a maximum depth that exceeds 5,000 feet. The lake is located in Siberia, Russia, making it a rather remote but also an important tourist destination. Several villages are near Lake Baikal, and they serve as ecotourist destinations for people that want to see unique ice formations and hike in pristine nature. However, the lake is beginning to suffer from pollution in the form of algae blooms, liquid waste, and more.

5. Lake Tanganyika

Lake Tanganyika is the world’s longest freshwater lake, and it has shorelines in four countries

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AreaLengthDepthVolume
32,600 km2 12,600 sq mi676 km 420 mi1,470 m 4,820 ft18,900 km3 4,500 cu mi

Lake Tanganyika is the second-largest freshwater lake by volume alone, only falling behind Lake Baikal. This is also the world’s longest freshwater lake, reaching lengths of over 400 miles. The lake is located in Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Zambia. Lake Tanganyika is incredibly important in terms of ecology and biology.

4. Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is the largest lake in the United States

Frederick Millett/Shutterstock.com

AreaLengthDepthVolume
58,000 km2 22,000 sq mi494 km 307 mi281 m 922 ft4,900 km3 1,200 cu mi

Lake Michigan is the largest lake located wholly in the United States. This lake can be considered the same as Lake Huron that lies to its east and is joined by the Straits of Mackinac. However, these two lakes are often considered separate. The lake is massive and serves as a source of drinking water for people all along the borders of the lake. The lake is also the home of commercial fisheries and shipping outcomes.

3. Lake Huron

Lake Huron is the second-largest of the Great Lakes

EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock.com

AreaLengthDepthVolume
59,600 km2 23,000 sq mi332 km 206 mi229 m 751 ft3,540 km3 850 cu mi

Lake Huron is one of the Great Lakes in the United States, and it is becoming more commonly considered as a single lake along with Lake Michigan. However, as an individual lake, it’s the third-largest freshwater lake in the world. The lake is known for its treacherous waters and the fact that over 1,000 shipwrecks are present in the waters.

2. Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria is a shallow yet massive lake, the largest in Africa

Stefan Haider/Shutterstock.com

AreaLengthDepthVolume
68,870 km2 26,590 sq mi322 km 200 mi84 m 276 ft2,750 km3 660 cu mi

Lake Victoria is the largest lake in Africa, and it’s considered one of the African Great Lakes. The lake is located in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania. The waters are home to unique species of fish that are not found anywhere else. The lake is somewhat shallow compared to the other largest lakes out there, but it’s also important for drinking water as well as transport.

1. Lake Superior

Lake Superior is the biggest freshwater lake in the world

Elena Elisseeva/Shutterstock.com

AreaLengthDepthVolume
82,100 km2 31,700 sq mi616 km 383 mi406 m 1,333 ft12,100 km3 2,900 cu mi

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world, reaching over 31,000 square miles in size and boasting a depth of 1,300 feet at its deepest point. This great lake is split between the United States and Canada. The lake became significant to the shipping of manufactured materials in the 19th century and also has many shipwrecks beneath its waves.

What is the Largest Freshwater Lake in the World?

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world with a surface area over 31,000 miles.

Sorayot Chinkanjanarot/Shutterstock.com

The largest freshwater lake in the world is Lake Superior. This lake has shorelines in both the U.S. and Canada. Although it has the greatest surface area of any freshwater lake, it does not have the same amount of volume as other lakes, like Baikal and Tanganyika.

What is the Largest Freshwater Lake in the United States?

Lake Michigan is the largest lake located entirely in the United States

JaySi/Shutterstock.com

The largest freshwater lake that is located entirely in the United States is Lake Michigan. This lake is often combined with Lake Huron when people are discussing the large body of water. 

What is the Largest Lake in the World?

Caspian Sea

Marina Khlybova/Shutterstock.com

The largest lake in the world is the Caspian Sea. This body of water is saline and not freshwater, though. It’s so large that it has been considered a sea, but it also meets the criteria of a lake. Thus, this is the largest saline lake, but it’s hardly the largest body of water that exists.

Final Thoughts on the Largest Freshwater Lakes in the World

Freshwater lakes are important because they provide drinking water.

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The freshwater lakes that we have discussed here are very important. They provide drinking water for millions upon millions of people. The largest freshwater lakes have served as locations upon which civilizations have been built. They continue to provide sources of drinking water, entertainment, and beauty for those that see them.

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About the Author

I am a freelancer specializing in SEO content writing. I write in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I've been writing full-time since 2018, so I've been doing remote work before it was cool. When I'm not working, I can be found reading, trying to catch up on my tv show backlog, playing video games, and starting stories that I'll never finish.

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