The 5 Most Dangerous Lakes in the United States

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Updated: June 8, 2023
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America is known to have a lot of lakes. Many of the 240 freshwater lakes in the United States were formed by glacial processes during the last Ice Age. These lakes are filled with marine life and their shores host much wildlife, such as gray wolves, moose, and Canadian lynxes.

Americans love water sports and activities, so a lot of these lakes get visited frequently. While a lot of them are great spots for swimming, fishing, kayaking, boating, and paddle boarding, there are several lakes that are marked as danger zones.

Here’s a quick preview of the 5 lakes we will be discussing:

Here are 5 of the deadliest lakes in the country.

1. Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan has an area of 22,406 miles² and a length of 307 miles.

©Frederick Millett/

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes and is the only one that does not border Canada. It has an area of 22,406 miles² and a length of 307 miles. Due to its size, the lake is quite a popular spot for sailing, fishing, and boating.

Despite its strong attraction, there’s a bleaker side to Lake Michigan. It has very strong undercurrents that lead to many deaths each year. Many swimmers have lost their lives at the sudden change in the waters. Lake Michigan is no stranger to boating accidents, either. In the fall, Lake Michigan is even more dangerous as changes in water and temperatures occur. The lake is considered to be the deadliest in the United States.

To many, it is shocking that the lake is still visited year-round, despite its dangers. However, since there are no laws against it, swimmers and boaters still visit. Many find it hard to resist the lake’s beauty as well as the many species of fish that live in it.

Lake Michigan is known to have trout, salmon, and bass, making it perfect for fishing trips. In 2020, 53 people drowned in Lake Michigan, setting a record for yearly drowning deaths.

2. Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri

Lake of the Ozarks is located in South-central Missouri, U.S., and spans an area of 84.37 mi².

©Colton lee garcia/

Although many people refer to Lake Michigan as the deadliest, a lot of people would argue that the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, deserves the title- and it’s quite easy to see why. According to the Missouri Highway State Patrol, there were 14 fatal drowning incidents in the lake. Although swimming is not allowed in many parts of this lake, it hasn’t stopped people from trying, and many have died.

The lake also has a high record of boating accidents and even attacks by some of the deadly animals. Even the waters in this lake are deadly. The Lake of the Ozarks has been found to have high levels of E.coli. It is also home to a large array of venomous snakes, which include massasauga, copperhead, pygmy rattlesnake, timber rattlesnake, and cottonmouth. These snakes are venomous and are known to fatally attack humans. What’s more? Alligators have also been sighted in these lakes.

This isn’t to say that the lake is totally off-limits. The Lake of Ozarks has various safe beach areas. They have been opened to the public for fishing and other activities. However, visitors to these parks must obey all the rules that they are given. Some other animals you can find in the Lake of the Ozarks are bobcats, bald eagles, coyotes, elks, eastern chipmunks, and even black bears.

3. Lake Mead

Known as one of the best lakes for scuba diving, Lake Mead is on the main stem of the Colorado River.

© Pavone

Scuba divers all around America have heard of Lake Mead. The lake, which is ranked as one of the top freshwater lakes, is perfect for scuba diving. Its waters are inhabited by striped bass, channel catfish, and even bluegills. Lake Mead is also known as the reservoir of Hoover Dam. It is one of the largest man-made bodies of water.
Sadly, it is also one of the deadliest lakes in the USA. According to Wilk Jeffery’s “Wilks Journal of Travel Medicine”, the highest number of international visitor fatalities was recorded at Lake Mead. From 2006 to 2016, 275 people were recorded to have died on the lake. Some of the most common causes of deaths on the lake are drowning and car crashes. Lake Mead is also home to several dangerous reptiles and amphibians.

4. Mono Lake

Located in California, Mono Lake is set towards the east and at the edge of Sierra Nevada.

© Isepan

Mono Lake is beautiful. In the right weather, the skies are a brilliant blue and there is a light breeze in the air. At sunset, the sky and lake are stunningly colored with various types of birds such as parasitic jaegers, black terns, and Sabine’s gulls. Unlike some of the other lakes on this list, Mono Lake isn’t plagued by boating or drowning incidents nor is it filled with dangerous predators. Mono Lake is dangerous because of the lack of water.

The Lake is an old saline lake. Located in California, it is set towards the east and at the edge of Sierra Nevada. However, the lake isn’t connected to any other body of water. So, when chemicals get into the lake, they do not flow out but stay there and pollute the water. Sadly, the lake has built up an alarming concentration of arsenic. The water is now poisonous and toxic to humans and animals.

In addition, the lake is slowly shrinking. According to the Mono Lake Organization, the lake dropped by 45 feet in 40 years. Due to its state, Mono Lake has no fish. However, it is filled to its bream with alkali flies and brine shrimp. These marine creatures are prey for the various types of birds the lake has.

The Mono Lake Organization was established to save the lake. The organization states that although water is beginning to flow back down the streams and into Mono Lake, there is still much to be done as the lake is still in a dire situation.

5. Lake Erie

Lake Erie spans an area of 9,940 mi² and is the fourth largest of the five Great Lakes.


Lake Erie is not enjoyed by swimmers for much of the year. Agricultural and urban runoff of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus has spurred annual algal blooming since the 1960s.

Sadly, algae are not the only problems the lake faces. Lake Erie is also known for its sudden drowning currents. In 2021, six drowning incidents were reported in the lake. According to the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, several other fatal incidents have been reported on the lake. Since swimming is not prohibited in these lakes, it is common to find daring swimmers in these waters. However, medical experts have advised children, pregnant women, and those with certain underlying conditions to stay out of the lake.

Some of the marine life found in Lake Erie include Northern pike, steelheads, walleyes, and smallmouth bass.

Lake Erie Contains More Shipwrecks Than Any Other U.S. Lake

There are famous tales of shipwrecks on other Great Lakes, such as the haunting true story and song of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior. But, it is Lake Erie whose icy, cold waters hold the remains of the most shipwrecks – with estimates of 500 – 2,000 wrecks. It is believed to have a greater density of shipwrecks than virtually anywhere in the world – even the Bermuda Triangle.

The Iroquois Tribe named the lake for the “long-tailed cat” – or eastern cougar, known for its unpredictable and sometimes violent behavior. These characteristics are shared by the lake – which can be as calm as a swimming pool one moment – and the next can bring huge, relentless, vertical waves crashing down on whoever or whatever floats on its surface.

Storms and waves are the main reason for the shipwrecks – but strange collisions and fires have also occurred. The oldest shipwreck found in Lake Erie so far is the “Lake Serpent”, which disappeared near Kellys Island, one of several small islands in the lake, in 1829 after picking up a load of limestone.

Whenever shipwrecks are found in any of the Great Lakes, they are remarkably preserved due to the cold, fresh water. Old wooden ships that have been underwater for hundreds of years look like they just sank.


To review:

The LakeThe Problem
Lake MichiganStrong undercurrents cause drownings; high number of boating accidents; sudden changes in waves and temperatures.
Lake of the OzarksHigh number of drownings and boat accidents; deadly animal attacks; several venomous snakes and alligators in area.
Lake MeadHighest number of international visitor fatalities from drownings and car crashes; also has some dangerous reptiles and amphibians.
Mono LakeLow, saline, and toxic waters.
Lake ErieAlgae; drownings and other accidents from strong current; unpredictable and violent weather; most shipwrecks of any lake.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Radoslaw Lecyk/

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