What’s the Largest Man-Made Lake in Connecticut?

Candlewood Lake on a peaceful summer morning with boats docked and mountainside in background,New Fairfield,Connecticut.
© tmphoto98/Shutterstock.com

Written by Patrick Sather

Updated: September 13, 2023

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Located in western Connecticut, a few miles from the New York/Connecticut border, Candlewood Lake is the largest man-made lake in Connecticut. Candlewood Lake ranks not only as the largest man-made lake in Connecticut but also the largest overall lake in the state. This man-made reservoir possesses a total surface area of 5,420 acres or 8.4 square miles. In fact, no other lake within 60 miles of New York City is larger than Candlewood Lake. As a result, the lake serves as a popular tourist destination and provides year-round recreational opportunities to visitors and residents alike.

Candlewood Lake

Candlewood Lake is known for smallmouth bass and tournament fishing.

©Csouthard / Creative Commons – Original / License

The creators of Candlewood Lake designed it as a long-term water storage project. The dam that contains the lake water produces hydroelectric power for the region. Therefore, the lake needed a large capacity to produce enough electricity during periods of high power demand. The lake accommodates this by containing a vast amount of water for a lake its size.

Candlewood Lake is 11 miles long and has a width of 2 miles, with a total shore length of 60 miles. Meanwhile, it has an average depth of 40 feet and a maximum depth of 90 feet. A “full pool” surface elevation of 429 feet gives it a total water volume of approximately 167,112 acre-feet. Moreover, it stores all this water from only two sources: the Housatonic River and its small tributary, the Rocky River.

The lake features numerous recreational facilities that make it popular year-round. Available activities include fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, and scuba diving. Divers can explore the sunken attractions along the lakebed, which include submerged towns, bridges, planes, and vintage cars. In addition to boating and sailing, authorities will even let you land a seaplane on the lake’s surface!

The lake attracts anglers thanks to its well-maintained smallmouth and largemouth bass stocks. Other animals in and around the lake include egrets, great blue herons, cormorants, American minks, and black bears

Colonists eventually bought much of the land in the area from the Potatuck and other tribes to develop new colonial townships.

Where Is Candlewood Lake Located on a Map?

Candlewood Lake resides within Fairfield and Litchfield counties in western Connecticut. The lake runs practically from north to south. Five towns surround the lake: Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, and Sherman. Its attractive shoreline makes Candlewood Lake property some of the priciest real estate in the region.

History of Candlewood Lake

Candlewood Lake on a peaceful summer morning with boats docked and mountainside in background,New Fairfield,Connecticut.

At the start of the 20th century, the area around modern-day Candlewood Lake consisted of quiet farming communities.

©tmphoto98/Shutterstock.com

For hundreds of years, Native American tribes lived in the area where Candlewood Lake now resides. During the lake’s construction, workers found dozens of tribal artifacts, including arrowheads, mallets, war axes, and bits of pottery. Wildlife in the area supported tribes like the one led by Chief Waramaug. Waramug was a head chef – or sachem – of the Potatuck Native American tribe (now the Schaghticoke tribe) during the early 18th century. His people lived in the village of Weantinock near present-day New Milford. Colonists eventually bought much of the land in the area from the Potatuck and other tribes to develop new colonial townships.

At the start of the 20th century, the area around what we now know as Candlewood Lake consisted of quiet farming communities. These included the town of Jerusalem and a small farming village in the Rocky River Valley that operated several mills. In 1904, the Connecticut Light and Power Company bought the land where the dam for Candle Lake now resides. The company wanted to create a pumped water storage reservoir and dam to generate hydroelectric power. Their design represented the first planned large-scale pumped storage facility in the U.S. 

Beginning in 1926, hundreds of laborers set to work started building the dams that would create Candlewood Lake. Excavators shifted earth, and loggers cut down trees to make way for the coming lake. The largest dam at the north end of the Rocky River Valley measured 952 feet wide and nearly 100 feet high once finished. By 1928, the water pumping facility began transporting water from the Housatonic River into the valley. Approximately three-quarters of the water for the lake came from the Housatonic, while the remaining one-quarter came from the Rocky River and its tributaries. Within just a few months, Candlewood Lake was born. 

Candlewood Lake: Geography

The Housatonic River flows along the northern and eastern edges of the lake. The small Rocky River feeds into the lake’s northern end. The dam at the confluence of the Rocky and Housatonic Rivers serves as the barrier that creates the lake.

Twelve islands reside within the borders of Candlewood Lake: Green Island, Deer Island, Cedar Island, Oak Island, Rock Island, Pine Island, Sand Island, Shipwreck Island, Skeleton Island, Thistle Island, Banger Island, and City Island. “Chicken Rock,” a 25-foot-tall rock on the shoreline between Sherman and New Fairfield, is a popular geographic feature and springboard for daredevils who wish to jump into the lake. Candlewood Mountain lies north of the lake, just outside New Milford.

Five towns border Candlewood Lake. Sherman rests on the lake’s northwest corner, while New Milford dominates the northeast corner. Brookfield resides on the eastern shore, while New Fairfield stands on the western shore. Finally, Danbury encompasses the lake’s southern shore. U.S. Routes 202 and 7 follow the lake’s eastern shore and pass through the towns of Danbury, Brookfield, and New Milford. Numerous private residences and beaches dot Candlewood Lake’s shoreline. These include Candlewood Lake Club, the Sail Harbor Club, and many others. 

Viewing the Sunset over Candlewood Lake

Generally speaking, the waters of Candlewood Lake are relatively clean and well-maintained.

©Christina Marinette/Shutterstock.com

Aside from private residences and beaches, trees dominate most of Candlewood Lake’s shoreline. Hardwood deciduous and evergreen parks and woods grow nearly to the water’s edge. You can even find Candlewood trees in the area, from which the lake gets its name. Generally speaking, the waters of Candlewood Lake are relatively clean and well-maintained. That said, the lake does face problems with the overgrowth of freshwater aquatic plants like eelgrass and Eurasian milfoil. Boating on the lakes and excess algae can reduce visibility in the water significantly. In most spots, you can see about 20 feet deep, but in some spots, visibility gets reduced to as little as 5 feet. 

Numerous fish roam the lake. Smallmouth and largemouth bass live in abundance within the waters of Candlewood Lake. Other fish you can find in the lake include trout and crappie. The lake is home to various birds, including great blue herons, egrets, and double-breasted cormorants. You can even find the occasional bear hanging out near the shoreline or dipping in the water. 

Candlewood Lake: Reviews

Rodman Reservoir features some of Florida's best bass fishing.

Visitors to Candlewood Lake enjoy the cool, clear water.

©iStock.com/John Hancock Photography

Candlewood Lake obtains mostly positive reviews online. Most people who visit the lake report enjoying the cool, clear water and sandy beaches. There are many places to launch a boat or trailer into the water, and the lake is perfect for boating or fishing. You can also enjoy watersports on the lake, including jet skiing, tubing, or sailing. The foliage in fall makes the perfect backdrop while boating on the lake, and the water feels great on hot summer days. 

Negative reviews of Candlewood Lake are rare and generally mention the same things. First, the lake can get rather crowded in the summer. This means you must keep your wits about you when swimming so as not to get hit by speeding boats. Additionally, if you want to enjoy a quiet, peaceful day at the beach, you may want to avoid visiting on holidays. Lastly, while the lake has many public piers and boating access points, it has few public beaches. Most of the lake’s beaches are private, making accessing the beaches more difficult on crowded days unless you know someone with private property along the shoreline. 


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