There are hundreds of lakes around the world that hold claim to the title of the largest lake of some kind – either by volume, surface area, or a plethora of other defining qualifiers and caveats.
For the purpose of this article, we’ve listed the largest lakes in the world when measured by total surface area, from the smallest to the largest. From the Great Slave Lake in North America to the Caspian Sea that spreads across the continents of Europe and Asia, these are some of the biggest water sources on Earth.
Great Slave Lake is the second largest lake in the Northwest Territories of Canada, overtaken only by Great Bear Lake. Reaching a staggering depth of over 600 meters, it is the deepest lake in North America. Stretching nearly 300 miles long and over 100 miles wide, it is the tenth-largest lake on Earth.
Various towns sit on the edge of the lake; these include Yellowknife, Fort Resolution, and Hay River, to name a few. Due to its location south of the Arctic Circle, the lake freezes over in winter and maintains a temperature so cold that the residents are able to carve an ice road through it, creating a shortcut between Yellowknife and Dettah.
The rest of the year, the lake is a hotspot for sailors and anglers, who enjoy trying their luck fishing for pike and trout in the lake or Arctic grayling in its tributaries.
Spreading across Tanzania, Malawi, and Mozambique along Africa’s East Coast, Lake Malawi – also known as Lake Nyasa – is the third largest lake on the African continent. One of the African Great Lakes, sprawling Lake Malawi has many claims to fame.
It is the fourth largest lake on Earth by volume, the ninth-largest by area, and the second deepest lake in Africa. It is not simply its sheer size that makes Lake Malawi special, but also the life it sustains.
Lake Malawi is home to more fish species than any other known lake – specifically, hundreds of cichlid fish. While fishing is permitted in some places, various sections have been designated as marine reserves to protect these creatures.
Located in Canada’s Northwest Territories on the Arctic Circle, the Great Bear Lake is the eighth largest lake on the planet. It is also the largest freshwater lake located entirely within the borders of Canada, and the fourth largest in North America.
Plunging over 440 meters at its deepest point, the lake is fringed by boreal forest and tundra and known for its crystal-clear water. While the lake is home to speckled trout and several other species of marine life, it has the fewest variety of fish species of all of Canada’s Great Lakes.
Lake Baikal in Russia is the largest lake on Earth when measured by volume. Plunging over 1,632 meters deep, it is both the deepest and the oldest lake in the world, with many arguing that it should be deemed a sea.
This is backed up by the fact that it is one of the only lakes with enough oxygenated water to sustain life at its most profound depths. The lake is home to around 1,700 species of plant and animal species.
A total of 27 islands can be found in Lake Baikal, the majority of which are uninhabited. It also has hundreds of streams and rivers flowing into it and one river – just the Angara – that flows out of it and makes its way towards the Arctic Ocean.
Lake Baikal is one of the clearest lakes on Earth, filled with snowmelt from the Siberian mountains. On a good day, the visibility is as deep as 39 meters!
Another one of the African Great Lakes, the aptly-named Lake Tanganyika – which means ‘the great lake spreading out like a plain’ – is the world’s longest, second oldest and second deepest freshwater lake. It is also the second-largest lake when measured by volume.
Flowing between the four countries of Tanzania, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Zambia, Lake Tanganyika eventually flows into the Atlantic Ocean. Forming one of the Rift Valley lakes, swimming in the lake is not recommended as Nile crocodiles are known to lurk beneath the surface in some places.
Lake Michigan, which means ‘Great Water,’ is one of North America’s five Great Lakes. It is the second-largest by volume and the third-largest by surface area.
Extending to a maximum depth of 280 meters, it is the only one of the Great Lakes to be found wholly within the borders of the United States – spreading across Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin from east to west.
Swimming in Lake Wisconsin is risky for several reasons. Not only is its shoreline prone to dangerous rip currents, but bull sharks, piranhas, and snakeheads have been known to frequent its waters.
Connected to Lake Michigan by the Straits of Mackinac, Lake Huron is the 4th largest lake in the world. It is also the second-largest by surface area and the third-largest by volume of the five Great Lakes of North America.
Stretching for over 3,800 miles, the coastline is the longest of all the Great Lakes and encompasses over 30,000 islands.
Lake Michigan is most infamous for its many shipwrecks. Thousands of battered ships lie wrecked off the coastlines here; Fathom Five National Marine Park is home to 22 wreck sites alone.
One of the African Great Lakes, Lake Victoria is the largest freshwater lake in Africa, spreading across Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. It is also the largest tropical lake on Earth and the second largest freshwater lake by surface area – beaten only by Lake Superior.
The main reservoir of the Nile River, Lake Victoria is home to more than 200 different species of fish, including Tilapia, which provide a livelihood for thousands of people who live on and near its shoreline.
Named after Queen Victoria of England by John Hanning Speke, who first documented the lake in the 1850s, Lake Victoria is recorded as the most dangerous lake in the world. It sees the most deaths of any lake each year, caused by black spots, changeable weather conditions, and crocodile attacks.
Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, the third-largest by volume, and the largest, deepest, and coldest of North America’s Great Lakes. It is also Canada’s largest lake, bordering the US states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
Lake Superior, which means ‘Big Sea Water’ is a prominent hotspot on the Great Lakes Waterway, ferrying goods and materials across the water. However, as it measures more than 400 meters deep in some places and is prone to riptides, it is one of the most dangerous lakes to swim in on Earth.
Despite its misleading name, the Caspian Sea is actually a lake as it is entirely landlocked – the world’s largest lake or body of water, in fact. Located between the continents of Europe and Asia, this inland sea is bordered by Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan.
Interestingly, the lake is not fresh water; it is partially salty, albeit only a third as salty as seawater, because it once formed part of the ancient Paratethys Sea. Today, the sea is celebrated for its amazing caviar and prominent oil industry.