How deep is Lake Erie? How was it named? Facts about Ohio's Great Lake and its cousins (2024)

Unless you’re someone with a deep (pun intended) fascination with the world’s bodies of water, it might be a challenge to fathom just how far down they can go.

You can fish on the Great Lakes, go boating, swim, and partake in water sports, all the while enjoying the spectacular views they provide. But how deep is each one? You’d have to dive hundreds of feet below the surface to reach the bottom of each. How many hundreds of feet, though? And how can we truly understand how deep?

And, as we all remember learning as children, they can be recalled by the acronym H-O-M-E-S (Huron-Ontario-Michigan-Erie-Superior).

The Great Lakes:

  • account for 94,250 square miles of water.
  • account for 84% of North America's surface fresh water.
  • Hold 21% of the world's supply of surface fresh water.

Lake Erie laps away in northern Ohio and is the 11th largest lake in the world. Here are some facts about the Great Lakes.

Lake Erie

  • Average depth: 62 feet
  • Maximum depth: 210 feet
  • Size: 9,910 square miles
  • Shoreline: 871 miles, including islands
  • Named for: A nearby Native American tribe
How deep is Lake Erie? How was it named? Facts about Ohio's Great Lake and its cousins (1)

Lake Erie is the 11th largest lake in the world and the fourth-largest Great Lake in surface area, but the smallest by volume. About 95 percent of its inflow comes via the Detroit River from the upper Great Lakes. It is the warmest and most biologically productive of the Great Lakes.

Interestingly, Lake Erie was just named the No. 1 Best Lake in USA TODAY's 2024 10Best Readers' Choice Awards. "It may be the shallowest of North America's Great Lakes, but Lake Erie has a massive amount of potential when it comes to both tourism and outdoor adventure," 10Best said. "Buffalo, Cleveland, and Toledo are just a few of the storied cities that can be explored along the Erie shore, while recreation opportunities range from fishing to bird-watching to shipwreck diving."

Lake Erie was also named the No. 3 lake for swimming in another poll for USA TODAY's 2024 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards.

"With hundreds of miles of shoreline to explore between both Canada and the United States, the sprawling Lake Erie is rife with sandy beaches to swim along," 10Best said. "Headlands Beach State Park [in Mentor] is a popular bathing destination for Ohio residents, while Pennsylvanians can take a dip at the scenicPresque Isle State Park (during the warmer months, at least)."

Lake Erie comes in at the shallowest of the Great Lakes and the smallest by volume, with 115.2 cubic miles of water.

It's the shallowest and the smallest of the Great Lakes, but more than 10 million U.S. residents live along its coastline, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Marine Ecosystem Status.

Lake Superior

  • Average depth: 483 feet
  • Maximum depth: 1,332 feet
  • Size: 31,700 square miles
  • Shoreline: 2,726 miles, including islands
  • Named for: The French called it le la superior, which means "upper lake."
How deep is Lake Erie? How was it named? Facts about Ohio's Great Lake and its cousins (2)

With its size, Lake Superior could contain all of the other Great Lakes plus three more lakes the size of Lake Erie.

It boasts all the superlatives: Of the five Great Lakes, it is the largest, deepest and the coldest. Its depth is a little less than the height of Chicago's Willis Tower, by about a hundred feet or so. It also holds by far the most water of the five lakes, with 2,903 cubic miles of water.

Lake Superior was just named No. 3 in USA TODAY's 2024 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for the Best Lake.

"Measuring in at a staggering 31,700 square miles, Lake Superior has the largest surface area of any freshwater lake on planet Earth," 10Best said. "This colossal body of water plays host to a massive array of native marine life, including lake sturgeon, yellow perch, and walleye, while human settlements around the region span from Canada's Thunder Bay to the scenic Michigan Upper Peninsula city ofMarquette."

Lake Superior was also named No. 5 in USA TODAY's 2024 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for the Lake for Swimming.

Dive deeper:8 undiscovered shipwrecks of the Great Lakes

"With31,700 square miles of lake to explore, the colossal Lake Superior is equipped with more than its fair share of swimming spots spread along the Canada and United States shores," 10Best said. "Though each one tends to swing towards the colder side, destinations like Agate Beach, Wisconsin Point, and Wild Goose Beach all offer some welcome relief from the summer heat."

Lake Michigan

  • Average depth: 279 feet
  • Maximum depth: 925 feet
  • Size: 22,300 square miles
  • Shoreline: 1,638 miles, including islands
  • Named for: Originally called Grand Lac, Lac des Puants (Lake of the Stinking People after nearby Native American tribes), Lac des Illinois (after the nearby Native American tribe), Lac St. Joseph and Lac Dauphin.
How deep is Lake Erie? How was it named? Facts about Ohio's Great Lake and its cousins (3)

Lake Michigan is the second-largest of the Great Lakes by volume. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates its maximum depth at about 925 feet — roughly the height of Cleveland's Key Tower, Ohio's tallest skyscraper. Lake Michigan also holds 1,180 cubic miles of water, second of the five Great Lakes.

Lake Michigan is the third-largest Great Lake by surface area and the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the world. It is the only Great Lake entirely within the United States.

The lake’s northern portion is in the colder, less developed upper Great Lakes region, while its more temperate southern basin contains the Milwaukee and Chicago metro areas. The drainage basin, approximately twice as large as the 22,300 square miles of surface water, includes portions of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Lake Michigan was just named No. 4 in USA TODAY's 2024 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for the Best Lake.

"Perched along the borders of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan, the aptly named Lake Michigan serves as the largest lake on Earth to reside solely in one country," 10Best said. "In addition to gorgeous natural sites likeIndiana Dunes National Park andSleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, the Lake Michigan coast is lined with dazzling cities like Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Chicago, offering visitors an opportunity to blend outdoor adventure with urban exploration during their trips."

Lake Michigan was also named No. 6 in USA TODAY's 2024 10Best Readers’ Choice Awards for the Lake for Swimming.

"It's always a little cold, even in the height of summer, but for those willing to brave the low temperatures, Lake Michigan is perfect for a refreshing dip," 10Best said. "For Chicago visitors,North Avenue Beach is a particularly lively spot for a swim, while destinations outside the city range fromIndiana Dunes National Park to Michigan'sSleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore."

Lake Ontario

  • Average depth: 283 feet
  • Maximum depth: 802 feet
  • Size: 7,340 square miles
  • Shoreline: 712 miles, including islands
  • Named for: It comes from the French explorer Champlain, who called it Lac St. Louis. Later, it was known as Lac Frontenac. "Ontara" in Iroquois means "lake." "Ontario" means "beautiful lake."
How deep is Lake Erie? How was it named? Facts about Ohio's Great Lake and its cousins (4)

The easternmost Great Lake, Lake Ontario is the second-smallest of the five by volume (about 390 cubic miles of water), but as the downstream lake, it’s most affected by human activities taking place in Lakes Superior, Huron, Erie and Michigan, per the EPA. The maximum depth of Lake Ontario is just north of 800 feet.

Lake Ontario is the 14th largest lake in the world, but the smallest of the Great Lakes in surface area. It lies 325 feet below adjacent Lake Erie, at the base of Niagara Falls.

Lake Huron

  • Average depth: 195 feet
  • Maximum depth: 750 feet
  • Size: 23,000 square miles
  • Shoreline: 3,827 miles, including islands
  • Named for: A nearby Native American tribe. A 1656 map called it Karegnondi.
How deep is Lake Erie? How was it named? Facts about Ohio's Great Lake and its cousins (5)

Lake Huron is the second-largest Great Lake by area and the third-largest by volume and boasts the longest shoreline of the list. As for its depth, Lake Huron is 750 feet deep — say, about 750 Subway sandwiches below sea level.It holds 850 cubic miles of water.

Lake Huron is the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the world. Canada's Manitoulin Island in Lake Huron is the largest freshwater island in the world. Georgian Bay in Lake Huron, also on the Canadian side of the border, is itself large enough to be listed among the 20 largest lakes in the world.

Hydrologists, however, consider the Michigan and Huron lakes inseparable as they are joined by the Straits of Mackinac.

How deep is Lake Erie? How was it named? Facts about Ohio's Great Lake and its cousins (2024)
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