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Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakesmarker of North America, and the only one located entirely within the United Statesmarker. The second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest of the Great Lakes by surface area (behind Lake Superiormarker and Lake Huronmarker), it is bounded, from west to east, by the U.S. states of Wisconsinmarker, Illinoismarker, Indianamarker, and Michiganmarker. The word "Michigan" was originally used to refer to the lake itself, and is believed to come from the Ojibwa Indian word mishigami, meaning "great water." The lake is slightly smaller than the US state of West Virginiamarker.


Some of the earliest human inhabitants of the Lake Michigan region were the Hopewell Indians. Their culture declined after 800 A.D., and for the next few hundred years the region was the home of peoples known as the Late Woodland Indians. In the early seventeenth century, when western European explorers made their first forays into the region, they encountered descendants of the Late Woodland Indians: the Chippewa, Menominee, Sauk, Fox, Winnebago, Miami, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. It is believed that the French explorer Jean Nicolet was the first non-Native American to discover Lake Michigan in 1634 or 1638.

After Louis Jolliet, Jacques Marquette, and Robert de LaSalle explored the area in the late 17th century, Lake Michigan became part of a line of waterways leading from the Saint Lawrence Rivermarker to the Mississippi River and thence to the Gulf of Mexicomarker. French coureurs des bois and voyageurs established small ports and trading communities, such as Green Baymarker, on the lake during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

The first permanent settlement on the Lake Michigan shoreline was made in 1779 at the site of present-day Chicagomarker by Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, who had been born in Santo Domingomarker.

The first person to reach the bottom of Lake Michigan was J. Val Klump, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukeemarker. Klump reached the bottom via a submersible as part of a 1985 research expedition.


Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakesmarker wholly within the borders of the United Statesmarker; the others are shared with Canadamarker. It has a surface area of 22,400 square miles (58,016 km²), making it the largest lake entirely within one country by surface area (Lake Baikalmarker, in Russiamarker, is larger by water volume), and the fifth largest lake in the world. It is 307 miles (494 km) long by 118 miles (190 km) wide with a shoreline 1,640 miles (2,633 km) long. The lake's average depth is 279 feet (85 m), while its greatest depth is 923 feet (281 m). It contains a volume of 1,180 cubic miles (4,918 km³) of water. Its surface averages 577 feet (176 m) above sea level, the same as Lake Huronmarker, to which it is connected through the Straits of Mackinacmarker.


million people live along Lake Michigan's shores. Many small cities in Northern Michigan and Door County, Wisconsinmarker are centered on a tourist base that takes advantage of the beauty and recreational opportunities offered by Lake Michigan. These cities have large seasonal populations that arrive from nearby urban areas such as the Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroitmarker areas, as well as from southern states, such as Floridamarker and Texasmarker. Some seasonal residents have summer homes along the lake shore, and return home for the winter. The southern tip of the lake is heavily industrialized. Cities on the shores of Lake Michigan include:

Illinois Indiana Michigan Wisconsin

Connection to ocean and open water

The Saint Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes Waterway opened the Great Lakes to ocean-going vessels. The move to wider ocean-going container ships — which do not fit through the locks on these routes — has limited shipping on the lakes. Despite their vast size, large sections of the Great Lakes freeze over in winter, interrupting most shipping. Some icebreakers ply the lakes.

The Great Lakes are also connected to the Gulf of Mexico by way of the Illinois River (from Chicago) and the Mississippi River. An alternate track is via the Illinois River (from Chicago), to the Mississippi, up the Ohio, and then through the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway (combination of a series of rivers and lakes and canals), to Mobile Bay and the Gulf. Commercial tug-and-barge traffic on these waterways is heavy.

Pleasure boats can also enter or exit the Great Lakes by way of the Erie Canal and Hudson River in New York. The Erie Canal connects to the Great Lakes at the east end of Lake Erie (at Buffalo, NY) and at the south side of Lake Ontario (at Oswego, NY).


Lake Michigan beaches, especially those in Michigan and Northern Indiana, are known for their beauty. The region is often referred to as the "Third Coast" of the United States, after those of the Atlantic Oceanmarker and the Pacific Oceanmarker. The sand is soft and off-white, known as "singing sands" because of the squeaking noise (caused by high quartz content) made when one walks across it. There are often high sand dunes covered in green beach grass and sand cherries, and the water is usually clear and cool (between 55 and 80 °F [13 and 27 °C]) [2604], even in late summer. However, because prevailing westerly winds tend to move the surface water toward the east, there is a flow of warmer water to the Michigan shore in the summer. Lake Michigan beaches in Northern Michigan are the only place in the world, aside from a few inland lakes in that region, where one can find Petoskey stones, the state stone.

The beaches of the western coast and the northernmost part of the east coast are rocky, while the southern and eastern beaches are sandy and dune-covered. This is partly because of the prevailing winds from the west which also cause thick layers of ice to build up on the eastern shore in winter.

Most of the Chicago city waterfront is parks. Where there are no beaches or marinas then stone or concrete revetments protect the shoreline from erosion. The rest of the lakefront is residential developments in the north and south and ex-industrial sites in the south.

Some environmental problems still plague the lake. Steel mills are visible along the Indiana shoreline, and the pollution caused by these mills is believed to contribute to the color of sunsets. Also, the Chicago Tribune reported that BP is a major polluter, dumping thousands of pounds of ammonia and raw sludge into Lake Michigan every day from its Whiting, Indianamarker, oil refinery.

The Chicago skyline can be seen from the Indiana shore and lower Michigan (on a clear day), but when standing on the beaches in Wisconsin and Illinois it is impossible to see across the lake, providing a view similar to that of the ocean. A view across the lake is possible from many buildings in Chicago. It is possible from some of the taller buildings in Chicago to clearly make out points in Indiana and Michigan such as the NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company) cooling tower of its power plant in Michigan City, Indiana.

The Great Lakes Circle Tour is a designated scenic road system connecting all of the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.

Car ferries

300 px
can cross Lake Michigan by the SS Badger, a ferry that runs from Manitowoc, Wisconsinmarker, to Ludington, Michiganmarker. The Lake Express, established in 2004, carries motorists across the lake between Milwaukee, Wisconsinmarker, and Muskegon, Michiganmarker.



The National Park Service maintains the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshoremarker and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshoremarker. Parts of the shoreline are within the Hiawatha National Forest and the Manistee National Forest. The Manistee National Forest section of the shoreline includes the Nordhouse Dunes Wildernessmarker. The Lake Michigan division of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is also within the lake.

There are numerous state parks located on the shores of the lake or on islands within the lake. A partial list follows.
Saugatuck Dunes State Park



The Milwaukee Reef, running under Lake Michigan from Milwaukeemarker to a point between Grand Havenmarker and Muskegonmarker, divides the lake into northern and southern pools. Each pool has a clockwise flow of water, deriving from rivers, winds, and the Coriolis effect. Prevailing westerly winds tend to move the surface water toward the east, producing a moderating effect on the climate of western Michigan. There is a mean difference in summer temperatures of 5 to 10 degrees between the Wisconsin and Michigan shores.

Hydrologically Michigan and Huron are the same body of water (sometimes called Lake Michigan-Huron), but are geographically distinct. Counted together, it is the largest fresh water body in the world by surface area. The Mackinac Bridgemarker is generally considered the dividing line between them. Both lakes are part of the Great Lakes Waterway. In earlier maps of the region, the name Lake Illinois has been found in place of "Michigan".

Historic High WaterThe lake fluctuates from month to month with the highest lake levels in October and November. The normal highwater mark is above datum (577.5 ft or 176.0 meters). In the summer of 1986, Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their highest level at above datum.Monthly bulletin of Lake Levels for The Great Lakes; September 2009; US Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District The high water records began in February 1986 and lasted through the year, ending with January 1987. Water levels ranged from to above Chart Datum.

Historic Low WaterLake levels tend to be the lowest in winter. The normal lowwater mark is below datum (577.5 ft or 176.0 meters). In the winter of 1964, Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their lowest level at below datum. As with the highwater records, monthly low water records were set each month from February 1964 through January 1965. During this twelve month period water levels ranged from to below Chart Datum.


Lake Michigan is home to a variety of species of fish and other organisms. It was originally home to lake trout, yellow perch, panfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, carp, bowfin, as well as some species of catfish. In recent years overfishing has caused a decline in lake trout, ultimately causing an increase in the alewife population. As a result, coho and chinook salmon were introduced as a predator of alewives to decrease the alewife population. This program was so successful that the salmon population exploded, and the states surrounding Lake Michigan promoted Salmon Snagging. This practice has since been made illegal in all of the great lakes states with the exception of a limited season in Illinois. Lake Michigan is now being stocked with several species of fish. However, several invader species introduced, such as lampreys and mussels, threaten the vitality of fish populations.

See also

Great Lakes in General


  2. Wikipedia - Lake Superior
  3. Wikipedia - Lake Huron
  4. Bogue, Margaret Beattie (1985). Around the Shores of Lake Michigan: A Guide to Historic Sites, pp. 7-13. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0299100049.
  5. Bogue (1985), pp. 14-16.
  6. Shelak, Benjamin J. (2003). Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan p. 3. Big Earth Publishing. ISBN 1931599211.
  7. Shelak (2003), p. 85.
  8. Hilton, George Woodman (2002). Lake Michigan Passenger Steamers, pp. 3-5. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0804742405.
  9. Register - New
  10. Great Lakes Circle Tour.

Further reading

  • Hyde, Charles K., and Ann and John Mahan. The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. ISBN 0814325548 ISBN 9780814325544.
  • Oleszewski, Wes, Great Lakes Lighthouses, American and Canadian: A Comprehensive Directory/Guide to Great Lakes Lighthouses, (Gwinn, Michigan: Avery Color Studios, Inc., 1998) ISBN 0-932212-98-0.
  • Penrod, John, Lighthouses of Michigan, (Berrien Center, Michigan: Penrod/Hiawatha, 1998) ISBN 9780942618785 ISBN 9781893624238
  • Penrose, Laurie and Bill, A Traveler’s Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses (Petoskey, Michigan: Friede Publications, 1999). ISBN 0923756035 ISBN 9780923756031
  • Wagner, John L., Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective, (East Lansing, Michigan: John L. Wagner, 1998) ISBN 1880311011 ISBN 9781880311011
  • Wright, Larry and Wright, Patricia, Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia Hardback (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006) ISBN 1550463993

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