The first Europeans to see Lake Michigan were French traders and explorers in the 1600s. One of which, Samuel de Champlain (1567?-1635), who mapped much of northeastern North America, called Lake Michigan the Grand Lac. It was later named "Lake of the Stinking Water" or "Lake of the Puants," after the people who occupied its shores.
In 1679, the lake became known as Lac des Illinois because it gave access to the country of the Indians, so named. Three years before, Claude-Jean Allouez (1622-1689), a French Jesuit missionary, called it Lac St. Joseph, by which name it was often designated by early writers while others called it Lac Dauphin.
Another story recounts that Jean Nicolet, the first European to set foot in Wisconsin in 1634, landed on the shores of Green Bay and was greeted by Winnebago Indians, whom the French called "Puans." Lake Michigan was labeled as "Lake of Puans" on an early and incomplete 1670 map of the region that showed only the northern shores of the lake. However, only Green Bay is labeled as "Baye de Puans" (Bay of the Winnebago Indians) on maps from 1688 and 1708. On the 1688 map, Lake Michigan is called Lac des Illinois.
An Indian name for Lake Michigan was "Michi gami" and through further interaction with the Indians, the "Lake of the Stinking Water" received its final name of Michigan.
Lake Michigan is the sixth largest lake in the world.
Lake Michigan is the third largest of the Great Lakes and is the only one of the lakes which is contained entirely inside U.S. borders—making Lake Michigan the largest body of fresh water in the United States.
Lake Michigan is approximately 300 miles long and averages 75 miles across, covering 22,300 square miles—which is equal to the combined areas of the states of Maryland, Massachusetts and Delaware. It is 335 feet above Lake Ontario and 577 feet above sea level. The deepest point in the lake is 925 feet.
Lake Michigan's cul-de-sac formation means that water entering the lake circulates slowly and remains for a long time (retention) before it leaves the basin through the Straits of Mackinac.
Small lunar tidal effects have been documented for Lake Michigan.
Internal waves (upwellings) can produce a 59-degree F. water temperature decrease along the coast in only a few hours, requiring drastic alterations in fishing strategy.
The northern part of the Lake Michigan watershed is covered with forests, sparsely populated, and economically dependent on natural resources and tourism, while the southern portion is heavily populated with intensive industrial development and rich agricultural areas along the shore.
The world's largest freshwater dunes line the lakeshore and are visited by millions of people annually who enjoy the numerous state and national parks as well as local beaches.
- Length: 307 miles
- Breadth: 118 miles
- Average Depth: 279 ft.
- Maximum Depth: 925 ft.
- Volume: 1,180 cubic miles
- Water Surface Area: 22,300 sq. miles
- Drainage Basin Area: 45,600 sq. miles
- Shoreline Length (including islands): 1,638 miles
- Elevation: 577 ft.
- Outlet: Straits of Mackinac to Lake Huron
- Retention/Replacement Time: 99 years