34 Surprising Facts About Lake Superior (Gitche Gumee)

Interesting facts about Lake Superior

In this article, you’ll find all kinds of fun and surprising facts about Lake Superior. This vast expanse of freshwater holds numerous secrets and fascinating facts that help contribute to its allure.

Lake Superior is a huge body of water located in North America. It’s sheer size and natural beauty make it a captivating destination for nature enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and history buffs alike. 

1. Lake Superior is shared by two countries. It straddles the border between the United States and Canada. The states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan in the United States, and the province of Ontario in Canada all share its shores.

2. Lake Superior is the northernmost and westernmost lake of the Great Lakes. The other four Great Lakes (Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, are all entirely south of it. The latter three are all entirely east of it.

Lake Superior viewed from Ontario.
Just one small corner of the vast lake

3. Native American tribes such as the Ojibwe referred to the lake as “Gitche-Gumee,” meaning “great sea.” They have long revered Lake Superior and considered it a sacred place.

4. The lake was then given the name Lac Supérieur by French explorers in the 17th century. This was a result of its sheer size and position. In the 1760s, the British anglicized the lake’s name to Lake Superior, on account of it being superior in magnitude to any other lakes on the continent.

5. Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area. It covers an astounding 31,700 square miles (82,103 square kilometers), which is roughly the size of South Carolina.

6. Lake Superior is the third-largest lake in the world by volume. It contains roughly 3 quadrillion gallons (11.6 quadrillion liters) of water, which accounts for approximately 10% of the world’s fresh surface water. Only Lake Baikal in Russia and Lake Tanganyika in Central Africa are larger.

7. With a maximum depth of approximately 1,333 feet (406 meters), Lake Superior is the deepest of all the Great Lakes. Lake Superior is so enormous because of its inland basin and the hundreds of streams that feed it. New York City‘s Empire State Building would completely disappear in Lake Superior, as it’s only 381 meters (1,250 feet) tall.

Aerial view of a shoreline on Lake Superior with large waves heading towards the shore
The lake is so large that is has waves like the sea.

8. All of the water from the other Great Lakes combined can be easily held in Lake Superior. You’d have to add all the water from three extra Lake Erie’s too to fill it.

9. The average underwater visibility of Lake Superior is approximately 8 meters (27 feet). This makes it the clearest and cleanest of the Great Lakes. 

10. Lake Superior’s formation is a result of glacial activity during the last ice age. The lake’s unique geology includes towering cliffs, rugged shorelines, and intriguing rock formations that serve as a reminder of its ancient origins.

11. Along the southern shore of Lake Superior lies the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, renowned for its colorful sandstone cliffs, pristine beaches, and picturesque rock formations.

12. Lake Superior Agate is a type of banded quartz that can be found along the lake’s shores. It’s highly sought after by jewelry enthusiasts and collectors and is most famous for its uniqueness and beauty.

Two hands holding a cool stone that is Lake Superior Agate
Lake Superior Agate can only be find at this lake.

13. The lake is home to several majestic waterfalls, including the breathtaking Kakabeka Falls in Ontario, Canada, and the mesmerizing Tahquamenon Falls in Michigan, USA.

14. In winter, unique ice formations known as “ice volcanoes” can be observed along the shores of Lake Superior. These ice structures result from a combination of freezing temperatures and wave action.

15. The lake has been known to completely freeze. The last time the lake froze was in 1996. Before that, it froze in 1973. The last time the lake nearly fully froze was in 2003.

16. Lake Superior is known for its cold water temperatures, which rarely exceed 15.6°C (60°F) even during the summer months. The highest temperature recorded at the lake is only 21°C (71°F).

17. The lake is home to USA’s Isle Royale National Park, which is a designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and a haven for wildlife, including wolves, moose, raptors, and shorebirds. The park occupies the lake’s largest island. The island is larger than 17 countries in the world.

A white lighthouse on the coast in a lovely harbor in Lake Superior
Rock Harbor Lighthouse in Isle Royale National Park

18. Lake Superior’s ecosystem also supports a rich diversity of plant and animal life. These include the threatened Piping Plover bird species and the endangered Lake Sturgeon fish.

19. Flora that can be found at Lake Superior include black crowberry, bilberry, English sundew, and arctic fir clubmoss. One of the best sights at Lake Superior is when the pink lavender, white, and rose lupine plants blossom along the shoreline.

20. In 2021, Michigan scientists discovered a new species of algae living in Lake Superior. This species is made of biologically produced glass. The tiny species was named Semiorbis eliasiae in honor of Joan Elias, a water quality specialist from the National Park Service.

21. An invasive species can be found in Lake Superior too. The bloody red shrimp was found in the lake in 2018.

22. Lake Superior plays a vital role in the regional economy. It supports industries such as shipping, tourism, commercial fishing, and mining. 

A huge cargo ship on Lake Superior, viewed from above
Ship on Lake Superior

23. The lake offers a huge range of recreational activities, including boating, fishing, kayaking, and sailing. Its sheer size provides tourists with endless opportunities to explore and adventure.

24. Lake Superior’s turbulent waters have claimed over 350 known shipwrecks, making it a treacherous yet intriguing destination for scuba diving enthusiasts. In 2021, a cargo ship was discovered more than 150 years after it sank in the lake. 

25. Located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum provides a fascinating glimpse into the history and stories of ships that met their fate in the unforgiving waters of Lake Superior. 

26. Lake Superior has been a magnet for long-distance swimmers seeking to conquer its challenging waters. In 1961, Marilyn Bell, the renowned Canadian swimmer, became the first person to swim across the lake, covering a distance of 20.6 miles (33.1 kilometers) in just under 21 hours.

27. Lake Superior has been the backdrop for intense marathon canoe races. Paddlers endure grueling distances, battling wind, waves, and fatigue as they push themselves to the limits.

An wide view of Lake Superior with cliffs dropping down to the lake
Cliffs on Lake Superior

28. The towering cliffs along Lake Superior’s shores have enticed adrenaline junkies to partake in the exhilarating sport of cliff diving. Leaping from great heights, these daredevils plunge into the lake’s depths. 

29. Along Lake Superior’s shores, numerous historic lighthouses have guided ships through treacherous waters for centuries. These architectural structures serve as a testament to the region’s maritime history and offer tourists an insight into the past.

30. Former US President Franklin D. Roosevelt paid a visit to Lake Superior in 1934. He traveled aboard the USS Potomac, his presidential yacht, and explored the lake’s scenic wonders.

31. Famous American poet and author, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, visited Lake Superior in the mid-19th century. His experiences and observations inspired him to write “The Song of Hiawatha,” an epic poem that showcased the natural beauty and cultural heritage of the region.

A person in silhouette riding a canoe on a lake with sunset in the background
Riding a canoe on Lake Superior

32. The Canadian folk singer-songwriter, Gordon Lightfoot, drew inspiration from Lake Superior. His iconic song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” tells the story of the eponymous shipwreck that occurred on the lake in 1975.

33. Legendary musician Bob Dylan visited Lake Superior during his 2009 tour. He performed at the DECC (Duluth Entertainment Convention Center). 

34. Lake Superior has also made multiple movie appearances over the years. The lake’s most notable appearances include “Iron Will” (1994), “The Pledge” (2001), “Lake Effects” (2012), and “The Journey Home” (2014).

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