Map of Lake Michigan and the other Great Lakes
|Basin countries||United States, Canada|
|Max. length||307 mi (494 km)|
|Max. width||118 mi (190 km)|
|Surface area||22,300 sq mi (58,000 km2)|
|Average depth||279 ft (85 m)|
|Max. depth||923 ft (281 m)|
|Water volume||1,180 cu mi (4,900 km3)|
|Residence time||99 years|
|Shore length1||1,638 mi (2,636 km)|
|Surface elevation||577 ft (176 m) |
1 Shore length is not a well-defined measure.
Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and the only one located entirely within the United States. The other four Great Lakes are shared by the U.S. and Canada. It is the second largest of the Great Lakes by volume and the third largest by surface area, after Lake Superior and Lake Huron (and is slightly smaller than the U.S. state of West Virginia). To the east, its basin is conjoined with that of Lake Huron through the wide Straits of Mackinac, giving it the same surface elevation as its easterly counterpart; the two are technically a single lake. Lake Michigan is bounded, from west to east, by the U.S. states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. The word "Michigan" originally referred to the lake itself, and is believed to come from the Ojibwa word mishigami meaning "great water".
Some of the earliest human inhabitants of the Lake Michigan region were the Hopewell Indians. Their culture declined after A.D. 800, and for the next few hundred years the region was the home of peoples known as the Late Woodland Indians. In the early 17th 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 reach Lake Michigan in 1634 or 1638.
The narrow, open-water Straits of Mackinac join Lake Michigan with Lake Huron sometimes called Michigan–Huron (also Huron–Michigan). The Straits of Mackinac were an important Native American and fur trade route. Located on the southern side of the Straits is the town of Mackinaw City, Michigan, the site of Fort Michilimackinac, a reconstructed French fort founded in 1715, and on the northern side is St. Ignace, Michigan, site of a French Catholic mission to the Indians, founded in 1671. The eastern end of the Straits was controlled by Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island, a British colonial and early American military base and fur trade center, founded in 1781.
With the advent of European exploration into the area in the late 17th century, Lake Michigan became part of a line of waterways leading from the Saint Lawrence River to the Mississippi River and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. French coureurs des bois and voyageurs established small ports and trading communities, such as Green Bay, on the lake during the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The first person to reach the deep bottom of Lake Michigan was J. Val Klump, a scientist at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Klump reached the bottom via submersible as part of a 1985 research expedition.
Lake Michigan is the only one of the Great Lakes wholly within the borders of the United States; the others are shared with Canada. It has a surface area of 22,400 square miles (58,000 km2), making it the largest lake entirely within one country by surface area (Lake Baikal, in Russia, 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 (2,640 km) long. The lake's average depth is 46 fathoms 3 feet (279 ft; 85 m), while its greatest depth is 153 fathoms 5 feet (923 ft; 281 m). It contains a volume of 1,180 cubic miles (4,918 km³) of water. Hydrologically it forms a single body of water with Lake Huron, the whole being called Lake Michigan–Huron; the two sides are connected through the Straits of Mackinac and share an average surface elevation of 577 feet (176 m).
Twelve million people live along Lake Michigan's shores, mainly in the Chicago and Milwaukee metropolitan areas. Many small cities in Northern Michigan and Door County, Wisconsin 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 the nearby urban areas such as Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids and Detroit, as well as from Southern states, such as Florida and Texas. Some seasonal residents have summer homes along the waterfront and return home for the winter. The southern tip of the lake near Gary, Indiana is heavily industrialized. Cities on the shores of Lake Michigan include:
The Chicago skyline can be seen from the northwest Indiana shoreline and, on a clear day, extreme southwestern Michigan. When standing at the waterfront in Illinois, Wisconsin, and the lower peninsula of Michigan, it is impossible for one to see directly across the lake to another state. This gives the lake a view similar to that of an ocean. Viewing a state across the huge lake is possible from several Chicago skyscrapers. It is possible from some of the taller buildings in Chicago to make out points in Indiana and southwest Michigan such as the NIPSCO (Northern Indiana Public Service Company) cooling tower of its power plant in Michigan City, Indiana.
Connection to ocean and open water 
The Saint Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes Waterway opened the Great Lakes to ocean-going vessels. Wider ocean-going container ships do not fit through the locks on these routes and has thus limited shipping on the lakes. Despite their vast size, large sections of the Great Lakes freeze in winter, interrupting most shipping. Some icebreakers ply the lakes.
The Great Lakes are also connected by canal to the Gulf of Mexico via 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 has many beaches. The region is often referred to as the "Third Coast" of the United States, after those of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. 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]), 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. The sand dunes located on the Michigan shore are the largest freshwater dune system in the world. In fact, in multiple locations along the shoreline, the dunes rise several hundred feet above the Lake surface. Large dune formations can be seen in many state parks, national forests and national parks along the Indiana and Michigan shoreline. Some of the most expansive and unique dune formations can be found at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, Saugatuck Dunes State Park, Warren Dunes State Park, PJ Hoffmaster State Park, Silver Lake State Park, Ludington State Park and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Small dune formations can be found on the western shore of Lake Michigan in Illinois Beach State Park and moderate sized dune formations can be found in Kohler Andre State Park and Point Beach State Forest in Wisconsin. A large Dune formation can be found in Whitefish Dunes State Park in Wisconsin in the Door Peninsula. 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 on the eastern shore in winter.
The Chicago city waterfront is composed of parks, beaches, harbors and marinas, and residential developments. Where there are no beaches or marinas, then stone or concrete revetments protect the shoreline from erosion. The Chicago lakefront is quite walkable as one can stroll past parks, beaches, and marinas for about 24 miles from the city southern limits with Lake Michigan to its northern city limits point.
Some environmental problems can still plague the lake as steel mills operate near the Indiana shoreline. The Chicago Tribune reported that BP is a major polluter, dumping thousands of pounds of raw sludge into the lake every day from its Whiting, Indiana oil refinery.
Car ferries 
People can cross Lake Michigan by the SS Badger, a ferry that runs from Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to Ludington, Michigan. The Lake Express, established in 2004, carries motorists across the lake between Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Muskegon, Michigan.
- The Beaver Island archipelago in Charlevoix County, Michigan, includes Beaver Island, Garden Island, Grape Island, Gull Island, Hat Island, High Island, Hog Island, Horseshoe Island, Little Island, Pismire Island, Shoe Island, Squaw Island, Trout Island, and Whiskey Island.
- The Fox Islands in Leelanau County, Michigan, consist of North Fox Island and South Fox Island.
- The Manitou Islands, North Manitou Island and South Manitou Island, are in Leelanau County, Michigan.
- Islands within Grand Traverse Bay include Bassett Island, Bellow Island, and Marion Island.
- Islands south of the Garden Peninsula in Delta County, Michigan include Gravelly Island, Gull Island, Little Gull Island, Little Summer Island, Poverty Island, Rocky Island, St. Martin Island, and Summer Island.
- Islands in Big Bay de Noc in Delta County, Michigan include Round Island, Saint Vital Island, and Snake Island.
- Islands in Little Bay de Noc in Delta County, Michigan include Butlers Island and Sand Island.
- Wilderness State Park in Emmet County, Michigan contains Temperance Island and Waugoshance Island.
- Epoufette Island, Gravel Island, Little Hog Island, and Naubinway Island are located in Mackinac County, Michigan, in the area of Epoufette, Michigan and Naubinway, Michigan.
- Green Island and St. Helena Island are in the vicinity of the Mackinac Bridge, in Mackinac County, Michigan.
- Islands surrounding the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin include Chambers Island, Detroit Island, Hog Island, Pilot Island, Plum Island, Rock Island, and Washington Island. The northern half of the peninsula is technically an island itself, due to the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal.
- Northerly Island is a 91-acre (37 ha) man-made island in Chicago. It is the home of the Adler Planetarium, the former site of Meigs Field, and the current site of the temporary concert venue Charter One Pavilion each summer.
- Other islands included Fisherman Island in Charlevoix County, Michigan and Ile aux Galets in Emmet County, Michigan.
The National Park Service maintains the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. 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 Wilderness. The Lake Michigan division of the Michigan Islands National Wildlife Refuge is also within the lake.
There are numerous state and local parks located on the shores of the lake or on islands within the lake. A partial list follows.
- Chicago Park District Beaches
- Duck Lake State Park
- Fayette Historic State Park
- Fisherman's Island State Park
- Grand Haven State Park
- Grand Mere State Park
- Harrington Beach State Park
- Holland State Park
- Hoffmaster State Park
- Illinois Beach State Park
- Indian Lake State Park
- Indiana Dunes State Park
- Ludington State Park
- Leelanau State Park
- Mears State Park
- Muskegon State Park
- Newport State Park
- Orchard Beach State Park
- Peninsula State Park
- Racine Zoo
- Saugatuck Dunes State Park
- Silver Lake State Park
- Traverse City State Park
- Terry Andrae State Park
- Van Buren State Park
- Warren Dunes State Park
The Milwaukee Reef, running under Lake Michigan from a point between Milwaukee and Racine to a point between Grand Haven and Muskegon, divides the lake into northern and southern basins. Each basin 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 Fahrenheit (2 to 5 degrees Celsius) between the Wisconsin and Michigan shores.
Hydrologically Michigan and Huron are the same body of water (sometimes called Lake Michigan-Huron), but are normally considered distinct. Counted together, it is the largest body of fresh water in the world by surface area. The Mackinac Bridge 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 Water
- The lake fluctuates from month to month with the highest lake levels in October and November. The normal high-water mark is 2.00 feet (0.61 m) above datum 577.5 ft (176.0 m). In the summer of 1986, Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their highest level at 5.92 ft (1.80 m) above datum. The high water records began in February 1986 and lasted through the year, ending with January 1987. Water levels ranged from 3.67 ft (1.12 m) to 5.92 feet (1.80 m) above Chart Datum. On February 21, the waters neared the all-time maximum.
- Historic Low Water
- Lake levels tend to be the lowest in winter. The normal lowwater mark is 1.00 foot (0.30 m) below datum 577.5 ft (176.0 m). In the winter of 1964, Lakes Michigan and Huron reached their lowest level at 1.38 feet (0.42 m) 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 1.38 feet (0.42 m) to 0.71 feet (0.22 m) below Chart Datum.
In January 2013, Lake Michigan's monthly mean water levels dipped to an all-time low of 576.2 ft (175.6 m),  reaching their lowest ebb since record keeping began in 1918. The lakes were 29 in (0.74 m) 29 inches below their long-term average and had declined 17 inches since January 2012. Water levels are not expected to improve until at least September. Keith Kompoltowicz, chief of watershed hydrology for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' district office in Detroit, explained that biggest factors leading to the lower water levels in 2013 were a combination of the "lack of a large snowpack" in the winter of 2011/2012 coupled with very hot and dry conditions in the summer of 2012.
Drinking Water 
The Great Lakes are used to supply drinking water to tens of millions of people in bordering areas. This valuable resource is collectively administered by the state and provincial governments adjacent to the lakes.
Lake Michigan fishing 
Lake Michigan is home to a variety of species of fish and other organisms. It was originally home to lake whitefish, lake trout, yellow perch, panfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, bowfin, as well as some species of catfish. In recent years over-fishing 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, round goby, and zebra mussels threaten the vitality of fish populations.
Commercial fisheries 
Fisheries in inland waters of the United States are small compared to marine fisheries. The largest fisheries are the landings from the Great Lakes, worth about $13 million in 2003. Michigan’s commercial fishery today consists mainly of 150 tribe-licensed commercial fishing operations through the Chippewa-Ottawa Resource Authority (CORA) and tribes belonging to the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission (GLIFWC) which harvest 50 percent of the Great Lakes commercial catch in Michigan waters, and 45 state-licensed commercial fishing enterprises. The prime commercial species is the tasty lake whitefish (Coregonus clupeaformis). The annual harvest declined from average annual harvests of 11 million pounds in 1981 to 1999 to more recent annual harvests of 9.5 to million pounds. The price for lake whitefish dropped from $1.04/lb. to as low as $.40/lb during periods of high production.
Sports fishing 
Sports fishing includes salmon, whitefish, smelt, lake trout and walleye being major catches. In the late 1960s, successful stocking programs for Pacific salmon, led to the development of Lake Michigan’s charter fishing industry. 
Lake Michigan, like the other Great Lakes is today used as a major mode of transport for bulk goods. In 2002, 162 million net tons of dry bulk cargo were moved on the Lakes. This was, in order of volume: iron ore, grain and potash. The iron ore and much of the stone and coal are used in the steel industry. There is also some shipping of liquid and containerized cargo but most container ships cannot pass the locks on the Saint Lawrence Seaway because the ships are too wide. The total amount of shipping on the lakes has been on a downward trend for several years.
Ports on Lake Michigan 
The port of Chicago 
The Port of Chicago, operated by the Illinois International Port District, has Grain (14 million bushels) and bulk liquid (800,000 barrels) storage facilities along Lake Calumet. The central element of the Port District, Calumet Harbor, is maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Tourism and recreation 
Tourism and recreation are major industries on the Great Lakes. A few small cruise ships operate on Lake Michigan including a couple of sailing ships. Many other water sports are practiced on the lakes such as yachting, sea kayaking, diving, kitesurfing, and lake surfing.
Great Lakes Circle Tour 
Great Lakes passenger steamers 
Luxury steamers have been operating since the mid-1800s. Several ferries currently operate on the Great Lakes to carry passengers to various islands, including Beaver Island and Bois Blanc Island (Michigan). As of 2007, two car ferry services cross Lake Michigan, two on Lake Michigan: a steamer from Ludington, Michigan, to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and a high speed catamaran from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Michigan.
See also 
- Chicago beaches
- Chicago River
- Grand Traverse Bay
- Door Peninsula
- Green Bay
- Lake Michigan Shore AVA
- Leelanau Peninsula
- Little Bay de Noc
- Little Traverse Bay
- Jardine Water Purification Plant
Great Lakes in general 
- Great Lakes
- Great Lakes Areas of Concern
- Great Lakes census statistical areas
- Great Lakes Commission
- Great Recycling and Northern Development Canal
- Great Storm of 1913
- International Boundary Waters Treaty
- List of cities along the Great Lakes
- Sixty Years' War for control of the Great Lakes
- Third Coast
- "Lake Michigan". Great-lakes.net. 2009-06-18. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
- Wright, John W. (ed.); Editors and reporters of The New York Times (2006). The New York Times Almanac (2007 ed.). New York, New York: Penguin Books. p. 64. ISBN 0-14-303820-6.
- "Superior Watershed Partnership Projects".
- Bogue, Margaret Beattie (1985). Around the Shores of Lake Michigan: A Guide to Historic Sites, pp. 7–13. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-10004-9.
- Bogue (1985), pp. 14–16.
- Shelak, Benjamin J. (2003). Shipwrecks of Lake Michigan p. 3. Big Earth Publishing. ISBN 1-931599-21-1.
- "Variations In Sediment Accumulation Rates And The Flux Of Labile Organic Matter In Eastern Lake Superior Basins". The Journal of Great Lakes Research. 1989. Retrieved 2009-08-09.
- http://www.charts.noaa.gov/OnLineViewer/14901.shtml "Chart: 14901 Edition: 15 Edition Date: August 2006 Clear Dates: NM – 12/17/2011 LNM – 12/6/2011";"Soundings in feet and fathoms"
- Eric Bird (2010). Encyclopedia of the World's Coastal Landforms. Springer. p. 121. ISBN 978-1-4020-8638-0.
- "Michigan Sea Grant Coastwatch". Coastwatch.msu.edu. Retrieved 2010-01-14.
- Hilton, George Woodman (2002). Lake Michigan Passenger Steamers, pp. 3–5. Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4240-5.
- Great Lakes Circle Tour.
- Hawthorne, Michael. "BP gets break on dumping in lake". Chicago Tribune.
- Monthly bulletin of Lake Levels for The Great Lakes; September 2009; US Army Corps of Engineers, Detroit District
- "The Weather History for February 21st". Southwest Lower Michigan Weather History. National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
- Bivins, Larry (03 April 2013). "Low Great Lakes water levels plague shipping, recreation". USA Today.
- Flesher, John (5 February 2013). "Two Great Lakes hit lowest water levels since record keeping began nearly a century ago". Vancouver Sun.
- NOAA/NMFS: (2004) Fisheries of the United States, 2003
- (PDF) Michigan Commercial Fisheries Marketing and Product Development (Report). Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Sea Grant. http://www.miseagrant.umich.edu/files/2013/01/07-701-fs-whitefish-marketing.pdf.
- O'Keefe, Dan (2009) (PDF). Charter Fishing in Michigan: A Profile of Customers and Economic Impacts (Report). Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Sea Grant. http://www.miseagrant.umich.edu/downloads/fisheries/economy/Michigan-Charter-Fishing-Fact-Sheet.pdf.
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (November 2007). "Calumet Harbor, IL and IN." Retrieved on November 11, 2008.
- "Great Lakes Circle Tour". Great-lakes.net. 2005-07-05. Retrieved 2011-02-19.
- Hyde, Charles K., and Ann and John Mahan. The Northern Lights: Lighthouses of the Upper Great Lakes. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-8143-2554-8 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 978-0-942618-78-5 ISBN 9781893624238
- Penrose, Laurie and Bill, A Traveler’s Guide to 116 Michigan Lighthouses (Petoskey, Michigan: Friede Publications, 1999). ISBN 0-923756-03-5 ISBN 9780923756031
- Wagner, John L., Michigan Lighthouses: An Aerial Photographic Perspective, (East Lansing, Michigan: John L. Wagner, 1998) ISBN 1-880311-01-1 ISBN 9781880311011
- Wright, Larry and Wright, Patricia, Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia Hardback (Erin: Boston Mills Press, 2006) ISBN 1-55046-399-3
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Lake Michigan|
|Wikisource has the text of a 1921 Collier's Encyclopedia article about Lake Michigan.|
- EPA's Great Lakes Atlas
- Great Lakes Coast Watch
- Michigan DNR map of Lake Michigan
- Bathymetry of Lake Michigan
- Bibliography on Michigan lighthouses
- Interactive map of lighthouses in area (northern Lake Michigan)
- Interactive map of lighthouses in area (southern Lake Michigan)
- Terry Pepper on lighthouses of the western Great Lakes
- Wagner, John L., Beacons Shining in the Night, Michigan lighthouse bibliography, chronology, history, and photographs, Clarke Historical Library, Central Michigan University]