Lake Superior

The iron that built a nation was mined around and shipped across Lake Superior.

Early voyager traders overcame obstacles like the St. Marys Falls by hauling tons of beaver pelts around the falls. Such barriers limited the amount of natural resources that could be moved and brought to commercial centers. Engineers later built canals that permitted large boats to transport thousands of tons of resources to market.

Minerals like copper and iron ore were essential ingredients in the formation of a modern industrial economy. Their widespread availability in the Lake Superior region and their cost effective transportation to urban centers encouraged businessmen to risk everything in hopes of financial success. Many did, many failed, but some, like Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan harnessed these mineral resources to create the greatest economy in world history.

Beautiful shot of the water across Lake Superior with an island in the distance and lush greenery in the foreground

Lake Superior, the largest and northernmost of the Great Lakes, is full of fascinating facts and features. Here are some cool facts about Lake Superior:

  1. Largest Freshwater Lake by Surface Area: Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area, covering approximately 31,700 square miles (82,100 square kilometers).
  2. Massive Volume: It holds about 2,900 cubic miles (12,100 cubic kilometers) of water, making it the third largest by volume after Lake Baikal and Lake Tanganyika.
  3. Great Depth: The lake has an average depth of 483 feet (147 meters) and a maximum depth of 1,333 feet (406 meters), making it the deepest of the Great Lakes.
  4. Cold Waters: Lake Superior’s waters are notoriously cold, with an average annual temperature of 40°F (4.4°C). Even in summer, surface temperatures rarely exceed 55°F (13°C).
  5. Rocky Shorelines and Clear Water: The lake is known for its rocky shorelines and exceptionally clear water, with visibility often reaching over 20 feet (6 meters) and sometimes as much as 100 feet (30 meters) in certain areas.
  6. Isle Royale National Park: Located in the middle of Lake Superior, Isle Royale is a remote island national park known for its wilderness, moose, and wolf populations. It is one of the least visited national parks due to its remote location and challenging access.
  7. Numerous Shipwrecks: The lake has claimed many ships over the years, earning it the nickname “Graveyard of the Great Lakes.” The most famous shipwreck is the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank in 1975.
  8. Largest Lake Island: Lake Superior contains several islands, the largest of which is Isle Royale. The lake is also home to the world’s largest lake island, Isle Royale, which itself has inland lakes.
  9. Historical Significance: The lake has been significant in the history of the Native American tribes, particularly the Ojibwe people, who have lived in the region for centuries. It was also an essential part of the fur trade route used by European explorers and traders.
  10. Water Flow: Lake Superior’s water flows out through the St. Marys River into Lake Huron. It takes about 191 years for water to completely replace itself in the lake, the longest retention time of the Great Lakes.
  11. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore: Located on the southern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan, this national lakeshore is known for its stunning multicolored sandstone cliffs, sea caves, and waterfalls.
  12. Thunder Bay: The lake is home to Thunder Bay, one of the largest cities on its shores, located in Ontario, Canada. Thunder Bay is known for its vibrant cultural scene and access to outdoor activities.
  13. Apostle Islands: Located off the coast of Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands are a group of 22 islands known for their natural beauty, sea caves, and historic lighthouses. They are part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.
  14. Longest Freshwater Sand Dunes: The lake is bordered by some of the longest freshwater sand dunes in the world, particularly in the Grand Sable Dunes area of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
  15. Extensive Ice Cover: Lake Superior can develop extensive ice cover in the winter, with some years seeing over 90% of the lake frozen. However, it rarely freezes completely due to its vast size and depth.
  16. Environmental Stewardship: Efforts to protect and preserve Lake Superior’s natural environment are robust, involving international cooperation between the United States and Canada. The lake is part of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement aimed at reducing pollution and protecting water quality.

These facts highlight the unique and awe-inspiring characteristics of Lake Superior, making it one of the most remarkable natural features in North America.

Additional Information

Native Fish: Lake whitefish, yellow perch, cisco or lake herring, kiyi, spawning grounds for brook trout, walleye, and lake sturgeon
Mammals: Moose, woodland caribou, black bear, and gray wolves
Birds: Terns and plovers
Forests: Spruce, fir, pine, and paper birch
Dimensions: 350 miles long x 160 miles wide
Depth: Average 483 feet; max 1,332 feet
Surface Area: 31,700 sq miles, approx. the size of South Carolina
Volume: 2,900 cubic miles
Elevation: 600 feet above sea level
Shoreline Length: 2,726 miles, including islands
Outlet: St. Mary’s River to Lake Huron
Retention/Replacement Time: 191 yrs
Population: 444,000 Us/ 229,000 Canada

Several museums near Lake Superior offer insights into the region’s rich history, culture, and natural environment. Here are some notable ones:

  1. Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center (Duluth, Minnesota):
    • Located on the Duluth waterfront, this center offers exhibits on maritime history, shipwrecks, and the role of Lake Superior in shipping and industry.
  2. Split Rock Lighthouse (Two Harbors, Minnesota):
    • While not a traditional museum, Split Rock Lighthouse offers tours and exhibits on the history of the lighthouse and its role in maritime safety on Lake Superior.
  3. Great Lakes Aquarium (Duluth, Minnesota):
    • This aquarium features exhibits on the Great Lakes ecosystem, including fish species found in Lake Superior, highlighting the importance of freshwater conservation.
  4. Lake Superior Railroad Museum (Duluth, Minnesota):
    • Located in the Duluth Depot, this museum features exhibits on the history of railroads in the region, including locomotives and rolling stock.
  5. North Shore Commercial Fishing Museum (Two Harbors, Minnesota):
    • This museum showcases the history of commercial fishing on Lake Superior, with exhibits on fishing techniques, equipment, and the industry’s impact on the region.
  6. The Depot (Duluth, Minnesota):
    • In addition to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum, The Depot houses several other museums and exhibits, including the St. Louis County Historical Society Museum and the Duluth Art Institute.
  7. Iowa Great Lakes Maritime Museum (Arnolds Park, Iowa):
    • Located near the southern tip of Lake Superior, this museum features exhibits on the maritime history of the Iowa Great Lakes region, including steamboats, shipwrecks, and boating history.
  8. Copper Harbor Lighthouse and Museum (Copper Harbor, Michigan):
    • This museum, located on the Keweenaw Peninsula, offers exhibits on the history of the lighthouse and its role in guiding ships on Lake Superior, as well as local history.
  9. Fort Wilkins Historic State Park (Copper Harbor, Michigan):
    • While more of a historic site than a museum, Fort Wilkins offers guided tours and exhibits on the military history of the region, including the fort’s role in the mid-19th century.
  10. Marquette Maritime Museum (Marquette, Michigan):
    • This museum features exhibits on the maritime history of Marquette and Lake Superior, including shipwrecks, lighthouses, and the region’s shipping industry.

These museums offer a variety of exhibits and collections that highlight the rich cultural, historical, and natural heritage of the Lake Superior region in the United States.