The United States is home to many natural wonders, but there are also quite a few breathtaking locations that are actually man-made.
Across the country’s fifty states, there are endless opportunities for water-based recreation, but if it weren’t for the creation of reservoirs, we would be short a few of the country’s most popular bodies of water.
During the 1900s, the creation of reservoirs was one of the most popular building projects as people discovered its many benefits.
Creating dams helped regulate floods, provided easier passage for travelers, and even supplied energy to local towns.
Reservoirs began popping up all over the country, varying in shapes and sizes, and while some simply stand to serve their initial purpose, others have become hot spots for outdoor recreation.
It only makes sense that the most extensive reservoirs would see the largest number of visitors each year as their wide-open waters offer endless opportunities for exploration.
Check out this list to learn not only about the top ten largest man-made lakes in the United States but also the most popular.
Table of Contents
- The Largest Man-Made Lakes in the United States
- 1. Lake Oahe: 578 mi²
- 2. Lake Sakakawea: 479 mi²
- 3. Fort Peck Lake: 382.8 mi²
- 4. Lake Powell: 254.1 mi²
- 5. Kentucky Lake: 250.5 mi²
- 6. Lake Mead: 247.1 mi²
- 7. Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake: 123.6 mi²
- 8. Lake Cumberland: 102.4 mi²
- 9. Lake Koocanusa: 72.59 mi²
- 10. Bull Shoals Lake: 70.55 mi²
The Largest Man-Made Lakes in the United States
|Number||Lake||Area (in mi²)|
|3||Fort Peck Lake||382.8|
|7||Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake||123.6|
|10||Bull Shoals Lake||70.55|
1. Lake Oahe: 578 mi²
Nestled along the northern edge of the Missouri River, Lake Oahe is easily one of the largest man-made lakes in the country and is often referred to as the “big water”.
Stretching out between North and South Dakota, Lake Oahe stands at an impressive size of nearly four hundred thousand acres with a shoreline that exceeds two thousand miles.
This extensive lake gives way to endless recreation opportunities both on the water and on the land around it, so it comes as no surprise that it sees nearly two million visitors each year.
One activity in particular that draws people to this lake is fishing as it is known for being exceptionally well-stocked with favorites like walleye, smallmouth bass, pike, perch, and more.
You shouldn’t take just any fishing boat out for the day, however, because strong winds can make traveling on the waters extremely difficult if you don’t have at least fifty horsepower.
Hunting is also a popular activity around the edges of the lake, thanks to an abundance of Canadian geese, grouse, and duck that live in the area.
On one end of the lake, you will find the Oahe Dam, which is a wonder in its own right as it is one of the largest dams in the world that uses natural materials.
Stop by the Oahe Dam Visitor Center for a breathtaking view overlooking the lake and a plentiful amount of information about the history of the dam itself.
Just when you think things can’t get any better, you’ll be happy to know that there are more than fifty different recreation sites scattered all around the lake that offer endless ways to enjoy your day.
2. Lake Sakakawea: 479 mi²
Known as one of the largest man-made lakes in the United States, Lake Sakakawea has also earned itself the title of the largest reservoir in the north-central part of the country.
This astonishing lake was created back in 1953 with the development of the Garrison Dam, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Directly following Lake Mead and Lake Powell, Lake Sakakawea lands itself in slot number three for largest reservoirs by capacity and it can be found in the charming state of North Dakota.
The lake stretches out more than three hundred thousand acres and offers visitors nearly fifteen hundred miles of breathtaking shoreline.
Considering its grand size, it should come as no surprise that there is an abundance of things to do in, on, and around the lake to keep you busy all summer long.
For starters, there are nearly forty different recreation areas peppered along the edges of the lake so there is always a new place to explore.
Of these many recreation areas, Lake Sakakawea State Park is easily the most popular because it has everything you need to enjoy your time by the water.
For instance, the park has a full-service marina that offers boat rentals, boasts a convenience store, offers fishing tours, and supplies two extra boat ramps.
You will find plenty of boats out on the water taking in the beauty of the day or fishing for some of the lake’s gems like walleye, salmon, and pike.
If you’d rather not spend your time on a boat, you can always head over to one of the beaches where you can lay out your towel and go for a refreshing swim when the weather gets too hot.
Plus, the park has two campgrounds on property that allow for tent campers and RVs to enjoy the bliss of waking each morning to the views of the lake.
Not to mention the plentiful amount of hiking trails that are available that make it possible for all skill levels to enjoy a day out in the wilderness and along the edges of the lake.
Just make sure you save some time to explore Government Bay because the rugged cliffs that jut out into the water make for a truly wonderful sight.
3. Fort Peck Lake: 382.8 mi²
Created by the damming of the Missouri River, Fort Peck Lake has become one of the largest man-made lakes in the country and you can find it in the picturesque state of Montana.
This gigantic lake takes up nearly 250 thousand acres of surface, stretching out more than one hundred miles from one end to another.
The dam that created this wonderful lake dates back to the 1930s and was established simply to ease the route of navigation for boaters traveling between Iowa and Missouri.
However, the lake quickly became more than just a navigational aid, as travelers from around the country began visiting Montana to explore its extensive waters.
For starters, there are more than fifty different types of fish that live within this reservoir, so you can guess just how popular of a fishing destination this is.
And with more than fifteen thousand miles of shoreline to enjoy, it is no wonder why people spend weeks exploring its untouched edges.
For quick access to the water, head over to the Fort Peck Marina on the western edge of the dam where you will have no trouble renting a watercraft and getting out for the day.
This marina is the only one that takes you along a solid, concrete road to get to its entrance. The other smaller marinas nestled in locations like Rock Creek Bay may require a four-wheel-drive vehicle, given the rough terrain.
Regardless, all of the locations are supplied with a boat ramp, so feel free to come as you wish and take your own personal watercraft out on the water.
Keep in mind that unlike most places in Montana, the tree population around the lake is nearly non-existent, so while there is plenty to do, you won’t be able to enjoy the shade of tree cover.
That doesn’t take away from the fact that this lake is located in an extremely remote part of the state, so any experience here is sure to be a relaxing one.
With that being said, you won’t find any large cities around the lake, so make sure to stock up on necessities before making your way over to this untouched gem.
4. Lake Powell: 254.1 mi²
Funnily enough, the second-largest man-made lake in the country is also located in Arizona, but this is just one of the many highlights to visiting the breathtaking Lake Powell.
Lake Powell is an extremely popular spot amongst tourists and locals alike, so when the weather is ideal, this body of water can see upward of two million faces each year.
This impressive desert lake spreads out more than one hundred fifty thousand acres and boasts nearly two thousand miles of shoreline.
But this shoreline is not to be compared to other lakes, as there are very few places to lay out your towel and large sections are made up entirely of canyon walls.
This beautiful lake was created in the mid-1900s thanks to the building of the Glen Canyon Dam, which ultimately flooded Glen Canyon itself.
The canyon was the result of millions of years of erosion caused by the Colorado River, so you will notice that there are nearly one hundred side canyons that branch off from the main one.
This is part of the appeal of Lake Powell since boaters can take scenic side trips along narrow waterways to explore parts of the canyon that are otherwise remote.
But because the lake is located in such a dry area, the water levels of this reservoir fluctuate drastically from year to year and there are some times when boating becomes nearly impossible.
Now you can easily visit this picturesque lake with a visit to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, where recreational activities are in abundance.
One of the most popular places to embark on an adventure is the Wahweap Marina because it offers plenty of watercraft rentals and is close to many scenic attractions.
Have your pick between beautiful destinations like Face Canyon, Ice Cream Canyon, and Warm Creek Bay, but make sure to save time for Padre Bay where you can enjoy the most breathtaking panoramic view the lake has to offer.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the sightseeing locations along the edges of the lake, and when you are not out exploring the water, you should go check out the nearby town of Page.
The town itself is small but it is home to some of Arizona’s most astonishing natural wonders, like Horseshoe Bend and Antelope Canyon.
5. Kentucky Lake: 250.5 mi²
Spread out between Kentucky and Tennessee, Kentucky Lake is known as one of the largest man-made lakes in all of the United States.
The lake wasn’t established until 1944 when the decision was made to impound the Tennessee River through the use of the Kentucky Dam.
When it comes to the surface area, Kentucky Lake has actually earned the title of the largest man-made lake in the eastern part of the country.
This is because it spans out over an impressive 160,000 acres and provides visitors with the luxury of more than two thousand miles of shoreline to explore.
There are plenty of ways to enjoy your time here, given its size, but one of the most popular activities revolves around the sport of fishing.
In fact, the lake is home to some of Kentucky’s largest catches, including a yellow perch, a Buffalo carp, and a white bass.
When you are not out on the water enjoying a day of fishing, you can be exploring one of the four state parks peppered along the lake’s edges.
This doesn’t even include the abundance of campgrounds, county parks, RV resorts, marinas, and wildlife areas that also call this lake home.
It makes sense that there is such a wide array of things for people to do, given the fact that the lake sees nearly twenty million visitors each year.
A popular destination is the Kentucky Dam Village State Park because it houses a luxury lodge, an 18-hole golf course, a full-service marina, a plentiful number of hiking trails, a public access beach, and more.
Another great option in this area is Kenlake State Resort Park and many people opt to spend the night here as it has a large swimming pool, its own marina, and a restaurant overlooking the lake.
6. Lake Mead: 247.1 mi²
Created by the famous Hoover Dam and located along the Colorado River, Lake Mead has earned the title of one of the largest man-made lakes in the country.
The reservoir stretches out nearly two hundred fifty miles across Arizona and Nevada, offering more than seven hundred miles of shoreline.
It is considered the largest man-made lake in the entire country in regards to capacity, and certain sections of the lake even reach a whopping 532 feet in depth.
Prior to becoming the grand reservoir that you see today, Lake Mead was once home to Native Americans who used the land to hunt for animals and seek shelters in its many caves.
But the history of the lake doesn’t stop there. Underneath its surface, you will also find remnants of World War II as a B-29 bomber crashed into its waters back in the 1940s.
Even though Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake by capacity in the United States, it actually hasn’t been standing at its true potential for quite some time.
The water levels of Lake Mead have seen a steady drop over the years as there hasn’t been enough rainwater to keep up with the growing need for water in homes across various states.
Aside from the fact that the lake is famous for its impressive size, the recreation area that encompasses it was the first of its kind in the entire country.
The Lake Mead Recreation Area has only gained popularity since it first opened, and there are many ways for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy their time here.
For starters, boaters will fall in love with the wide-open waters, and there are plenty of marinas scattered around its edges making it easy for a quick getaway.
If you don’t have a boat of your own, the Lake Mead Cruise is a great alternative that lets visitors enjoy the breathtaking views of the water and the surrounding area while learning a thing or two along the way.
Plus, no trip to this recreation area would be complete without a visit to the iconic Hoover Dam, where you can take an elevator down to its base to explore the power plant.
There are also endless options when it comes to the hiking trails that let you explore ancient red rocks, picturesque canyons, and so much more.
7. Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake: 123.6 mi²
Considering the fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake is one of the largest man-made lakes in the country, it doesn’t get nearly enough recognition.
The creation of this extensive lake dates back to the early 1940s when a section of the Columbia River was boxed in by the Grand Coulee Dam.
The lake actually went through a series of name changes before landing the title of Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, which was given to it because that was the commanding president at the time.
You can find this gem in the northwestern state of Washington, and it is known as the largest lake in the state in regards to its surface area.
That is because it stretches out more than eighty thousand acres and supplies visitors with an average of six hundred miles of shoreline to enjoy.
The land that was here prior to the damming was home to Native Americans and was used for hunting and gathering, so you can appreciate this bit of history while out on the water.
Aside from the fact that there are such wide-open waters to explore, people also enjoy boating near its edges where they can take in the breathtaking views of the towering stone walls.
Plus, you can keep an eye out for the abundance of wildlife that lives along its shores like bobcats, bears, moose, and birds like ospreys and eagles.
Fishermen won’t want to miss an opportunity to cast their lines out on the lake, as there are more than thirty different species that call the reservoir home and it is known for its exceptionally sized sturgeon catches.
There are plenty of places to rent a boat, but other fun watercraft options include jet skis, kayaks, tubes, water boards, and anything else you can think of.
During the summer months, you can catch the Grand Coulee’s Laser Light Show on weekend nights over at the dam for an impressive display you won’t find anywhere else.
8. Lake Cumberland: 102.4 mi²
Another impressive reservoir located within Kentucky is Lake Cumberland.
The lake is so large that it stretches out amongst five of Kentucky’s most extensive counties and is even listed as one of the top ten largest lakes in the United States by capacity.
For reference, this gigantic lake spans nearly seventy thousand acres and boasts more than one thousand miles of shoreline.
With such wide-open waters to enjoy, it is no wonder that this lake has become one of the most visited bodies of water east of the Mississippi.
A popular activity here is fishing because there is no shortage of fan-favorite catches like striped bass, crappie, catfish, bluegill, and more.
If you are new to the fishing world, there are plenty of fishing guide services that are more than happy to show you the waters.
But even with such an impressive collection of fish to catch, fishing boats aren’t the number one watercraft you will see out on this lake.
The lake is actually known for its houseboats and has even been nicknamed the “Houseboat Capital of the World” on numerous occasions.
It is not uncommon for locals and tourists alike to dock a houseboat out on its vast waters and spend the weekend relaxing in its tranquil setting.
And fear not, if you don’t have a houseboat of your own, there are plenty of places where you can rent one so you can get the full Lake Cumberland experience.
Besides, with so many quiet coves and rugged cliffs to explore, you will need more than just an afternoon out on the boat anyways.
Sleeping on a boat not your style? Check out the Lake Cumberland State Resort Park where you can spend the night in a luxury cabin overlooking the water or opt to stay closer to nature at one of its campsites.
9. Lake Koocanusa: 72.59 mi²
Partially located in British Columbia, Lake Koocanusa may not be entirely located within the United States, but it is still considered one of the largest man-made lakes in the country.
The lake is split almost down the middle between the United States-Canada border with forty-eight miles of its length located in Montana and the other forty-two miles located in British Columbia.
This is one of the lakes that wasn’t created until the 1970s when the decision was made to close off the Kootenai River with the use of the Libby Dam.
The creation of the lake was actually a joint effort between Canada and the United States and to be fair, the decision for the name of the lake was based on a contest.
Ultimately, a woman from Montana won this contest with a name that abbreviated the river that created the lake and the two countries it is spread across.
Lucky for people visiting the states, the Libby Dam is located in Montana and has an impressive visitor center that lets you take in the views of the dam while learning more about its origin.
A popular activity on this lake is fishing, and fishermen rave about the abundance of rainbow trout, whitefish, lingcod, kokanee, and more.
Plus, you can never go wrong with spending a day out on the water, and there are plenty of marinas to choose from that make renting a watercraft as easy as can be.
10. Bull Shoals Lake: 70.55 mi²
Located at the foot of the Ozark Mountains, Bull Shoals Lake is not only one of the largest man-made lakes in the country but also one of the most scenic.
You can enjoy the majority of this beautiful lake in the state of Arkansas, but a portion also makes its way over to the southern part of Missouri.
The lake stretches out nearly fifty thousand acres and offers what feels like an endless supply of shoreline for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy.
The creation of this lake occurred during the late 1940s when the Bull Shoals Dam was built and at the time, it was one of the largest dams in the world.
With nearly one thousand miles of shoreline to explore, it should come as no surprise that there are more than twenty recreation areas scattered along its edges.
These parks and other outdoor locations make up more than sixty thousand acres, so there is no shortage of things to do around the lake when you are not out on the water.
While there is nothing wrong with simply taking your boat out for a nice cruise, the lake really shines when it comes to its fishing opportunities.
Fishermen from all around the country come to this lake for a chance to catch popular species like largemouth bass, crappie, walleye, trout, and more.
And because there is such an extensive federal fish hatchery so nearby, the lake is always well stocked to ensure that fishermen will have an enjoyable experience.
All the excitement happens at Bull Shoals White River State Park, where you will find endless hiking opportunities, an exquisite visitor center overlooking the impressive dam, and a full-service marina that makes it easy to get out on the water.
The park even has over one hundred campsites – a combination of tent sites and RV hookups – along the White River so you never have to be too far away from the lake.