All 14 Saltwater Lakes in the US

There aren’t many saltwater lakes in the world, but the US boasts a whopping fourteen. All across the country, people visit these impressive lakes to swim and float in the dense water.

These lakes are spread around the country, from Utah’s Great Salt Lake to Rhode Island’s Trustom Pond. Salt lakes are a fascinating natural phenomenon, so let’s dive into the details about those found in the United States and how you can enjoy them.

Table of Contents

1. Great Salt Lake – Utah

Straddling five counties, the Great Salt Lake is the biggest saltwater lake on this side of the hemisphere and ranks number eight on the globe’s terminal lake list.

The most fantastic area of the lake to swim or float in can be found at Antelope Island State Park, where white oolitic sand beaches give easy access to the water. Showers are also available in the beach area so you can rinse off the salty water before heading home.

The water north of the causeway is a rich red color, which indicates its saline chemistry. The North Arm’s red color derives from a bacterium known as halophilic bacteria, which thrives as the salt levels rise.

The lake’s water is highly dense due to its high salt content; most individuals can float here quite easily, especially in Gunnison Bay, the lake’s saltier northern section.

Also because of the lakes high salt content, The Great Salt Lake is never frozen and can quickly warm.

The Great Salt Lake generates 1.3 billion dollars in annual revenue for Utah, with 1.1 billion from industry, 136 million from recreation, and 57 million from brine shrimp harvesting. At the lake’s margin, solar evaporation ponds produce salts and brine.

The lake’s minerals include sodium chloride, used in water softeners, salt lick blocks for livestock and for melting ice on municipal roads; potassium sulfate, used as a commercial fertilizer; and magnesium chloride brine, used in the production of magnesium metal.

US Magnesium has a factory on the lake’s southwest bank that generates fourteen percent of the world’s magnesium supply, more than any other North American magnesium operation. Mineral-extraction firms that operate on the lake pay the state of Utah, which owns the lake, royalty on their goods.

2. Rush Lake – Utah

Rush Lake

Rush Lake/Reservoir is a saline lake in Tooele County, Utah. Fishing is the lake’s chief attraction, but windsurfing, water-skiing, sailing, swimming, and sunbathing are also popular pastimes

The lake, formed by a stream that flows from the Great Salt Lake, varies in size and evaporates roughly two feet each year; however, floods occasionally refill it. The average ground elevation is 4,951 feet.

The Rush Lake watershed is home to two distinct vegetation communities: sagebrush grass and pinyon-juniper. The former grows at lower elevations and on the valley floor, whereas the latter grows at higher elevations on mountains alongside other types of alpine flora.

Several different fish species are found in the lake – Utah chub, carp, green sunfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, yellow perch, black crappie, and black bullhead – making it clear why fishing is so popular here.

3. Salton Sea – California

The Salton Sea is a shallow, landlocked, saline body of water located in Riverside and Imperial counties in southern California. It lies within the Salton Trough, which reaches the Gulf of California in Mexico, on the San Andreas Fault.

The Colorado River has flowed into the Imperial Valley for millions of years, depositing alluvium (soil), generating lush agriculture, raising the terrain, and shifting its main channel and river delta.

The river has alternated between flowing into the valley and diverting around it for thousands of years, creating a saline lake named Lake Cahuilla and a barren desert plain.

The lake level depends on the river and on the balance between input and evaporative loss when the Colorado River flows into the valley. The lake dries up thoroughly when the river divers around the valley, as it did around 1580.

Hundreds of archaeological sites have been discovered, indicating the long-term presence of Native American communities and camps in this area.

4. Mono Lake/Soda Lake – California

Soda Lake is a terminal lake that originated more than 700 thousand years ago. Since no water flows from this lake, it is able to collect significant levels of salts, making the water quite alkaline.

Many limestone columns rise above Mono Lake’s surface, the majority of which are made up of calcium carbonate and minerals such as calcite. This is a special type of limestone called Tufa that occurs at low to moderate temperatures and describes this type of limestone rock.

Mono lake has a precious ecosystem established on brine shrimp. They flourish in the lake, which furnishes a virtual environment for two million migratory birds each year that feed on the shrimp and alkali flies. Historically, the alkali flies’ pupae, which live in the shallow waters near the lake’s shore, were eaten by the native Kutzadika’a people.

When the city of Los Angeles diverted water from the lake’s freshwater streams, the lake level dropped, putting the migrating birds at risk. In response, the Mono Lake Committee created and won a legal struggle that forced Los Angeles to relinquish control of the lake.

5. Deep Springs Valley – New Mexico

Deep Springs Valley

Deep Springs Lake is a seasonal salt lake that dries out in the summer and forms a salt pan. The surface water refills in late spring from water that flows from adjacent springs and snowmelt from Wyman and Crooked creeks.

This lake is also a crucial destination for migratory birds, and during spring and fall migrations, birds and bird watchers alike gather at Deep Springs Valley.

The Deep Springs Black Toad, also known as the exile toad, lives in the springs and is an endemic species found exclusively in Deep Springs Valley.

6. Zuni Lake – New Mexico

Zuni Lake

Zuni Salt Lake, also known as Zuni Salt Lake, is a classic maar and a rare high desert lake, located in Catron County, New Mexico, about 60 miles south of the Zuni Pueblo. In 1999, the National Register of Historic Places added it to their register.

Even during the wet season, Zuni Salt Lake is exceedingly shallow, with a depth of only four feet. Much of the water evaporates during the dry season, leaving behind salt flats.

The Taos pueblos, Hopi, Laguna, Acoma, and Zuni have conducted annual pilgrimages to Zui Salt Lake to harvest salt for culinary and ceremonial purposes for millennia.

From the lake, old pathways extend out to numerous pueblos and ancient pueblo sites, such as Chaco. The lake itself is sacred, as it is the home of the Zui’s Salt Mother deity, Ma’l Okyattsik’i. Early Hispanic settlers in the area called it Las Salinas.

7. Grulla National Wildlife Refuge – New Mexico

Grulla National Wildlife Refuge sits in Roosevelt County, New Mexico, southwest of State Highway 88 and the Texas-New Mexico border. A minor portion of the refuge sits in western Bailey County, Texas.

The Grulla National Wildlife Refuge sits on an ephemeral salt lake, also known as a saline playa. This shallow basin absorbs runoff from the surrounding drainage area during heavy downpours but quickly dries out due to evaporation.

This saline playa is referred to as “Salt Lake” on current USGS topographic maps and most commercially available maps of the region. It was part of the DZ Ranch in the early 1880s.

The word “grulla” comes from Spanish and means crane, and in fact, Sandhill cranes use the playa lake while it’s wet. Other species, including ring-necked pheasants, smaller prairie fowl, and scaled quails, use the grasslands within the refuge when it’s dry.

Muleshoe National Wildlife Refuge in Texas manages the refuge, which has no facilities other than a parking area and trails.

8. Ninigret – Rhode Island

Ninigret is a coastal lagoon located near Charlestown, Rhode Island. It is the largest of Rhode Island’s nine lagoons. People use it for leisure purposes as well as the gathering of oysters and quahogs. Geologists have also discovered extensive archaeological relics along its shoreline.

Ninigret Pond, like others in the area, was formed 12,000 years ago as the glaciers receded. Because the pond sits on low-lying ground, it is particularly susceptible to storm surge flooding. A little waterway connects it to Green Hill Pond.

9. Quonochontaug Pond – Rhode Island

Quonochontaug Pond

Quonochontaug is a coastal lagoon located in Washington County, Rhode Island, between Charlestown and Westerly. It’s the saltiest of nine similar lagoons in southern Rhode Island.

Sand eroding from the ocean side of a barrier beach, created by the US Army Corps of Engineers in the 1950s, travels through the breach way into the pond, where it settles and generates growing shoals. Unlike the other ponds, however, much of “Quonnie’s” western barrier beach is still undeveloped and protected, despite being privately owned.

The Westerly-Charlestown town line runs right down the middle of the pond. Because the pond is quite deep, well flushed by the tides, and has minimal development, the water quality is quite good and continues to improve with time.

Quonnie, like the rest of the ponds in this area, is a vital nursery for winter flounder, young striped bass, bluefish, and tautog. The abundance of bay scallops varies from year to year, but in a good year, you can find plenty in this salt pond.

10. Trustom Pond – Rhode Island

Trustom Pond is a closed lagoon in the town of South Kingstown, Washington County, Rhode Island. One of nine coastal lagoons in southern Rhode Island, it is the only unspoiled salt pond in the state. The pond is 1.3 feet deep on average and has a salinity of 5 parts per thousand.

Despite its location, Trustom Pond it is not tidal unless storms breach it. The water receives roughly 219,844,022 US gallons of precipitation each year, with an estimated daily groundwater flow of 796,215 US gallons.

Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge is home to an estimated three hundred bird species, forty animal species, and twenty reptile and amphibian species. As a result, it’s a favorite spot for birdwatchers, many of whom come to see the native Piping Plover.

11. Winnapaug Pond – Rhode Island

Winnapaug Pond
Image: Wikimedia / Mark Siciliano

The Weekapaug Breachway, built in the mid-1950s, connects Winnapaug Pond, also known as Brightman Pond, to Block Island Sound. A massive sandbar separates the 2.5-mile lake from the Atlantic.

Misquamicut Beach, Atlantic Beach, and Westerly Town Beach are among the beaches that flank the Atlantic side of the sandbar. Its total water quality was rated “excellent” in 2010.

The Winnapaug River is tiny and shallow, making it ideal for kayaking. It’s one of nine coastal lagoons in southern Rhode Island that locals call “salt ponds.”

12. Lake Peigneur – Louisiana

Lake Peigneur - Louisiana

Lake Peigneur, located on the northernmost tip of Vermilion Bay, is 1.2 miles north of Delcambre and Louisiana’s deepest lake, reaching a maximum depth of 200 feet.

It was a 10-foot-deep freshwater body popular with anglers until an extraordinary manufacturing disaster altered its structure and the surrounding land.

In November 1980, the Diamond Crystal Salt Company’s salt mine beneath the lake flooded. At the time, drilling was underway on top of the mine, and the drilling most likely triggered the changes that turned the shallow lake from fresh to brackish. The incident led to a sinkhole that swallowed the drilling platform.

Because there was so much water in the caverns, the Delcambre Canal, which ordinarily empties the lake into Vermilion Bay, reversed, allowing saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico to pour into the now-dry lakebed. This backflow formed Louisiana’s largest waterfall, at 164 feet, for a few days.

13. Soda Lake – Washington

Unless you went out of your way to find it, you’d never know this lake exists. Soda Lake is an artificial lake located a few miles south of O’Sullivan Dam and serves as a supplemental retaining pool for the Potholes East Canal, the massive Bureau of Reclamation Columbia Basin Project. A dike dam on the south diverts runoff water from Potholes reservoir into the canal.

With boat ramps on both sides, Soda Lake is a famous fishing lake. You can catch panfish, walleye, and bass in this lake, and during the fall, rainbow trout fingerlings are in abundance. Migrating fish from the nearby Potholes Reservoir have a significant impact on the ecosystem in Soda Lake, and two-pole fishing and ice fishing are both permitted here.

The lake also lies within the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge, which is a famous scenic beauty.

14. Walker Lake – Nevada

Walker Lake lies in Western Nevada, at the mouth of the Walker River. The Walker River is one of three major rivers that drain the Sierra-Nevada Mountains’ east side, and it supports riparian, wetland, riverine, and desert lake ecosystems at its mouth.

Walker Lake is a relic of the historic Lake Lahontan that used to cover a large portion of the state throughout the Ice Age. Walker Lake is surrounded on both sides by arid, craggy, poorly vegetated, and steep hills in the Range and Basin Provinces.

At 11,245 feet, Mt. Grant, on the west side of the lake, heads the Wassuk Range. Walker lake has a tiny marshland area, primarily in its southern boundary.

The lake’s periphery is either devoid of vegetation or is home to scrubby undergrowth. The Wassuk Range feeds the lake with isolated springs and tiny rivers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you swim in the Great Salt Lake?

Swimming is quite a unique experience, especially compared to swimming in freshwater lakes. You’ll find that the water is lovely even in the early summer, due to the salts that naturally warm the water. If you have cuts or scrapes though, just know that the salt may sting a little.

What causes the pungent odor at the Great Salt Lake?

In most hyper-saline conditions, the present bacteria reduce sulfate, resulting in hydrogen sulfide – the reason behind the rotten egg odor.