What State Has The Most Lakes?

by jeffwend

An interesting, yet somewhat confusing, answer to the question on which State has the most lakes in the U.S.

What State Has The Most Lakes?

An interesting look at the amount of lakes each state reports.

I thought it would be interesting to see how many lakes there are in each state. I didn’t realize the task would be like getting a politician to answer a simple question...

Turns out there’s no agreement on what counts as a lake. Here for example, is a question the states don’t agree on: if a lake doesn’t have a name, is it a lake? Seems stupid to me, but Minnesota and Wisconsin go back and forth over this. 

Another question: how big does a body of water have to be before it’s considered a lake? (For the truth on this see, ‘The Difference between Lakes and Ponds’). Some go by 5 acres, some by 10 acres, some go by “hey, if it’s bigger than a bathtub...”

Some states don’t give a number of lakes, they go by the total acreage covered by water. Some go by shoreline miles. Michigan wins this one hands down. Michigan has more shoreline (courtesy of the Great Lakes) than the entire Atlantic Seaboard.

So, which state has the most lakes?

Alaska claims to have 3 million lakes. My guess is, they’re just guessing. Perhaps if you counted every mud puddle and deep tire rut...I find this Alaskan estimate to be as implausible as a Sarah Palin Presidency. Obviously, by any estimate, Alaska has the most lakes, but most have no names, so according to Minnesota’s method, Alaska’s alleged 3 million lakes could be counted as about 15 lakes and 32 ponds.

Speaking of Minnesota, it has 15,291 lakes, but only 11,842 have names.

Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes, but only 6,044 have names. If they’d come up with 6,000 more names, they’d be ahead of Minnesota, wouldn’t they?

Michigan doesn’t play the name game, it has 11,037 named lakes and doesn’t mention the others.

Florida comes in next with 7,700 lakes that are over 10 acres.

Texas claims 6,736 lakes, but doesn’t use size or names as qualifiers. Good for you, Texas, it is what it is, take it or leave it!

New York estimates range from 200 (a little low, I think) to 50,000 (a little high, I think). It would appear the Alaska isn’t the only state that exaggerates. My best guess is about 6,000 lakes in New York.

Oddly, Pennsylvania reports to have only 50 natural lakes over 20 acres and 2,500 manmade lakes. Sounds like those steelworkers did a lot of digging on their days off.

Ohio has just over 2,000 lakes that are 5 acres or more. Indiana claims over 1,000. I’m pretty sure Illinois has some lakes, but apparently no one has bothered to count them accurately...probably a carryover from Chicago politics...

Perhaps the weirdest estimate is Maryland, reporting zero natural lakes. I find it nearly as unbelievable as Alaska’s estimate. What they have are a lot of constructed reservoirs. Still, the number “zero” comes from the State of Maryland’s government website, so there’s at least a 50/50 chance it’s accurate.

One state you just can’t figure is Louisiana, a state I love to visit. If you count all the lakes, ponds, swamps, bayous, canals, creeks, rivers, low spots, failed levies and occasional hurricanes, I believe the entire state should be considered one big “Lake de la Louisiana.”

Now, because I love irony, this is the best! The state that beats them all, with the largest percentage of the state covered by water...not Alaska, not Minnesota, not Wisconsin, nor Michigan...the winner is (drum roll, please)...RHODE ISLAND!

Yes, the very smallest state, Rhode Island’s 1,212 square miles includes 158 square miles of lakes. That accounts for 13 percent of the total area of the state covered with water, making it the undisputed winner over second place, Florida with just 7.7 percent, and Alaska doesn’t even come close.

So there you have it, the main the contenders. I admit there may be a dark horse out there I overlooked, like Kansas or New Mexico, but it’s about as likely as Lady Gaga turning country.

Updated: on 06/30/2011, jeffwend
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MCR on 04/23/2015


Dougfast on 12/01/2014

Wisconsin & Minnesota are always arguing about that. I expect they'll be fighting over this for years. As the story says, it depends on how you "count" lakes.

The Rhode Island issue — it's called "irony," Sam. It's true, the smallest state has the highest percentage of its total area covered by water. It's suppose to be an interesting, amusing little fact... What's the problem with that? Minnesota has more lakes, of course.

Among the lower 48 states, Washington comes in 4th, with just under 8,000 lakes. Top three: Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan. Alaska beats everyone, with and estimated 2 million. Canada beats everyone with an estimated 3 to 3.5 million.

Grace on 11/29/2014

Wisconsin has more lakes than Minnesota, i know that for a fact. Check your information....and Washington is pretty up there too

Sam on 08/22/2014

How can you go off of percentage of a state when a state such as Minnesota is much bigger than Rhode Island?

hawaiikai on 04/24/2014

What happened to Washington? More lakes than MINN or WIS. True story.

vicki on 03/11/2014


Mira on 02/22/2014

I read this again and it's fabulous. Take three million lakes in Alaska, for instance. You would think geologists have counted them by now. In this digital age, you probably need just some software to look at maps and count. But I guess for that you would need to decide what constitutes a lake. It's amazing they don't have a good definition yet.

Abby on 02/21/2014

Your facts about Alaska are quite flawed. Alaska is over 424 million square acres, and if there are 3 million lakes all over 20 square acres that means that there is about 60 million acres taken up by lakes which is only about 14% of Alaska's overall area, which is very plauseable. Which you would know if you had ever been to Alaska.

Tami on 02/18/2014

The title of your article asked how many lakes per state, not what percentage of the state is covered by water.
So, Alaska wins.
Then Minnesota, Wisconsin and fourth Michigan.

Ashley on 11/10/2013

Hello MINNESOTA has the BEST LAKES & if you don't believe me go check it YOURSELF!

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