9 of North America's Most Fascinating Kettle Lakes

Autumn on Walden Pond with perfectly flat, blue water surrounded by colorful trees with a light blue sky above
The beauty of autumn on one of the most famous kettle lakes, Walden Pond.

DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

The kettle lakes that dot North America were left by retreating glaciers thousands of years ago. These keepsakes from the last ice age endure as beautiful remnants of an era when vast ice sheets covered all of Canada and most of the northern United States.

What Are Kettle Lakes?

Kettle lakes are geologic depressions caused by glaciers that are filled with water.

These prehistoric pools formed when massive ice chunks broke away from receding glaciers. The detached blocks of ice left behind sediment as they slowly melted and formed a depression, or hole, called a kettle. The kettles filled with water from precipitation, surface water, or underground springs. 

Most kettle lakes range from a quarter mile to two miles in diameter and are less than 30 feet deep, though some are larger and deeper. What they all share is a unique story based on the landscapes, wildlife, and people around them.

Here are 9 of North America's most fascinating kettle lakes.

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Lake Annette (Alberta)

Lake Annette in Alberta, Canada with trees and mountains in the distance

Ana Luiza Cortez / Getty Images

Located in Jasper National Park, Lake Annette is spectacularly nestled against the panoramic backdrop of the Canadian Rockies. This alpine kettle lake is fed by an underground river that flows from Medicine Lake some 15 miles away, and from glacial melt carrying rock particles that stay suspended in the water and give it a luminous turquoise color.

The lakeshore is ringed with forests that are home to a rich mix of wildlife such as elk, caribou, and bears. Perhaps most surprising is Lake Annette's striking sandy beach on the north shore, a hot spot for sunbathing and swimming during the summer months.

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Clear Lake (Iowa)

Clear Lake, Iowa at sunset with green plant in foreground

Elliott Teters / Flickr / CC BY-SA 3.0

This popular spring-fed kettle lake in northern Iowa is a mecca for lake lovers from as far away as Minneapolis. At almost 3,700 acres it’s ideal for fishing, boating, and swimming.

Formed by glaciers 14,000 years ago, Clear Lake has an elevation of 1,247 feet above sea level.

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Walden Pond (Massachusetts)

Autumn on Walden Pond

Mick Roessler / Getty Images

Likely America's most famous kettle lake (also called a pond in New England), Walden Pond was etched into the national imagination by transcendental author and naturalist Henry David Thoreau, who chronicled his two-year stint living beside Walden Pond in his 1854 book of the same name. His ecological and philosophical musings are widely credited with giving birth to America's conservation movement.

This deep, 64-acre lake located in Concord is surrounded by hundreds of acres of undeveloped woods. As a National Historic Landmark, Walden Pond is managed by the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation. It continues to receive visitors from around the world seeking to soak in some of what inspired Thoreau.

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Puslinch Lake (Ontario)

Small island on Puslinch Lake, Ontario

Leonid Korchenko / Getty Images

Located in Wellington County, Puslinch Lake boasts its own islands with homes on them. The setting may be idyllic, but this 400-acre glacial souvenir is also well on its way to becoming a kettle swamp or bog (which happens when kettle lakes fill in with too much vegetation).

Fed mainly by underwater springs and surface runoff, Puslinch Lake is not only shallow but also highly popular — meaning surrounding development is causing fertilizers, sewage, and detergents to stream into its waters. The resulting overgrowth of invasive Eurasian watermilfoil has not only choked out other aquatic plants and killed fish, but decaying vegetation has created a buildup of sediment on the lake bottom. Puslinch Lake now undergoes periodic dredging in an effort manage the Eurasian watermilfoil.

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Wonder Lake (Alaska)

Wonder Lake in Denali National Park with snow covered mountains in the distance

John Elk / Getty Images

The largest and most acclaimed kettle lake in Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve isn't technically a pure kettle lake. While Muldrow Glacier did help form Wonder Lake's basin 22,000 years ago, the retreating glacier that left it behind also had a hand in carving it out. Either way, this 280-foot-deep beauty is 100 percent glacially made.

Wonder Lake is one of the best spots to view Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), which is 27 miles away but appears close enough to touch. The lake view of North America's highest peak was immortalized by photographer Ansel Adams in 1947, and many photographers still venture there for their own chance to capture its majestic magic.

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Walled Lake (Michigan)

Walled Lake with one boat in the distance

Pat (Cletch) Williams / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Walled Lake, a spring-fed kettle lake which offers beach access from Lakeshore Park and Mercer Beach, is 670 acres in size, and has a maximum depth of 53 feet.

The lake and the nearby town bearing its name, located northeast of Ann Arbor, have a long history as a resort area. Most famously, it was home to the Walled Lake Casino, and later, an amusement park.

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Lake Itasca (Minnesota)

Lake Itasca, with green trees in the distance

skhoward / Getty Images

Garrison Keillor put Minnesota's much-loved prairie kettle lakes on the map when he created the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, named for the fictional kettle lake beside it. One of the state's real, and perhaps most notable glacial legacies is Lake Itasca, home to the Mississippi River's headwaters that launch it on its winding 2,500-mile journey down to the Gulf of Mexico.

The surrounding forests teem with wildlife from black bears to wolves, and show evidence of human habitation going back 8,000 years.

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Lake Ronkonkoma (New York)

shore of Lake Ronkonkoma with trees in the foreground

dans362 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

The largest of eight kettle lakes on New York's Long Island, Lake Ronkonkoma was formed during the Wisconsin stage of the Pleistocene Epoch. Though most of the 243-acre lake is less than 15 feet deep — one side of its irregular basin drops to about 60 feet

Several access points are available that allow visitors to boat and fish on Lake Ronkonkoma.

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Conneaut Lake (Pennsylvania)

Conneaut Lake with trees in the distance

Darowles / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

A popular resort destination in northwestern Pennsylvania, Conneaut Lake is the state’s largest natural lake. The shores of this 930-acre kettle gem were once home to herds of woolly mammoths and mastodons, as evidenced by the giant fossilized bones unearthed there in 1958

The lake is bordered by homes and boasts historic Conneaut Lake Park on its western shore. Opened in 1892, this vintage amusement park features the grand old Hotel Conneaut, a boardwalk, beach, and one of the nation's oldest wooden roller coasters.