9 of North America's Most Fascinating Kettle Lakes

Large waterway surrounded by trees under a blue sky
Photo: Vitorio Benedetti/flickr

Call them keepsakes from the last ice age. The thousands of kettle lakes that dot North America (including Henry David Thoreau's renowned Walden Pond, pictured here) were left by retreating glaciers some 12,000 years ago. They endure as some of the most beautiful remnants of a chillier era when vast ice sheets covered all of Canada and most of the northern United States.

These prehistoric pools were formed when massive ice chunks broke off from glaciers as they receded. Outwash from the melting glaciers, carrying stones and soil, flowed behind and surrounded or buried these sitting blocks of ice. When the blocks finally melted, bowl-shaped holes, called kettles, were left in the debris plain and filled with water mostly from precipitation and surface or underground streams and springs. Watch this video for more on how kettle holes form.

Most kettle lakes range from a quarter mile to two miles in diameter and are less than 30 feet deep, though a few are bigger and deeper. What they all share is a unique story and personality, based on the landscapes, wildlife and people around them. Continue on to tour some of North America's most unforgettable kettle lakes.

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Lake Annette

Photo: oltrelautostrada/Shutterstock

Located in Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada, 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 20 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

Photo: Elliott Teters/flickr

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.

But Clear Lake has another claim to fame, especially for those still mourning "the day the music died," made famous in Don McLean's song "American Pie." The city of Clear Lake, which sits on the lake's eastern edge, is home to the Surf Ballroom. In the cold, early-morning hours of Feb. 3, 1959, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper flew out of nearby Mason City, Iowa, after performing at the ballroom. Their plane, bound for Moorhead, Minnesota, crashed shortly after takeoff, killing all on board.

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Walden Pond

Photo: Amy Meredith/flickr

Likely America's most famous kettle lake (they're called ponds in New England) 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 musing are widely credited with giving birth to America's conservation movement.

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

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Puslinch Lake

Photo: Laslovarga/Wikimedia Commons

Located in Wellington County, Ontario, 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 to save it from disappearing.

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Wonder Lake

Photo: Lijuan Guo/Shutterstock

The largest and most acclaimed kettle lake in Alaska's Denali National Park and Preserve isn't technically a pure kettle lake. While an ice chunk did help form Wonder Lake's basin, the retreating glacier that left it behind also had a hand in carving it out. Either way, this 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 looks close enough to touch. In fact, 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

Photo: Pat (Cletch) Williams/flickr

Legend has it that Walled Lake was named for a stone wall that early European settlers believed they saw running along the lake's western bank. Potawatomi Indian tribes may have built it, but oddly there's no evidence of it today.

Whether true or not, this spring-fed kettle lake and the nearby town bearing its name, located northeast of Ann Arbor, Michigan, have a long history as a resort area. Most famously, it was home to the Walled Lake Casino, a dance hall constructed in 1917.

In its heyday the venue hosted many notable swing bands, including Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, and later transitioned to rock 'n' roll with the likes of Chuck Berry and Little Stevie Wonder. Sadly, Walled Lake's claim to fame burned down on Christmas Day in 1965.

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Lake Itasca

Photo: Tomaz Kunst/Shutterstock

Garrison Keillor of "America's Prairie Home Companion" put Minnesota's much-loved prairie kettle lakes on the map when he created the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, named for the "brightly sparkling" 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 (pictured here) 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. These first inhabitants built communities, hunted bison and left behind burial mounds that can still be viewed at the Itasca Indian Cemetery in Itasca State Park.

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Lake Ronkonkoma

Photo: Peter Dutton/flickr

The largest of eight kettle lakes on New York's Long Island, Lake Ronkonkoma has long been the subject of many mysterious myths and legends. One is that it's bottomless. Though not true — most of the 243-acre lake is less than 15 feet deep — one side of its irregular basin does drop to 65 feet.

Lake Ronkonkoma is also said to be haunted by the Lady of the Lake, a Native American princess who committed suicide by drowning in the 1600s after her father forbid her from marrying a European settler. According to many versions of the legend, every year she drags a young man into the lake to keep her company in death. The legend has never faded completely, possibly because young men continue to be the most common drowning victims.

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Conneaut Lake

Photo: Dave/flickr

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 60 years ago.

Today, 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 (offering this vintage lake view depicted in this postcard), a boardwalk, beach and one of the nation's oldest wooden roller coasters called the Blue Streak.