As a North American, I often look at maps of the US and Canada (ok Mexico too). Ever since elementary school, maps of North America have been displayed prominently in my classrooms, rest stops, etc., so I feel like I know them pretty well. But recently, I was having another look at a map after traveling abroad and I started thinking about how truly big and amazing the Great Lakes really are, so I decided to write a post about them!

The Great lakes of North America formed only 10,000 years ago as ice sheets retreated at the end of the last ice age. The ice carved deep basins into the earth that were consequently filled with melt water. That also means that the lakes were and still are fresh water, and happen to be the largest of their kind on earth. They are so big and have so much coastline, that they are often referred to as the “north coast” or “third coast” by people who live nearby.

Great Lakes Map

There are a total of 5 major lakes which border both the US and Canada, they are called Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, Lake Michigan (only lake entirely in the US) and Lake Superior. The lakes played a huge role in the industrialization and growth of the United States and Canada as they are actually connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a few different waterways including multiple locks and man-made passageways through the US and Canada including the Saint Lawrence Seaway. Smaller barges can reach the Gulf of Mexico via the Illinois Waterway and Mississippi. Large ships called “Lakers” transport mostly people and raw materials around the lakes, but are too big to pass through the locks or other seaways out to the ocean. Smaller boats that can make the passage are known as “salties”. Some small leisure boats can make the journey as well, but you might want to do a search for “boat licence Canada” before you attempt any harrowing seaward journeys before learning the complicated requirements of the route!

There are many major cities that are either directly on the Great Lakes or on the river system that include Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, Chicago, Windsor, Rochester, Buffalo, Erie, Milwaukee and Thunder Bay.

The Great Lakes truly are one of North America’s treasures, and if you haven’t checked them out, do so if you get the chance. You will be surely impressed!