What Are the Differences Between Lakes & Ponds?


Lakes and ponds are landlocked bodies of fresh water. Natural-made ponds and lakes are usually fed by nearby streams or rivers, but beyond these few similarities, there are many characteristics that are exclusive to either body of water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency recognizes several major differences that separate lakes from ponds.


  • One of the first and most recognized differences between lakes and ponds is that the surface area of lakes is generally larger. Not only is Lake Superior the largest lake in the United States, but it is also the largest freshwater lake in the world. Containing almost 3,000 cubic miles of water, it spans about 350 miles from west to east and 160 miles from north to south. In contrast, ponds tend to have a surface area size of 5 to 10 acres.


  • Another main difference between lakes and ponds is that lakes are generally deeper than ponds. Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world, with a depth of 1,943 feet. Ponds on average are much shallower, with an average depth of 5 to 6 feet and rarely exceed a maximum depth of 12 to 15 feet.

Naturally or Artificially Created

  • In nearly all situations, ponds differ from lakes in that they are created artificially. While most are created for fishing, many ponds serve for recreational boating. Like lakes, ponds can be created by natural events, such as glaciers or sink holes. Additionally, when rivers are dammed, reservoir lakes are created -- Lake Mead is the largest man-made lake in the United States and was formed by the damming of the Colorado River.

Sunlight and Temperature

  • The United States Environmental Protection Agency divides bodies of water into different zones based upon the amount of sunlight each zone receives. These three zones are the littoral, which is at the shoreline; the limnetic, which are open waters; and profundal, which is the zone where sunlight does not reach. Light usually reaches the pond’s floor in all areas; however, most lakes have all three zones. The amount of light received has a drastic effect on plants and the temperature of the water -- because of this, lakes also tend to have colder temperatures than ponds.

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