Lake Huron, Lake Ontario, Lake Michigan, Lake Erie and Lake Superior, collectively, are called the “Great Lakes.” And why not? They could just as easily be called the Spectacular Lakes or the Marvelous Lakes!

If you’ve learned about the Great Lakes in school, you’ve likely learned a special way of remembering their names. We call these techniques “mnemonic” (pronounced “ni-mon-ick”) devices.

One of the most common mnemonic devices for remembering the Great Lakes is HOMES:

Huron Ontario

If you can remember the word HOMES, you can remember that the names of the five Great Lakes are Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Superior.

The Great Lakes and their connecting rivers and channels make up the largest fresh surface water system in the world. In fact, they’re so big that astronauts can see them from the moon!

Located along the United States-Canada border, the Great Lakes cover more than 90,000 square miles of surface area. So how much fresh water is that? A lot!

Experts estimate that the Great Lakes hold more than 6 quadrillion gallons of water. That’s about 22 percent of the world’s fresh surface water supply and about 90 percent of the United States’ supply.

If you poured out all the water in the Great Lakes evenly across the lower 48 United States, the water would be about 9.5 feet deep.

Although the Great Lakes consist of five separate lakes, together they form one interconnected body of fresh water. Connecting the interior of the United States and Canada to the Atlantic Ocean, water flows from Lake Superior to Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

It then flows south to Lake Erie before following the Niagara River over Niagara Falls and into Lake Ontario. The St. Lawrence River eventually takes Lake Ontario’s flow to the Atlantic Ocean.

The size of the Great Lakes area can be hard to comprehend. In addition to the five Great Lakes themselves, many rivers and thousands of smaller lakes — called “inland lakes” — are part of the system. More than 35,000 islands can be found in the area, as well as more than 10,000 miles of coastline.

The sheer size of the Great Lakes means that they behave more like inland seas than what most people think of as lakes. In fact, people can even surf on parts of the Great Lakes if the weather conditions are right!

Children who see one of the Great Lakes for the first time sometimes mistake them for oceans because they’re so big. There are plenty of ways to have fun in, on and around the Great Lakes. In addition to swimming, boating and fishing, there are many fun places to visit, including lighthouses and neat lakeside towns.


22 Join the Discussion

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars  (23 votes, avg. 4.52 out of 5)
    • Hi, Rebecca! Thanks so much for letting us know what you thought about this Wonder of the Day®! We appreciate your comment and hope you’ll keep visiting Wonderopolis to learn new things and explore different Wonders! :-)

  1. This is the BEST wonder EVER!!!! I love the Great Lakes so sooo much. Our family has a boathouse on a bay off of Lake Huron and it is so much fun because the water is so calm. So, you can water ski, or go tubing, and this year, our friends got a water trampoline!!! It is so much fun to go boating on the Great Lakes.

    I think that tomorrow’s wonder will be about skunks because of how much they stink.

    • A water trampoline sounds like LOADS of fun, Meredith! Thank you for commenting on today’s Wonder and for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • What a nice thing to say, :D! We think it’s AWESOME when our Wonder Friends try to guess the next day’s Wonder from the clues! We’ll all have to visit Wonderopolis again tomorrow to see if you and Meredith were right in guessing about skunks! :-)

  2. Hey, Wonderopolis!
    I just love the Great Lakes!
    Especially Lake Superior!! :)
    Some of my relatives live in a town very near the shores of Lake Superior. It is so awesome to watch the barges in the lake! The Great Lakes are awesome and I love the funny myths about them! I remember when I was younger, I would think the lakes were oceans, because you can’t see to the other side!
    One more thing: I loved the video! I think that I saw that movie at a science museum we have near us. It was awesome!
    I can’t wait for tomorrow’s wonder!
    ;) :) :0

    • We really appreciate your AMAZING comments, Anna B! Thank you for sharing your Lake Superior memories with us today! :-)

  3. This is my first visit to this website and I think its awesome! On top of the fact that I learned some stuff about the Great Lakes! :)
    I am a preservice teacher looking for fun websites for students and stumbled across this one through Thinkfinity. Love it! I am bookmarking this website right now! :)

    • We’re excited to welcome you to Wonderopolis, Jessica! We’re also so happy to hear that you learned something new from this Wonder of the Day®! There is a new Wonder to explore each day in Wonderopolis, so please visit again soon and let us know what you think! We appreciate your comments! :-)

    • Hello, Moa! Thanks for stopping by this Wonder of the Day® and leaving us a comment to let us know you were here! We hope you had FUN learning about the Great Lakes! We appreciate your thoughts! :-)

  4. Oh is that Anna B?
    Then she must be in my class cause she’s my BFF! (To ME)
    Anyways I love learning here.
    It’s not hard to understand and I just cant stop looking at this AWESOME SITE WITH THE WONDEROPOLISERS!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Hello, Moa! You’ll have to ask Anna if that is her comment, OK? We try really hard to respect the privacy of Wonder Friends who comment here in Wonderopolis if they choose not to use their full names! Thank you SO MUCH for letting us know you love learning in Wonderopolis…we that ROCKS and so do YOU! :-)

    • You’re one talented Wonder Friend, Isaac! How very cool! We hope you’ll come back to visit us soon for more WONDERing! :)

    • WOOHOO, we are thrilled that you shared your comment and you learned something new with us today, Kevin! We hope you’ll come back to visit us again soon! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What’s so great about the Great Lakes?
  • What is a mnemonic device?
  • How much of the world’s fresh surface water is contained in the Great Lakes?

Wonder Gallery

Try It Out

The Great Lakes area is also home to the second largest falls in the world. When water flows from the four upper Great Lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron and Erie) into the Niagara River, it travels over Niagara Falls before emptying into Lake Ontario.

Want to experience Niagara Falls for yourself? Don’t worry… you don’t need to travel. Just visit these sites for a virtual Niagara Falls experience!


Still Wondering

Visit Smithsonian’s History Explorer’s Inland Waterways interactive lesson to learn more about the vast system of rivers and lakes that helped people settle the United States.


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