Elk Lake is positioned between Lake Skegemog and East Grand Traverse Bay adjacent to the Village of Elk Rapids in Antrim County. It is the last in a long chain of 14 lakes called the Elk River Chain of Lakes. Elk Lake discharges into East Bay via the Elk River, contributing approximately 60% of the water that flows into Grant Traverse Bay (the annual average flow is about 763 CFS).
A dam was first constructed on the Elk River in the 1860’s. The present dam impounded most of the original river channel and raised the water level in Elk and Skegemog Lakes about five feet above pre-dam conditions. Upstream of the dam, the rocky bottom of the flooded river channel is visible when the water is clear. Unfortunately, the dam blocks fish migration between the Chain of Lakes and Lake Michigan. However, the dam does provide benefits in that it is a barrier that prevents invasive species from moving upstream into the Chain, such as sea lamprey. To this day, the dam is still used to produce hydroelectric power.
Elk Lake is Michigan’s second deepest inland lake (~195’) and 14th largest lake in terms of surface area (~8,200 acres). It is an oligotrophic lake, which means that it has low biological productivity, is nutrient poor, but with abundant dissolved oxygen throughout its depths. Because of Elk Lake’s oligotrophic status and absence of soft sediments conducive to aquatic plant growth, aquatic plants are not common. High levels of calcium carbonate in its waters impart a characteristic emerald green color in summer.
Public access sites include an MDNR boat launch, county and township parks, many road endings and pedestrian access easements, and numerous parcels owned by the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. Extensive and important wetlands are found on the northeast shore near Kewadin, and on the south end adjacent to Battle Creek. Elk Lake’s named tributaries include Battle Creek and Williamsburg Creek.
The fisheries of Elk Lake were recently thrust into the spotlight when it was found that a unique lake trout strain inhabited the lake. MDNR fisheries biologists continue to study the Elk Lake lake trout to better understand its life history, particularly its success at deep-water spawning, and how this strain’s characteristics might benefit lake trout populations in the Great Lakes.
Golden-brown benthic algae on the bottom of Elk Lake.
Monitoring and Research:
Elk Lake is monitored every three years through the Watershed Council’s Comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring (CWQM) Program for dissolved oxygen, specific conductivity, pH, nitrate-nitrogen, total nitrogen, total phosphorus, and chloride levels.
Water transparency, chlorophyll-a, and water temperature are also monitored in Elk Lake each summer by volunteers as part of the Watershed Council’s Volunteer Lake Monitoring (VLM) Program.
The Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed Plan Implementation Team meets regularly and is working to protect the lakes in the Chain.
Report of the 2017 Sandbar Pollution Study – Prepared by Becky Norris for the Three Lakes Association, the Torch Lake Protection Alliance, and the Elk-Skegemog Lake Association
See additional resources on our Aquavist page.
View an interactive map of Elk Lake, including public access sites, at Michigan Fishweb.
A wide variety of maps for this area are available online at the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) Data Resources page.
Information about Threatened, Endangered, and Special Concern species in this lake’s watershed is available on the Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) website.
Learn about safely eating fish from this lake in the Michigan Fish Consumption Advisory.
|Comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring (CWQM)
|Bass Lake, Beals Lake, Bear River, Ben-Way Lake, Birch Lake, Black Lake, Black Lake Watershed, Black River, Boyne River, Burt Lake, Burt Lake Watershed, Carp River Watershed, Cheboygan River, Cheboygan River Watershed, Clam Lake, Crooked Lake, Crooked River, Deer Lake, Douglas Lake, Duncan-Grass Bay Watershed, Elk Lake, Elk River, Elk River Chain Of Lakes, Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed, Ellsworth Lake, Grand Traverse Bay Watershed, Hanley Lake, Huffman Lake, Intermediate Lake, Lake Bellaire, Lake Charlevoix, Lake Charlevoix Watershed, Lancaster Lake, Larks Lake, Little Traverse Bay Watershed, Long Lake, Marion Lake, Mud Lake, Mullett Lake, Mullett Lake Watershed, Munro Lake, Nowland Lake, Paradise Lake, Pickerel-Crooked Lakes Watershed, Round Lake, Scotts Lake, Silver Lake, Six Mile Lake, Skegemog Lake, Spring Lake, St. Clair Lake, Susan Lake, Thayer Lake, Thumb Lake, Torch Lake, Twin Lake, Walloon Lake, Walloon Lake Watershed, Wildwood Lake, Wilson Lake
|bass-lake beals-lake bear-river ben-way-lake birch-lake black-lake black-lake-watershed black-river boyne-river burt burt-lake-watershed carp-river-watershed cheboygan-river-rivers-streams cheboygan-river-watershed clam-lake crooked-lake crooked-river deer-lake douglas-lake duncan-grass-bay-watershed elk-lake elk-river elk-river-chain-of-lakes elk-river-chain-of-lakes-watershed ellsworth-lake grand-traverse-bay-watershed hanley-lake huffman-lake intermediate-lake lake-bellaire lake-charlevoix lake-charlevoix-watershed lancaster-lake larks-lake little-traverse-bay-watershed long-lake marion-lake mud-lake mullett-lake mullett-lake-watershed munro-lake nowland-lake paradise-lake pickerel-crooked-lakes-watershed round-lake scotts-lake silver-lake six-mile-lake skegemog-lake spring-lake st-clair-lake susan-lake thayer-lake thumb-lake torch-lake twin-lake walloon-lake walloon-lake-watershed wildwood-lake wilson-lake inland-lakes rivers-streams watersheds
|2022 Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed Management Plan
|Beals Lake, Ben-Way Lake, Clam Lake, EGLE/EPA Approved Watershed Management Plans, Elk Lake, Elk River, Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed, Ellsworth Lake, Hanley Lake, Intermediate Lake, Lake Bellaire, Scotts Lake, Six Mile Lake, Skegemog Lake, St. Clair Lake, Torch Lake, Wilson Lake
|beals-lake ben-way-lake clam-lake watershed-plan-approved elk-lake elk-river elk-river-chain-of-lakes-watershed ellsworth-lake hanley-lake intermediate-lake lake-bellaire scotts-lake six-mile-lake skegemog-lake st-clair-lake torch-lake wilson-lake inland-lakes rivers-streams watersheds
|2017 Elk Lake Shoreline Survey
|Elk Lake, Elk River Chain Of Lakes, Shoreline Surveys
|elk-lake elk-river-chain-of-lakes shoreline-surveys inland-lakes
|2015 Elk Lake Aquatic Vegetation Survey
|Aquatic Plant Surveys, Elk Lake
|aquatic-plant-surveys elk-lake inland-lakes
|2014-2015 Elk River Invasive Species Monitoring Project Report
|Beals Lake, Ben-Way Lake, Clam Lake, Elk Lake, Elk River, Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed, Ellsworth Lake, Hanley Lake, Intermediate Lake, Invasive Species Monitoring, Lake Bellaire, Scotts Lake, Six Mile Lake, Skegemog Lake, St. Clair Lake, Torch Lake, Wilson Lake
|beals-lake ben-way-lake clam-lake elk-lake elk-river elk-river-chain-of-lakes-watershed ellsworth-lake hanley-lake intermediate-lake invasive-species-monitoring lake-bellaire scotts-lake six-mile-lake skegemog-lake st-clair-lake torch-lake wilson-lake inland-lakes rivers-streams watersheds
|2011 Elk-Skegemog Lakes Profile CWQM
|Comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring, Elk Lake, Skegemog Lake
|comprehensive-water-quality-monitoring elk-lake skegemog-lake inland-lakes
|2010 Elk River Chain of Lakes Profile CWQM
|Ben-Way Lake, Clam Lake, Comprehensive Water Quality Monitoring, Elk Lake, Elk River Chain Of Lakes, Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed, Ellsworth Lake, Hanley Lake, Intermediate Lake, Six Mile Lake, Skegemog Lake, St. Clair Lake, Torch Lake, Wilson Lake
|ben-way-lake clam-lake comprehensive-water-quality-monitoring elk-lake elk-river-chain-of-lakes elk-river-chain-of-lakes-watershed ellsworth-lake hanley-lake intermediate-lake six-mile-lake skegemog-lake st-clair-lake torch-lake wilson-lake inland-lakes watersheds
Project Summary During the summers of 2016 and 2017, the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council led a coordinated effort to conduct a shoreline survey for 15 Lakes in the Elk River Chain of Lakes Watershed. The surveys were meant to document conditions that could impact water quality, including the