The Dal lake is located within a catchment area covering 316 square kilometres (122 sq mi) in the Zabarwan mountain valley, in the foothills of the Himalayan range, which surrounds it on three sides. The lake, which lies to the east and north of Srinagar city covers an area of 18 square kilometres (6.9 sq mi), although including the floating gardens of lotus blooms, it is 21.2 square kilometres (8.2 sq mi) (an estimated figure of 22–24 square kilometres (8.5–9.3 sq mi) is also mentioned). The main basin draining the lake is a complex of five interconnected basins with causeways; the Nehru Park basin, the Nishat basin, the Hazratbal basin, the Nagin basin and the Barari Nambad basin. Navigational channels provide the transportation links to all the five basins.
The average elevation of the lake is 1,583 metres (5,194 ft). The depth of water varies from 6 metres (20 ft) at its deepest in Nagin lake to 2.5 metres (8.2 ft), the shallowest at Gagribal. The depth ratio between the maximum and minimum depths varies with the season between 0.29 and 0.25, which is interpreted as flat bed slope. The length of the lake is 7.44 kilometres (4.62 mi) with a width of 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi). The lake has a shore length of 15.5 kilometres (9.6 mi) and roads run all along the periphery. Irreversible changes through urban expansion and road building have been made along the shore line to accommodate for dramatic tourist growth. Two islands built in the basin have placed further restrictions on the flow of the lake and as a result, marshy lands have emerged on the peripheral zones, notably in the foothill areas of the Shankaracharya and Zaharbwan hills. These marshy lands have since been reclaimed and converted into large residential complexes.