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10 Illinois Lakes You Have to Visit

If you’re planning a relaxing summer getaway, check out Illinois lakes: the state of Illinois counts more than 2,900 lakes, but which ones are worth visiting?

From the best lakes for fishing, paddling, and swimming, to the most beautiful hiking trails overlooking the water, this guide will help you make up your mind.

For precise information on the state parks, you can examine the List of Parks in Illinois.

Keep reading to find out where to spend the perfect weekend on the lakeshores of Illinois.

The 10 Best Illinois Lakes to Check Out

When you have over 2,900 lakes in one state alone, it’s kind of hard to pick the 10 best ones to check out.

I gave it a shot anyway.

Starting with…

1. Lake Michigan

lake michigan chicago illinois

Location: It’s the giant one. You can’t miss it.

When traveling through Illinois, you cannot miss out on the stunning view that Lake Michigan offers. Lake Michigan, the second largest of the Great Lakes, touches several states and extents for almost 22 thousand sq mi.

The best way to experience Lake Michigan in Illinois is to pay a visit to Chicago and take a walk on the city’s waterfront trail.

The state’s largest city has plenty to offer in terms of touristic attractions: from museums to amusement parks, the Windy City will not disappoint you. Check out my guide on the top 50 things to do in Chicago for inspiration.

For an alternative day-at-the-lake, try one of the Lake Michigan Sightseeing Cruise rides available to locals and tourists and enjoy a different perspective on Chicago.

With the metropolis overlooking the lake, a sightseeing cruise offers the unique opportunity to observe the Chicago skyline from the water, and admire how the city lights reflect into the lake.

2. Rend Lake

Photo Credit: edcrowle

Location: 11981 Rend City Road Benton IL 62812

Looking for fun activities in a stunning setting by the lake water? I recommend planning a field trip to Rend Lake.

With its 18,900 acres of water and just as many acres of luscious green surroundings, Rend Lake has something to offer to everyone.

This is a great location to camp (there are 5 campsites along the lake shores and around 800 camper spots available), spend a day by the beach, or pack your lunch and have a relaxing picnic surrounded by nature.

Distinguished for its laid-back atmosphere and soothing natural scenery, Rend Lake is the perfect spot for those looking to take a weekend off, kick back, and slow down.

Rend Lake is also a great destination for outdoor sports enthusiasts: for the golfers, a 27-hole championship golf course is available on the premises. You can also try kayaking, canoeing, and even take archery classes.

3. Sangchris Lake State Park

camping

Location: 9898 Cascade Rd, Rochester, IL 62563, United States

Sangchris Lake is one of the local fishermen’s favorite spots. The lush greenery of the State Park opens up on the Sangchris lakeshore, offering plenty of space along the water for fishing.

The pristine environment with little to no air pollution also makes Sangchris Lake a great spot for astrophotography, with the milky way well visible on clear days.

A piece of advice: setting a long exposure while fishing can combine two great activities and result in amazing night photography.

Blessed with emerald green water and gorgeous sunsets, the lake is ideal for those seeking tranquility and enjoying nature in the peaceful scenery.

Hiking lovers will explore the landscapes of the Sangchris Lake State Park through the various hiking and biking trails that venture into the woods.

Swimming in Sangchris Lake is not allowed, however, one can hire a pedalo and still enjoy the view from the center of the lake.

4. Lake Murphysboro State Park

Location: 52 Cinder Hill Dr, Murphysboro, IL 62966, United States

The star-shaped Lake Murphysboro boasts a gorgeous natural setting and diverse wildlife.

The State Park’s unique ecosystem is composed of rolling hills surrounded by dense woods overlooking the lake water.

While Lake Murphysboro is the main body of water, the park also features the so-called Little Lake, a minor lake reachable by the hiking trails heading north.

Lake Murphysboro area offers plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as less demanding activities like picnicking, camping, or archery.

While minimalistic camping is always an option, for those that don’t plan on packing lunch, a concession stand supplied with food and beverages is available by the lakeshore, close to the boat docks.

5. Argyle Lake State Park

fishing spots

Location: 640 Argyle Park Rd, Colchester, IL 62326, United States

With hiking trails winding through a 1,700-acre park, Argyle Lake is one of the best lakes in Illinois for backpackers, hikers, and nature lovers in general.

The area also offers plenty of fishing opportunities: among the most widespread species you can find in the lake, there are Channel Catfish, Largemouth Bass, Muskellunge, and Rainbow trout.

The best time to schedule a trip to Argyle Lake is around September/October: Argyle Lake State Park comes alive in autumn, the foliage time when the woods and rolling hills start turning deep red and warm orange.

The area is also a local’s favorite spot for picnicking, canoeing, and relaxing by the water in the spring and summer. In wintertime, it’s possible to engage in sledding and snowmobiling, making Argyle Lake a perfect destination year-round.

6. Ferne Clyffe State Park

Ferne Clyffe

Location: 90 Goreville Rd, Goreville, IL 62939, United States

The 16-acre Ferne Clyffe Lake is located in the heart of the Ferne Clyffe State Park.

While a panoramic hiking trail follows the lakeshore for over 1 mile, the natural surroundings also offer incredible scenery and dramatic views.

The woods surrounding the lake are characterized by a multitude of small waterfalls and the presence of interesting rock formations.

Swimming and boating are not allowed, but this doesn’t mean the lake isn’t worth paying a visit.

The whole area is blessed with stunning vistas and is worth spending at least a day or two exploring the many trails.

From the best panoramas overlooking the lake, check out the Lakeview Picnic Shelter and Blackjack Oak Trail.

If you’re interested in the peculiar geological features, make a plan to visit Hawks’ Cave and the Big Rocky Hollow trail.

A well-maintained campsite is available on the premises, the Ferne Clyffe State Park Campsite Loop. For those who intend on exploring the area, I recommend establishing a base there for a couple of days.

7. Lake Shelbyville

hiking illinois

Location: Lake, Shelbyville, IL 62565, United States

Lake Shelbyville is one of the largest and more popular Illinois lakes. Boasting more than 11 thousand acres of water, and surrounded by a stunning natural backdrop, Lake Shelbyville attracts locals and tourists every year.

This is one of the best places to camp, with over 1 thousand campsites available. Whether you’re looking for a simple spot to pitch your tent, or you need a full hookup for your van, Lake Shelbyville’s many campgrounds have you covered.

All kinds of fun activities are available on-site, especially during the summer, when one can take advantage of the three beaches and cool down in the clear water lake. Boating is also allowed.

Several hiking trails dive into the forest surrounding the lakes, and some paths overlook Lake Shelbyville, offering incomparable views over the water. The most popular hiking trails are the General Dacey trail and the Chief Illini Trail.

For those looking to bike, you won’t have to go alone: a guided biking ride, the Loop Lake Shelbyville bike ride is available and includes three options of different difficulty and length ( 22 miles, 46 miles, or 65 miles)

Do you own a horse? Wolf Creek State Park includes a horse camp, offering the possibility of hitting the many trails on horseback for a truly wonderful experience.

If you’re in the area around Columbus Day, don’t miss out on the yearly hot air balloon show that fills the sky over Lake Shelbyville in celebration of the day.

8. Lake Jacksonville

Location: New Lake Rd, Jacksonville IL 62650

This 500-acre man-made lake boasts 21 miles of shoreline and its emerald green waters are home to plenty of fishing resources such as hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow bullhead, channel catfish, white crappie, and muskie.

The natural backdrop is one of pristine and peaceful greenery, and since the Lake Jacksonville environment overall is man-made, there is no shortage of fishing spots.

These and more are what make Lake Jacksonville a paradise for fishermen and water sports lovers.

Water activities such as powerboating, water skiing, swimming, and of course fishing are permitted.

Several hiking and biking paths run through the area surrounding Lake Jacksonville Camping and trails for walking and biking are available, as well as many campsites for both tents and caravans.

9. Lake Galena

illinois lakes

Location: 444 Eagle Ridge Dr Galena, Illinois.

Galena Country is an unlimited playground for lovers of the great outdoors and fishing. Among the many species of fish found in the lake are bass, walleye, bluegill, crappie, catfish, and tiger muskellunge (muskie).

The lake is located within Galena Country, an ideal destination for summer and winter sports enthusiasts.

During the summer, waterways, and trails of moderate difficulty, bike trails, bird watching opportunities, and star photography.

During the winter season, the fun includes skiing, skating, tobogganing, ice skating, and much more.

I suggest camping at one of the campgrounds located near the lake and taking at òeast a couple of days to explore miles of hiking and biking baths, through rolling hills and dramatic cliffs.

A favorite activity in the Galena area is boating on Lake Galena. Visitors are welcome to paddle on a pontoon boat, paddleboat, kayak, or canoe.

10. Chain O Lakes State Park

wildlife illinois

Location: 8916 Wilmot Rd, Spring Grove, IL 60081, United States

Chain O Lakes State Park comprises not only one large lake but a multitude of interconnected smaller lakes.

This unique setting makes the park one of the favorite Illinois lakes for boaters, anglers, and skiers. Chain O Lakes State Park boasts the largest concentration of natural lakes in Illinois.

Among the most well-known and popular among hikers and campers are the three natural lakes, Grass, Marie, and Nippersink, connected to the other seven lakes. Bluff, Fox, Pistakee, Channel, Petite, Catherine, and Redhead, by the Fox River. The lakes form the Chain of Lakes.

The park is a favorite spot for birdwatching and observing a wide variety of wildlife.

Near the lakes, you can encounter white-tailed deer, ground squirrels, rabbits, squirrels, mink, possums, skunks, foxes, badgers, beavers, coyotes, and marmots.

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Narrowing Down the Illinois Lakes

From 2,900 down to 10, I think I did a pretty good job at picking out some of the best lakes Illinois has to offer.

Do you want to find out more about the best lakes in the US?

Check out my guides on the 10 best lakes in Indiana, Arkansas, and Tennesee.

Go Out and Explore