10 Top-Rated Lakes in Illinois (2023)
Illinois is popularly known for its flat prairie grasslands that also give it the nickname, ‘The Prairie State.’ However, do you know there is something Illinois has in abundance and best form? And they are the Illinois Lakes, Ponds, and Reservoirs. The State of Illinois is blessed with over 2,900 lakes, 84,000 ponds, and three large reservoirs. Out of its total 150,000 square kilometers area, 6,000 square kilometers alone is consumed by water bodies. While Lake Michigan is the largest water body found in the State, there are numerous other wonderful substitutes as well.
While you plan to spend your summers in Illinois, one best activity here is to spot and explore lakes. These water bodies aren’t alone observable but offer plenty of recreational opportunities as well. Where on a sunny morning, you can access the mid-western beaches here; on a quiet afternoon, you can go fishing or boating. Not only that but there are several campsites nearby the Lake that offers to make a weekend getaway out of it. So, without any further ado, let’s jump straight into learning about the ten most beautiful lakes to explore in Illinois.
10 Top-Rated Lakes in Illinois
1. Lake Michigan
Illinois sits in the Great Lakes region of North America and its travel itinerary is incomplete without including Lake Michigan. Illinois borders the Southwestern part of Lake Michigan, with Chicago housing its shore. While visitors can access numerous beaches, each one of them infuses no less than an Atlantic feel. The biggest Lake Michigan draw in Chicago includes Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Lincoln Park beaches, and the Illinois Beach State Park. Watching the radiant Chicago skyline while boating over Lake Michigan is one popular activity here. From Jet Skiing to paddle boating, dinner cruise, or cycling on the Lakefront, there is a lot to do in and around Lake Michigan.
2. Lake Shelbyville
Another top-rated lake in Illinois, Lake Shelbyville, attracts nearly 4 million visitors annually. It is a human-made lake formed by the damming of the Kaskaskia River. Shelbyville encompasses a whopping 11,000 acres of area, offering 172 miles of shoreline. It is a popular spot for boating enthusiasts with three marinas and several launchers. Water sports and fishing are some popular activities at Shelbyville. Though if you aren’t into aquatic sports, the Lake also offers hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, and camping opportunities. More than 1000 campsites range from full hook up to tenting sites.
3. Lake Galena
While we talk about Lake Galena, people often refer to it as the one in Pennsylvania, though Illinois has its Galena as well. Located in Jo Daviess County, Lake Galena is a picturesque lake. It was formed back in 1974 by the damming of Smallpox Creek and today is a popular recreational spot in the territory. It is privately managed by the Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa, which sits along with the Lake’s shoreline. Galena is operational for fishing and boating activities, especially if you want to do that in peace. Because it is privately owned, there is never much crowd around the Lake. In spring, while the entire surrounding woodland turns into hues of orange, red, and yellow, even sitting around is a delight.
4. Argyle Lake
Located in the west-central part of the State, Argyle Lake is a must-visit when in Illinois. It comprises 93 acres of the area featuring a maximum depth of 34.6 feet. It is quite popular amongst anglers, and as a result, professional and passionate fishermen totally adore this site. Visitors can even launch their boat here, however ensuring safety lake restricts boat speeds. Another great feature of Argyle Lake are the forested campsites nearby. There are nearly 159 campsites, all equipped with functional amenities. You can also step around for hiking and bird watching. Do not forget to take your camera along.
5. Clinton Lake
Located 30 miles south of Bloomington and 30 miles west of Champaign, Clinton Lake is simply gorgeous. It is basically within east-central Illinois, occupying 4,900 acres while featuring a 1,000-foot sand beach. While Clinton Lake allows boating throughout the year, swimming here is restricted from Memorial Day through Labour Day. You may also try your hands on angling, catching fishes including bluegill, perch, walleye, channel catfish, and more. Clinton Lake is a part of Illinois State Park, and thus, recreational activities here never actually come to an end. You can hike, bike, picnic, or camp around all year round (except during the firearm deer season).
6. Lake of Egypt
Lake of Egypt is a private lake located in the Little Egypt region of Illinois. This beautiful water body is surrounded by vacation homes and lush woodlands, providing it the right atmosphere. Shawnee National Forest sits right beside the Lake of Egypt, offering endless recreational options to visitors. One of the popular activities here is overnight lakeside camping. Also, despite being privately owned, the Lake of Egypt offers public access. Here you can enjoy water sports, including swimming, water skiing, and jet skiing. Apart from that, fishing is also a popular activity here.
7. Lake Le Aqua Na
When it comes to swimming, everyone wants a clean and clear lake. And if you are in Illinois, you will definitely find one such suitable place. Lake Le Aqua Na is claimed as the cleanest Lake in Illinois. This 40-acre human-made Lake, though, totally accounts for its filtration systems for cleanliness and purity. It is also one of the very few Illinois lakes that use device methods for keeping the water clean. For getting into the water, individuals can access the beach. However, if swimming isn’t really your interest, you can also boat along its wooded shoreline that goes 1.4 miles long. Or indulge in fishing (It might surprise you, but they even have a separate Children’s fishing pond).
8. Devil’s Kitchen Lake
Devil’s Kitchen Lake isn’t actually a lake but a beautiful reservoir. Known for its uniqueness, it is surrounded by deep sandstone valleys and sharp slopes, laying over flat terrain. Swimming here is prohibited though there are three boating launches in the area. Anglers can try their fishing skills with plenty of crappies, bluegill, large and smallmouth bass options. Accept fishermen, the Devil’s Kitchen Lake is not much populated; thus, it is a great spot for a peaceful day. The natural scenery around is one of its main draws.
9. Lake Mattoon
Located nearly 12 miles southwest of Mattoon city, Lake Mattoon is a must-visit. One can easily access it via Interstate 57, followed by several parking spots. It is one of the top-rated lakes in Illinois, popular for boating and fishing recreation. While boaters have to take a permit, there is no power limit on the Lake, giving them a free hand. It is one popular draw for water-skiers who want to turn their skills on a little adventures side. In this 420-hectare Lake, there are countless fishes, including bass, bluegill, catfish, and crappie. Despite a fishing permit, anyone can fish here independently. Surrounded by parks and greenery, it is one peaceful place to be at.
10. Little Grassy Lake
Little Grassy Lake is a 1,200-acre reservoir located in southern Illinois. It is one of the crystal-clear lakes in Illinois, ideal for swimming. Though accept the beach location, and for swimmers below 18, swimming here is not recommended. Little Grassy Lake is also one popular stop for campers, boaters, and sportsmen. From primitive camping to full-service camping and boat rental, the sight is well equipped with everything. There’s also one fully renovated concession/bait shop nearby selling cold beverages, ice creams, food items, ice cream, firewood, and other necessities—visitors who have some extra time in hand and hike in the nearby woodland.