15 Best Lakes in Illinois

Written by Veronique Raes
Updated on
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Sitting in the Great Lakes region of North America, Illinois is an extremely diverse state. It is home to massive metropolises like Chicago, flat prairie lands, rivers and highlands, as well as a plenty of wildlife species.

Illinois is a total of 150,000 square kilometres, with over 6,000 square kilometres of this being made up of water. Lake Michigan is the largest body of water in the state, though there are numerous smaller lakes found throughout it. Here are the 15 best lakes in Illinois.

1. Lake Shelbyville

Lake ShelbyvilleSource: dvande / Shutterstock
Lake Shelbyville

This reservoir was created by the damming of the Kaskaskia River in Shelby County. It is a 45 square kilometre lake that is bordered by the Eagle Creek State Park and Wolf Creek State Park, as well as being home to five federal campgrounds.

Lake Shelbyville is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, as it is surrounded by the Shelbyville State Fish and Wildlife Area. Its shoreline is heavily forested, with man-made beaches found closer to the dam area.

There is a multipurpose trail, equestrian trail, a number of golf courses and marinas surrounding the lake area. Lake Shelbyville is also renowned for its fishing, holding numerous tournaments throughout the year.

2. Lake of Egypt

Lake of EgyptSource: Lucas W / Shutterstock
Lake of Egypt

Located in the Little Egypt region of , Lake of Egypt is stunning lake that is surrounded by trees and vacation homes. It was created in 1962 by the damming of the Saline River and is owned by the Southern Illinois Power Cooperative (SIPC).

Although it is a private lake, Lake of Egypt has public access where visitors can enjoy water skiing, jet skiing and swimming. Fishing is also popular here, as there are plenty of largemouth bass, bluegill, channel catfish and crappie living in the water.

The Shawnee National Forest sits on one side of the lake, offering camping facilities to those that want to enjoy the lake overnight.

3. Rend Lake

Rend LakeSource: PekinWebGuy / Shutterstock
Rend Lake

Rend Lake is a 20.9 x 4.8 kilometre lake that sits in both the counties of Franklin and Jefferson in southern Illinois. It is a lovely lake that was created by the damming of the Big Muddy River in 1962.

Part of the lake’s 260 kilometre shoreline is home to the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area, which is a top notch spot for fishing. Largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, carp and channel catfish are just some of the species that can be caught in the lake.

Rend Lake is one of the largest lakes in the state. It boasts a couple of great swimming beaches, as well as having a visitor’s centre and artisan shop where crafts can be purchased.

4. Devil’s Kitchen Lake

rainbow trout fishingSource: Martin Rudlof Photography / Shutterstock
rainbow trout fishing

Located in southern Illinois, Devil’s Kitchen Lake is a 3.3 square kilometre reservoir that was created by the damming of Grassy Creek. The lake is quite unique, as it is located on flat terrain and surrounded by deep sandstone valleys and sharp slopes.

At 27 metres, Devil’s Kitchen Lake is one of the state’s deepest lakes. It is renowned for its rainbow trout fishing, though there are also plenty of largemouth bass, crappie and bluegill living in the water.

There are three boat launch areas on the shores of the lake, though motors are limited to a maximum of 10 horsepower. Swimming is prohibited in Devil’s Kitchen Lake, with the scenery being its main draw.

5. Lake Springfield

Lake SpringfieldSource: Jay Kautz Photography / Shutterstock
Lake Springfield

Lake Springfield is a reservoir that is located in the city of Springfield. Its 92 kilometres of shoreline is home to residences, numerous public parks, boat docks and launches, and the Henson Robinson Zoo.

The lake was created in 1935 when the Spaulding Dam was built across Sugar Creek. Boating is prohibited close to the dam, but elsewhere it is allowed and is very popular.

Fishing is fantastic at Lake Springfield, as it is home to a plethora of fish species, including carp, flathead catfish, northern pike and muskellunge. Jet skiing, water skiing and swimming are also popular activities that are enjoyed in the lake.

6. Lake Mattoon

Lake MattoonSource: CMFRIESE / Flickr | CC BY
Lake Mattoon

Although Lake Mattoon was built to supply water to the city of Mattoon, it is also a great spot for fishing and boating. Bass, catfish, crappie and bluegill live in the 420 hectare lake.

Camping is often enjoyed around the 90 kilometre shoreline of the lake, while water skiing is a popular activity within the lake. There are boat ramps and docks that provide visitors access to the lake.

Lake Mattoon is easily accessible via Interstate 57, with plenty of places to park. It is a peaceful lake that is surrounded by trees and greenery.

7. Little Grassy Lake

Little Grassy LakeSource: Vladimir Kayukov / Shutterstock
Little Grassy Lake

The water at Little Grassy Lake is crystal clear and surrounded by trees, cliffs and grass. It is a lovely, peaceful lake that is known for its warm water fishing, with bluegill, largemouth bass, crappie and channel catfish being found within the lake.

The lake is run by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of its great fishing opportunities. It is also a great spot for camping, with a campground and a marina in operation during the fishing season.

Little Grassy Lake is located in Williamson County just southeast of the city of Carbondale. The reservoir was built in 1940 to provide relief support after the Great Depression.

8. Lake Decatur

Lake DecaturSource: Wright1968 / Flickr | CC BY
Lake Decatur

When created in 1922, Lake Decatur was the largest artificial lake in Illinois and was a hot spot for recreational use. Today, the 11 square kilometre lake is a popular fishing spot, with walleye, crappie and bass being caught regularly.

Lake Decatur is bordered by two of the city of Decatur’s largest parks; Nelson Park and Faries Park. The Scovill Zoo also sits along its 48 kilometre shoreline, as are five public boat ramps.

Lake Decatur is easily accessible by road, and also had five crossings running over it. The scenery while deriving over the lake is quite picturesque, as are the views of it when driving along U.S. Highway 36.

9. Clinton Lake

Clinton LakeSource: Jason Patrick Ross / Shutterstock
Clinton Lake

This 19.8 square kilometre lake is part of the Clinton Lake State Recreation Area. It is a beautiful lake that sits in the central part of Illinois near the city of Clinton, hence its name Clinton Lake.

Clinton Lake opened in 1978 and since then has become famous for being the best place to catch catfish and other game fish species. Although fishing is the main draw, other recreational activities are also popular, like hiking, picnicking and camping.

In the winter months many visitors enjoy cross country skiing and snowboarding around the 136 kilometre shoreline, while in other months, hunting is favoured. There are also some great equestrian trails found around the lake.

10. Evergreen Lake

Evergreen LakeSource: nathanmac87 / Flickr | CC BY
Evergreen Lake

Evergreen Lake is a reservoir that is located in McLean County in central Illinois. The lake is 6.5 kilometres long and 0.6 kilometres wide.

Evergreen Lake was created by the damming of Six Mile Creek and since then has become a popular recreational spot. It is home to the Evergreen Lake House, which boasts hiking trails, boat docks and ramps, and a venue that is popular for weddings.

Canoeing, fishing, paddle boarding and sailing are some of the activities that are offered at Evergreen Lake. The lake is also used for water supply purposes for nearby towns.

11. Argyle Lake

Argyle LakeSource: Crawford Brian / Flickr | CC BY
Argyle Lake

Part of the Argyle Lake State Park, Argyle Lake is a 38 hectare lake that is a popular spot for recreational purposes. Camping and hiking are offered around the lake’s shoreline, as is picnicking, and boating.

The lake is extremely picturesque, surrounded by beautiful natural scenery. It is a popular spot for a day or weekend getaway, particularly for those that love the outdoors.

To this day, Argyle Lake is home to a number of limestone quarries. Still, this has not stopped visitors from coming and enjoying the natural scenery and activities that the lake offers.

12. Lake Galena

Lake GalenaSource: DR04 (talk) (Uploads) / Wikimedia | Public domain
Lake Galena

Formed in 1974 by the damming of Smallpox Creek, Lake Galena is a picturesque lake that sits in Illinois’ Jo Daviess County. It is a reservoir in Galena Territory that gets its water from a nearby watershed.

The lake is privately managed, though it is a popular spot for boating and fishing. There is a marina along the 11 kilometres of shoreline that provides boat launching and boat rental to visitors.

The Eagle Ridge Resort & Spa sits along the lake’s shoreline, with the eighth hole of its golf course sitting at the corner of the lake. It is also home to the Thunder Bay Falls.

13. Lake Opeka

Lake Park Golf CourseSource: Lake Park Golf Course / Facebook
Lake Park Golf Course

Lake Opeka is best known for being home to the 18-hole Lake Park Golf Course. It also features a park that has sailing, fishing and boat charter facilities.

There are picnic shelters, parks and a marina around the 16 hectare lake. It is also home to the Des Plaines Yacht Club, which holds annual regattas as well as offering sailing lessons.

Lake Opeka is not a large lake, but it is a tranquil one that is quite popular in the summer months, especially amongst families. It is located right in Des Plaines, on the west side of Lee street.

14. Kinkaid Lake

Kinkaid LakeSource: Jon Kraft / Shutterstock
Kinkaid Lake

Located in Jackson County around eight kilometres from Murphysboro is the 1,110 reservoir Kinkaid Lake. The lake was built in 1968 on the edge of the Shawnee National Forest.

Kinkaid Lake is absolutely beautiful, being surrounded by sandstone bluffs, rolling hills and trees. It is the perfect place for camping, with numerous facilities being available.

Fishing is highly popular within the lake, as it is home to bluegill, largemouth bass, catfish and crappie. It is also possible to go hunting around the lake, though a permit is needed by the state.

15. Crab Orchard Lake

Crab Orchard LakeSource: Derek Richardson / Shutterstock
Crab Orchard Lake

Crab Orchard Lake is the centre of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, a wildlife refuge that is home to a plethora of migratory birds. The 28 square kilometre reservoir is fed by Little Grassy Lake and the Devil’s Kitchen Lake.

Boating, fishing and swimming are popular recreational activities enjoyed at the lake. There are also two campgrounds on the northern side of it that are often visited by families wanting a fun summer getaway.

Crab Orchard Lake was created in the 1930s for recreational purposes, as well as for flood control. Today it serves the same purposes, with many of its users being from nearby communities.

15 Best Lakes in Illinois:

  • Lake Shelbyville
  • Lake of Egypt
  • Rend Lake
  • Devil’s Kitchen Lake
  • Lake Springfield
  • Lake Mattoon
  • Little Grassy Lake
  • Lake Decatur
  • Clinton Lake
  • Evergreen Lake
  • Argyle Lake
  • Lake Galena
  • Lake Opeka
  • Kinkaid Lake
  • Crab Orchard Lake