There are few things in life that give you the feeling of truly experiencing summer the way a big crisp lake does. Sunlight warming your skin, boats gently bobbing on the waves, the buzz of a passing jet-ski, maybe some gulls circling overhead. It’s truly the idyllic scene that we all want to be in during these midyear months.
But Illinois is home to 155 lakes, each with its own distinct character and its own attractions drawing people to them every year. With so many to choose from, how do you decide where to go for your weekend getaway? Which ones are good for fishing? Boating? Swimming? Which are uncrowded, which are family-friendly, which have the best natural views?
To help you out, here’s a breakdown of just some of the many attractions of the lakes in northern Illinois.
Fantastic Fishing Spots
If anyone loves lakes, it’s fishermen. And when it comes to fishing, the lakes of northern Illinois have plenty to offer.
There are a wide variety of species out there in the waters of Illinois—everything including bass, sunfish, catfish, walleye, perch, pike, salmon, carp, and gar. And as any fisherman worth their salt knows, every catch starts with being in the right place at the right time. Different fish reside in different kinds of waterways, with the availability of different types of fish differing based on season, region, depth, water chemistry, and other factors.
What this means for you is that there’s an endless number of distinct fishing experiences to be had. Shore fishing and boat fishing provide totally different ways to enjoy your time on the lake and catch a few fish. Different lakes can be better suited for one or the other though—even just the fifteen lakes within the Chain o’ Lakes have widely divergent characteristics. Lake Marie, which has some of the best fishing in the Chain, has a depth of 14 to 35 feet and boat ramps on the northern and eastern shores, so you can get out there and fish for the plentiful bass, pike, walleye, and crappie that lake has to offer. Fox Lake also has dozens of boat ramps and abundant walleye, bass, perch, and crappie. Bluff Lake and Petite Lake, on the other hand, are great for shore fishing for pan fish. And when winter rolls around, ice fishing again allows for an entirely different experience.
Fishing is also a great activity to get the family involved in—it teaches kids patience and is a perfect way to get them involved in the outdoors. These lakes are especially well-suited for fishing trips including children, with safe, accessible, family-friendly fishing spots available.
Abundant Natural Life
Fish are far from the only living things inhabiting the lakes of northern Illinois though. Many of the lakes also feature forest preserves and other natural wonders around them, and almost always these bodies of water are bastions for all manner of animals.
For example Wolf Lake, just on the Illinois-Indiana border between Chicago and Gary, is home to all sorts of wildlife. In 2002, biologists gathered here for a BioBlitz, in which they found over 2,000 species including otters, endangered squirrels, and a new type of beetle.
Griswold Lake is less than an hour’s drive from Chicago and features red fox, mink, white-tailed deer, coyote, herons, and waterfowl. Hunting permits are available for hunting the deer, and the ten miles of trails around the lake allow for scenic walks as you take in the wildlife.
Chain o’ Lakes State Park has, in addition to foxes, minks, badgers, and beavers, over 200 species of bird, making it a prime spot for birdwatching hobbyists. Shabbona Lake southwest of DeKalb has over 200 species as well, and Baker’s Lake in Barrington features rookery where a birdwatcher can see herons, egrets, cormorants, and various other waterfowl.
Boating and Water Sports
The lakes of northern Illinois also provide ample opportunities for boating, swimming, jet-skiing, water-skiing, and other activities.
Fox Lake, as previously mentioned, has dozens of boat ramps allowing easy access for any visitors hoping to get some time boating on the lake. It also connects to many of the other lakes in the Chain o’ Lakes, including Grass Lake, Lake Catherine, Channel Lake, Bluff Lake, Lake Marie, Pistakee Lake, Spring Lake, Petite Lake, Redhead Lake, and Brandenburg Lake. And the Fox River flows out of it as well, so there’s plenty of opportunity to sail through many different bodies of water, taking in all sorts of sights and stopping at any of the dozens of marinas and lakeside restaurants and bars that populate the shores.
What kind of boating is permitted varies from lake to lake though. Check the rules for each one—some have limits of ten horsepower, while others have no horsepower limit but don’t allow wakes, and still others simply have no wake zones in parts of the lake. Based on these rules and the size of the lake, some lakes will be better for motorboats, while others make a good place to do some sailing.
These are important things to take into account depending on what other activities you plan to do as well. A small lake with a strict limitation on boats and water-skiing will be a safer place to take your kids swimming and a quieter place to do some fishing. If you want to take your jet-ski or speedboat for a spin though, you should confirm in advance that this activity is allowed at that particular lake.
The lakes of northern Illinois all have so many great things about them and so many fun activities to do, but each lake has its own set of positive characteristics, so be sure to find the one that best suits the experience that you’re looking for.
The lakes do all have at least one thing in common though: we love them and we want them to stay intact for future generations to enjoy. And a big part of keeping the lakes healthy and accessible is protecting them from shoreline erosion. To that end, it’s important that owners of shoreline property have seawalls installed to protect the shore from the elements and from wakes of passing boats. If you’re a lakeside or riverside property owner looking for seawalls in McHenry, IL, give the professionals at Seawalls Unlimited a call at (815) 331-8830. With our help, your property will be safe from the water, and the water will be safe for swimming, boating, and fishing in for years to come.
2350 W. Rte. 120
McHenry, IL 60051