What to do in Chain O' Lakes State Park

*This information was provided by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources*

Located in the heart of Illinois' largest concentration of natural lakes, Chain O Lakes State Park is a water oriented recreation area with outstanding opportunities for boaters, anglers and skiers. The park borders three natural lakes - Grass, Marie and Nippersink - and the Fox River that connects the other seven lakes (Bluff, Fox, Pistakee, Channel, Petite, Catherine and Redhead) that make up the Chain. In addition, the park contains a 44-acre lake within its boundaries.

The 2,793 acre state park and adjoining 3,230 acre conservation area are located in the northeastern corner of Illinois in both McHenry and Lake counties. The park is 60 miles northwest of Chicago, 20 miles west of Lake Michigan and only 4 miles south of the Illinois/Wisconsin border. With nearly 6,500 acres of water and 488 miles of shoreline on the chain, Chain O Lakes State Park is the heart of water wonderland.

History-The Chain O Lakes area was inhabited by central Algonquian Tribes when Europeans first arrived in the Mid-1600's. The predominant tribes in the region at that time were the Miami, Mascouten and Potawatomi. These Native American groups led a semi-mobile lifestyle and grew corn, hunted, fished and gathered wild plant foods.

Joliet and Marquette passed through what today is Chain O Lakes State Park in 1673, as they traveled the Fox River during their Illinois explorations. French trappers and traders were the first Europeans to explore the area. The first European settlement was at Fort Hill, near Mundelein, a large mound rising out of the prairie, formerly a lookout point for the Indians.

Chain O Lakes became a state park in 1945, when the State of Illinois made an initial purchase of 840 acres. In the 1930's a Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp became the Chain O Lakes Conservation Area. This land was incorporated into the state park in 1957. The farm at the park was purchased by the Department of Conservation in 1969. The property was originally owned by the Stevens family, farmers who received the land under a land grant in 1843.

Camping-The park has Class A-Premium areas (Honey Suckle Hollow and Fox Den) with a total of 151 sites for $20 each per night; three Class B-Premium camp areas (Turner Lake South, Prairie View and Mud Lake East) with a combined total of 87 sites for $12 each per night; and we have one youth group camp area (Mud Lake West) for 150 youths, fee $2 per person minimum $20 per night. Maximum stay for campsites is 14 nights in a 30 day period. A responsible adult (18 years of age or older) acquiring a permit must have a camp shelter and set up at the time of registration. All campers must have a permit and also bring their own firewood, no one is allowed to pick up wood in the park. Alcohol is prohibited in the campgrounds. Limited campsites are available for reserving.

Rent A Cabin-Three cabins consisting of two bunk beds and a double bed, can be rented for $45 per night (which inlcudes a $5 non-refundable reservation fee). Equipment provided: electric, table & six chairs, picnic table, cooking/fire grill,dust pan, broom and fire extinguisher. No restroom facilities are provided in cabin. Dogs and other pets are not allowed at cabin site. Reservations are recommended.

Rent A Tent-If you're a novice camper, Chain O' Lakes has one Rent-A-Camp unit available. The camp site comes with a tent, cots, fire extinguisher, light, broom, dust pan, charcoal grill, fire ring and picnic table. No dogs or other pets are allowed at tent site. A maximum of eight people may rent the tent, the cost for tent rental is $32. A $5 non-refundable reservation fee is required.

Reservations-A fee of $5 plus the first night's camping fee is required to reserve a campsite. Rent A Tent/Cabin, requires a $5 fee plus first night's rental. Youth groups require $5 fee, camping fee is collected at time of arrival. Picnic shelter reservations are $25. Reservations are accepted by mail beginning on the first working day in January each year. February 1, you may apply by mail, in person, or by telephone (with a credit card Master Card or Visa). Phone reservations are taken Monday through Friday 8 a.m. - 4 p.m. only. All reservations must be received by the park office at least 7 days prior to your camp date.

Natural Features-The land making up Chain O Lakes State Park is chiefly fresh waterbog over deep peat deposits. The river bluff areas and gently sloping morainal hills rise to 200 feet, and were deposited by Illinois' last glacier.

Chain O' Lakes has a mixture of oak and hickory hardwood timber. The park also contains cherry, elm, birch, sumac and spruce with rich colors that attract numerous visitors each fall, plus some scattered pine plantings.

Nature lovers will find a rich assortment of wildflowers in the spring, summer and fall.

Grass Lake once was almost entirely covered with American Lotus each summer, and attracted great crowds including tour boats, annually. The lake still contains some areas of lotus.

Two hundred acres of restored native prairie provide nesting habitat for grassland bird species.

Some of the wildlife you are likely to encounter within the park are white-tailed deer, rabbits, ground squirrels, chipmunks, mink, opossum, skunks, raccoons, gophers, fox, badgers, beaver, coyotes, and groundhogs. A check-list of the nearly 200 birds that have been identified in the park is available at the park office.

Turner Lake Nature Preserve-About 80 acres within the park have been set aside as a nature preserve to protect a segment of the park's bog environment and the unique plants associated with the area.

Recreation
Boating-There is no charge to launch boats at the park, nor is there any horsepower limitations on boats using any of the Chain O' Lakes. Electric trolling motors only are allowed on boats on Turner Lake, a 44 acre lake in the park. A user fee is required for all boats using the Chain O Lakes charged by the Fox Waterway Agency. Stickers are available at the park concession stand/boat launch.

Concession/Boat Rental-The park's concession stand is open April through mid-October and offers food, ice, firewood, soft drinks, ice cream, fishing equipment and baits, and camper supplies. Boat and canoe rental also is available. The required safety equipment must be provided by the user or rented from the concessionaire. Additional information call (847)587-7165.

Fishing-Among the popular fish available to anglers in the Chain O' Lakes are bluegill, largemouth bass, walleye, crappie, muskie, northern pike, bullhead, catfish, yellow and white bass. Due to the marshy nature of much of the park's shoreline, most fishing takes place from boats or fishing piers.

Hunting-Dove, waterfowl, archery deer and permit pheasant hunting are available at the park. Hunting fact sheets, containing all hunting regulations are available at the park office. All hunting is by registration only.

Winter Sports-Ice skating and ice fishing are popular activities when the temperature drops and the ice thickens. During winter months, the horse trail, bicycle trail and Nature's Way trail can be used by cross-country skiers. During the winter months the park office doubles as a warming house. Sledding is another popular winter activity. Snowmobiling is not permitted in the park, but access to the frozen lake water is provided for snowmobile enthusiasts.

Location
8916 Wilmot RoadSpring Grove, IL 60081

Directions from nearest highway: Exit Illinois 173 West from Interstate 94.

Distance from O'Hare Airport: 46 miles

Distance from Midway Airport: 64 miles

Distance from Mitchell Airport: 47 miles

Climate
Illinois experiences four distinct seasons with varying weather throughout the year. Winter can be very cold. The highest humidity of the year occurs during this season averaging 70 to 75 percent. Average low temperatures in January dip to 20 degrees F with highs near 35 degrees F. Spring temperatures are mild with humidity below 70 percent. Temperatures during this season average between 32 and 50 degrees F. Summer is usually hot and humid in this Midwest state. Low temperatures remain in the low sixties with high temperatures near 90 degrees F. The highest rainfall of the year occurs during the summer months. Fall is an excellent time to visit the state with low humidity and rainfall and moderate temperatures.

Address
8916 Wilmot Road
Spring Grove, IL 60081

Phone: 847.587.5512

Email: mgilly@dnrmail.state.il.us
  • Chain O' Lakes State Park Travel Q&A