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7 Best Lakes in Illinois (And Nearby Campsites)

7 Best Lakes in Illinois (and Nearby Campsites)

Out of the 155 lakes in Illinois, seven stand out from the rest. These lakes are not only great for relaxing and enjoying the water but have campsites nearby so you can make a weekend of it.

If you love lake camping, keep reading to see seven of the best locations for it in Illinois.

Let’s dive in!

The 7 Best Lakes in Illinois (And Where to Camp)

When the temperatures rise, everyone flocks to the lakes to cool off. The lakes on our list will not only keep you cool but have nearby campsites to help you connect with nature.

#1. Lake Shelbyville, Shelbyville, Illinois

Location: Lake Shelbyville sits in both Shelby and Moultrie counties. The lake is approximately 70 miles south of Champaign, Ill., and 33 miles southeast of Decatur. 

About Lake Shelbyville: This central Illinois lake has more than 172 miles of shoreline with 11,000 acres of water surface. This lake offers year-round access for boaters at the many launching ramps and three marinas. Lake Shelbyville is a great spot for water sports, wildlife viewing, fishing, hiking, and boating.

Even if aquatic sports aren’t your thing, there are many trails for hiking and biking. Two popular trails are the Camp Camfield Trail and Chief Illini Trail. If you’re looking to enjoy the lake for a weekend, there’s plenty of campsites available.

Best Features: One of the best features of Lake Shelbyville is the massive amount of campgrounds available. There are five federal campgrounds and two state campgrounds that combine to offer more than 1,000 campsites. These sites range from tent camping to full hookup sites.

Where to Camp Near Lake Shelbyville

Of the seven campgrounds located on the lake, here are two of the best.

Lithia Springs

Lithia Springs is in the heart of central Illinois and sits on the eastern shore of Lake Shelbyville. Here you’ll find more than 100 campsites nestled among the oak and hickory forest. Due to the thick woods, the fall foliage offers vibrant red, orange, purple, and yellow colors. Many of the campsites are only a short walk from the lake. The campground also provides flush toilets, showers, a playground, swimming, a boat ramp, and a dump station.

Coon Creek

Coon Creek offers 181 campsites. Half are available for reservation. Every site here comes with electric hookups and has easy access to restroom facilities with flush toilets and showers. The campground also has a playground, swimming beach, boat ramp, and dump station. In addition, the campground has a generous amount of trees that provide lots of shade.

#2. Lake Mattoon, Neoga, Illinois

Location: Lake Mattoon sits 20 miles north of Effingham and 13 miles south of the city of Matton. 

About Lake Mattoon: This Central Illinois lake has a maximum depth of 35 feet and a surface area of 1,050 acres. The lake sits in the counties of Coles, Cumberland, and Shelby. It’s a popular spot for camping, fishing, and boating. Lake Mattoon is another Illinois lake where boating and fishing are available year-round.

Where to Camp Near Lake Mattoon

Lake Mattoon is home to two campgrounds. Let’s take a look at each.

Lake Mattoon Campground

Lake Mattoon Campground (also known as Campground West) has seasonal, monthly, and daily fee camping options. Many of the campsites include electric and water connections, but a sewer dump station is available. If you’re not looking to camp on a modern site, there are a limited number of tent sites available that are non-electric.

Campground East

This campground is a seasonal campground and the perfect place for those looking for more than just a weekend of camping. The campground sits on the southeast side of the lake, and campers must pay for electric and water usage. If you’re looking for a place to park your RV for the season, Lake Mattoon’s Campground East is a great option to consider.

#3. Little Grassy Lake, Makanda, Illinois

Location: Little Grassy Lake is in southern Illinois, 10 miles southeast of Carbondale, Ill. Most of the lake resides in Williamson County.

About Little Grassy Lake: This 1,200-acre reservoir resulted from the damming of a tributary of Little Grassy Creek. The lake is deep and clear, with a maximum depth of 60 feet. It’s an excellent lake for boating and fishing. Anglers frequently catch bass, crappie, catfish, and bluegill. At four miles long and one mile wide, the lake offers 31 miles of shoreline.

Where to Camp Near Little Grassy Lake

There are a couple of options for camping on Little Grassy Lake. Let’s take a look at two.

Little Grassy Lake Campground

This campground sits on a peninsula on Little Grassy Lake. Most of the sites offer a view of the lake. You can find rustic camping or full hook-up sites. All reservations require a two-night non-refundable deposit. There are 105 sites available in this seasonal campground. Some campers report that most sites are highly sloped, making leveling an RV a challenge.

Giant City Class A Campground

Giant City Class A Campground offers 85 campsites that provide water, electricity, and restrooms with showers for those looking to tent or trailer camp. There are an additional 14 campsites available that are non-electric and for tent-only camping. You need to make a reservation three days in advance. Sites not booked within three days of arrival become walk-up only. This campground has plenty of hiking, golf courses, and easy access to Little Grassy Lake.

#4. Lake Michigan, Zion, Illinois

Location: Lake Michigan provides the northeast border for the state of Illinois.

About Lake Michigan: Lake Michigan is a massive 22,404 square miles and has a maximum depth of 922 feet. It is one of the five Great Lakes in North America. The lake has more than 1,600 miles of shoreline.

The lake borders Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. There are many fish species in the lake, and it’s stocked annually with steelhead, brown trout, coho, and chinook salmon. In addition, there’s a lot of commercial and sport fishing on the lake.

Where to Camp Near Lake Michigan

While there are many options for camping around Lake Michigan, let’s look at one of the best.

Illinois Beach State Park

Illinois Beach State Park is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. With not only a wide selection of water sports but 6.5 miles of shore, you’ll never run out of activities. The 241 electric sites require a camping permit. This park is a very popular camping location on the weekends, and many of the walk-up sites fill up early on Friday mornings.

Email and phone reservations are not accepted, so be sure to submit your reservation application in advance. When you choose to stay at Illinois Beach State Park, you’ll be within walking distance of the beach. If you’re lucky, you may even snag a site with a lake view.

#5. Clinton Lake, De Witt, Illinois

Location: Clinton Lake rests 30 miles west of Champaign, Ill, and 30 miles south of Bloomington, Ill. 

About Clinton Lake: Clinton Lake is an excellent place for fishing, boating, and camping. This east-central Illinois lake is 4,900 acres of water. If you’re looking for a day of boating, it’s often packed with motorboats and sailboats. The lake features a 1,000-foot sand beach and is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Anglers love fishing this lake and enjoy catching catfish, bass, and walleye.

Where to Camp Near Clinton Lake

One option stands out when camping at Clinton Lake.

Clinton State Park

Clinton State Park offers 308 campsites, most of them being water and electric sites. It’s an ideal spot for tent, trailer, or motorhome camping. The campground is open year-round, except for a week during the start of firearm deer season. This relaxing campground will be a great place to rest after a day at the lake. 

#6. Argyle Lake, Colchester, Illinois

Location: Argyle Lake is only seven miles from Macomb and 100 miles northwest of Springfield. The lake is in west-central Illinois. 

About Argyle Lake: Fishmen adore this lake. It’s popular among anglers who come hoping to catch channel catfish, largemouth bass, rainbow trout, and tiger muskie. The lake restricts boat speeds to no wake to ensure the safety of all boaters on the water. There’s a public boat launch located within the state park for boats and pontoons.

Canoe and boat rentals are available at the marina. The lake comprises 93 acres and has a maximum depth of 34.6 feet.

Where to Camp Near Argyle Lake

There’s one especially great campsite from which to enjoy the lake.

Argyle Lake State Park

Argyle Lake State Park offers 159 campsites that range from primitive camping to water and electric sites. In addition, the park offers a dump station and room facilities for campers.

The state park offers something for everyone, with plenty of trails and activities. Twelve trails provide five miles of hiking and the chance to see 200 bird species. The park offers ice fishing, ice skating, cross-country skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling in the winter.

No matter the weather or season, Argyle Lake State Park is a great place to camp and recreate.

#7. Crab Orchard Lake, Carbondale, Illinois

Location: Crab Orchard Lake is located in southern Illinois, almost 200 miles south of Champaign, Ill. It’s approximately 100 miles southeast of St. Louis, Mo. The lake sits in Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge. 

About Crab Orchard Lake: This lake has 125 miles of shoreline and 6,965 acres of water. Fishers commonly catch bluegill, channel catfish, crappie, largemouth bass, and white bass.

The lake is most known for boating, camping, fishing, and swimming. The lake and the watershed that drains into it are known to contain lead and other toxic substances. Despite the contamination, anglers have caught massive bass in this lake.

Where to Camp Near Crab Orchard Lake

Let’s look at one of the best places to camp while enjoying Crab Orchard Lake.

Crab Orchard Lake Campground

Crab Orchard Lake Campground offers 83 sites that range from full hookup to primitive camping. Sites are first-come, first-served, and are large and level. If you’re not able to snag a full hookup site, there’s a dump station. Campers not using a self-contained RV have access to restroom facilities with showers and flushable toilets. 

Incredible Illinois Lakes

Illinois has some incredible lakes and campgrounds to experience. While winters can be treacherous, spring, summer, and fall can provide ideal weather conditions for camping. Which of the lakes have you experienced? Which Illinois lake is your favorite?

Discover the Best Free Camping Across the USA

To be honest with you, we hate paying for camping. There are so many free campsites in America (with complete privacy).

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As a matter of fact, these free campsites are yours. Every time you pay federal taxes, you’re contributing to these lands.

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