Head to Marion in Southern Illinois and keep on going south for six miles, and you’re here. Welcome to Lake of Egypt, a secluded expanse of water with 93 miles of wooded bays and inlets, one of Southern Illinois’s hidden treasures.
Illinois locals love the lake. Some of them have been coming here for lazy summer vacations all their lives. Others call Lake of Egypt home. All of them love the serenity and the long summer days fishing, boating, leaping off the dock, and grilling on the deck of their cabin as the sun goes down.
We’re sorry folks. We’re about to let the cat out of the bag. Lake of Egypt is too good not to share.
1962 was a good year for new beginnings. The first American to orbit the earth, John H. Glenn, made his famous flight. James Bond swaggered onto our screens in Dr No. The Space Needle opened just in time for the World’s Fair. And the Southern Illinois Power Cooperative gifted a brand-new lake to the state by damming the south fork of the Saline River.
Built for entirely straightforward, practical reasons, the lake’s primary reason for being is to cool the cooperative’s power plant. But sometimes in utility lies beauty, and the Lake of Egypt is one of those times.
The lake is still privately owned by the cooperative, but they allow public access for boating, fishing, and swimming, and you can water-ski, tube, and jet ski in certain areas. With three marinas, on summer days the lake hums with boats from dawn to dusk. But you can still always find a quiet inlet to let down a line and fish for bluegill, bass, catfish, and crappie.
Lake of Egypt is named after Little Egypt, another name for Southern Illinois. Why is Southern Illinois called Little Egypt? That’s where things get murky.
The most likely culprit is a Baptist Missionary called John Badgley, who visited Southern Illinois in 1799. Various sources credit him with standing on a bluff looking out over the river valley and comparing them to the Land of Goshen, the fertile Egyptian lands given to the Israelites in the Book of Genesis.
The waves of settlers arriving in Illinois took John's Egyptian theme and ran with it. Southern Illinois become Little Egypt and local towns sprang up with Egyptian names: Cairo, Thebes, Carmi, Karnak, Goshen, and Dongola.
The Resort at Egyptian Hills is right on the lake, so it’s popular with families who love boating, fishing and outdoor adventures. The resort concierge can arrange horseback riding, rock climbing, mountain biking, kayaking, geo-caching, wildlife photography, and of course, a vast array of water activities.
Enthusiastic guests rave about the cabins with lake views, set just steps from the water, with boating, fishing and water sports fun during the day and cookouts on the deck by night. They also praise the family-friendly set up, where the kids play by the water, catching fish in buckets, a pizzeria and ice cream parlor, and a fire pit by the lake, where you can toast s’mores, watch outdoor movies, and listen to live music as the sun goes down.
If you’re boating on the lake, the Mack’s Lake of Egypt Marina is a fun place to dock your boat and enjoy some pub food with other visitors and lake locals. You can dine inside or on the patio overlooking the lake.
The Old Squat Inn B&B near Marion offers original log cabins from the 1800's. The hand-hewn pioneer-built cabinswith fireplace and porch offer a rustic slice of an older Illinois, complemented with homespun hospitality from your hosts. Home-cooked country-style breakfasts are served up at a huge farm table in front of a fireplace.
Small town Marion is well worth a trip. Shop for fresh local flavors at Marion Farmer’s Market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings or find handcrafted items made by local artisans at the Southern Illinois Mercantile Company, hunt for a treat at Etcetera Flowers & Gifts, or try antiquing at Marion Antique Mall, Warehouse Antique Mall or Court Street Antiques in one of Marion’s oldest Victorian homes.
If you’re in Marion, don’t miss the delightful Mandala Gardens where you can stroll in a delightful setting and meet friendly goats and chickens. The Williamson County Historical Museum and Library has a genealogical and historical research library, so if you’re researching your family roots in Southern Illinois pop in, and while you’re there take a moment to enjoy the barbed wire collection on loan from Mr. Harry Boyd.
Ferne Clyffe State Park is a fun day trip from Lake of Egypt, near the small town of Goreville. With trails for hiking and horseback riding, campsites, a lake for bank fishing, a 150-foot-long shelter bluff called Hawk’s Cave, and a 100-foot-tall intermittent waterfall on the Big Rocky Hollow trail the park is rich in charm and scenic corners. It’s also popular with rock climbers and areas are set aside for hunting quail, rabbit and deer in season.
The park was named Ferne Clyffe in 1899 by two brothers from Cairo who owned the area including Hawks' Cave and Big Rocky Hollow. They sold to local teacher Miss Emma Rebman who opened her land to visitors on Sundays. In 1949 the state bought the land and opened the state park, adding to it over the years until it became 2,430-acres of lush vegetation in the Shawnee Hills, including the eponymous ferns.
Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge is another nearby adventure. An important resting area for migratory birds flying up the Mississippi, over 1,000 species of plants, animals and fish have been documented.
Learn about the area’s bio-diversity at the visitor center, then see the wildlife for yourself on the nature trails. With 44,000 acres of hardwood forest, farmland, grazing, brushland, wetlands, and three lakes, Crab Orchard, Little Grassy, and Devils Kitchen, you can hike, enjoy wild swimming, or fish the lakes from the bank or by boat. Four campgrounds are open from April-October.
We hear the bluegill have really been biting recently, so if you head to Southern Illinois to visit the lovely Lake of Egypt, don’t forget to share your stories, your snaps, and your top tips with us on the Enjoy Illinois Facebook page. #EnjoyIllinois and we’ll all be inspired by your adventures.!