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Shedd Aquarium

A Hole Lot of Fun: The Best Swimming Holes in Illinois

Jul 18, 2022 Activities

Lake for swimming and water sport

There’s nothing more refreshing on a hot day than plunging into the clear waters of a cool swimming hole.

While swimming pools have their place, every now and then it is soothing to get away from the smell of chlorine and crowded concrete pool decks sizzling from being baked by the sun.

Bell smith springs
Bell Smith Springs

Bell Smith Springs/Bay Creek in Shawnee National Forest

Access to these spots is found a couple miles southwest of the Teal Pond campground

Within the Shawnee National Forest, there isn’t a single swimming hole to be found: there are tons. Many of these are found in the area of Bell Smith Springs and Bay Creek, and they’re gorgeous.

The area has countless scenic pools that look like advertisements for bottled water, with crystal clear swimming spots fed by rocky streams. Better still, on the hike to get to these places, you pass through beautiful craggy canyons and sandstone cliffs exploding with lush vegetation unique to Illinois.

For many, this is the perfect spot. You have to exercise a bit to get there, but when you arrive you’re awarded with a cool dip.

Also nearby:

  • Just 45 minutes east, explore the impressive rock formations, cliffs and trails at Garden of the Godsthe most visited site in the Shawnee National Forest.
  • To refuel after a day of hiking and swimming, head to Harrisburg for a meal at Mackie's Pizza. Homemade pizza, stromboli, 5 kinds of salads, and cheese bread stix — what more could you ask for?
  • For a place to stay, check out the camping and cabin options at Williams Hill Pass in Harrisburg. If you prefer your exploring done faster and less quietly, they also have 225 acres of ATV trails.
Swimming lake
Lake Le-Aqua-na

Lake Le-Aqua-na

Being man-made and because of good watershed practices, Lake Le-Aqua-na is practically clear, setting it apart from many murky lake swimming areas. Another thing that sets it apart is the wonderful beach.

The lake's unique name was the result of a local contest. The bookends to the name spell Lena, where it is located, and they’re broken apart by aqua which means, of course, “water”. The pleasant sandy beach area is 600 ft. long, and admission is free.

The beach is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

Also nearby:

  • Just 5 minutes by car is Wolf Hollow Golf Course, the perfect place to start your day before cooling off in the lake's clear waters.
  • Once you've worked up an appetite, head for lunch at Lena Mercantile Eatery. This must-stop also features antiques, gifts and more.
  • If overnighting, consider Lena KOA and their range of cottages, cabins, campsites, and teepees. 
Spillway swimming hole at lake kinkaid
Lake Kinkaid

Kinkaid Lake Spillway

Set GPS to 1 Spillway Rd., Murphysboro, IL. Upon arrival, continue on Spillway Rd., which turns into a large parking lot.

The Kinkaid Lake Spillway is a bit of a local secret, and it’s obvious why they would guard it.

They have a little paradise there outside of Carbondale. Maybe that’s why directions to get there are a little Batcavian. Once you find it though, there’s an idyllic, three-level cascade spilling into an invigorating, fresh water pool.

During the summer, the spot can crowd with sometimes-rowdy locals, so keep this in mind if you intend to bring children.

Make sure to bring stiff-soled sandals (Tevas, Chacos, etc.), sneakers, or hiking boots for entrance to the area and navigating the falls. They’re a bit craggy.

Also nearby:

  • 20 minutes east in Carbondale is the Old Illinois Passenger Depot Railroad MuseumFilled with information, artifacts and souvenirs, the museum contains significant facts relating to Carbondale's history.
  • Enjoy delicious pizza, complimentary ice cream, and a full salad bar, at Italian Village.
  • Stay at the Hampton Inn and enjoy free hot breakfast in their dining area.

Lake Rend

Lake for swimming and water sport
Lake Rend

Rend Lake

Rend Lake is a great place for families. There’s such an enormous amount of space to choose from that you can pick seclusion or more populated areas. It’s easy to access and has ample amenities (depending on where you go).

Most beaches are in the South Sandusky Day Use area. If you’d like to wet a hook while others are fishing, the lake is renowned for large crappie and catfish.

Also nearby:

Everything Going Swimmingly

Illinois has so many great swimming holes that it’s hard to pick one. Luckily, there are lots of great choices. Whether you aim to pull the car up to a sandy beach or stretch your legs on a nature trail before hopping in, Illinois is the place to be for those thinking outside of the 50-meter swimming pool box.

Author's Note:

Jeffrey Ferraro is a travel enthusiast and expert. He is the Director of Marketing of Diamond Tours, the leading provider of charter group bus tours in the US and Canada, which includes tours of major cities, bus trips to shows and casinos. Jeffrey loves uncovering lesser known travel destinations and sharing them with his customers.

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