The 13 Biggest Lakes in Illinois

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: August 7, 2023
Share on:

Advertisement


Key Points:

  • Lake of Egypt is owned by the Southern Illinois Power Cooperative and is available to the public for recreational activities including water skiing, jet skiing, and swimming. 
  • Clinton Lake is a popular fishing spot for anglers particularly interested in bass, crappie, and catfish. It is also ideal for hikers and campers.
  • Carlyle Lake is the largest lake contained entirely within Illinois. Sailors love its impressive sailboat courses and nature lovers find it ideal for bird watching, boating, camping, fishing, and hunting.

Whether you fancy spending an afternoon lounging on a tube or going fishing, Illinois has plenty of options for you. Several notable lakes in Illinois are open to the public for fishing. The largest lakes in Illinois are also some of the best fishing places in the state. The majority of Illinois’ main lakes are man-made due to dams constructed across rivers. Whether man-made or natural, lakes in Illinois provide recreational options for locals and visitors alike. Because Illinois has so many lakes, determining which one is the largest might be difficult for some. Below, we will list the 13 biggest lakes in Illinois and other facts.

Discover the 13 Biggest Lakes in Illinois

13. Cedar Lake

Cedar Lake

Located in Jackson County, Cedar Lake is a 1,750-acre reservoir and is one of Illinois’ biggest lakes.

©Jeremiah.jahn / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons – License

Cedar Lake is a 1,750-acre reservoir in Southern Illinois produced by the damming of Cedar Creek. The lake’s shoreline stretches for 30 miles, and it reaches a maximum depth of 40 feet (12 m). It was built as a source of drinking water for Carbondale people. Additionally, the lake is used for fishing, swimming, and physical amusement. Cedar Lake is maintained for largemouth, striped bass, and crappie fishing. Anglers can also catch catfish and bluegill in the scenic coves flanked by towering cliffs. 

12. Baldwin Lake

Baldwin Lake is a 2,018-acre (817 ha) perched cooling lake in Illinois, located inside the Kaskaskia River State Fish and Wildlife Area. The majority of the lake is shallow, boasting an average depth of 8 feet (2.4 m). However, there are “holes” in the lake 50 feet (15 m) or deeper.

Fantastic fishing possibilities await for both boat and bank anglers, with largemouth bass, hybrid striped bass, and crappie to be caught. During the winter, the area may see peak numbers of 10,000 geese and 20,000 ducks. The site is home to about 200 resident huge Canadian geese who nest on the lake levees.

11. Lake of Egypt

Lake of Egypt Illinois

Although Lake of Egypt is a private lake, it is open to the public for recreational and water activities.

©Lucas W/Shutterstock.com

A privately-owned reservoir, Lake of Egypt comprises 2,300 acres and has 90 miles of shoreline. It is situated six miles south of Marion, Illinois. The Southern Illinois Power Cooperative owns the lake, built in 1962 to provide cooling water for a coal-fired power plant. Despite being a private lake, Lake of Egypt is available to the public for recreational and water activities like water skiing, jet skiing, and swimming. It’s also a great fishing area, with channel catfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, striped bass, and crappie among the species that can be caught.

10. Horseshoe Lake

Horseshoe Lake Illinois

Covering an area of 2,400 acres, Lake Horseshoe is the second-largest natural lake in Illinois.

©Marcusscotus1 / Creative Commons – License

Horseshoe Lake is 2,400 acres (10 sq km) in size and is the second-largest natural lake in Illinois, following Lake Michigan. It is nestled in the American Bottom of Illinois inside the larger St. Louis metropolitan area. The lake harbors various freshwater fish species such as buffalo, drum, gar, carp, bowfin, and the standard sport fish. Each year, a portion of the lake is drained to provide habitat for shorebirds. There are at least 287 bird species in this lake, which make up the vast majority of the species living in the state. Mallard ducks, white egrets, and little blue herons are also common. The Eurasian tree sparrow is unique to this section of North America.

9. Kinkaid Lake

Built in 1968, Kinkaid Lake covers 2,750 acres and is well known for its high crappie population.

©Markkaempfer / Creative Commons – License

Kinkaid Lake is a primary good fishing site in Illinois, located approximately northwest of Murphysboro in Jackson County. The lake, built in 1968, is 2,750 acres in size. Kinkaid Lake is well-known for its high crappie population. The lake is also home to bluegill, largemouth bass, and catfish, making it a popular fishing spot. Kinkaid Lake is surrounded by sandstone cliffs, rolling hills, and forests, making it incredibly scenic. It’s a fantastic site for camping, with a variety of amenities. Deer, quail, rabbit, turkey, squirrel, pigeon, and waterfowl are some of the most frequent animals available for hunting, depending on state rules and seasons.

8. Lake Decatur

Lake Decatur

Measuring 3,093 acres, Lake Decatur is the eighth-largest lake in Illinois.

©iStock.com/rwhitacre

Lake Decatur is a reservoir in Decatur, Illinois, located east of downtown. The lake boasts a maximum depth of 22 feet and an average depth of six feet, covering 3,093 acres. Every two years, the fish fauna in Lake Decatur is thoroughly monitored. Before they are released alive, the fish are weighed, measured, and scales are collected. Annual surveys of walleye populations and hybrid striped bass are conducted, and annual supplies are made through IDNR hatcheries. Lake Decatur’s 30 miles of shoreline provide chances for recreation and animal viewing at lakeshore parks and the city marina. 

7. Lake Springfield

Lake Springfield

Lake Springfield is the largest municipally-owned lake in Illinois.

©Walter L White/Shutterstock.com

In Illinois, certain lakes are owned by municipalities. Lake Springfield, the largest municipally-owned lake in the state, is a 3,866-acre reservoir on the outskirts of Springfield, Illinois. It is a prominent recreation center in central Illinois that offers fishing, boating, and water sports. Over the years, the lake has accumulated more than 45 different fish species. Carp, northern pike, flathead catfish, and muskellunge are among the many fish species found there, making it an excellent fishing spot. 

6. Clinton Lake

Clinton LakeIllinois

Encompassing 4,895 acres in size and with an average depth of 19.5 feet, Clinton Lake ranks as one of the biggest lakes in Illinois.

©Dual Freq / Creative Commons – License

Clinton Lake serves a dual purpose. That’s because the lake is situated within a high-end vacation area that can currently be found in Illinois. It encompasses 4,895 acres or 19.8 sq km with an average depth of 19.5 feet. Anglers adore Clinton Lake for fish catches ranging from crappie to catfish, to bass and walleye. Largemouth bass, channel catfish, bullheads, flathead catfish, bluegill, white crappie, black crappie, walleye, striped bass, and hybrid striped bass make up the sport fish community of Clinton Lake, which is typical of central Illinois reservoirs. Although fishing is the primary attraction, other leisure activities such as hiking, picnics, and camping are also prominent.

5. Crab Orchard Lake

Crab Orchard Lake Illinois

Crab Orchard is the biggest reservoir in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and also the fifth-biggest in Illinois.

©iStock.com/StMicca Photography

With a surface area of 6,965 acres, Crab Orchard Lake is the biggest reservoir in the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge and one of Illinois’ largest. Crab Orchard Lake was developed in the 1930s for flood management and entertainment. Most of its users come from nearby communities. Thus, it still serves the same purpose today. Crab Orchard Lake is the main point of the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to various migrating animals. Boating, fishing, and swimming are common leisure activities on the lake. 

4. Lake Shelbyville

Lake Shelbyville Illinois

Covering an impressive area of 11,000 acres, Lake Shelbyville is the third-largest inland lake in Illinois.

©iStock.com/GagasGarden

Lake Shelbyville, Illinois’ third-largest inland lake, is an 11,100-acre lake in central Illinois. Wooded inlets and coves dot the lake’s shoreline, providing more than 200 miles of picturesque shoreline and man-made beaches neighboring the dam. A multipurpose road, an equestrian track, and a range of golf courses and marinas adorn the lake region. It also runs through wetlands where you can see blue herons. Aside from the lake’s main channel, there are other fishing coves. It offers boat ramps, rentals, swimming, picnicking, camping, and fishing. The lake is deeper than other major lakes in Illinois, making it a favorite summer boating destination.

3. Rend Lake

Rend Lake Illinois

Rend Lake is the third-biggest lake in Illinois.

©iStock.com/Patrick Jennings

With 18,900 acres (76 sq km), Rend Lake is a regional hub for outdoor leisure in southern Illinois. Rend Lake in Illinois is a great place to catch catfish and crappie. Anglers cast their lines searching for the lake’s abundant bass and bluegill, while others relax on cruise houseboats and take in the surroundings. The site is bounded by 20,000 acres of preserved area that offers sandy beaches, camping, hiking, hunting, and fishing. It has a storage capacity of 185,000 acre-feet (228,000,000 cubic meters) and provides over 15 million gallons of water each day to 300,000 people throughout more than 60 towns.

2. Carlyle Lake

Carlyle Lake Illinois

Measuring an area of 26,000 acres, Carlyle Lake is the largest man-made lake in Illinois.

©Jason Patrick Ross/Shutterstock.com

Carlyle Lake is roughly 60 miles east of St. Louis in the Illinois prairie. It is the largest lake entirely within the state’s borders, covering around 26,000 acres. Carlyle Lake is a great spot for outdoor activities. It is well-known among sailors as one of the best and most grueling sailboat courses. It is, in fact, widely regarded as one of the best and most difficult sailing courses in the world. Boating, bird watching, sand beaches, fishing, hunting, and camping spots are all available. Hiking routes around the lake provide opportunities to see wild turkey and white-tailed deer. More than 200,000 migrating birds use the area as a rest stop in the spring and fall.

1. Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan is the largest lake in Illinois.

©Frederick Millett/Shutterstock.com

By surface area, Lake Michigan ranks as the third largest of the Great Lakes, and it is also one of the largest lakes within US territory. While the Great Lakes usually touch several states in the United States and parts of Canada, Lake Michigan is the country’s lone Great Lake. With a surface area of 14.34 million acres (22,300 square miles), Lake Michigan is also the largest lake touching Illinois’ borders. The lake boasts 1,200 cubic miles or one quadrillion gallons of water. The lake spans three states, measuring 321 miles (517 km) long and 118 miles (190 km) wide. It is shared by Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Summary of the 13 Biggest Lakes in Illinois

Here’s a recap of the largest lakes in the state of Illinois that we took a close look at:

RankLakeSize
1Lake Michigan14.34 million acres
2Carlyle Lake26,000 acres
3Rend Lake18,900 acres
4Lake Shelbyville11,000 acres
5Crab Orchard Lake6,965 acres
6Clinton Lake4,895 acres
7Lake Springfield3,866 acres
8Lake Decatur3,093 acres
9Kinkaid Lake2,750 acres
10Horseshoe Lake2,400 acres
11Lake of Egypt2,300 acres
12Baldwin Lake2,018 acres
13Cedar Lake1,750 acres

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/GagasGarden


Share on:
About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.