The Best Swimming Spots in Illinois: Lakes, Rivers, and More

Written by Niccoy Walker
Updated: September 10, 2023
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Are you tired of baking in the hot summer sun and need somewhere to cool off? Check out these best swimming spots in Illinois, including swimming holes, lakes, rivers, beaches, and water parks.

This Midwest state is primarily covered in plains, which contain flat fertile land and low hills. But you will also find gorges, rocky outcrops, sand dunes, and ridges. And plenty of water is dispersed throughout the state, with more than 2,900 lakes, 84,000 ponds, and 119,000 miles of streams and rivers. Along with Illinois’ natural swimming areas, the state also boasts plenty of community pools, waterparks, and even city beaches. Basically, Illinois is a paradise for outdoor swimming!

Illinois’ Climate and Warm Season

Illinois has a continental climate with freezing winters and hot, humid summers. This state also features frequent short weather fluctuations, specifically in windiness, cloudiness, humidity, and temperature. In the southernmost part of the state, you will find a more subtropical climate.

The warm season in Illinois lasts four months, running from mid-May to mid-September, with an average high of around 75℉. July is the hottest month of the year, featuring highs of 84℉ and lows of 66℉. But the state can also see regular days in the 90s and low 100s.

Illinois Swimming Holes

rock formations along the creek in the Bell Smith Springs area of the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.

Bell Smith Springs is one of the best swimming spots in Illinois.

©Nicola Patterson/Shutterstock.com

Have you ever dreamed of leaping off a rocky ledge into a crystal-clear pool surrounded by forests and waterfalls? Well, Illinois has several scenic spots for swimming and diving. Most of the swimming holes in the state are located within the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois. This lush forest features woodland, rolling hills, and abundant water sources. 

Here are some of the best swimming holes in Illinois. We’ve also included a few lake areas with enough depth for diving. However, technically, lakes are not swimming holes.

  • Kinkade Lake Spillway
  • Bork Falls
  • Bell Smith Springs 
  • Centennial Beach
  • Lake Le-Aqua-Na State Park
  • Silver Springs State Park 

Illinois Swimming Lakes

Tourists enjoying beautiful sunset scenery at the Empire Bluff Scenic Lookout, overlooking Lake Michigan, the Sleeping Bear Dunes, and the Manitou Island

Lake Michigan is a hotspot for water activities, including swimming.

©Bo Shen/Shutterstock.com

There’s nothing better than spending a hot summer day on the lake, and Illinois has many to choose from, whether close to the city or a short road trip away. Along with swimming, many lakes within the state offer fishing, boating, and water sports. So, bring your boat with you if you have one! Because some lakes have deeper water, they can be pretty chilly, even in the middle of summer. However, if you find some shallow spots closer to the shore, this is typically the best area to swim and splash.

The state boasts more than 2,900 lakes. The largest lake wholly contained within the state is Carlyle Lake, covering 25,000 acres. And lake Michigan is the deepest lake in Illinois. Both lakes are great for swimming, boating, and other activities.

Here are some more ideas for swimming lakes:

Illinois Rivers For Swimming and Floating

Fox River, Silver Springs State Park, Yorkville, Illinois USA

Fox River is a favorite tubing river in Illinois.

©Brian Kapp/Shutterstock.com

Spending the day swimming and tubing down a refreshing river is the perfect warm-weather activity. While you could lounge on a float in a pool, drifting down a lazy river is an excellent way to take in the beautiful nature of the state. Floating rivers in Illinois also offer opportunities for kayaking. And several outfitters offer rentals for tubes and boats. 

Fox Hollow Tubing is one of the best in the state. You can rent tubes and buy snacks and drinks for your journey in Fox Hollow and float down the lower portion of the river. If you like long tubing trips, this one is perfect! The Fox Hollow trip takes between 1.5 to 3.5 hours. 

You can also check out Rock River and Kishwaukee River. 

Illinois Beaches

Illinois Beach State Park

Illinois Beach State Park is an excellent beach area.

©iStock.com/stockphoto52

The state of Illinois is landlocked, with the closest ocean beach nearly 600 miles away. However, that doesn’t stop this state from providing excellent beach vacations. Illinois has 54 beaches featuring dozens of miles of shoreline. Beaches in Illinois consist of sandy shores along large lakes. Some of the best beaches in the state sit along the shores of Lake Michigan, such as Oak Street Beach in Chicago. Here, you will find white sand beaches and shallow swimming areas. Plus, volleyball nets, amenities, and nearby restaurants.

If you want to get out of the city, here are a few more beach ideas:

  • Illinois Beach State Park in Zion
  • Sunrise Park at Lake Bluff
  • Rend Lake in Benton
  • Lighthouse Beach in Evanston
  • Lake Shelbyville

Illinois Water Parks

If you prefer to splash and swim in a facility, check out one of these water parks. These picks feature water slides, splash pads, water rides, and more.

  • Raging Waves
  • Raging Rivers Waterpark
  • Grand Bear Falls Indoor Waterpark
  • Itasca Caribbean Water Park
  • Pirate’s Cay Indoor Waterpark
  • Collinsville Aqua Park
  • Splash Country
  • Paradise Bay Water Park
  • Hurricane Harbor
  • Rainbow Falls Waterpark

Summary of The Best Swimming Spots in Illinois: Lakes, Rivers, and More

Swimming SpotType
1Kinkade Lake SpillwaySwimming Hole
2Bork FallsSwimming Hole
3Bell Smith Springs Swimming Hold
4Centennial BeachSwimming Hole
5Lake Le-Aqua-Na State ParkSwimming Hole and Lake
6Silver Springs State ParkSwimming Hole
7Geneva LakeLake
8Fish LakeLake
9Rend LakeLake
10Kincaid LakeLake
11Fox RiverRiver
12Illinois Beach State Park in ZionBeach
13Sunrise Park at Lake BluffBeach
14Rend Lake in BentonBeach
15Lighthouse Beach in EvanstonBeach
16Lake ShelbyvilleBeach

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Brian Kapp/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer for A-Z Animals, and her primary focus is on birds, travel, and interesting facts of all kinds. Niccoy has been writing and researching about travel, nature, wildlife, and business for several years and holds a business degree from Metropolitan State University in Denver. A resident of Florida, Niccoy enjoys hiking, cooking, reading, and spending time at the beach.

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