Chain o’ Lakes State Park Visitors Guide

Where is Chain o’ Lakes State Park?

  • 8916 Wilmot Road., Spring Grove IL 60081
  • N: 42.467 W: -88.189
  • This state park is in the northern part of Illinois, in Spring Grove. Located close to the border of Wisconsin, and not far from Lake Michigan, the park is about an hour drive to Milwaukee, and an hour and a half to Chicago. Drive about 15 minutes from the park, and you could be in two other popular recreational areas: Gurnee, also in Illinois, or Lake Geneva, in Wisconsin.

    on the lake in the canoe

    How Big is Chain o’ Lakes State Park?

    Chain o’ Lakes US State Park spans two counties and comprises about 6,000 acres. Within the sprawling park is a conservation section. Moreover, much of the park is water, boasting 488 miles of shoreline. That’s on account of it being seated in the state’s most concentrated region of lakes—about ten in the park alone. And that doesn’t include the Fox River, which meanders through the park. One lake within Chain o’ Lakes is 44 acres itself. With all this water, it’s mainly flat here but has hills up to 200 feet.

    Chain o’ Lakes State Park Weather

    Much of the year, northern Illinois tends to be cooler than it is warm. The park is even more so, “overflowing” as it is with water. Breezes off the many big lakes’ cool things off, even in the hottest months of July and August. Though the park is open in all seasons, summer is most popular because only Lake Michigan rivals the ample water recreation it provides in the region. (Lake Michigan is about 20 miles east.) Summers see Chain o’ Lakes filled with water-skiers, swimmers, and boaters. In winter however, the park is known for its cross-country skiing. You might also attempt some ice fishing. Falls and springs are great for capturing foliage and flowers, respectively, on film. Spring is a good time to view migratory birds and the cute offspring of the park’s furry inhabitants. Spring and fall are a bit colder than one might anticipate, however, due to the moisture-filled winds. Bring a warm jacket and hat!

    When did Chain o’ Lakes become a National Park?

    Though Chain o’ Lakes became a State Park in 1945 with the initial purchase of 840 acres, it took time to grow to its current substantial size. In 1957, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp became part of the park. While this section had been acquired in the 1930’s, the designation was not then official. This area is now the conservation section of Chain o’ Lakes State Park.

    little girl walking sled on her way to go sledding at Chain o’ Lakes State Park

    Things to do in Chain o’ Lakes State Park

    There’s plenty to do here year-round. Fall sheds its leaves for winter skiing and sledding, only to be followed by blooms of wildflowers and animal births in spring. The excitement culminates in summer with both Illinois’ and Wisconsin’s residents coming to take advantage of all the winter fun. Our State Park Visitors Guide summarizes the fun activities Chain O' Lakes State Park has to offer.

    Cross-Country Skiing

    The stretches of unimpeded terrain and small hills make this the perfect place to get in some cross-country skiing.


    The passing of the Ice Age left morainal hills reaching up to 200 feet. Combined with dependably cold winters, they provide fabulous sledding for kids, teens, and brave adults.

    pulling in a fish while fishing at the lake


    Anglers can take in bluegill, bass, catfish, crappie, and more, so long as they do it from a pier or boat. The extensive marshland makes fishing along the water’s edge frustrating at best.


    No salt, no sharks, no problem! You’ll see the region’s vacationers wearing t-shirts with this message for a good reason. While the Great Lakes boast this advantage, so do the Chain o’ Lakes. Swimming season is limited here, so folks take full advantage. The calm, clean waters permit seemingly endless strokes, far beyond what you’ll get in the pool.


    One of the park’s preferred activities, the size and number of the lakes mean plenty of room for the fast and furious (providing they’re safe and sound).

    baby dear in a field in chain o' lakes state park

    Animals in Chain o’ Lakes

    Turner Lake Preserve gives this state park a unique element—bogs and all of their rare inhabitants. Surrounding the bog, look for deer, mink, and badgers. Don’t miss this 80-acre section if you’re a fan of wildlife.


    When glaciers of long ago melted and moved across the area, they left morainal hills and bluffs in their wake. We owe the varied terrain at Chain o’ Lakes State Park to this. Seldom does one find so much water interspersed among diverse forests, bogs, and tall hills.


    You’ll get wonderful pictures of all things aquatic here. The many lakes are as pretty as they are fun. Action shots abound in summer with swimmers and boats on scene, while reflected foliage creates beauty in autumn.

    hiking on chain o lakes trails

    Hiking Trails

    Miles of trails under a wide variety of trees, such as cherry, elm, birch, and sumac make Chain o’ Lakes a prime location to walk, run, or even snowshoe. There are six miles of biking paths and eight miles of equestrian trails.


    230 campsites and Class-A camping lure people from bordering Wisconsin as well as Illinois. There are 3 cabins for rent and a youth campground as well. Make sure to reserve your spot ahead of time, as the park is duly popular for its outdoor digs.

    When to go to Chain o’ Lakes State Park

    Most agree summer is the best time to visit Chain o’ Lakes, because of the fun water activities to be had. Fishing, swimming, and waterskiing peak during June, July, and August, to the delight of those living in the region. Folks in northern Illinois have a limited time each year to enjoy strong sun and high temperatures, and they take advantage of it, to be sure. But if you’re the type who appreciates the outdoors, there are a slew of activities you can pursue during the other seasons. For instance, there are miles of trails allowing for exercise and beautiful scenery.

    cross country skiing through the Chain o’ Lakes State Park

    Must-Have things to bring to Chain o’ Lakes

    What to bring to Chain o’ Lakes depends largely on the season and what you plan to do there.  While you may rent some equipment and gear at the park, List of Parks suggests bringing specialized or personal equipment yourself.

    Cross-country Skis

    You can rent or purchase so much here, but you’ll have to bring your own snow skis. Those who do will get great exercise on flatter expanses and a good ride down the many larger hills.

    Supplies for building a snowman

    Much of the year sees snow on the grounds, with lots of areas flat and large enough to roll a larger-than-life friend. Make sure to bring him a hat, and maybe a pipe or carrot-nose.

    A Sled

    Bring a totable, lightweight disk or toboggan so the kids can enjoy the snowy hills at the park.

    water skiing on the lake on a summer day

    Water skis

    You can rent a ton of different boats at the park, from the motorized kind, to paddleboats, to canoes. However, you should bring your own water skis and other personalized water equipment.

    Beach reads, blanket, and towels

    This is the time to lie by the water and take in that book you’ve been wanting to start. Pack a light picnic and you won’t need to get up except for an occasional refreshing dip in the water.


    This is probably the most essential item for those visiting in summer. Whether you’re sunbathing, swimming, or water-skiing, you won’t get far without your suit.

    Sun protection

    With so much water reflecting the rays, your exposure will be increased. Bring your hat, shades, and SPF50!

    Supplies for building a sandcastle

    Little ones will spend hours creating masterpieces along the shores of this park. Bring buckets, shovels, and anything else that will help them unleash their inner architect.

    Binoculars & Camera

    Some of the lakes are so large that a little magnification will go a long way for spotting boats and birds. Likewise, photographers won’t regret bringing their best zoom lens for catching the waterfowl.

    What not to bring

    alcohol and firewood. The former is prohibited, the latter is for sale at the park to prevent the spread of invasive insects. Campers with dogs should check guidelines—our canine companions are not permitted at the cabins nor at select campgrounds.

    Where to stay in Chain o’ Lakes State Park

    Reserve your site for some Class-A premium camping on the grounds. There are 230 campsites at this park! If you’d like to enjoy the comfort of a hotel instead, there are many to choose from in this area. Fourteen miles away is Harbor Shores Hotel in Lake Geneva. This vacationer’s town is filled with other top-notch hotels, too. Closer are The Lotus Suites in Wadsworth, another great choice. They offer a pool and all the other standard fare, for a good price. Gurnee is nearby, and features shopping outlets and a Great America theme park, so there are a multitude of places to stay within 5 to 10 miles of the park.

    Pavillon for Chain o’ Lakes State Park

    Food Nearby Chain o’ Lakes

    Reserve one of the park’s many shelters if your packing your own picnic. However, ice cream is hard to transport, so get that at the concession stand! The stand offers other goodies as well, including food items and ice. If you’re looking for reasonably good, fast, and inexpensive food nearby, check out the Culver’s in Lake Zurich. This is a Wisconsin chain that has crept over the border into Illinois. They are famous for the local delicacy, cheese curds. They also serve real custard and their own decadent “butter buns”. If you are willing to drive 14 miles, Lake Geneva offers several quality restaurants.

    Airports near Chain o’ Lakes State Park

    There are three airports near the park. All are approximately 50 miles away, or an hour drive. However, rush hour in this area could easily lengthen that drive by about a half hour. Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport or Chicago Executive Airport are options, as is Milwaukee’s General Mitchell International Airport.

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