May 2006 12 / OutdoorIllinois May 2006 OutdoorIllinois / 13
We’ve all heard the familiar
“It’s a nice place to visit,
Nobody ever said that
around the Chain O’Lakes
region of Illinois. People show
up here, and they decide to stay, and it’s
been that way for ages. The timeless
attraction of living around sparkling lakes
and boulder-edged marshes has brought
Ten natural lakes linked together
means great sporting opportunity, and the
Chain O’Lakes has long been a recre-ation
and sportsman’s destination. During
the early to mid 1900s, waterfowl hunting
clubs flourished as a major business.
Fishing resorts dotted the shores. Restau-rants,
marinas and taverns catered to the
summer visitors from Chicago.
Much of the resource-related busi-ness
still thrives today. But with some
everyone from settlers to subdivision res-idents
to stay for good at this popular
northeastern Illinois nature retreat.
Perhaps that’s why Chain O’Lakes
State Park—with more than 6,000 open
acres including a Conservation Area—
increasingly stands out as a destination
of choice for nature-seeking visitors to
Illinois’ aptly named Lake County.
Just 60 miles northwest of Chicago, this
glacier-sculpted state park is one of the
largest areas of natural landscape remain-ing
amid a busy, suburbanized region. The
park is bordered by three lakes, as well as
the Fox River—which connects to an addi-tional
seven lakes. A 44-acre lake is locat-ed
within the park itself.
7.8 million residents now living in north-east
Illinois, the Chain O’Lakes no longer
represents a destination one reaches fol-lowing
a leisurely country drive.
Site Superintendent Kurt Zacharias
said much of the formerly open land
surrounding the state park is now
“There are people building right next
to the border of the park,” Zacharias
said. “Fortunately, the state acquired
this property at the right time.”
Although fully developed real estate
surrounds its borders, Chain O’Lakes
State Park still embodies the natural
landscape which originally attracted so
many for so many years.
The first Europeans to visit the area
were French fur trappers and traders,
who found an abundance of everything
from beavers to otters in the rivers,
lakes and marshes throughout this Fox
River region. Jolliet and Marquette visit-ed
in 1673. Native American tribes lived
a semi-nomadic lifestyle here at that
time, raising corn, hunting, fishing and
living from the bounty of the water-filled
prairie. Thousands of years prior, pre-historic
tribes hunted for now-extinct
mastodon in the recently unglaciated
lands of northeast Illinois.
All of that history evolved into Chain
O’Lakes State Park just after World War
II, with an original dedication of 840
acres. During the 1950s, a nearby Civil-ian
Conservation Corps camp was added
Story By Joe McFarland
Photos by Ronilyn Mussared
At Chain O’Lakes State Park, Illinois’ largest concentration
of lakes attracts everything from eagles to otters...and you.
to the park’s property, and today, some
6,023 acres represent Chain O’Lakes
State Park and Conservation Area, cov-ering
lands in both Lake County and
neighboring McHenry County to the west.
It’s a well-visited destination, accom-modating
a diverse spectrum of interests.
“We get between 1 to 1.5 million visits
per year,” Zacharias said, adding that
visitors here seek out everything from
the miles of trails and hundreds of camp
sites to boating and fishing, waterfowling
and upland game hunting, plus scores of
other outdoors opportunities. “It would be
hard to describe the typical visitor to the
park because so many different people
stop by for so many different reasons.”
Fishing remains a big attraction, espe-cially
during the winter when sufficient ice
affords safe passage upon the Fox River
and the connected lakes. Traditionally,
late-winter ice fishing tournaments have
attracted thousands of competitors.
In the summer, anglers seek out no-wake
areas amid the lively recreational
boat traffic to pursue everything from
northern pike to walleye.
Department of Natural Resources
District Fisheries Biologist Frank Jaku-
(Photo by Ray Mathis.)
One hour northwest of Chicago, the
landscape of Chain O’Lakes State Park
reveals the pre-settlement features of
rich forests and prairie wetlands.
Approximately 6 miles of trails attract
hikers and bikers to this northern
Illinois escape. The trails become cross-country
ski destinations during winter.
Canada’s glaciers offer a glimpse of what
Chain O’Lakes State Park might have
looked like more than 10,000 years ago.
(Photo by William Shilts, ISGS.)
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.