Top 10 Beaches in Illinois

Published on June 30th, 2021

What are the Most Popular Beaches in Illinois?

Although Illinois might not be the very first state that pops to mind when you think of beach days, it maybe should be: Chicago alone offers over 20 miles of free shoreline access, and that’s not counting the state’s bountiful inland lakes. So grab your sunhat, a great read and your favorite beach towel, and head to one of these beautiful Illinois beaches this summer!

Top Beaches in Illinois

1. Illinois Beach State Park

2. Sunrise Park

3. Lighthouse Beach

4. Montrose Beach

5. 57th Street Beach

6. Calumet Beach

7. Clinton Lake State Recreation Area

8. Lake Shelbyville

9. Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area

10. Crab Orchard Beach

Illinois Beaches

Here are the top 10 most popular and scenic beaches in the Prairie State.

1. Illinois Beach State Park

Bench vith a view - Zion State Park.

The name says it all. Illinois Beach State Park, nestled in the northern reaches of the state along the shof Lake Michigan, is easily one of the most beautiful stretches of beachfront in the midwest — after all, the state saw it fit to designate a whole six-and-a-half miles of shorefront as a natural recreational preserve for posterity. Part of the famed Lake Michigan Dunes region, this park does indeed offer characteristic swells of sand, making it one of the most recognizable geological features in the entire state (which is, after all, known for its flatness). These 4,100+ acres were first recognized as worthy of preservation all the way back in the 1880s, which is part of why they’re still available for families to explore and enjoy today. Camping is also available on-site, with electric hookups available.

Things to do near Illinois Beach State Park: Located alongside the town of Zion just south of the Wisconsin border, Illinois Beach State Park is close to destinations like Six Flags Great America — and, of course, all of the attractions Chicago has to offer. Here are some local RVshare rentals and campgrounds to consider to make your journey complete.

2. Sunrise Park

Sailing lessons are available near Sunrise Park
Sailing lessons are available near Sunrise Park Beach

As its name suggests, Sunrise Park is, indeed, an incredible place to see the sun come up — or to hang out under it once it’s high, or watch it go down, for that matter. During the summer months, the park opens two swimming beaches to the public, and a separate section in the north end of the park is set aside as a dog beach and swimming area — a great opportunity to go paddling with your pooch. Kayak and paddleboard rentals are also available, and there are even sailing lessons available through the nearby Lake Bluff Yacht Club if you’re feeling fleet and fancy.

Things to do near Sunrise Park: Nestled into the town of Lake Bluff, Sunrise Park is very close to other beautiful, preserved green spaces, such as Ravine Park and Artesian Park. The town is also home to a well-maintained and manicured 18-hole golf course if you want to try your short game — or your long game, for that matter. Here are some local RVshare rentals and campgrounds to consider.

3. Lighthouse Beach

Evanston lighthouse beach. Location: Evanston, Illinois

Located in the municipality of Evanston, almost immediately adjacent to the campus of Northwestern University, lighthouse beach is a stunning stretch of sand dotted with lifeguard stands and within eyeshot of a beautiful, historic lighthouse, offering a great opportunity to swimmers and sunbathers alike. The beach offers public restrooms and is within easy walking distance of Lawrence O Lawson Park, which features playgrounds, rolling green lawns, and many other attractions to perfectly complement your sandy getaway. This beach does, however, require a daily or seasonal pass to enter, unless you’re a local Evanston resident — in which case you get in free on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays.

Things to do near Lighthouse Beach: Evanston is so much more than a northerly suburb of Chicago, and boasts an especially large number of local parks, like Ellingwood Park, Wheeler Park, and Noah’s Playground, an absolute must-visit for those traveling with children. There are also lots of great campgrounds and RVshare rentals in the area!

4. Montrose Beach

Montrose Beach in Uptown Chicago during the Summer with the Edgewater Skyline

Easily one of the most popular of Chicago’s many public beaches, Montrose Beach is named for the fact that it lives at the place where Montrose Avenue meets Lake Michigan — which also happens to be within the bounds of the city’s famous Lincoln Park, one of the oldest and most venerated public spaces in Chicago, Illinois, and the country at large. The beach itself is known for its sandy shores and ample swimming areas, including a long-distance stretch parallel to the shore to help you get a workout in if you want. Swimming is allowed between Memorial Day and Labor Day each year, and there’s also a nearby boat launch (though only non-motorized vessels are welcome).

Things to do near Montrose Beach: Along with wide open spaces (and, obviously, a beach), Lincoln Park is home to such must-hit destinations as the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, and the Chicago History Museum, just to name a few. Then, of course, there’s the rest of Chicago to discover; here are some local RVshare rentals and campgrounds to help you do it.

5. 57th Street Beach

57th Street Beach in Chicago with a Single Woman in the Water

If there’s one Chicago beach that’s sure to be teeming with swimmers on any given sunny summer day, it’s 57th Street Beach, which is tucked within the bounds of Jackson Park at the place where 57th Street meets Lake Michigan. Designers Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux set aside a developed beachfront here all the way back in 1871, and it’s been a swimming beach since 1899, which is to say you’re sharing in a lot of Chicago history when you make a beach day of it along this shoreline! There’s nothing quite like taking a dip or digging your toes into the sand, all under the beautiful shadow of Chicago’s iconic skyline. Plus, with all of sprawling Jackson Park behind you, you’ll have plenty more to see and do along the way.

Things to do near 57th Street Beach: Much like Lincoln Park, Jackson Park offers manicured greenery and paved walkways, but is also home to a variety of cultural stops like Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and the Japanese-inspired Garden of the Phoenix. Other Chicago must-sees, like the Hyde Park Art Center, aren’t far afoot; here are some local RVshare rentals and campgrounds to complete your vacation picture!

6. Calumet Beach

A lifeguard stand sits empty at Calumet Beaech

Those who know Chicago will already be familiar with Calumet Park — which is, of course, where Calumet Beach is found. Originally conceptualized all the way back in 1905 (although not opened to the public until 1930), Calumet Park, and its beach, get their name from the Normal-French word chamulet, which means “pipe.” This is in reference to the Peace Pipes that were shared between those indigenous to the Lake Michigan area and the settlers who eventually ran them out. The beach is popular for setting up for sunbathing, but is also regularly used by swimmers between Memorial Day and Labor Day when it’s watched over by lifeguards. The beach offers developed restrooms and showers and also has easy access to concession stands.

Things to do near Calumet Beach: Nestled on the south side of Chicago close to where the Illinois-Indiana border sits, Calumet Beach is close to the Van Vlissingen Prairie nature preserve and the Harborside International Golf Center, which features two 18-hole courses. Here are some great RV campgrounds in the area to consider — and RVshare rentals to bring to the!

7. Clinton Lake State Recreation Area

Clinton Lake State Recreation Area Beach
Image via www2.illinois.gov

As lovely as Lake Michigan is, it’s far from the only swimmable lake in Illinois! About three hours southwest of Chicago, very close to the center of the state, the Clinton Lake State Recreation Area beckons with its immense 4,900-acre reservoir, perfect for boating, fishing, and yes — setting up for a beach day. A 1,000-foot sand beach area makes for a getaway that feels truly tropical, right here in the midwest… and you’ll remember where you are when you draw up catfish, crappie, walleye and bass, among others. The dense woods surrounding the lake are criss-crossed with hiking trails and offer seasonal hunting opportunities. There’s also a large and well-appointed campground right on-site.

Things to do near Clinton Lake State Recreation Area: Just over an hour away from Springfield, the Clinton Lake State Recreation Area is conveniently located for many Illinois residents and visitors, and is also drivable to other wildernesses like Turkey Run State Park. There are plenty of great RVshare rentals around here to choose from, too!

8. Lake Shelbyville

Shelbyville Lake and Dam on the Kaskaskia River — near Shelbyville, Illinois, USA

A vast and versatile 11,000-acre lake that spans out in the shape of a crooked Y in central Illinois, Lake Shelbyville is a well-known boating and fishing destination — and its many bays and points mean it’s got a wide variety of access areas, including plenty of sandy beaches. Wolf Creek State Park is one of the best ways in, offering more than 250 miles of shoreline on its own, well known for its swimming areas as well as its preponderance of wildlife; “deer, pheasant, rabbits, wild turkey and songbirds are almost always visible,” reads the official state park website. But you can also head to Lone Point Access Area, the Lithia Springs Access Area, and countless other spots along the waterfront. It’s more than a beach day: it’s an adventure!

Things to do near Lake Shelbyville: The nearest large-ish city is called — you guessed it — Shelbyville, and offers everything you might need in the way of shopping, dining, and amenities. Of course, an RVshare vehicle makes it easy to bring everything with you ahead of time, so all you have to do is kick back and relax!

9. Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area

Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area

Also known as Eldon Hazlet State Park, this preserved recreation area boasts many exciting features, not the least of which is its shoreline along Carlyle Lake, which includes a soft, sandy swimming beach. Because of the low surrounding terrain and great winds that come through here, this lake is also popular amongst sailors, for whom conditions are darn near perfect, and the park also offers a swimming pool just in case the beach is too crowded.

Things to do near Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area: The nearby town of Carlyle has everything you might need from a city, though if you’ve got your sights set on a bigger urban destination, your best bet is to head over the border into St. Louis. But we think the beauty of this natural area will probably have you wanting to stay in the woods if you can; here are some area RVshare vehicles to help you do so.

10. Crab Orchard Beach

Crab Orchard Wildlife Refuge
Image via fws.gov

Last on our list, but certainly not least, Crab Orchard Lake is an oft-overlooked hidden gem tucked into the southern tip of Illinois, not far at all from the place where the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers outline its border. This vast and rugged lake is well-used by locals for fishing, boating, and other watersports pursuits, but also offers some beautiful swimming areas along the north shore at Crab Orchard Beach. While it’s not the largest beach on our list, it is intimate and its sands are soft — and the cool waters of the lake are perfectly refreshing on a hot Illinois summer day.

Things to do near Crab Orchard Beach: Located due east of Carbondale, this lake is tucked between other preserved wildernesses worth seeking out, such as Lake Murphysboro State Park, Giant City State Park and Ferne Clyffe State Park. Here are some local RVshare rentals to consider.

Planning an RV Trip to Illinois

Beaches are truly just the start of what Illinois has to offer — it’s got plenty of national forests and state parks worth discovering, not to mention its cities. We’ve got you covered as far as the best RV rentals are concerned, and we’ve also penned guides to the best campgrounds in the state of Illinois. All you have to do is get on out there and see it!

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