Whether hunting or fishing, one day trips are fine, but they only last for one day. And traveling to and fro can eat up a goodly portion of that day. There are a number of state parks that offer quality campgrounds adjacent to some prime fishing and hunting opportunities, but not all of us own suitable camping equipment, or possess the inclination to “rough it” even a little.
Commercial hotels and resorts are often available near to where the action is, but nothing beats having it virtually right outside the front door. Fortunately, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has just what you are looking for. Scattered throughout the state, from top to bottom, are state parks that include either cabin or lodge rental options for visiting sportsmen.
By previewing these properties online at the Illinois DNR website (dnr.illinois.gov) you can pick the one that best suits your needs. They all offer on-site hunting, fishing, recreational and leisure activities, plus various other nearby attractions. These rental options are especially suited for family outings where everyone’s interests may differ.
We’ll take a look at three Illinois state parks that combine quality fishing or hunting opportunities with lodging options that provide all the creature comforts.
SHAWNEE NATIONAL FOREST
Southern Illinois is truly a sportsman’s paradise, and it is one that would take a lifetime to fully explore. For a fisherman there are ponds, creeks, rivers, lakes and impoundments, each with healthy populations of game fish from the humble bluegill to giant flathead catfish and even 50-pound muskies.
Hunters have a never-ending menu of game, some of which can be pursued year ’round. There is no closed season on coyotes and feral hogs. Upland game such as doves, rabbits, turkeys and squirrels are abundant. Deer are a constant menace on the roadways. Waterfowl gather by the hundreds of thousands at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Swamps, sloughs and flooded timber, much of it public land, holds mallards and other species on their migratory journey.
Access to much of this wildlife largesse is guaranteed by the labyrinthine Shawnee National Forest, which winds its way throughout the four-county region. Additionally, public boat ramps dot nearly every body of water that a fish can swim in.
And, for that reason we are going to investigate Giant City State Park, and its attractive lodging offerings. The park lies right in the center of all these abundant fishing and hunting adventures, nestled within the Shawnee Forest, not far from Carbondale. The 4,052-acre park is famous for its towering limestone bluffs that were formed over 12,000 years ago. The bluffs, being irregular in shape, resemble huge buildings with winding streets between them, thus the name, Giant City.
Within the park are 15 small ponds, which are stocked and managed by DNR personnel. Bank-fishing is permitted, and crappie and bass are easily caught, making the park a great place to introduce youngsters to the sport.
For more advanced anglers, the park sits right on the edge of Little Grassy Lake, one of the area’s top producers. But it also makes the park’s 34 cabins prime lodging spots for mobile sportsmen who are probing the many wonders of southern Illinois’ outdoor world.
Constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, the lodge features 34 cabins with heat and air conditioning, full baths, TVs, telephones and forest views. The cabins are built from the local stone and white pine. The Bald Knob dining room, with its rough-hewn ceiling and brass chandeliers, is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is known for its “all you can eat” family-style fried chicken. The great room, with its massive stone fireplace and much of the original oak furnishings still in use, is a great place to unwind after a day of hiking or to play a board game with the family. Other amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, children’s pool, gift shop and a meeting room capable of accommodating up to 150 people.
Activities in the park include hiking, horseback riding, boating, and fishing for bass, crappies and bluegills.
The lodge is closed from mid-December until the first weekend in February.
235 Giant City Road, Makanda, IL 62958 – 618-457-4921
Rates: Rates vary since there are three different styles of cabins and many special packages are offered.
Illinois Beach State Park
Located in northern Illinois, just below the Wisconsin state line, is Illinois Beach State Park. Situated right on the Lake Michigan shore, the Illinois Beach Resort features something for all tastes. Each of the lodge’s rooms provides a full view of Lake Michigan’s splendor, as does the restaurant and cocktail lounge. An Olympic-size indoor heated swimming pool and giant whirlpool, children’s video game room, full service health club and sauna offer relaxing indoor activities.
But, it is the recreational outdoor options that are most attractive. Hiking trails and walking or jogging on the more than three miles of beach is just a step away. North Point Marina, a full-service marina, containing 1,500 slips and an 18-hole golf course are both located nearby. Just minutes away you will also find Six Flags Great America theme park, Gurnee Mills outlet mall and Tempel Farms, home of the famous Lipizzaner stallions. If you need more, remember that Chicago, a city that attracts 50 million tourists each year, is a short 45-minute ride down I-94. All this and we haven’t even delved into the fishing opportunities to be found. We will get to that next.
Lake Michigan boasts a world-class trout and salmon fishery, and two of its most productive ports border the park. Both North Point Marina, to the north, and Waukegan Harbor, to the south, are full service marinas where visiting anglers can launch or moor their own boats. Open water trolling begins in early April, when the coho salmon schools move in close to shore, and continues non-stop through the entire summer and into fall, when the mature Chinook salmon return to spawn. Lake trout are plentiful year around, and trophy rainbow and brown trout are frequently brought in.
The highlight of any stay at Illinois Beach State Park has to be a trip out on the big lake on one of the many professional charter fishing boats. Simply Google “Lake Michigan charter fishing” at either North Point or Waukegan and take your pick of boats you will find there.
The Lake Michigan charter boats are of suitable size to assure your safety and comfort, and they are equipped with the finest electronics and tackle to make the day a successful one. Special one-day Lake Michigan fishing licenses are available for a reasonable price, and all fishing tackle is provided. All you need bring is suitable clothing, sun screen, refreshments, a cooler to take you filets home in, and probably most importantly, bring a reliable camera because the big one won’t get away.
Another fishing option not far away from the hotel is the Chain O’ Lakes, a nine-lake impoundment of the Fox River. These lakes are easily accessible to trailerable boats, and rentals are available at Chain O’ Lakes State Park and some of the marinas as well.
The Chain lakes are home to a wide variety of game fish, including panfish, bass, walleyes, northern pike, and muskies. And notable as well is the listing of the Chain among the top 10 musky lakes in the U.S.
1 Lake Front Drive, – Zion, IL 60099, 847-625-7300
Book reservations online. www.ilresorts.com
Accommodations: 96 rooms. Dogs allowed, 2 under 80 pounds
Rates: $125 per night and up. Many special packages are available.
Carlyle Lake, in west-central Illinois, is well known to hunters and anglers for the varied opportunities to be found. The lake was completed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1966 and is the largest manmade lake in Illinois. It is 24,580 acres in size, with 85 miles of shoreline.
The lake is divided by the Burlington Northern tracks. The upper area provides some of the best crappie, bluegill, largemouth bass, bullhead and channel catfish fishing. It is very shallow, with an average depth of only three feet. All brush and timber in the upper area was left standing when the lake was filled. The lower area of Carlyle Lake is mostly open, with some brush and timber left standing in three of the major bays.
For fishermen launching boats there are access areas all around the lake.
Carlyle Lake is also one of Illinois’ prime waterfowl hunting areas, and its 11,000 acres of adjoining land provides quality quail, mourning dove, pheasant, rabbit, squirrel, whitetail, deer and turkey hunting. Check out the Carlyle Lake Fishing and Hunting guide at the IDNR web site for more information.
As with waterfowl hunting everywhere, weather and habitat conditions determine hunting results. The varying progress of migration year to year depends on strength and depth of northern cold fronts. How many birds spend time at the lake depends on how much food is available to them once they do arrive. On the whole, Carlyle Lake is still considered to be one of Illinois’ top waterfowl hunting destinations.
For sportsmen wanting to spend more than one day at the lake, accommodations can be found in Eldon Hazlet State Park, on the lake’s west shore. The Hazlet Cottages sit at the water’s edge, and the park is conveniently located near the railroad bridge that divides the lake into two sections, making it easy for hunters or anglers to access either area.
Guests will have access to the boat trailer/RV parking lot as well as access to complimentary boat docks. A public boat ramp, fish cleaning station, restrooms and a pavilion are also available for visitors to use.
A large open air swimming pool adjacent to the cottages is open to the public daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day (and beyond, weather permitting).
A camp store carries “all those things you left at home.”
The cottages, both single and duplex, are equipped with both heating and air conditioning, and are available year around. They all have a roomy covered patio with seating for four, and a fire pit. Each cottage has two sleeping rooms, and all bedding is provided. Each cabin’s kitchenette is fully stocked with a refrigerator, electric cook-top, microwave, coffee maker, toaster, pots and pans, dish sets, cooking and eating utensils, and dish towels. HD TVs are mounted on the wall and come with satellite television. Each TV is HDMI ready for all of your modern videogame console needs. Along with these other electronics, the cabin also comes with a DVD player. Cottages with wheelchair accessibility are available upon request.
20750 Hazlet Park Rd. – Carlyle, IL 62231, (618) 594-8702
Rates: Starting at $87 per night. Rate varies with dates and seasons. No pets.
We’ve covered several of the excellent hunting and fishing base camp options available to hunters and anglers. With these great choices and additional locations around the state, there’s no shortage of opportunities for outdoors enthusiasts to find a spot near the action.