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Best Bodies Of Water To Visit Near Chicago

With warming temps, thoughts turn to picnicking with a water view, kayaking for fun and exercise, fishing for bass, sightseeing by boat, digging toes into the sand and maybe getting a good game of beach volleyball. With all the waterways that border and cross Chicago and its burbs it's easy to find somewhere to relax with a drink while taking in a restful seascape or getting out on a boat. The challenge is deciding which place to go first.

Chicago Area Beaches Found To Have High Contamination Levels
Beach goers relax at North Avenue Beach. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Lake Michigan's North Avenue Beach

You know Lake Michigan is one of the North America's five Great Lakes. You might not have known its surface area is about 22,400 square miles, making it the second largest lake in surface area after Lake Superior and Huron. It is also the only one of the Great Lakes that is entirely within the U.S. Lake Michigan borders the states of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and the northwestern tip of Indiana. There are terrific beaches, harbors and bays along its shores. In Chicago, the city's park district operates several beaches along Lake Michigan. However when looking for one of the most popular beaches with lots of activities and a really attractive beach house, check out North Avenue Beach on Lake Shore Drive in Lincoln Park. The beach house looks like a boat and there is beach volleyball and yoga available, plus seven places to grab a snack. In addition, vendors offer kayak, paddle board and jet-ski rentals.

Three Oaks Recreation Area Instead of looking for merely a backwoods swimming hole, go to Crystal Lake, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago, to discover a 500-acre quarry that has been transformed into two bodies of water — North and South Lake. Open in 2010, Three Oaks' 300-acre South Lake has swimming, a beach house a spray park and marina. The marina does sail boat, kayak, canoe, row boat and paddle boat rentals. The lakes also have shoreline fishing and are catch-and-release for yellow, small-mouth and large-mouth bass, walleye, pike and perch. A wake-boarding Quarry Cable Park will open at the 200-acre North Lake beginning summer 2016.
Chain O' Lakes State Park

Picture more than 6,000 acres of water with nearly 490 miles of shoreline and you have the boating and fishing heaven that is the Chain O' Lakes, about 60 miles northwest of Chicago. Among the places to access the lakes is at the Chain O' Lakes State Park, where boat launches are free. However, the Fox Waterway Agency requires a user fee for boats on the Chain. There is a concession stand that has fishing gear and snacks and rents boats from April through the middle of October.

Related:  Best Places To Go Fishing Near Chicago

Geneva Lake

The name of a popular town and lake over the Wisconsin border approximately 80 miles from Chicago may confuse folks thinking there is a typo. But counterintuitively, the body of water is Geneva Lake and the town is Lake Geneva. Other towns on the water are Williams Bay and Fontana-on-Geneva-Lake. At 8.14 square miles, the lake isn't particularly large, but it is a deep 62 feet and considered to have been a kettle left by a glacier. The lake became a summer refuge for some of Chicago's elite beginning in the mid-1800s. The towns each have a beach but most of the shopping and festivals are in Lake Geneva. Boats can be rented in Fontana and Lake Geneva. The best way to see the lake is by the Lake Geneva Cruise Line, which does a history tour and will continue the Mail Boat tour in 2016 to celebrate the famed route's one-hundredth anniversary.

Skokie Lagoons

Once considered a "Great Marsh" that later was drained, the Skokie Lagoons in northeastern Cook County are a delightful place to canoe, row and kayak. The Lagoons are operated by the Cook County Forest Preserves as a place to enjoy fishing and quiet boating. An Illinois fishing license is required. Portage is possible for more lagoons, but launches are located in Lagoons 3, 4 and 5. Boat rental is at Tower road east of I-94.

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Jodie Jacobs is a veteran journalist who loves writing about Chicago, art, theater, museums and travel. Her work can be found on

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