Just outside Chicago is one of Illinois’ best destinations for summer and winter recreation. Chain O’Lakes, also known as Chain of Lakes, Fox Chain of Lakes, or just “the Chain,” is the state’s largest concentration of natural lakes with nearly one dozen towns and villages to explore. Whether you’re visiting or moving to Chain O Lakes Illinois, you’re bound to fall in love with this gorgeous region. Here’s a look at the many Chain O’Lakes communities and top attractions in the area.
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Chain of Lakes: The Largest Concentration of Natural Lakes in Illinois
The Illinois Chain O’Lakes is a large collection of lakes in northern Illinois made up of 15 lakes connected by man-made and natural channels and the Fox River. Combined, the Chain of Lakes has more than 488 miles of shoreline and 7,100 acres of water. It’s the country’s busiest inland recreational waterway per acre with average weekend usage of 60,000 and holiday usage of 100,000 people.
Where Is the Chain O Lakes Illinois?
The Chain of Lakes IL region is in the northeastern corner of Illinois in Lake and McHenry counties along the Fox River about one hour outside Chicago. The Fox Chain of Lakes covers about 7,200 acres and it’s the largest concentration of natural lakes in Illinois.
How Many Lakes Are in the Chain of Lakes?
There are 15 lakes on the Fox Chain of Lakes:
- Fox Lake – 1,700 acres
- Pistakee Lake – 1,700 acres
- Grass Lake – 1,360 acres, 12’ average depth
- Lake Marie – 480 acres, 14’ average depth
- Nippersink Lake – 420 acres
- Channel Lake – 352 acres
- Petite Lake – 167 acres, 12’ average depth
- Catherine Lake – 155 acres, 45’ average depth
- Bluff Lake – 86 acres
- Bradenburg Lake – 75 acres (privately owned)
- Dunns Lake – small offshoot of Nippersink Lake
- Redhead Lake – in Pyramid State Park off Pistakee Lake
- Spring Lake
- Duke Lake
- Long Lake
Grass Lake is one of the largest lakes of the Chain but the shallowest with an average depth of just three feet. In the middle is Blarney Island, a popular beach bar. Nippersink Lake is a great choice for water recreation with a connected canoe trail. Fox Lake is a popular base for visitors thanks to its central location, large size, many marinas, and waterfront restaurants. In the winter, ice fishing on Duck Lake is a big draw.
Chain O’Lakes Communities
There are ten primary towns and villages surrounding the Chain O Lakes, each offering fantastic restaurants, marinas, and cultural attractions. Many people living on the Chain O’Lakes are not full-time residents; a large number of Chicago residents have summer homes in the area.
McHenry – Population: 27,135
The largest of the Chain O’Lakes villages, McHenry is about 63 miles south of Milwaukee, WI, and 50 miles northwest of Chicago. It’s known as the Heart of the Fox River and known for Fiesta Days, a 10-day summer festival with parades, food, live music, and car shows. Downtown McHenry is a fun destination and home to the McHenry Riverwalk District, a one-mile stretch along the Fox River with apartment buildings, dining, restaurants, nightlife spots, and a movie theater. It’s also home to Moraine Hills State Park.
McHenry is served by Metra’s Union Pacific Northwest Line with service to Chicago.
Antioch – Population: 14,622
Antioch is the next-largest village in the Chain of Lakes Illinois region. On the Illinois-Wisconsin border, Antioch is halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee and a popular bedroom community for both metros. It’s surrounded by Lake Marie and Channel Lake to the west, Antioch Lake to the south, and Redwing Slough Lake to the east.
Downtown Antioch is known for its boutiques, specialty shops, and regular events including art walks, parades, and festivals. The village has a big arts culture with the Antioch Fine Arts Foundation and Palette, Masque and Lyre, Inc (PM&L) Performing Arts theatre. It also hosts many fishing tournaments and boasts a number of golf clubs, resorts, and parks like the Cypress Resort & Marine.
Fox Lake – Population: 10,978
The central village on the Chain, Fox Lake is 55 miles from downtown Chicago and just 20 miles from Waukegan. It sits on the southern shore of Fox and Nippersink lakes and the eastern shore of Pistakee Lake. Fox Lake is home to some of the top entertainment and recreation destinations and nightlife options from the Fox Lake Country Club to the Fox Lake Town Center with the local cinema.
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Ingleside – Population: ~9,500
Ingleside is a large unincorporated community on Squaw Creek and Long Lake. It’s just 16 miles west of Waukegan and served by Metra’s Milwaukee District/North Line with service to Chicago about 63 miles to the southeast. Ingleside is best known for the Volo Bog State Natural Area and Miller’s Dog n Suds Drive In, a 1950s-style drive-up hot dog stand popular with locals and tourists.
Lake Villa – Population: 8,741
Located between Cedar Lake to the north and Deep Lake to the east is the bustling village of Lake Villa. It’s home to some of the best restaurants in Chain O’Lakes with one of the best nightlife scenes thanks to its numerous breweries and bars. Lake Villa is also home to Lehmann Mansion, an historic restored mansion and popular wedding venue.
Johnsburg – Population: 6,355
The Village of Johnsburg is one of the best places to live in the Chain O Lakes, especially for families. The community is served by the highly rated Johnsburg School District #12 and St. John the Baptist Catholic School (K-8). It’s home to four large parks with an ice rink, sledding hill, and athletic fields and boasts more waterfront than any of the other Chain O’Lakes communities. The Pistakee Yacht Club’s Community Sailing School in Johnsburg has been serving the local sailing community for over 120 years.
Volo – Population: 6,122
The small village of Volo is best known for the Volo Auto Museum, a major Chain O’Lakes destination with several attractions. This close-knit community is a great place to raise a family with many community events like the Arbor Day Contest, Easter Egg Hunt, and a large community garden. The village is nestled against Fish Lake with the Fish Lake Beach Camping Resort and two YMCA camps for kids.
Spring Grove – Population: 5,487
Spring Grove is nestled between Grass Lake, Fox Lake, and Pistakee Lake to the southeast and Elizabeth Lake to the northwest and divided by Nippersink Creek. It’s best known as the home of Chain O’Lakes State Park, one of the best parks in northern Illinois. It’s also great community for seniors and families with a good mix of residential and commercial development, good schools, and great recreational programs for residents.
Pistakee Highlands – Population: 3,237
Adjacent to the Pistakee Bay, Pistakee Highlands is one of the smallest Chain O’Lakes villages. This small community is nestled along Pistakee Lake across from the village of Fox Lake across the Route 12 bridge. It’s home to several small parks on the water and Ristic Harbor Marina.
Fox Lake Hills – Population: 2,684
On the eastern shore of Fox Lake is the small unincorporated community of Fox Lake Hills, the smallest of the ten villages on the Chain of Lakes. The community is mostly managed by the Fox Lake Hills Property Owners Association with almost 775 homes in three neighborhoods: Chesney Shores, Orchard Gardens, and Bayview. The community association has a harbor, boat launches, four parks, and a beach.
Chain O Lakes Things to Do
Chain O’Lakes living is paradise for outdoor enthusiasts with endless opportunities for recreation in every season! During the summer, swimming, boating, tubing, jet skiing, and stand-up paddle boarding are popular. In the winter, skiing and snowmobiling are major draws. Chain O Lakes fishing is popular year-round with over 40 species of fish. It isn’t all just water recreation, either; Chain O Lakes is a great destination for hiking and camping.
Here are some of the top Chain O’Lakes Illinois attractions!
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Chain O’Lakes Entertainment & Cultural Attractions
- Richardson Adventure Farm (Spring Grove) is home to the world’s largest corn maze with pick-your-own pumpkins, cut your own Christmas trees, craft beer and tulip festivals, and many other family-friendly activities.
- Volo Museum (Volo) isn’t your traditional museum. Check out Hollywood, muscle, antique, and classic cars, stop by the beer garden, and visit several other attractions like Volo Antique Malls and Jurassic Gardens.
- Kristof’s Entertainment Center (Round Lake Beach) is one of the top Chain of Lakes IL things to do with kids with mini golf, arcade games, batting cages, and go-karts.
- Raymond’s Bowl & Entertainment Center (Johnsburg) is a family-owned bowling alley and entertainment center serving the Chain for over 46 years.
- McHenry Outdoor Theater (McHenry) is one of just 400 drive-in theaters remaining in the U.S. with current films, concessions, and a playground. It’s a hallmark of summer on the Chain!
- Bella’s Bouncies Skate On Grand Roller Rink (Fox Lake) is a family-friendly indoor skating rink with concessions and arcade games.
- Classic Cinemas Fox Lake Theatre (Fox Lake) is a local chain movie theater in the Fox Lake Town Center, a major local shopping destination.
Chain of Lakes Resorts & Marinas
- Fish Lake Beach Camping Resort (Volo) is a lakefront RV park and campground with a beach, family-friendly activities, and fishing.
- Cypress Resort & Marine (Antioch) is the ultimate Chain O Lakes Illinois getaway destination with a beach, boat slips, launch, and cottages for rent.
- CJ Smith Resort (Antioch) is a family-owned resort that’s been a landmark for 86+ years with boat rentals and fishing licenses.
- Spring Lake Marina (Antioch) has one of the largest boat rental fleets on the Chain O’Lakes. It’s the largest Chain O Lakes marina in Antioch with an RV park.
Chain O’ Lakes Parks
- Chain O’Lakes State Park (Spring Grove) is one of the top destinations in the Chain and borders Grass, Nippersink, and Marie lakes. It’s home to the best Chain O Lakes campground and great fishing!
- Moraine Hills State Park (McHenry) is a 2,200-acre park with lakes, wetlands, and woods to explore, fishing, hiking, and hunting.
- Lakefront Park (Fox Lake) is a waterfront park and playground on Nippersink Lake with a splash pad during the summer.
- Volo Bog State Natural Area (Ingleside) is a quiet nature preserve with trails through the natural bog environment and cross-country skiing.
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Chain O Lakes Bars, Breweries & Restaurants
- Blarney Island (Grass Island) is the top destination for adults on the Chain. In the middle of Grass Lake, Blarney Island is a Caribbean-themed beach bar and music venue with boat races every Thursday.
- Pug Mahones Irish Pub & Grill (Fox Lake) is a popular Irish pub with darts and billiards.
- Port of Blarney (Antioch) is a dog-friendly lakeside bar with live music, a diverse menu, a tiki bar, and a marina and RV park.
- Electric Harbor Bar (Lake Villa) is a great place to stop for a beer and a burger with a playground for kids.
- Fairmont Shores (Lake Villa) is one of the highest-rated Chain O’Lakes restaurants with a laid-back atmosphere, great food, and reasonable prices.
- Squaw Bar (Ingleside) is a fun, low-key bar with indoor and outdoor games like video poker, billiards, volleyball, and horseshoes.
- Harbor Brewing Company (Lake Villa) is one of the most popular local craft breweries with a great atmosphere and large section.
- Reflections on Deep Lake (Lake Villa) is a fantastic waterfront Polish restaurant with cocktails and hearty Polish cuisine served in a lodge-like setting with a patio overlooking Deep Lake.
- Miller’s Dog N Suds Drive In (Ingleside) is a long-time hallmark of summer on the Chain. This old-fashioned drive-in hot dog stand has draft root beer, intercoms for orders, carhops, and weekly classic car nights.
- Sandbar Bar & Grille (Antioch) has a diverse menu and great views of Lake Marie.
- Bub’s Dog House (Antioch) is an iconic floating hot dog cart on the lake! Enjoy fantastic hot dogs while enjoying a day on the lake without even leaving the boat.
Chain of Lakes Illinois Map
Does living in the Chain O’Lakes sound like a dream? Call the 5-star Chain O’Lakes Illinois movers at Federal Companies today for a free, personalized moving estimate. We’ll help you get settled in your new home without the stress or heavy lifting!