Illinois' Chain Of Lakes:
Natural for the Trailer Boat
Trailering Magazine Archives - Destinations
Those who are in the business of promoting the Chain O'Lakes area, just 40 miles northwest of Chicago, will tell it this way: When the Creator wanted to make a place for boaters, this is the place that was selected. Setting aside the spin and the exclamation points and enthusiasm, the newcomer to this natural formation of nine interconnected lakes will reach a single conclusion: there's something to the story. And there's something to the name.
Actually, there's a lot to the name. There's also a "chain of lakes" in Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Missouri and Florida. But we're going to focus on the Illinois version. The Creator had a pretty good idea of what to offer, whether you buy into that story or not.
Situated just four miles south of the Illinois/Wisconsin state line amid rolling fertile farmland, this particular "chain" covers 6500 acres with 488 miles of shoreline. The lakes are connected by the 112 mile-long Fox River that begins its southerly journey northwest of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. First time trailer boaters need to be aware the deepest of all nine lakes is only 42 feet (Channel Lake to the north) while Grass Lake (in the central Chain of Lakes region) has an average depth of just 6 feet. As a result, have a chart with you (always a good idea for the newcomer to a body of water) and become familiar with the channel markers (for traversing from one lake to the next).
The 2,793 acre Chain Of Lakes State Park borders Grass, Marie and Nippersink lakes as well as the Fox River. There are areas for overnight camping, bike riding and a pair of boat launches (Maple Grove Launch to the south and a public launch on the Fox River just south of the Highway 173 bridge). These state launch ramps are the only such facilites in the Chain of Lakes area that operate with no charge. Boaters can leave their tow vehicles and trailers overnight at this location but should always inform the park attendants of their intention. The numerous marinas along each of these lakes have their own boat ramps and, as a result, allowance for overnight parking will vary from place to place.
From wherever you decide to launch, and for however long you intend to stay, a one-to five-day temporary sticker is required for every non-resident boat 17-feet and longer. These can be attained at any marina as well as the state park. The cost will vary depending on the size of your boat.
This is a prime fishing area. Each lake has a wide variety of available fish but each also is known for a specific kind of fish. Channel Lake has yellow bass while Lake Marie is where the smallmouth bass is most often found. Carp and channel catfish are common in the shallow Grass Lake and Petite Lake, with a maximum depth of 27 feet is where anglers land walleye and muskie. Fishing is not allowed in the channels between the lakes and no fishing is permitted from the bridges that cross the lakes because lines can interfere with boat traffic.
The charm of the chain is found in the ease with which a day can be spent alone anchored near a sandbar or at one of the many waterside restaurants. "If it's on the water, it has a dock" is another oft-heard Chain of Lakes phrase. Adding to the uniqueness of the area is the fact many of these restaurants have been run by the same families for years and chances are good you'll be served by a relative of the original owner using a recipe passed down from generation to generation. A life-long resident of the Chain of Lakes, Bill Bruce (who works in the nearby BoatU.S. Marine Center in Arlington Heights), has a pair of favorite places to dock and have a meal. "I have always enjoyed the Fairmont Shores on Grass Lake," he says "because you can watch the sunset from a deck above the water and if you desire, they'll make your order to go. The other great spot is Mineola Marina (also on Fox Lake) because it has great food and was a favorite hang out for Al Capone when he wanted to get out of Chicago for a while."
You won't see only boats tying up at these restaurants on a summer day. Bill Bruce has some advice for anyone coming into the dock for a meal. "Look out for airplanes," he warns, "You can reach these places by car and by boat and also by air. Planes with pontoons are common on weekends and if you ever get into the situation of who has the right of way, an airplane coming for a landing always has the right of way. We always give them lots of room be it landing, taking off or coming into and out of the dock area."Another popular activity occurs every Thursday afternoon during the summer. Drag race boats from all over the country meet at Blarney Island on
Grass Lake for a few hours of competition. These boats are 20 feet-long and are powered by huge inboard and outboard engines that push them to speeds of almost 190 miles an hour. You won't face the issue of who has right of way in this case because the recreational boater isn't allowed near the racecourse. Hundreds of spectators on boats come out to watch the racing which continues until sunset.
While many areas use the same name, the Chain of Lakes in Illinois is a unique place where the person with a trailer boat is going to find some terrific adventures, activities and people. And if the claims of Chain of Lakes fans about divine intervention is true, it's proof someone above went boating while resting on the seventh day.
For More Information
User Permit Information 847-587-8540
Chain of Lakes State Park 847-587-5512
Pederson Marina (BoatUS Cooperating Marina on Lake Marie) 847-395-3356
BoatUS Marine Center #27, 63 West Rand Road, Arlington Heights, 847-398-0606
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