There are beaches a short drive from Champaign-Urbana, offering families a taste of sand fun
You don’t need to drive more than 10 hours to get to the ocean and enjoy the beach. In fact, you don’t even have to drive two hours to get to Lake Michigan. Central Illinois has a number of beaches to offer and as long as you don’t mind lakes instead of oceans, your family should have a great time!
Pack for a beach trip in central Illinois the same way you would for the ocean — sunscreen, snacks, towels, and chairs, of course. Some of these beaches involve a short walk from the parking lot to the swimming area. You’ll also want to bring some cash as most Illinois state recreation sites have a small entrance fee, and cash will make things easier (and might be your only option in some places). ).
Clinton Lake, 45 minutes from Champaign-Urbana
It is an artificial lake built for the purpose of cooling the Clinton nuclear power plant. That means it’s always hot…some days it’s TOO hot, if it’s hot outside it’s true! Open Memorial Day to Labor Day. $2 per person. No credit cards accepted at the beach. Tip: You can pay with credit at Boondocks Restaurant and show the receipt to enter.
You can bring your own food in coolers if you wish (no drinks allowed, no alcohol allowed) or you can leave the beach to eat and return before closing time at 7 p.m. People certainly bring tents, chairs, blankets and all. the usual ‘beach’ gear you might expect here. Water shoes are recommended as it is not a soft white sand type beach and there are a lot of rocks around. Also, no lifeguard is on duty, so stay in the marked (shallow) area to play.
Shelbyville Lake, 90 minutes
A little further than Clinton, Lake Shelbyville offers a number of different beaches. The lake itself meanders through miles and miles of central Illinois land and is popular with area boaters. There are also a number of state recreation areas, where the beaches are located.
The Dam West recreation area is quite large and has a large playground nearby. For an additional fee, you can also visit the Shelbyville Family Aquatic Center near Dam West.
There are two public beaches located on Lake Shelbyville:
- Dam West Recreation Area (Ninth Street) in Shelbyville
- Sullivan Beach located just outside of Sullivan
- Lithia Springs Beach, reserved for campers from Lithia Springs
The fee is $5 at the Honor Chest. The opening hours of the beach are from 8:00 a.m. to sunset. No alcohol allowed and no food or drink allowed on the sand. Beaches open for the season in mid-May.
Indiana Dunes, 2 hours and 15 minutes
This is the longest ride on our list; we wanted to provide at least one lake michigan beach option and this one will give you an option without driving through the center of chicago traffic. While the dunes are open year-round, the West Beach (where you’ll want to have fun at the beach) is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. A vehicle enters for $6.
Due to the size of Lake Michigan, you might be fooled into thinking you’re at the ocean here! There are also more “waves” here than some of the other smaller lakes we’ve listed above. Because who doesn’t like jumping in the waves?
Other beaches you may have heard of
View of the moraine, 45 minutes
It is important to note that there is no lifeguard on duty and this is a very small beach. It’s also worth mentioning that on our last two visits the beach was closed, so you can call ahead to confirm it’s open if you want mostly beach time. This “beach” seems to be the goose favorite of Moraine View the most, and our recommendation is that you enjoy Moraine View for its stellar kayaking, hiking, and camping, and spend time on the beach.
Middle Fork River Forest Reserve, 40 minutes
A swimming beach did exist at Middle Fork but it has pretty much run out. Fortunately, the district has embarked on a complete overhaul of Willow Pond. Although there is currently no swimming or beach access in Middle Fork, we have high hopes for the future. Check the Champaign County Forest Reserve District Facebook page for updates on this project.
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