Visit Lake Clinton with your family
What to do in Clinton Lake: the closest lake to Champaign-Urbana
Ice cream cones, hiking trails, great fishing spots, and even a beach – Lake Clinton is a great day trip for families in the Champaign-Urbana area
You might think that central Illinois is landlocked, with no hope of escape within a few hours’ drive (the closest examples being South Haven, Michigan, or Indiana Dunes). We’re here to tell you that Clinton Lake is a lesser-known gem about 45 minutes from CU, and with many glimmers of what it would be like to be on a real beach.
And beyond the beach itself, there is a lot to enjoy about Clinton Lake when you visit with your family. We think you’ll be surprised at this pretty spectacular Illinois Department of Natural Resources State Recreation Area.
You can choose whether you take a trip to Clinton a short day, a full day, or a full camping experience. We’ll go into detail on the different things you can do in Clinton Lake so you can make the best plan for your family. There is no admission fee just to enter the recreation area, but you will pay for camping and beach access, among other activities.
Information to know: Open Memorial Day to Labor Day, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. $ 2 per person. No credit cards accepted at the beach (tip: you can pay on credit at the Boondocks restaurant and show receipt to enter).
The most obvious reason you are heading to Lake Clinton is because you have heard that there is a beach you can swim in! Yes, there is a beach. It is an artificial lake built for the purpose of cooling the Clinton nuclear power plant. This means that it is always hot; some days it’s too hot, if it’s hot outside!
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 come back before closing at 7pm. People certainly bring tents, chairs, blankets and all the usual “beach” gear you might expect. Water shoes are recommended as it is not a soft white sand beach and there are a lot of rocks around. Also, no lifeguard is on duty, so stay in the marked (shallow) area to play.
Information to know: Illinois state fishing rules apply, so have your fishing license. You’re most likely to catch crappie here, but Lake Clinton is one of the state’s best lakes for catfish (and we’ve seen them firsthand!)
Fishing is one of our favorite outdoor activities in central Illinois. Clinton Lake offers tons of options around the lake for fishing. Of course, if you are on a boat you can drop your line in the water.
But if you don’t go boating as part of your day, there are plenty of lakeside docks for fishing, or you can even walk to the water at many spots and jump into the lake. This is another of those places by the lake where we recommend that you have water shoes to protect your feet as it can get rocky too.
Note that fishing is not allowed in the beach area. Our favorite spot for fishing is just outside of Boondocks, where a lot of boats come and go. You can fish right there (watch out for the boats) or head a few steps west of there and you’ll find a nice dock with picnic tables and more.
Information to know: Clinton Lake is No Wake for all boats from half an hour after sunset to half an hour before sunrise. There are six public boat launches and a canoe boat launch on the lake. Clinton Lake is a Department of Natural Resources area and all MNR boat launches have wheelchair accessible docks.
We know that boating attracts some, but not all. If that’s your thing, or if you’re traveling the area and taking personal watercraft with you, Lake Clinton is one of the largest lakes you’ll find in east-central Illinois. There are many boat launching ramps located around the lake, and you will see people with boats of all kinds as well as people tubing, water skiing, jet skiing and just hanging out on the lake. having a good time. You don’t have a boat of your own? You can rent one via Barefoot Cove Marina (including kayaks) Fancy sailing as a hobby? You can connect with the Lake Clinton Sailing Association to learn how, right here in central Illinois.
Camping at Lake Clinton
Information to know: There are over 200 campsites with a variety of amenities to choose from at Clinton Lake, making it a popular place to camp in central Illinois. H, I, J and K camping loops are alcohol free. A minimum two-night stay (Friday-Saturday) is required during Memorial Day, Independence Day (when July 4 falls on a Friday, Saturday, Sunday or Monday) and Labor Day weekends. There is an increase in fees during these holiday weekends. You can get the price list and book online here.
Whether you are camping in a tent, with an RV, or want to camp up to 75 people in the same general area, Clinton Lake has a space to suit your needs. Be aware that the camp definitely fills up on holiday weekends, so book your campsites well in advance.
We find camping in Clinton to be an enjoyable experience with a family atmosphere and plenty of kids to play with no matter which loop we find ourselves in. Due to the beach, camping facilities, and all the recreation available at Clinton Lake, this ranks as a great place for beginner to advanced camping families.
Take a hike or a swing
Information to know: If you like to explore, Clinton Lake will make good adventure territory. There’s no admission fee just to play at Clinton Lake, so you can set off by car to explore what’s available for your family and enjoy the scenery at the same time.
There are a lot of very kid friendly hiking trails and play areas along the lake. We love the sandy playground outside of a shelter just west of Boondocks because it’s so close and we can just walk into it from the large lot we park on.
Grab a bite or cool off with a cone at Boondocks
Information to know: Boondocks is open daily. If you are visiting outside of Memorial Day through Labor Day, we recommend that you call (217) 935-0925 to confirm they are open. They are open every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The grill side of Boondocks is a cooked-to-order restaurant, and the supplies side is where you can get bait or other gear for your visit.
Boondocks gets two thumbs up from us (and our kids!). If you want a great place to have a casual lakeside meal, Boondocks completes a visit to Lake Clinton. Visit for breakfast where they have coffee and a full breakfast menu, or come later in the day for lunch, dinner, or an ice cream. You can order from the outside window and bring it back to your site or order inside the air-conditioned restaurant for a break from the heat.
Children’s meals cost $ 5 and are accompanied by a side dish, a drink and a “mini” ice cream (photo on the right). The many other menu items cost around $ 3 to $ 7, and sides are sold separately. We found the food to be good and were all happy with our meals.