Editor’s note: The Chicago swimming season is over for the season, we’ll see you back next May!

Normally, finding a spot to float-about isn’t tough with all the beautiful city beaches and community pools. But this year it’s proving to be a tad trickier. If your favorite local pool is in flux, here’s an update on our favorite spots that are bit more rugged or off the beater path. Here are our favorite swimming holes that range from manmade to naturally spectacular, some that are open for business now or coming soon.

photo: Naperville Park District

Centennial Beach

What began as a limestone quarry that supplied foundations for many of the buildings in Naperville that still stand today, is now Naperville’s sandy retreat on sweltering summer days. This man-made watering hole has some impressive stats; it holds 6.2 million gallons of water and increases from zero-depth entry to depths of 15 feet, making it perfect for swimmers still developing their fins to the more experienced swimmers.

If you want to escape to the deep end and use the diving boards, you must pass a 100-meter swim test. For those sticking to the shallow end, enjoy the water slide, water pumps and sprayers, large sand area with play structures, bag toss, umbrellas and Adirondack chairs. Beach goers are welcome to bring their own food or the cafe serves hot-off-the-grill meals and cool treats. Bonus: Located a quick hop, skip and a jump away from the beach along the scenic Riverwalk you’ll find Paddleboat Quarry, where kayaks and paddleboats are available to rent.

Covid-19 update: Centennial Beach's 2020 season was canceled. 

500 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville
Online: centennialbeach.org

McHenry Petersen Park

Throw down a beach towel and dig your piggies into the sandy shores of Fox Lake with the natural haven Petersen Park as your backdrop. Lifeguards secure the swimming area that never feels overwhelming because it doesn’t get too crowded. Throughout the summer the park hosts a variety of events, like Big Wheel races and a music fest.  Affordable boat, kayak and barracuda bike rentals are available. This lake is known as being a popular spot for water sports, so once you’ve taken a dip, take to your towel and sit back and enjoy the show.

Covid-19 update: McHenry Petersen Park reopened as of Jul. 1 and the season ended Aug. 9.

4300 Petersen Park Rd., McHenry
Online: ci.mchenry.il.us

photo: Three Oaks Recreation Area

Three Oaks Recreation Area

With its pristine lakes, this paradise offers many amenities, including a beach, boat rentals, catch-and-release fishing, hiking/biking trails, a splash park with spray jets and buckets of water being poured from overhead, a playground with memory foam decking and scuba facility. Guests are welcome to bring their own food or enjoy a meal from the on-site Culver’s.

Covid-19 update: The beach opened as of Jul. 6 with limited capacity. Visit their Facebook page for updates.

5517 Northwest Hwy., Crystal Lake
Online: crystallake.org

West Beach at Indiana Dunes

Lake Michigan provides Chicagoans the ultimate watering hole, all the fun of the ocean minus the salt. Experience the lake from a different perspective in Indiana at the Dunes, with fishing nearby at Long Lake. Traverse several marked trails along the dunes that include a boardwalk and 250 stairs to a spectacular overlook of the lake with stunning views of Chicago on the horizon. West Beach sits at the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan and has a lifeguard on duty and bathhouse on site — key for those with little ones in tow. Covered picnic shelters and grills offer a great spot to break bread after a day’s worth of fresh-air activity.

Covid-19 update: West Beach at Indiana Dunes is open for the season, as are some surrounding beaches. Visit the website for park status and updates before visiting. 

376 North County Line Rd., Gary
Online: nps.gov

Whiting Park and Whihala Beach

You may not know this beach that’s a short 30-minute drive south of the city, but it’s well worth adding it to your summer agenda. Whihala Beach covers 21 acres complete with bike trails, a concession stand, boat ramp, a fishing pier and excellent views of the Chicago skyline to boot. From your beach towel, you’ll see swimming, kayaking, boating, kite boarding, jet skiing and even surfing on the days the water seems more ocean than lake. The 15-acre Whiting Park, with its playgrounds, flower gardens and fish pond with a waterfall, sits adjacent to Whihala.

Covid-19 update: Whihala Beach was open, but reclosed as of Jul. 14. Check their Facebook page for updates.

1561 Park Rd., Whiting, IN
Online: whitingindiana.com

Fish Lake Beach

This family-owned lake destination has been happily providing families a place to connect with each other and nature for over 70 years. Located 40 miles north of the city in acres of prairie and conveniently located near Six Flags Great America, there is a never-ending list of activities that leave little chance you’ll hear the dreaded phrase, “I’m bored.” Visit for the day to swim in the lake or in one of their two pools, fish or troll around in row or paddle boats available for rent or pack a tent to extend the fun into an overnight.

Once the kids have swam themselves exhausted, they can hop out for a visit to the arcade, play a round at the 10-hole mini-golf course, watch a movie under the stars, shoot hoops or drop their line off the pier. Besides the recreation that are permanent fixtures, Fish Lake also hosts ever-changing activities throughout the season, such as family dances, pool parties, karaoke nights, hayrides and themed weekends. Outside food is welcome or there are concessions on-site for grill food, snacks, drinks and ice cream.

Covid-19 update: Swimming at Fish Lake is prohibited at this time. Check the "News" section of their website for the most up-to-date information throughout the summer.

32223 N. US Highway 12, Volo
Online: fishlakebeach.com

Independence Grove

Once the site of a gravel quarry in gorgeous Lake County 30 miles north of the city, Independence Grove reopened in 2001 and now serves as a wildlife habitat featuring an abundance of family-friendly activities including swimming, hiking, biking, fishing and boating. Spread your beach towels on more than 400 feet of sandy beach outlining a section of the 115-acre lake and take a dip or spend an afternoon doing a little catch-and-release fishing.

Washrooms, showers and lockers are available in an adjacent beach house and umbrellas, chairs, fishing boats, canoes, kayaks, pedal boats, paddleboards and bikes are available for rent. Outside food for your picnics is welcome or food and beverages are available at the Cafe. Throughout the summer, the Grove plays host to a variety of performers, so be sure to check the calendar for a chance to catch a concert.

Covid-19 update: The beach will not open for the 2020 season.

16400 W. Buckley Rd., Libertyville
Online: independencegrove.org

Harold Hall Quarry Beach

This sand-bottom swimming area occupies a former stone quarry and covers 60,000 square feet that includes islands, slides and a diving area. Along with a playground, kids will dig the flume, wiggle bridge and splasher and parents will love the ease of zero-depth entry. Pack your own grub and set up camp in the large picnic area or grab nachos, pretzels and hot dogs at the concession stand.

Covid-19 update: Harold Hall Quarry Beach will remain closed for the 2020 season.

400 S. Water St., Batavia
Online: bataviaparks.org

— Maria Chambers


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