You might now believe it now as we sit knee-deep in winter, but Chicago sure knows how to crank up the heat under the summer sun. Finding a spot to float-about isn’t tough with all the beautiful city beaches and community pools. However, sometimes a change of scenery is in order. Better yet, something a bit rugged or off the beaten path. We’re sharing our favorite swimming holes, from the manmade to the naturally spectacular, including some that might have you pitching a tent and setting up camp.
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 paddle boats are available to rent.
500 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville
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.
400 S. Water St., Batavia
Once the site of 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.
16400 W. Buckley Rd., Libertyville
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.
32223 N. US Highway 12, Volo
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.
5517 Northwest Hwy., Crystal Lake
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.
4300 Petersen Park Rd., McHenry
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.
376 North County Line Rd., Gary
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.
1561 Park Rd., Whiting, IN
— Maria Chambers