Forbes Lake, Illinois, USA

Welcome to the ultimate guide to Forbes Lake — things to do, where to stay, fun facts, history, stats and more. Let’s dive in!

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All About Forbes Lake

What started as a humble two acre lake in a twenty acre park has grown into one of southern Illinois’ best fishing lakes and a great family destination. Stephen A. Forbes Lake, named for the world renowned natural scientist, has great fishing, beautiful water and abundant recreation opportunities.

The Stephen A. Forbes Lake is surrounded by the Stephen A. Forbes State Park which has been gradually adding land since 1959 and today encompasses 3,103 acres. Forbes Lake has grown from two acres to 543 acres because of the construction of a dam on the Lost Fork, a tributary of Skillet Fork and the Little Wabash and Wabash River. Construction on the dam started in 1962 and was completed in 1963. It was built by the Illinois Department of Conservation with matching funds from the federal Dingell-Johnson Program which was created to improve sport fisheries.

Forbes Lake has proven itself to be a good sport fishery. There are healthy populations of bluegill and crappie, and the lake is stocked every year with large mouth bass. In past years it has been stocked with redear sunfish, channel catfish, hybrid-striped bass, tiger muskie and walleye. Access to the lake is from one of several boat ramps, and there is a marina with gas, boat rentals and provisions. A section of the lake is marked to allow water skiing. Swimming is allowed, but only at the beach at Rocky Point.

The state park has a picnic area and softball and volleyball courts. A floating walkway over Forbes Lake connects the campground to the marina and a lakeside restaurant. Multiple trails cross the park including hiking trails and an equestrian trail with its own campground. The park includes oak and hickory forests, and over 2,000 acres around Forbes Lake are open for hunting. Hunters can take turkey and deer by bow only and small game like squirrel, quail and rabbit in season. Fields planted with sunflowers attract both doves and dove hunters.

Just below the dam on Forbes Lake, the Sam Parr Biological Station includes a laboratory, accommodations for scientists and students, and drainable ponds. Established in 1966, the aquatic research center is used by the Illinois Natural History Survey. The station has been instrumental in studying the life cycle of several fish species including channel catfish and large and small mouth bass as well as uses for other fish species. Some of the facilities can be toured by classrooms with prior arrangements.

The Stephen A. Forbes Lake is two miles east of the Village of Omega and 15 miles northeast of Salem in Marion County. Salem was established in 1823 as the county seat for Marion County. It is also known as the birthplace of Kraft’s Miracle Whip. Originally called Max’s X-tra Fine Salad Dressing, Kraft bought the recipe in 1931 from Max Crossett’s Cafe for $300. Salem has restaurants, shops and any amenities a visitor might need. There are no vacation rentals in the state park, but Salem has various accommodations. For visitors that want to extend their stay, there is real estate for sale.

With its clean water, plentiful fish and wildlife, and hickory and oak forests, Forbes Lake, the little lake that could, is sure to delight visitors.

Things to Do at Forbes Lake

  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Water Skiing
  • Camping
  • Campground
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park

Fish Species Found at Forbes Lake

  • Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Muskellunge
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Redear Sunfish (Shellcracker)
  • Smallmouth Bass
  • Striped Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Tiger Muskellunge
  • Walleye

Find Places to Stay at Forbes Lake

If you’re considering a Forbes Lake lake house rental or hotel, we’ve made it super easy to find the best rates and compare vacation accommodations at a glance. Save time using this interactive map below.

Recommended Sites to Book a Forbes Lake Vacation

If you want to take a deeper dive to find waterfront lake cabins, cottages, condos, hotels or resorts, check out our favorite Forbes Lake lodging partners.

  • VRBO – Use VRBO to find the perfect lake rental home, condo, cabin, cottage or other vacation property.
  • – One of the world’s leading digital travel companies, connects travelers to everything from cozy B&Bs to luxury resorts.
  • Expedia – Expedia is a popular online travel agency with more than 140,000 lodging properties worldwide.
  • – With more than 325,000 hotels in 19,000-plus locations, is an industry leader in online accommodations.
  • TripAdvisor – Read traveler reviews and compare prices on hotels, vacation rentals and more at TripAdvisor.
  • Trivago – Trivago helps travelers compare deals for hotels and other accommodations from a variety of booking sites.
  • KAYAK – KAYAK scours hundreds of other travel websites at once to find the best deals on hotels and other travel-related services.
  • RVshare –RVshare connects travelers interested in renting a motorhome with owners who have RVs to rent.
  • CampSpot – Campspot offers premier RV resorts, family campgrounds, cabins and glamping options across North America.

Note: These are affiliate links so we may earn a small commission if you book through them. While there is no extra cost to you, it helps provide resources to keep our site running (thank you)! You can read our full disclosure policy here.

Forbes Lake Statistics & Helpful Links


Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Illinois Department of Conservation

Surface Area: 543 acres

Shoreline Length: 18 miles

Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 513 feet

Average Depth: 15 feet

Maximum Depth: 31 feet

Completion Year: 1963

Water Residence Time: .6 year

Drainage Area: 21 sq. miles

We strive to keep the information on LakeLubbers as accurate as possible. However, if you’ve found something in this article that needs updating, we’d certainly love to hear from you! Please fill out our Content Correction form.

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