Fox Chain O’Lakes, Illinois, USA

Lake Locations:

USA - Midwest - Illinois - Chicagoland - Northern -

Also known as:  Fox Chain of Lakes, Channel Lake, Lake Catherine, Lake Marie, Bluff Lake, Petite Lake, Grass Lake, Fox Lake, Nippersink Lake, Pistakee Lake

The Fox Chain O’Lakes is a collection of 15 navigable lakes on the Fox River, each with its own flavor. Called the “Key West of the Midwest,” the Chain has been drawing visitors to play in the Chicagoland region of Northern Illinois for over a hundred years. Made up of glacial lakes and impoundments, the Fox Chain O’Lakes is impacted by several dams on the Fox River including the McHenry Dam which was completed in 1907. Today the Chain is managed by the Fox Waterway Agency and under the authority of the Department of Transportation, the Division of Waterways, and the Department of Conservation, Division of Fisheries. According to the Fox Waterway Agency, the Chain is the “busiest, most used inland waterway per acre in the United States.” The Fox Chain of Lakes is a public navigable waterway including 45 miles of the Fox River and 29 miles of dredged and natural canals. The 15 lakes total over 7,000 acres of water.

The Fox Chain O’Lakes covers part of Lake County and McHenry County and begins near Antioch. Sister lakes, Catherine Lake and Channel Lake, start the chain. From the surface they look like one lake with two lobes. There is an underwater ridge that separates 155-acre Catherine Lake from 352-acre Channel Lake. Catherine Lake has an average depth of 45 feet. Boat ramps provide access to the lake which has earned the reputation as one of the best bluegill lakes in the Chain. Channel Lake is a deep lake with plentiful populations of bass and northern pike. Access to the lake is from one of the many boat ramps or private concessions that ring the shore.

Known as one of the best fishing lakes in the Fox Chain of Lakes, Lake Marie has an average depth of 14 feet and a maximum depth of 35 feet. Abundant populations of bass, crappie, white bass, pike and walleye all make their home in the lake. Lake Marie has boat ramps on both the northern and eastern shore. At 86 acres, Bluff Lake is smaller than the others. It is known for its shore fishing and exceptional pan fish. Petite Lake is also a popular pan fish lake. There are also abundant populations of perch and northern pike. Along with Catherine Lake and Lake Marie, Petite Lake is popular with families. There is almost no water skiing, and sand bars and beaches make great places to swim and play.

Grass Lake is best known for the American lotus that floats on the mirrored surface of the lake. Thin stems with large lime-green leaves rise to the surface with yellow lily-shaped flowers. There was a time when the entire lake was covered with the beautiful flowers; today they only grow in pockets around Grass Lake. The lake is only three feet deep, making it the shallowest of the Fox Chain O’Lakes. However, the lake still sports healthy populations of northern pike, bass, and catfish.

Fox Lake is full of walleye, white bass and perch, and the channel catfish and crappie fishing is exceptional around Crabapple Island. With 1,700 acres of water and over a dozen boat ramps, Fox Lake is a fantastic lake for boating, jet skiing, water skiing, and wake boarding. The lake connects to 420-acre Nippersink Lake which is often considered part of Fox Lake. Nippersink Lake also connects to Grass Lake and Pistakee Lake. Pistakee Lake is the farthest south on the Chain. The 1,700-acre lake sits on the McHenry County and Lake County border and has an average depth of six feet with a maximum depth of 30 feet. Pistakee Lake has abundant populations of white bass, channel catfish and walleye which have been stocked in the Chain since 1978.

Just four miles south of the Illinois and Wisconsin border, the Chain O’Lakes State Park touches parts of Grass Lake, Lake Marie, and Nippersink Lake. The 2,793-acre state park was established in 1945 and borders a 3,230-acre Conservation Area. Trails cross the park, and there are horse rentals and camping available. In season there is hunting for doves, archery deer and pheasant. There is also waterfowl hunting in the park and in places all along the Chain. In the winter, visitors can ice skate, ice fish and cross-country ski. The Fox Chain O’Lakes is a four season destination.

The Fox Chain O’Lakes is between Chicago and Milwaukee, about an hour from each with access to all the amenities of cities their size. There are marinas, boat rentals, restaurants and accommodations including waterfront vacation rentals. Small towns dot the area around the Chain, and there is real estate available for sale for anyone wishing to extend their stay.

With so many different lakes in so many different flavors, there is a lake to suit everyone on the Fox Chain O’Lakes. Add the waterfront amenities, and visitors to the Chain hardly need to leave their boats. That may be the best vacation of all.

Things to do at Fox Chain O’Lakes

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Swimming
  • Beach
  • Jet Skiing
  • Water Skiing
  • Wakeboarding
  • Camping
  • Hiking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • State Park

Fish species found at Fox Chain O’Lakes

  • Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Northern Pike
  • Perch
  • Pike
  • Sunfish
  • Walleye
  • White Bass

Fox Chain O’Lakes Photo Gallery

Fox Chain O’Lakes Statistics & Helpful Links

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Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

Water Level Control: Illinois Dept. of Transportation-Division of Water Resources

Surface Area: 7,110 acres

Shoreline Length: 488 miles

Completion Year: 1907

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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