Horseshoe Lake, Illinois, USA

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USA - Midwest - Illinois - Southwest -

Horseshoe Lake is an “oxbow” lake in west-central Illinois, created more than 3,000 years ago when a section of the mighty Mississippi River was cut off from the main river channel and formed a crescent-shaped lake. Horseshoe Lake is part of the flood plain area of the Mississippi River known as the American Bottom, which is now protected from flooding with levees and canals. Before construction of these flood control measures, the river sometimes changed direction and cut new channels with flooding from heavy spring rains. Covering about 2,400 acres, Horseshoe Lake is the second largest natural lake in Illinois after Lake Michigan. Its recreational offerings include boating, fishing, hiking, camping, bird watching, and hunting.

There are actually two Horseshoe Lakes in Illinois. This Horseshoe Lake is located in Madison County just a few miles east of St. Louis, Missouri, with the Mississippi River forming the border between the two states. The other Horseshoe Lake, located in Alexander County in the southern part of the state, is also an oxbow remnant of a previous Mississippi River channel.

Evidence of human occupation in the American Bottom region dates back to 8,000 B.C. The area is famous for its Cahokia Mounds, the giant earthen mounds built by a Native American civilization around 1,000 A.D. About 30,000-40,000 Native Americans lived in the “Mighty Metropolis” of Cahokia, which was the economic, social, and cultural center of the American Bottom region. The remains of the spectacular earthen mounds are testimony to this civilization’s elaborate burial and tribal rituals. The Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site is a National Historic Landmark and a World Heritage Site. Remains of a 210-foot long Cahokia mound still exist today on Walker Island, an island in the middle of Horseshoe Lake.

Old lakes are generally shallower than newer lakes because they fill in with silt, and Horseshoe Lake is no exception. The lake’s average depth of three feet demonstrates just how old it is. The lake’s maximum depth approaches 55 feet at the location of a previous sand and gravel commercial operation. Because of its proximity to metropolitan St. Louis, Horseshoe Lake was developed by the Illinois Department of Conservation as a public recreation area. Horseshoe Lake State Park provides 2,960 acres of family fun. Pack a picnic lunch and head out to one of the five picnic shelters or one of the smaller park-and-picnic locations around the lake. The park also includes three playgrounds and two volleyball areas for kids of all ages. If camping under the stars is your preference, the park offers 48 tent and trailer non-electric sites between May 1 to October 31. Facilities include a sanitary dump station, pit toilets, and water hydrants. The park office issues camping permits.

Horseshoe Lake is an angler’s paradise. Although bank fishing is good, boat fishing is even better. Three public boat ramps provide access to Horseshoe Lake. There is also a disabled-accessible fishing pier in the state park. Make sure that you obtain a state fishing license before throwing in your line for catches of largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, bluegill, carp, and buffalo. For anglers seeking trophy fish, largemouth bass in the 4 to 6 pound range are plentiful, while flathead catfish reaching 40 pounds are not uncommon. There are plenty of bluegill and yellow bass catches for those who enjoy bank fishing. Note that boat fishing is not permitted during the fall waterfowl season, and a 50-horsepower limit applies to all watercraft on Horseshoe Lake.

Horseshoe Lake State Park provides 4.5 miles of scenic hiking trails for spectacular waterfowl viewing. The self-guided trail on Walker Island has five different bird-watching habitats. Visitors will be treated to views of great blue herons, green herons, and migratory waterfowl such as Canada geese. In July and August the southern portion of the lake is drained, attracting blue herons and snowy egrets in search of clams and snails hiding in the mudflats.

Horseshoe Lake is also a popular Illinois hunting site with a fall waterfowl season, fall archery deer season, and spring wild turkey hunting. The lake is a top dove-hunting site, due to managed sunflower fields that attract the birds. Pheasants, quail, rabbits, and crow are also hunted in the State Park.

The importance of Horseshoe Lake extends beyond its recreational offerings. The lake provides flood water retention during periods of heavy rains that flood the American Bottom. The Cahokia Drainage Canal, a channelized natural stream, is the lake’s main exchange with the Mississippi River. Horseshoe Lake also receives urban runoff through the Nameoki Ditch, agricultural runoff through Elm Slouth, and treated effluent from the Granite City Steel Company on the lake’s western shore. Metro East Sanitary District controls the water levels on Horseshoe Lake through a small dam (weir).

For those who want to venture beyond the shores of Horseshoe Lake, St. Louis is just a few miles west. Known as “The Gateway to the West,” no visit would be complete without some photo ops at the famous Gateway Arch. The St. Louis Zoo, Art Museum, History Museum, and Science Center are all free to visit.

Horseshoe Lake is a midwestern recreational gem, so plan your visit for a day, a weekend, or a week.

Things to do at Horseshoe Lake IL

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Camping
  • Picnicking
  • Hiking
  • Hunting
  • Wildlife Viewing
  • Birding
  • State Park
  • Museum
  • Playground

Fish species found at Horseshoe Lake IL

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Bluegill
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Crappie
  • Flathead Catfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Sunfish
  • Yellow Bass

Horseshoe Lake IL Photo Gallery

    Horseshoe Lake IL Statistics & Helpful Links

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    Lake Type: Natural Freshwater Lake, Dammed

    Water Level Control: Metro East Sanitary District

    Surface Area: 2,400 acres

    Normal Elevation (Full Pond): 403 feet

    Average Depth: 3 feet

    Maximum Depth: 55 feet

    Drainage Area: 408 sq. miles

    Trophic State: Eutrophic

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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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