If you’re looking for places to cool off in Illinois, you’re in luck! Whether you’re looking to stave off the summer heat or to embrace the winter chill, Illinois has the perfect destination for some water-themed outdoor fun. These locations are all family-friendly and fairly easy to access, so get ready to pack up the whole family and take a trip! We’ve gathered a list of five swimming holes and natural springs in Illinois for you and your family to explore!
1. Silver Springs State Park
Named for the Illinois natural spring that glimmers like molten silver as it bubbles up within the park, Silver Springs is the perfect place to go for both hot-weather and cold-weather fun. The park offers activities all year round; you can fish, swim, and hike during the summer, and while we don’t recommend trying your hand at swimming during the cold months, the park does offer sledding, trails for cross-country skiing, ice skating, and even ice fishing in the winter!
There’s truly something offered for everyone here, from young to old, from winter to summer. No matter what time of year you visit or what sort of activities you enjoy, you’re bound to have an incredible experience at this Illinois swimming hole.
2. Bork Falls
Next on our list of swimming holes in Illinois, Bork Falls is a true wonder to behold! If you choose to visit this Illinois swimming hole located inside the Shawnee National Forest, you’ll find yourself both surrounded by and immersed in awe-inspiring natural beauty. Despite the breathtaking splendor it offers, this location isn’t often busy, so you’re not likely to get suffocated by a crowd. The falls are mainly accessed by hiking, but don’t let that scare you off! It’s a short trip, and not a particularly difficult one, so even kids can manage the hike with relative ease.
The only time you have to be cautious is during rainy or otherwise inclement weather. Between a water crossing with no bridge and an access road that gets slippery during storms, it’s best to avoid attempting a trip to the falls if there’s bad weather brewing. In fact, in 2007, authorities found an empty car immersed in the pool beneath the falls! Exactly how this occurred is still a big unknown, but it’s only sensible to assume that the slick conditions of the access road contributed to this mystery crash.
No matter what, this is definitely not the place to visit without the promise of clear weather on your side! Still, so long as the sun is out and you’ve got your hiking boots on, these falls are a wonderful place to spend a summer afternoon with friends and family.
3. Bell Smith Springs
Our next Illinois natural spring is also located in the Shawnee National Forest! Bell Smith Springs is most popular during the summer, and it offers plenty of streams to traipse through, rock formations to admire, and canyons to ogle. Unlike Bork Falls, the eight-mile hike to this natural spring in Illinois is considered moderately difficult, but the effort put into the trip is more than worth the destination!
The Shawnee National Forest is hardly a chore to hike through, offering the chance to view all kinds of Illinois-specific vegetation as well as exciting opportunities to spot some unique critters—you might just catch a glimpse of an armadillo if you keep a sharp eye out! When you throw in the opportunity to view such stunning sights as Boulder Falls and Devil’s Backbone, this third location on our list of swimming holes in Illinois is absolutely a must-visit. If you’re truly ambitious, you can plan a day trip to visit both Bell Smith Springs and Bork Falls and knock both of them off your swimming hole bucket list!
4. Kincaid Lake Spillway
Fourth on our list of swimming holes in Illinois is Kincaid Lake Spillway! Also found in the Shawnee National Forest, this swimming hole is comprised of beautiful triple-tiered cascading water, boasting a bit of a waterfall. Visitors are able to climb up the rocks and hang out on the multi-level rocks, but be careful! Make sure you and your family wear sandals or swim shoes—the rocks can be sharp and slippery, and that’s not the kind of fall you’re here to experience! The pool at the end of the spillway is the perfect destination for some summer swimming fun, so grab your gear and some sunscreen and get ready for a day at the lake!
5. Centennial Beach
Last but not least on our list of natural springs in Illinois is Centennial Beach! While this swimming hole was originally a limestone quarry, that all changed when natural springs beneath the surface started flooding in. Eventually, this quarry was repurposed, first as a bathhouse and later as a popular swimming destination! This swimming hole has varying depths for all swimmers, starting at zero depth and deepening all the way to fifteen feet! Both novices and experts will find themselves satisfied with the swimming offered at this Illinois swimming hole.
Another unique feature of Centennial Beach is the lifeguard staff. These individuals are highly trained, each one certified in CPR, first aid, and SCUBA. While swimming at Centennial Beach, you can rest easy knowing this eagle-eyed team of skilled lifeguards is there to keep you and your family safe while you enjoy all the opportunities for fun that Centennial Beach offers! Even if you have some aquaphobic people in your group, they can have just as much fun lounging on the beach. Bring along a picnic blanket, a deck of cards, cornhole boards, or any other outdoor activity to give yourselves something to do when you need a break from the water!
Remember to Bring
As always when swimming in an outdoor space, there are a few things you should be sure to bring along with you in order to ensure safety and comfort is at the max. While every location is different, when visiting natural springs in Illinois, we recommend always bringing along these things for your trip:
Swim shoes or sandals
Lots of these swimming holes and natural springs in Illinois are rocky or located around rocky areas, so you don’t want to take them on barefoot! The rocks surrounding the swimming hole and lurking within the swimming hole can be sharp or slippery, and the last thing you want is to have a cut or scrape ruin your family’s trip. Also, while rare, there have been leeches found in Illinois waters, so it’s best not to go completely barefoot here!
Even though many of these natural springs in Illinois are in wooded areas, that doesn’t mean you’re free to forget the sunscreen! Whether you’re out in the open sun or basking in rays mottled by the leaves above, sunscreen is crucial to keeping yourself safe and healthy throughout all seasons while visiting an Illinois natural spring or swimming hole; even winter sun can burn if it’s strong enough! Make sure both you and your kids are slathered with sunblock before touching toe in the water, or you might end the day a bit more red than when you started!
First aid kit
Even with the precaution of shoes and sandals, make sure you have a well-stocked first-aid kit handy, even if it’s tucked away in your car. Some of these swimming holes require hikes to reach, both long and short, and many of them have rocks you can climb on. No matter how careful you are, injuries happen, and you don’t want to find yourself unprepared in the middle of the woods. Make sure you have band-aids and antibiotic ointment at the very least!
Driving home sopping wet is no fun for anyone, and you especially don’t want to end up with water damage on your car interior! Even if all of you are bringing along a change of clothes, make sure to bring enough towels for everyone to dry off before heading home from an Illinois natural spring. If you want to go the extra mile for caution’s sake, bring along some large garbage bags or other plastic coverings to shield the seats of your car from leftover water while driving home.
Wrapping Up Natural Springs in Illinois
The hardest part about exploring swimming holes and natural springs in Illinois is picking which one you and your family should visit first! From the Shawnee National Forest to an abandoned limestone quarry, the options are as varied as they are unique, and you can’t go wrong no matter which one you choose. Which Illinois swimming hole are you leaning toward for your first swimming adventure? Did we miss any swimming holes in Illinois that you love? Let us know in the comments below!
Looking for more outdoor Illinois adventures? Check out our recommendations below!