Horseshoe Lake is a reservoir located in the northwest corner of Will County, Illinois. The lake impounds water from the Kankakee River and is shared by an area of 1,300 acres (530ha) between May and September. A boat launch allows access to the lake for boaters. In winter visitors can go ice skating, sledding, and tobogganing. There are 18 holes of disc golf available, as well as over 200 picnic tables and charcoal grills. Toilets and showers facilities are provided seasonally. Two campgrounds provide a total of 76 campsites. Half of these sites have electric hookups. Advance campsite reservations can be booked through the park reservation system. Walk-in campsites are also available on a first come first served basis. Campsites without reservable dates may be occupied when the office is closed.
Camping costs $10 per night per vehicle. Group tenting is permitted in the large group tenting area, which contains 40 walk-in sites. Each site accommodates up to five people in two separate tents or RVs. No pets are allowed in the group tenting area. Pets are allowed in all other areas of the park. One mile south of the park entrance there is a smaller group tenting area that accommodates up to four people in two separate tents or RVs. This area does allow for some petting in the designated “pet friendly” area. Pet owners must purchase a permit allowing two dogs to accompany their owner’s RV or tent site. Only one dog per site is allowed. Permits are valid from April 1 until October 31.
Hunting is not permitted inside the park but it is permissible outside the park along the shoreline. When hunting, you may not use bait, kill wildlife for sport, or possess any part of the animal after taking it down. The only hunters authorized within the park are those registered with the state. Registration information can be obtained at the park offices. Bait, tackle, and supplies for sale near the campground include corn, soybeans, and buckwheat. Prices vary depending upon whether you buy them locally or online. Fishing licenses are required and are issued by the county in which the fisherman resides. Some common fish caught include crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, northern pike, bullhead, pumpkinseed, bowfin, white perch, yellow perch, and red-eared sunfish.
An equestrian trail leads out of the park onto a wooded road where horses can be rented to follow the shaded route into open fields. Horses brought in by car enter the park via a corral off of Highway 41. They are then taken to an enclosed facility where they can be fed and watered before being released back into the field. Golfers can take advantage of the beautiful spring weather during March, April, and May and play nine holes on what is called the Horseshoe course. The front nine hole loop follows the shores of the lake while the back nine hole loop travels across country towards the setting sun.
The primary mission of Horseshoe Lake State Park is to protect the unique ecology of the wetland areas within the park against further development. To achieve this goal, public attention was drawn to the park early in 1997, when a fire department training exercise took place on the grounds. More than 100 firefighters from 14 townships participated in the drill, which focused on fighting fires in mixed conifer forests. Because the practice drill included real flames, smoke, and burning debris, it offered a realistic opportunity to test the preparedness of the participants for a real emergency.
Following the success of the initial effort, volunteer opportunities were developed to engage citizens in community projects that improve parks. Through these citizen engagement programs, Horseshoe Lake became one of eleven parks nationwide selected for improvement based on input received from the public through a survey conducted by the National Park Service. Improvements under consideration included installing new playground equipment, establishing disc golf courses, building shelters, renovating historic buildings, expanding parking, and updating outdated web content. Projects completed as part of the improvement program include installation of a new soccer field, construction of a basketball court, refurbishment of an amphitheatre, and improvements made to the campground, including installation of new sewer systems and electrical work.
Additional projects planned for future implementation include developing a method for accepting payments for camping and cabins, improving accessibility at the beach, constructing a bicycle path, and updating the website. Horseshoe Lake offers approximately 150 campsites, which accommodate everything from single person travel trailers to 50+ foot class AAA waterfront estates. All sites share 2 common features; electricity and water. Most sites also feature cable TV hookups and Wi-Fi access. Modern restrooms and shower houses are accessible by all site holders. Boat dock facilities are available to those with electric hookups. Non-electric dock space is available to those with boats equipped with batteries. Many of the larger sites are partially wooded and offer room for multiple vehicles. Picnic table facilities are scattered throughout the park, mostly in the non-electric sites. Playground equipment is available in both the modern and primitive campgrounds. The modern campground consists of 37 drive up sites, 17 pull through sites, and 15 leantos. Primitive camping is permitted in six hike-to locations. Horseshoe Lake has three distinct sections; north, central, and south.
The park was named after the horseshoe-shaped valley carved by the river. The word comes from the Potawatomi Indian language, Hos-se-hoe-wa-tum-pek, meaning “sharp ridge”. The native Americans who lived in the region had several different names for the point of land, which is now known as Horseshoe Island. To this day, local residents refer to it as “Dead Man’s Point”, a name bestowed upon it because so many shipwrecks were reported around its rocky shores. Before becoming a park, much of the land comprising Horseshoe Lake was farmland. Much of it was owned by Colonel Anthony J. Drexel, whose heirs sold thousands of acres to the state of Illinois, requiring little compensation since most of the property was forested.
After his death, the remaining parcels were purchased by Richard King Mellon, whose family owned the controlling interest in the famous Gulf Oil Corporation. As a result, conservation efforts were slow coming to fruition. That began to change in 1989, when Judy Mage, a passionate environmentalist, bought 25 acres of land adjacent to the lake. She led an aggressive campaign to preserve the natural habitat, rallying friends, neighbors, school children, church groups, civic organizations and government agencies to join her cause. Their united forces resulted in the establishment of Horseshoe Lake State Park just three years later. Since then, more than 900 acres of additional land surrounding the lake have been added to the park, bringing the total acreage to nearly 1,400.
Other activities at the park include:
- horseback riding
- cross-country skiing
The lake has been stocked with game fish for fishing including:
- largemouth bass
- channel catfish
- northern pike
- white perch
- yellow perch
- red-eared sunfish
- flathead catfish