Outdoor Adventure at Kinkaid Lake

Kinkaid Lake

Article and photos by Brandi Holder


Looking for something fun to do over the weekend?  Why not take a trip over to Kinkaid Lake in Murphysboro, Illinois? There is a surprising array of things to do in the area!  


I was actually going to open this story by telling you that the beach is only an hour away, but truth-be-told (journalism rule #1) it's not a real beach.  However, the "beach" at Kinkaid Lake does offer a tranquil spot for a sunny picnic, or a quiet fisherman's stop.  

The 2,750-acre lake was built in the late 1960s in an area surrounded by sandstone bluffs and the Shawnee National Forest.  The lake is meticulously maintained through a partnership between the Department of Natural Resources, the US Forest Service, and Kinkaid-Reed's Conservancy District.  

The beautiful shorelines cutting into the bluffs and the surrounding forest remain untouched by residential buildings.  The lake is perfect for skiing, jet skiing, kayaking, tubing, or my personal favorite - relaxing with a cold beverage.  For the outdoorsy type, the lake system shares a border with the 31.5-mile  Kinkaid Lake Trail System.  Buttermilk Hill Trail juts into the lake and offers a picnic area accessible by foot or by boat.   

For the more lively crowd the party cove is just the spot.  Named Three Mile by visitors, it offers panoramic views of, well, other boats and party people.  It is a great place to meet up with friends, take a gander at the houseboats, or float along with your kiddos and dog.  

Don't have a boat?  The Marina offers rentals! They also have camp spots to accommodate RVs or tents, and a restaurant with the best cheeseburger around.  If you are looking to make a weekend out of it, you can take a jaunt around to Little Grand Canyon in the Shawnee National Forest.  As a bonus, there are several points of interest you can hit along the way.

My trip from the Cape area often includes a stop by the Ware produce stand at Route 3 and 146. They have a great selection of seasonal fruits, veggies, and specialty cheeses.  The journey from IL-146E to IL-127N will take you past the entrance for the Union County Fish and Wildlife Area, and on a scenic drive by the Brown Barrens Nature Preserve.

The winding drive along 127 takes you by grapevines, ranches, and scenic overlooks in Alto Pass which offers several stops including wineries along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, the Bald Knob Cross, a brewery, the strangely unique Root Beer Saloon, and a farmer’s market.

You never know what is going to be around the corner as you drive to the Little Grand Canyon - an area knownPhoto by Brandi Holder for year-round wildlife spotting and scenic views.  

My stop in the Little Grand Canyon included a 30-minute hike down to the Mississippi Valley, complete with a dog and a camera man.  You can take the trail to the canyon, or complete the entire loop which is about 3.6 miles. The trail we took was not too difficult and the large, beautiful trees provided shade along the way.  The trail is well maintained and offers benches to rest your feet or soak in the quiet nature of the area. The Little Grand Canyon is only about 30 minutes travel time from Lake Kinkaid.  

No trip to Lake Kinkaid is complete without a stop by the Spillway - it is always worth the extra couple of minutes! While you are in the Murphysboro area why not take a peek around downtown? There are several shops and great options if you are hungry.  Whiffleboy's pizza is amazing, and in the event your caveman, fire-building skills fail, they do deliver to the campground!  If you are in the mood for barbecue you will not be disappointed with 17th Street Bar and Grill.  The staff is friendly, the beer is cold, and there isn't a bad thing on the menu.  

Visit our photo gallery for a look inside Kinkaid.

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