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Cedar Lake is located at the edge of the Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois. This 1,750-acre reservoir was created by the City of Carbondale in 1974 by building a dam to impound Cedar Creek, a tributary of the Big Muddy River. Although the primary purpose of Cedar Lake is to provide water to the residents of Carbondale, this scenic reservoir provides recreational opportunities to visitors beyond Jackson County. Because the Shawnee National Forest borders the southern portion of Cedar Lake, about half of its 30-mile shoreline is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. Hardwood forests, cedar trees, and sandstone bluffs line the shoreline.
Cedar Lake is a popular destination for fishing, swimming, picnicking, hiking, and horseback riding. Paved roads and two boat launches offer easy access to this reservoir which has a 10 horsepower limit. Anglers reel in catches of largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappie, striped bass, and bluegill. The best fishing months for crappie and bass are March and April. Peak channel catfish months are June through August. Year-round striper fishing yields catches in excess of 20 pounds, due to a successful stocking program initiated in 1986.
The City of Carbondale operates Poplar Camp Beach which features a sandy swimming beach with lifeguards, boat dock, picnic tables, concession stand, and restrooms. This family-oriented beach provides beautiful scenery and boasts a swim and play area, an area for rafts and floats, and a lap lane for serious swimmers. The beach closes each year after Labor Day.
Although there are no developed camping sites at Cedar Lake, the Shawnee National Forest offers camping experiences ranging from primitive camping to modern campsites equipped with electric and showers. All campsites and picnic areas are on a first-come, first-serve basis with no reservations accepted. Developed campgrounds are usually open from April 1 through December 15.
The Shawnee National Forest offers 300 miles of marked trails through the hills and valleys of the Shawnee Hills and the Illinois Ozarks. 30 miles are designated for hikers only, and each trail is rated for level of difficulty. Trails range from leisurely strolls to observation points to difficult hikes in excess of 9 miles. Horse riding enthusiasts will enjoy miles of equestrian trails.
The Cedar Lake Trail System consists of four trails totaling about 14 miles: Little Cedar Lake Loop, Wolf Den Hollow Trail, Cove Hollow Trail, and River to River Trail (great equestrian trail). The Little Cedar Lake Loop and Wolf Den Hollow Trail are popular day hikes, featuring scenic overlooks, lake views, rock shelters, and rock walls. The Cove Hollow Trail meanders between the shoreline and cliffs, with plenty of opportunities to explore a stream, shelter cave, and rocks. Trails are open year-round, so winter hikes provide beautiful snow and ice covered landscapes. Hikers in search of wildlife may encounter white-tailed deer, raccoon, wild turkey, beaver, and many bird species from songbirds to raptors. Primitive camping is permitted at least 150 feet from the lakeshore
Cedar Lake welcomes families and anglers with plenty of recreational offerings on the water and off the water in the Shawnee National Forest. Make sure to save some time to venture a few miles north to Carbondale for a tour of Southern Illinois University.
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