Rend Lake Information

Rend Lake lies in the heart of southern Illinois in Franklin and Jefferson Counties in a rural environment. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), St. Louis District, manages Rend Lake, and 20,000 acres surrounding the lake. Rend Lake at normal pool covers 18,900 acres with 162 miles of shoreline, a maximum depth of 35 feet, and an average depth of 10 to 15 feet. 

The USACE built Rend Lake by constructing a dam on the Big Muddy River. Rend Lake sits 15 miles south of junction of Interstate (I) 64 and I 57 in Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and its eastern shores are 70 miles southeast of St. Louis, Missouri, the nearest metroplex to the lake. The state of Illinois designated Rend Lake as an Important Bird Area of Illinois in 2010. It is the third largest lake in Illinois and a top ranking fishing lake. 

Rend Lake’s Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area (SRA) sees 1.3 million and Rend Lake sees a total of 3 million visitors a year. Farmlands supported by rich fertile soil and a few tiny towns encircle Rend Lake. I 57 and Illinois Route (IR) 37 follow Rend Lake’s eastern shores and IR 148 runs beside its western shores. 

There are several Dollar General stores, two Walmart Supercenters, and bait and tackle shops around the lake for supplies, but not much else in the way of shopping or services. Slightly hilly terrain with plats of farming fields dotting the area and hardwood forests filled with wildlife in between characterize the Rend Lake region. 

History of Rend Lake

The joint efforts of the Rend Lake Conservancy District, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), and the USACE created Rend Lake. The USACE built the Rend Lake Dam on the Big Muddy River in 1965, but it took until March 1973 for the lake to impound completely. Even though there is adequate rainfall in southern Illinois for productive agricultural crops, farmers found water scarce water sources for decades until the USACE built Rend Lake. 

The State of Illinois has witnessed many wars over its rich, natural resources which began in 1680 with the Beaver Wars between the French, allied with the Tamaroa Indians, versus the Iroquois Indians. The issues that led to the war began in 1640 over beaver pelts so valuable to the European fashion industry. The Iroquois Confederacy had employed themselves in the fur trade business leading up to the war for over 200 years. 

British settlers and merchants originally purchased beaver pelts and traded tools and firearms, plus other needed supplies to the Iroquois, but then began trapping the furs themselves. This made furs, especially the beaver pelts, less valuable in terms of trade negations between the Indians and the Europeans. The Tamaroa and the French won the 1680 war. 

Other Indian wars broke out, and French built Fort De L’Ascension in 1757 after the French and Indian War, when France and Great Britain were fighting over control of central North America (1754-1757). Before that war, the fort was a lesser fortification. Today, this fort lives on as the Fort Massac State Park on the Ohio River.

The French rebuilt the fort and renamed it Massac around 1760. Illinois saw action in the Revolutionary War. George Washington rebuilt the fort in 1794. There were more Indian wars fought between the U.S. the various Indian tribes until the Civil War, when the Blue and the Gray fought nine battles in Illinois. The first settlers arrived in Franklin County in 1804, and Illinois became the 21st U.S. state in 1818. 

In 1818, today’s Rend Lake region was still extremely close in time to the Revolutionary War. Rend Lake’s two counties are named in honor of Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Franklin County became a coal mining region in 1889, but the high levels of gas in the coal deposits led to nine mining disasters between 1905 and 1968. The worst of these explosions in 1951, in the Orient No. 2 Mine, in West Frankfort killed 119 people. 

Today, construction, manufacturing, retail trade, tourism, and transportation fuels Rend Lake region’s economic growth. Agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting play a minor role in the area’s economy. Rend Lake sits in what is called the Till Plains area of the Great Central Plains of the U.S. The Till Plains is the region holding the fertile soil that helped to make Illinois known as part of the Corn Belt and the Garden Spot of the U.S.  

Fishing Rend Lake

Predominant game species include hybrid striped, largemouth, smallmouth, spotted, white, and yellow bass, bluegill, bowfin, channel and flathead catfish, and black, hybrid, and white crappie. However, there are over 38 species of fish in Rend Lake. Islands are scattered around Rend Lake’s three northern arms, and the entire lake is ringed with inlets and coves. 

Rend Lake’s shallows in its river arms have large quantities of submerged brush that hold baitfish and their predator. Anglers concentrate on shallow water in warmer weather. Fish cover like brush, rocky points, and offshore humps and islands. Points can be productive almost any time of the year.  

The USACE and the IDNR collaborate to maintain the abundant and healthy fish species sought by sport anglers and commercial fishing operations. Rend Lake holds the Illinois state record for black crappie at 4 lbs, 8 oz, and bowfin at 16 lbs, 4 oz. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Division of Fisheries offers "Hook-and-Line" and "Spear/Bow and Arrow" Sport Fishing Awards to recognize anglers for fish caught in Illinois' waters. Rend Lake hosts fishing tournaments year round.

Anglers find fishing productive in the winter for some of the biggest fish of the year at Rend Lake and produce trophy-sized catches of largemouth bass and crappie. Bluegill catches are best April to November, largemouth bass from late May to November, white bass from June to November, channel cat from April to September, and crappie year round. There is only one marina on Rend Lake’s southern pool near the west side of the dam. 

The IDNR provides 13 boat ramps, and the USACE offers boat ramps in its parks and campgrounds for a total of over 20 ramps spread around Rend Lake. Fish attractors include Christmas trees, natural structures, porcupine balls, and spider blocks. Limited fishing guides and boat rental services operate on Rend Lake, but there are plenty of bait and tackle shops. Booking a fishing charter service early for your fishing adventure at Rend Lake is recommended.

Check out experienced local pro guides on our Rend Lake Fishing Guides page.

Boating Rend Lake

Ample room for pleasure boating, waterskiing, and water sports exists from the Rend Lake Dam on the southern pool, north to Highway 154, most areas on the east and west sides, and on the main body of the lake. There is only one full-service marina, the Rend Lake Marina, but over 20 boat ramps around the lake. Anglers like to visit the islands with fish cover in the three northern arms of Rend Lake. 

Boaters will find several secluded areas with sandy beaches and beach areas in the parks, and some of the islands and shorelines have beaches, but much of Rend Lake’s vegetation grows down to the shoreline. Rend Lake is the third largest lake in Illinois, so it welcomes all sizes of boats and motors, from large houseboats to canoes and kayaks. Beware of Rend Lake’s shallow average depth of 10 to 15 feet at Rend Lake. 

Rend Lake provides abundant wildlife viewing opportunities from the water because it has a mostly undeveloped shoreline with no developments on its lakeshores. Rend Lake has two public swimming areas, South Sandusky Beach and North Marcum Beach, open from sunrise to sunset at $5.00 per vehicle. Both beaches offer showers, restrooms, picnic shelters, available for reservations, volleyball nets, and picnic tables. No alcohol, glass, or food on the sand is permitted. Dogs on a leash are only welcome at North Marcum.

Shop or sell a boat on our Rend Lake Boats for Sale page.

Rend Lake Real Estate

The USACE owns 20,000 acres surrounding Rend Lake’s shores. Rend Lake is mostly undeveloped and surrounded by hardwood forests and farmlands. The tiny towns of Benton and Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and the villages close to Rend Lake is where the real estate market is. The villages include Bonnie, Ewing, Ina, Nason, Sesser, Valler, and Waltonville, Illinois. There are a few Dollar General stores and two Walmart Supercenters within close proximity to Rend Lake. 

Homes in the Rend Lake regions are typically under $100,000, but a few homes can range from $500,000 to 1,000,000. The Ewing Northern Schools, Ina Community Consolidated School District 8, Sesser-Valier Community Unit School District 196, and Waltonville Community Unit School District 1 serve Rend Lake’s educational needs. There is no nightlife or restaurants on Rend Lake. St. Louis, Missouri, is the only city with modern shopping and services at 70 miles northwest. 

To find your dream home, explore our Rend Lake Homes for Sale page.

Rend Lake Cabins and Vacation Home

Rend Lake Cabins in the Woods rents 12 cabins that sleep 4 to 7 people and two houses, one stone house that sleeps 18, ad and the other sleeps 10 on the lakefront. Pets are allowed, but must be housebroken and leashed at all times. Amenities include fully equipped kitchens, towels and wash-cloths, an antenna TV and DVD player, a front porch swing and rocking chairs, fire-pit with complimentary firewood, charcoal grills with utensils, and a picnic table. Find these cabins at 1 Rend Lake Cabin Drive, Benton, Illinois. 

Buck & Bass Rend Lake Cabins feature four handcrafted, rustic, upscale cabins. These cabins sleep 6 to 7 people, fully equipped kitchens, a fire pit, a flat screen TV and DVD player without cable, DVDs and video games, full baths with towels and washcloths, deck chairs, a picnic table, bed linens, and an initial supply of items such as toilet paper, paper towels, dish soap and bath soap. Find these cabins at 12575 Golf Course Road, Whittington, Illinois. 

Vacation home rentals are not available right on the waterfront because the USACE owns all the property surrounding Rend Lake. You can find private owners of homes near the lake on and These homes are typically located in the tiny villages and towns surrounding Lake Rend and Benton and Mt. Vernon, Illinois. 

Find the perfect vacation home on our Rend Lake Cabins page.

Rend Lake Camping

IDNR State Park

The Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area (SRA) is a 3,300-acre state park bordering Rend Lake near Benton, Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) operates this park and offers shoreline recreation, including boating, fishing, hiking and bike trails, horseback riding, picnicking, and water sports.

The Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA campgrounds offer campsites from full-service to primitive tent sites and RV sites with a dump station and up to 50-amp electric hookups but no water. There is a central water spigot. Other amenities include big rig-friendly, a playground, pet friendly, restrooms, and showers. Visitors can reserve many sites at this SRA online at ExploreMoreIL. 

USACE Campgrounds and Public Access

The USACE operates five campgrounds and approximately 50 public access areas, which include ten boat ramps, several wildlife management areas, public lands, and a visitor’s center. 

The South Sandusky Campground includes both primitive and RV sites with scenic views. All RV sites have electric hookups and some are full-hookups with water, sewer, and electric. This campground provides a dump station, hot showers, flush toilets, and drinking water. Children can enjoy the two playgrounds and volleyball court. The beach is 0.6-mile from the campground. Find it at 7820 Red Oak Lane, Sesser, Illinois.

The North Sandusky Campground has tent and RV sites with electric hookups and some with water, sewer, and electric hookups, a boat ramp, a day use area, disc golf course, drinking water, a dump station, flush toilets, hot showers, and the Shagbark Group Area. Find it at 8420 Loon Lane, Sesser, Illinois. 

The Shagbark Group Area is located within the North Sandusky Campground. Its accommodations include 21 campsites, a comfort station, drinking water, 50-amp electric hookups, fire rings with a large grill, horseshoe pits, and a volleyball court. You can make reservations for the Shagbark Group Camp online at 12 months in advance or a minimum of 2 days before the planned arrival.

Gun Creek Campground is located on the eastern banks of Rend Lake and offers electric and full-hookup sites with lake views. This campground provides a boat ramp, a dump station, drinking water, flush toilets, hot showers, and playgrounds. Find it at 12165 Golf Course Drive, Whittington, Illinois. 

The South Marcum Campground includes both primitive and RV sites with scenic views. All RV sites have electric hookups and some have water, sewer, and electric hookups. This campground offers a boat ramp, day use area, drinking water, a dump station, flush toilets, hot showers, a playground, and a pond. The Dave Miller Youth Camp is located within this park. Find it at 11623 Trailhead Lane, Benton, Illinois. 

Dale Miller Youth Camp is a private getaway for large groups of families or youth organizations. Accommodations include 10 RV sites with five 30-amp electric pedestals, five cabins with picnic tables and 20-amp electric, and locking doors but no beds or bunks.a private beach, a 16 station fitness trail, a large grill, a group fire ring with 4 benches, picnic tables with grills, enclosed picnic shelter with tables and stone fireplace, mini-shower building with restrooms, a tennis court, a basketball court, and a baseball/softball field. You can make reservations for the Dale Miller Youth Camp online at 12 months in advance or a minimum of 2 days before the planned arrival.

The Squirrels Nest Campground has 17 RV campsites with water, electric, and sewer hookups, with a convenience store with access to the lakefront. This campsite offers short term and long-term site rentals. It is located at 14759 North Rend City Road, Sesser Illinois. 

Check out our list of campgrounds and RV parks for your family adventure on our Rend Lake Camping page.

Hiking Rend Lake

Rend Lake Trail

The wide, partially paved trail follows portions of the Rend Lake shoreline with parking for multiple vehicles. This 19-mile paved hiking and biking trail presents gorgeous vistas, grasslands, and wetlands, passes through hardwood forest rest areas with benches, and skirts the eastern and southern portions of the lake. 

Some of the recreational opportunities from around the lake connect to this trail, including the visitor center, the golf course, and the art center. You can stop and start on it from several locations. Visitors with disabilities can access this trail along the 12 miles of paved sections. This trail includes:

Rend Lake Bike Trail West

This trail is an easy 11.0-mile, point-to-point trail near Bonnie, Illinois, and popular for birding, hiking, road biking, and running. It is open year-round, and is beautiful to visit anytime, and dogs on a leash are welcome.

Rend Lake Bike Trail East

This is an easy, 2.7-mile, out-and-back trail near Whittington, Illinois. This trail is great for camping, hiking, and road biking. It is open year-round and dogs on a leash are welcome.

Ward Branch Trail

This is a 1-mile trail and popular with birders. August and October are the best viewing times to see buff-breasted sandpipers, lesser yellowlegs, short-billed dowitchers, and spring and fall shorebirds, plus songbird species. This trail follows the Rend Lake Trail for about a mile. The North Sandusky Campground for tents and RVs is one of the closest campgrounds to this trail and offers restrooms, showers, a boat ramp, and a playground.

Located between the Rend Lake Visitors Center/Dam and Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park.

11981 Rend City Rd, Benton, Illinois. 

Green Heron Pond Trail

This is an easy 0.5-mile path through the South Marcum Recreation Area that passes nesting areas for green-backed herons in a loblolly pine forest and lined with wood chips. It is best between April and October when the herons are plentiful and visitors can often see Southern flying squirrels at dusk. You must camp at the South Marcum Recreation Area to use this trail.

Located in the South Marcum Recreation Area.  

Blackberry Nature Trail

The Blackberry Nature Trail loops through an easy 0.75-mile chipped wood path of oak and hickory woodlands. Common wildlife sightings are chipmunks, deer, fox, and squirrels in the forest, and wildflowers such as white trillium and jack-in-the-pulpit are common during their season. The USACE recommends this trail year-round. The South Marcum Campground is closest to this trail for day use and overnight camping.

8004 S Rend City Rd, Sesser, Illinois. 

Ryder's Bottom Trail

This trail is actually a forest for serious wildlife watchers and hikers because there is no set trail, and there are no amenities. Hikers need to pack a compass, food,½ gallon of water per day, per person, and wear sturdy hiking clothes and shoes, plus tell a friend where they are going. This serendipitous hike takes you through hundreds of acres of an old growth hardwood forest, where you can spot scarlet tanagers, yellow-billed cuckoos, Kentucky warblers, and possibly an Eastern bobcat. The best time to hike this trail is spring and early summer. 

Ask at the USACE Visitor’s Center near the west end of the Rend Lake Dam for directions to Ryder’s Bottom. 

Atchison Creek Trail

This trail is located in the Gun Creek Wetland Complex in the Gun Creek Campground through a flooded woodland. You can explore it by walking on the raised levee. Look for wood ducks, parula warblers, and gray tree frogs. This trail is unmarked, but easy to follow. The best time to visit is August to October. 

Wayne Fitzgerrell SRA Equestrian Trail

This 9-mile equestrian trail circles the SRA wildlife/field trial area and presents great opportunities for photographing wildlife. It is open to equestrians from mid-April to mid-September. From Sept. 15 to April 15, this trail is closed during the SRA’s hunting and designated field trial seasons.

It is located in the Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park at 11094 Ranger Rd, Whittington, Illinois. 

Casey Fork Horse Trail

The Casey Fork Horse Trail runs from Silo to East Casey Fork and passes through an extensive bottomland forest. It is easy to walk with a large great blue heron rookery.
The best time to visit is in early spring. It is located west of Bonnie, Illinois. 

Travel west out of Bonnie on 550 N, north on 1250 E 1.4 miles to the East Casey Fork Parking Lot by the gravel boat ramp, but the lake’s water level is usually low. Follow the horse trail signs to the right of the boat ramp.

Rend Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area Horse Trails

Eight miles of horse trails are open year round weather permitting except during waterfowl season with designated horse trailer parking. These trails are open during the other hunting seasons, so riders should wear hunter orange during hunting season. 

10885 E Jefferson Pl, Bonnie, Illinois

Hunting Rend Lake

The USACE permits hunting on federal property adjoining state-owned properties, including federally designated properties of the Rend Lake Project. The Rend Lake Project Lands and Waters are located in Jefferson and Franklin Counties bordering and including Rend Lake. Hunters can access USACE Properties from IR 37, IR154, and IR 14, and through a variety of county and township roads. The USACE only allows waterfowl hunting on the two northern arms of Rend Lake.

IDNR’s Rend Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area operates 7,690 acres for hunting. This area comprises bottomland hardwoods, upland agricultural fields, and 3,000 acres of impounded Rend Lake waters managed primarily for waterfowl. Tenant farming, site-staff farming, and moist-soil production produce the food sources for its waterfowl programs. This refuge manages 5,000 posted acres for hunting waterfowl. All areas are open to fishing most of the year, with the refuge area being closed during waterfowl use periods. 

The Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park allows hunting with the same park regulations as the Rend Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area, except waterfowl is not allowed. At this park you can hunt deer, turkey, and pheasant.  

General Site Regulations:

  • No hunting may be done in restricted areas, developed recreation areas, or within 100 yards of inhabitated dwellings.
  • When hunting or scouting, all vehicles must be parked in designated areas, and there is no ATV access.
  • It is unlawful for any person to consume, possess, or be under the influence of alcoholic beverages or illegal drugs while on-site property for the purpose of hunting or trapping. Any person who violates site specific regulations shall be guilty of a Class B misdemeanor. 

Rend Lake Shooting Complex

This enterprise manages 1,000 acres for hunting deer, quail, pheasants and turkeys, and small game.

17738 Conservation Lane, Whittington, Illinois. 

Illinois State Hunting Regulations:

Legal Game in Illinois:

  • Crow
  • Deer
  • Dove
  • Furbearers: badger, beaver, bobcat, coyote, gray fox, mink, muskrat, opossum, raccoon, red fox, river otter, striped skunk and weasel.
  • Pheasant
  • Bobwhite Quail
  • Rabbit
  • Squirrel
  • Turkey
  • Waterfowl: Ducks, geese and coots.
  • Woodcock: Snipe and rail hunting.

Things to Do at Rend Lake

Rend Lake reigns at the primary attraction in Franklin and Jefferson Counties, Illinois. There are no waterfront restaurants, and you create your own entertainment or you let the wildlife and natural, peaceful atmosphere create it for you. 

Visit the USACE’s Visitor’s Center for information about almost everything at Rend Lake at 11981 Rend City Rd, Benton, Illinois. The Visitor’s Center is located at the west end of Rend Lake Dam Road at the west end of the dam. 

Visit the Rend Lake Golf Complex, a 27-hole course offering lodging rooms and dining. This golf course features challenging golf in a beautiful setting on Rend Lake. Expansive bent grass greens, Zoysia fairways and tees, numerous water hazards, and continuous cart paths throughout define this golf course, which is open to the public. It is located at 12476 Golf Course Road, Whittington, Illinois. 

The1905 Franklin County Historic Jail Museum is a very interesting walk through Benton, Illinois' history. The museum’s main feature is an exhibition of one of the last public executions in Illinois of Charlie Bergir, with his gallows set up outside the museum, along with his original noose. The museum also showcases several smaller exhibits. It is open Monday to Saturday from 10:00 a.m to 3:00 p.m. at 209 W Main Street, Benton, Illinois.

The 1910 Franklin County Garage Museum is an early automotive museum and office for the Benton-West City Chamber of Commerce. A 1910 historic and unique “Barrel Roof” building housed Franklin County’s first Ford Dealership. It was facing the wrecking ball, but saved by grants, private donations, and volunteer labor in 1998. It is also located at 209 W Main Street, Benton, Illinois, next to the Historic Jail Museum.

Visit the Pheasant Hollow Winery just east and south of Ewing, Illinois, on the east side of Interstate 57 on Route 37 North. The winery is open seven days a week, from 10:00 a.m. to Monday to Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, until 7:00 p.m., and 10:00 p.m. on Friday. It features Monthly Murder Mystery Series, free live music, and wine pairing dinners. 

Plan the perfect day trip or vacation on our Things to Do at Rend Lake page.

Rend Lake Weather & Climate

Rend Lake sees an average of 37 inches of rain per year, with 30 inches of snow and 191 days of sunshine. The winter low in January is 12 degrees and a summer high in July of 83 degrees. June, August, and September are the most comfortable months for this region. December and January are the least comfortable months.

Keep your eyes on the skies with our Rend Lake Weather Forecast page.

Rend Lake Zip Codes

Franklin County: 62846, 62894, 62812, 62884, 62897.

Jefferson County: 62846, 62894, 62816, 62836.

Rend Lake Flora and Fauna

Rend Lake is a freshwater lake encompassing rich soil, hardwood oak forests, wetlands, wild game, fish, and birds. Birders visiting the area have an excellent chance of seeing great blue herons, American bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, a variety of shorebirds, and songbirds. The resident population of ring-necked pheasants that Wayne Fitzgerrell State Park supports is unique in southern Illinois.

 White-tailed deer, raccoons, opossums, and squirrels are the most common mammals wildlife enthusiasts will see. But visitors should be on the lookout for badgers, beaver, bobcats, coyotes, gray foxes, minks, muskrats, opossums, raccoons, red foxes, river otters, striped skunks, and weasels. Constructed levee systems provide wetland habitats for geese, ducks, frogs, and turtles, plus aquatic mammals, like muskrats and beavers.

Rend Lake Email Updates


Rend Lake Current Weather Alerts

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Rend Lake Weather Forecast


Mostly Cloudy

Hi: 52

Friday Night

Mostly Clear

Lo: 34


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 57

Saturday Night

Chance Rain Showers

Lo: 45


Rain Showers Likely

Hi: 67

Sunday Night

Partly Cloudy

Lo: 51


Mostly Sunny

Hi: 73

Monday Night

Chance Rain Showers

Lo: 54

Rend Lake Water Level (last 30 days)

Water Level on 10/13: 41.92 (-363.08)

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