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12 Amazing Recreational Lakes neat St Louis, MO

The St Louis area isn't short on recreational lakes and reservoirs. However, many have restrictions on swimming or fast boating. But if you're prepared to drive for more than an hour, many versatile options open up.
ItIsWild.com: Best Lakes near St Louis MO

St Louis is surrounded by fantastic lakes and reservoirs offering plenty of recreational opportunities like fishing, kayaking, and boating.

However, not all lakes here are equally versatile. Most of the city and county lakes have restrictions on swimming and waterskiing.

If you want to cool off in summer or learn to wakeboard on a lake, the nearest option is Carlyle Lake, about 50 miles east.

Still, the nearby lakes provide excellent kayaking, fishing, hiking, and in some cases, camping.

Check out what St Louis has to offer!

Lakes near St Louis:

  1. Horseshoe Lake
  2. Simpson Lake
  3. Creve Coeur Lake
  4. Highland Silver Lake
  5. Carlyle Lake
  6. 370 Lakeside Park
  7. Fountain Lakes
  8. Beaver Dam Lake
  9. Washington County Lake
  10. Lake Lou Yaeger
  11. Coffeen Lake
  12. Rend Lake
Lakes near St Louis Missouri Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Horseshoe Lake

Frozen Lake in winter
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Horseshoe Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 13 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

Horseshoe Lake is a 13-mile drive northeast of downtown St. Louis, in the Metro East area. For those who live along the Mississippi River, this 2,107-acre lake offers visual evidence of the ever-changing nature of the landscape. 

This abandoned river channel and floodplain represent an earlier path the river took before silt and other deposits changed their course. Although no longer a direct part of the Mississippi, this lake maintains connections with the larger river to the west through drainage ditches. 

Horseshoe Lake State Park offers the best location to experience the lake. With boat ramps, a seasonal campsite, and other facilities, the park is known for excellent fishing and beautiful lakefront access, along with photographic sunsets. 

Although wading, swimming, and water skiing are not permitted, bow fishing and the use of trotlines are allowed. 

Horseshoe Lake sustains a rich variety of specimens. These include bass, carp, bluegill, crappie, and catfish. The Illinois state record for a shortnose gar, weighing 6 lb. 15.2 oz., was caught here in May 2018. 

2. Simpson Lake

  • Website: Simpson Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 17 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

A little more than 15 miles southwest of downtown, Simpson Lake is a popular gathering place in Valley Park. 

Simpson Sand and Gravel Company created the lake along a section of Grand Glaize Creek near where that body of water merged into the Meramec River. The lake became a paid fishing lake before St. Louis County Parks and Recreation acquired much of the site in 1976.

After cleanup and development, Simpson Park opened in 1991. The 72-acre lake became the focal point of the park, with a fishing dock and boat ramp added to promote fishing activity. 

A playground, picnic areas, and trails enhanced the site, as did the completion of a segment of the Meramec River Greenway Trail that connected with the park. Simpson Park gets high marks from families who visit this location. 

Although artificial in construction, Simpson Lake has a natural feel as Grand Glaize Creek flows through it and continues into the Meramec. 

Fish found here include bass, bluegill, crappie, sunfish, freshwater drum, gar, and the occasional smallmouth and bigmouth buffalo. 

3. Creve Coeur Lake

Creve Coeur Lake in St Louis
Source: depositphotos
  • Website: Creve Coeur Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 24 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

Located a little less than 25 miles west of downtown, Creve Coeur Lake is a location in Maryland Heights that hopefully will not live up to its name since “creve coeur” means “broken heart” in French. 

This oxbow lake is the centerpiece of Creve Coeur Lake Memorial Park, the biggest park in the St. Louis County system and one of Missouri’s largest natural lakes. 

Similar to Horseshoe Lake, the 320-acre Creve Coeur Lake once was part of the meandering Missouri River. 

Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities. Seasonal kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals allow for direct lake access. 

A loop trail for runners, walkers, and bikers – along with their leashed furry friends – provides a place for visitors to enjoy the scenic beauty. Efforts to address occasional flooding in the region have made the park’s infrastructure more resilient. 

Although swimming and gas-operated boats are prohibited, anglers have ample opportunities to fish. The most popular catches are freshwater drum, largemouth bass, and channel catfish. 

4. Highland Silver Lake

  • Website: Highland Silver Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 33 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Hiking, Picnicking

Located 33 miles northeast of downtown, Highland Silver Lake is a 550-acre impounded reservoir known for great fishing. 

Owned by the municipality of Highland, this lake features boat rentals and has an easy-to-access boat ramp. The city maintains Silver Lake Park on the lake’s eastern shore. 

Although facilities directly on the lake are limited since Highland Silver Lake serves as a drinking water source, the park encircles an 18-acre lake known as Old City Reservoir that does have good shoreline access. 

Amenities at Silver Lake Park include an archery range, a sand volleyball court, a climbing wall, a playground, and an 18-hole disc golf course, along with a boat ramp and limited areas for bank fishing. 

Casting a line for bass, crappie, catfish, sauger, bluegill, and redear sunfish is a top reason people visit Highland Silver Lake.

5. Carlyle Lake

Carlyle Lake in Illinois
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Carlyle Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 51 miles (1 hr)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Jetskiing, Sailing

Carlyle Lake, located 50 miles east of St. Louis, is a 25,000-acre reservoir created to address flood control near the plain of the Kaskaskia River. 

The Carlyle Reservoir Project required crews to move homes, cemeteries, and other infrastructure in the 1960s before creating the largest artificial lake in Illinois. 

Lake access is provided through multiple recreation areas. Beyond its original intended purpose to mitigate flood risk, the lake offers a water supply, an area for wildlife conservation, and recreational opportunities in the region. Sailboaters enjoy the breezes on this large lake. 

The 3,000-acre Eldon Hazlet State Recreation Area on the reservoir’s lower western end is a perfect destination to picnic, bird watch, camp, boat, fish, hike, and hunt. 

At the northern tip of the reservoir, Carlyle Lake State Fish & Wildlife Area sustains the local habitat. Fishing at these locations yields catfish, bass, crappie, bluegill, and bigmouth buffalo. 

6. 370 Lakeside Park

Kayaking couple during sunset
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: 370 Lakeside Park
  • Distance from St Louis: 31 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

Since opening in 2011, 370 Lakeside Park has attracted a lot of attention as a boating and fishing spot 30 miles west-northwest of downtown St. Louis. 

Named for the state highway a little south of the lake that connects St. Peters with the rest of the region, this park includes a 140-acre lake, campground, dog parks, trails, and an archery range.

The 500-acre park offers paddleboat, canoe, and kayak rentals for those who wish to enjoy time on the lake. Guests may bring their own watercraft without gas engines. 

Fishing is popular here, with bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, and channel catfish caught in good numbers. The lake is closed to boating and fishing from December to February. 

7. Fountain Lakes

a lake on a sunney summer day
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Fountain Lakes Park
  • Distance from St Louis: 31 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

Located a few miles east of 370 Lakeside Park, Fountain Lakes Park is another recreation destination in the area. 

With lakes on both sides of Missouri Highway 370, this day-use St. Charles city park has a trail that connects the park sections underneath an elevated section of the highway. 

Kluesner Lake, a 30-acre body of water, sits on the northern part of the parkland, with 20-acre Moore Lake located on the southern side of the highway. 

A skateboard park on the southwest corner of Fountain Lakes Park attracts great interest. 

The 145-acre site has ample parking for those who enjoy outdoor activities in an area otherwise occupied by industrial facilities. 

Fish found in these lakes include bass, sunfish, and catfish. Boating is prohibited.

8. Beaver Dam Lake

A lake surrounded by green trees in summer
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Beaver Dam Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 55 miles (1hr 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

Located 55 miles north of the city, Beaver Dam Lake was first expanded in the 1890s when crews from nearby Carlinville built a dam on both sides of the lake to double its size. 

The state began acquiring land to create Beaver Dam State Park around the 59-acre lake in the late 1940s. Although few beavers presently live in this area of Illinois, the 750-acre park honors them and the humans who have built dams along the lake.

The state park includes nearly eight miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, an archery range, and a playground area. Wintertime ice fishing and skating are permitted. 

Although relatively small in size, the lake has a great reputation for those who fish along the banks or in non-gas-powered vessels. 

Bluegill, bass, catfish, and sunfish are found here. A 3 lb., 1.1 oz. redear sunfish caught here in 2018 holds the Illinois state record. 

9. Washington County Lake

Wild geese on grass
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Washington County Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 61 miles (1hr 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

Located 61 miles east-southeast of downtown, Washington County Lake sits within Washington County State Recreation Area. The state of Illinois created this 248-acre lake between two smaller creeks in 1960, opening the park to the public in 1962. 

Nature lovers will enjoy the rich forests and pine stands that attract a variety of wildlife to this outdoor sanctuary. 

Trails allow further investigation of the park, with numerous areas along the lake’s 13-mile shoreline available for bank fishing. 

Hunting and camping areas attract visitors, along with the boating ramps that offer easy access to the lake. 

Bass and channel catfish are commonly caught, along with bullhead, warmouth, crappie, bluegill, and sunfish.

10. Lake Lou Yaeger

  • Website: Lake Lou Yaeger
  • Distance from St Louis: 61 miles (1hr 5min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Jetskiing

Named for a former Litchfield mayor who dreamed of creating a large lake near his city, Lake Lou Yaeger is a reservoir 61 miles north-northeast of St. Louis worth visiting. 

Workers developed this reservoir that averages 1,200-1,300 acres by damming Shoal Creek’s West Fork in 1964. Designed for flood control, the lake offers sport fishing and boating recreation without horsepower motor restrictions. 

The 266-acre Shoal Creek Conservation Area has provided access to the lake since its opening in 1990. The hickory and oak woodlands in the area’s till plain offer year-round opportunities for hiking, biking, horse riding, bird watching, and access to the lake. 

Guests can rent paddleboards and kayaks at Milnot Beach, on the western side of the lake. This is also the starting point for those who launch boats for sailing, fishing, or waterskiing. 

Anglers will enjoy casting a line for crappie, bluegill, warmouth, and bass. 

11. Coffeen Lake

Kayak fishing on a lake
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Coffeen Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 68 miles (1hr 15min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking

A drive of nearly 70 miles northeast of St. Louis, Coffeen Lake was created as an impoundment of Shoal Creek’s East Fork in 1963, serving as a coal-fired power station’s cooling lake. 

The 1,102-acre reservoir continues to support the cooling needs of the plant but has been available for public access since 1986 under a long-term agreement between the company and the state. 

The Coffeen Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area offers both shoreline and lake fishing opportunities. 

Although swimming is not permitted in the lake, picnicking and camping areas are available. Boat launches allow vessels with motors of 25 horsepower or less to use the lake. 

The oak and hickory forests provide refuge for a variety of wildlife, including bobwhite, red-tailed hawks, white-tailed deer, and an occasional coyote. Bass and catfish are the top catches in the lake. 

12. Rend Lake

Rend Lake in Illinois
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Rend Lake
  • Distance from St Louis: 96 miles (1hr 25min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Picnicking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Jetskiing

Those who enjoy fishing for crappie should journey 100 miles east-southeast to the 19,000-acre Rend Lake reservoir. 

Created by the US Army Corps of Engineers after the damming of the Muddy River, Rend Lake opened for access in 1973. This artificial reservoir offers more than 160 miles of shoreline. 

The Wayne Fitzgerrell State Recreation Area along Rend Lake’s eastern shore offers a variety of outdoor activities, as well as campsites. 

With activities such as wakeboarding, waterskiing, tubing, jetskiing, swimming, and sailing, Rend Lake is one of the most versatile lakes in the area and is certainly worth the drive.

Those interested in wildlife can journey to the Rend Lake State Fish and Wildlife Area at the northern end of the lake.

The reservoir is the home of two Illinois fishing records. A 4 lb., 8 oz. black crappie was caught here in May 1976, and a 16 lb., 6 oz. bowfin was taken from these waters in September 1984. Bass and bluegill are also in abundance here. 

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