- Very large lake (7 times larger than Creve Coeur Lake), very close to St. Louis (11 minutes from downtown) with a view of the Arch and Downtown St. Louis from the lake.
- Great place to watch the sunset!
- Fabulous place for bird watching: ducks, geese, great blue herons, egrets, gulls, sparrows, and many more.
- Listening to the grasses swaying and insects chirping on the island from our kayaks as we we watched a great blue heron fishing against the setting sun was pure peaceful tranquility
- Lots of nice, waterfront spots to BBQ and picnic.
- Four miles of hiking trails wander through the natural vegetation at Horseshoe Lake State Park.
- Connects with the MCT Schoolhouse Trail which then connects with many other trails in the St. Louis region so it makes a great, relaxing stop on a longer bike ride.
- Water is shallow and a bit murky. Not as murky as the Mississippi but not crystal clear
- No Swimming, Wading, Jet Skiing, or Water-skiing. Too shallow and muddy-bottomed for that.
Getting ThereTake I-70 East from Downtown for about 8 minutes and get off at IL-111 which is well-marked with a big brown sign for Horseshoe Lake State Park. You'll turn left onto 111 and head Northeast for a few minutes. You'll probably want to proceed past the first gravel lot/boat put-in to the main, well-marked entrance of the park and then follow the signage in the park to your desired locations. (See Google Map Link in Links section below)
- Official Brochure – includes map of the park, birding info, camping info, and lots of other good information
- Google Map/Driving Directions
- Official Site
- Hiking Trail Info
- Flickr Photo Gallery – Birds of Horseshoe Lake State Park by Mark Schuver
Two Very Different Sections
Main Section (Northern)
At over 2100 acres, Horseshoe lake is the second largest natural lake in Illinois. For those, that don’t really get acres, that translates to around 3 miles long and about a 1/2 wide. Most sections of Horseshoe Lake are quite shallow (with average depths of 3-5 feet) so it isn’t a good lake for swimming, wading, jet skiing, and water-skiing (in fact, those things are prohibited). But between being near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers (which are natural migratory paths for many bird species) and being surrounded by wetlands throughout this area of Illinois, it is an phenomenal place to see large numbers of a wide variety of birds. Last night (Sept 19th, so early fall), we saw thousands of gulls, many ducks, murmurations of hundreds of sparrows, egrets, great blue herons, and many more. Birds everywhere! It was wonderful. The official brochure (linked below) even has a bird checklist with over 50 different kinds of birds. As such, it is a popular spot for hunters during the hunting seasons.
Horseshoe Lake is what is called an oxbow (or Dead Bow) lake. It is situated on a low flood plain which follows the Mississippi River down to bottom of southern Illinois. When the Mississippi used to flood beyond it’s banks in heavy Spring floods before the current levies were built, the Mississippi would sometimes change direction and cut a new channel through these bottom-lands. During this process an old river section was cut off from the flowing channel forming this natural oxbow lake.
And you can see the Arch and downtown St. Louis from the water.
On our first visit to Horseshoe Lake State Park, my wife and I got a late start, didn’t know much about the park, and were in a hurry to get on the water before the sunset so we pulled into the first not-well-marked put-in we saw, hopped in the boats and started paddling. When I think of lake, I think of open expanses of water. While that is certainly an option at Horseshoe Lake State Park, the section we did on our first visit was, for the most part, not that. Instead, it was mostly fairly tight paths through an immense number of water lilies and reeds. And algae. Lots of algae. And lots of underwater plants or muck that liked to take a ride on our paddles. If you love dragon flies, frogs, turtles, ducks, and other interesting birds and insects, you may really like this section.
It was pretty. But my wife, who is not the squeamish type became increasingly squeamish as the evening went on and she got covered in more and more muck. For the most part though, the water seemed clean and had no smell (though we did paddle through a few spots that, let’s be honest, smelled like poop). So, this properly isn’t an adventure for those who are particularly keen for the finer things in life. But if you enjoy something different. If you enjoy beauty within things others may find distasteful (swamps, insects, …), you may really like it here. I loved it.
If you, or one of your companions hates insects and muck, it is likely best you move along to the main entrance to the park with a more formal entrance to the park and more of that typical lake experience you were likely going for.
Pairs Well With
- Broadway Oyster Bar – Excellent Cajun food, fabulous drink selection, great atmosphere and decor, great crowd and staff. Since my wife was in a swimsuit, we just ordered food as we left and it was ready for pickup by the time we got there. But they also have lots of great outdoor seating and great live music.
- A BBQ or Picnic at one of the many waterfront spots
- Five shelters are provided for group picnicking, while small areas with convenient parking for a family outing are scattered throughout Horseshoe Lake State Park.
- Has two playgrounds
- Several restrooms (mostly pit toilets).
Horseshoe Lake contains channel catfish, bass, crappie, bluegill, carp , drum, bowfin, gar, and buffalo. It maintains a connection with the Mississippi River through drainage ditches which allows it to support a very diverse fishery. Shore angler access is available at many areas around the lake.
Boat fishing is allowed, except during waterfowl season. Two boat ramps are available for public use. The main boat ramp is on the north shore of the lake inside the park. and there is a 50 hp limit for boat motors.
The IDNR Division of Fisheries routinely monitors the status of the fishery of Horseshoe Lake. They recent stocked it with 31800 Advanced Fingerling Channel Catfish in 2020. 2 Pole and Line fishing only. Bow Fishing is permitted. Trotlines are permitted within 300 feet of shoreline.
To accommodate waterfowl hunters, numerous public hunting blinds are located on the lake. Hunting is allowed only from these blinds. Dove hunting is allowed during the month of September on the peninsula. Controlled pheasant hunting is available. Check with the park office for further hunting regulations. Horseshoe Lake and nearby hunting areas at Horseshoe Lake/Corps (Chouteau Island) and Bohm Woods Nature Preserve can be found on the Hunter Fact Sheets.
Horseshoe Lake State Park very affordable, no frills, camping options that were rated favorably. Accommodates 26 tent or trailer campsites. A sanitary dump station, pit toilets, and water hydrants are conveniently located. The campground is open from May 1 – Sept 30. Campers are allowed to stay 7 days in a 30 day period. We do not take reservations for camping.