What to Do at Moraine View State Recreation Area: A Short Drive from Champaign-Urbana
Effective May 29, 2020, all Illinois state parks, fish and wildlife areas and recreational areas, as well as select historic sites, will be open to the public. Camping and concessions will reopen and normal park hours will resume. Shelters, playgrounds, beaches, and pools will remain closed. Historic sites which do not have outdoor acreage will remain closed until further notice. For the most up-to-date information on the reopening of IDNR sites and their operations during the pandemic, be sure to research your specific destination and check the IDNR website as well.
We’re on a mission to find any space nearby where we can get some sort of a water fix… which leads us to Moraine View State Recreation Area in LeRoy, Illinois, just 35-40 minutes away from Champaign-Urbana.
If we had to rate Dawson Lake (the body of water at Moraine View) in size, it would certainly rank larger than Lake of the Woods or Homer Lake, but smaller than Clinton Lake, one of the more well known lakes near Champaign-Urbana; or Lake Shelbyville, which is a bit further away.
The big draw here is the water, but we’ll be sure to cover everything you want to know before you drive out to LeRoy. And we’ll cover what sets this water spot apart from the other ones mentioned above.
Must Know Info: Dawson Lake at Moraine View State Recreation Area is a draw for sailboats and motorcraft of 10HP or less. There is a two-lane launching ramp and docking facility and boats are available for rental here.
The first thing we think stands out about Moraine View State Park is the prevalence of more casual, small watercraft, such as kayaks, canoes, paddle boats and paddle boards. This is a popular place to take on such activities, and their concession area is well stocked with boats available for rental if you don’t have your own. Also, spread the word that there is an accessible kayak launch here!
The coolest thing we learned was that your family can get an annual pass for unlimited daily use, up to two hours a day (pending boat availability, as advance reservations are not available for annual pass holders). We love the idea of paying a flat fee for an individual, couple or family of four and being able to rent kayaks all summer long for relaxing days on the water.
As of 2019, the annual rate for a family of four is $250. To compare, a triple kayak (two adults and a child) is going to run $25 for one hour, or $100 for one day in rental costs.
Must Know Info: Illinois state fishing rules apply (so have your fishing license). Dawson Lake is regularly stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, sunfish, bullhead, crappie, channel catfish, walleye, yellow perch and northern pike.
Fishing is one of our favorite activities outdoors in Central Illinois. (Get our whole guide to fishing right here.) Fishing at Moraine View State Recreation Area was easy enough for our family, as the docks were recommended to us by concession area staff. Of course, if you’re out on a boat, you can drop your line in the water. We didn’t see any of the large fish that were reputed to be swimming in the lake but did catch a few small ones.
Must Know Info: Open Memorial Day through Labor Day. $2 per person on Monday-Friday and $3 on Saturday-Sunday. We recommend you bring cash.
It’s important to note that no lifeguards are on watch and that this is a very small beach. Don’t think of expansive sandy beaches here, but do think of a good ol’ fashioned dip in lake water if you’re wanting to do that in a safe area.
It’s also worth mentioning that during our visit the beach was closed, so you may want to call ahead to confirm it’s open if you’re heading out here for a visit to the “beach” mainly. (Pictured below, the sandy area of the “beach” that you can enter the water from. You can also see the buoys that bound the swimming area.)
Must Know Info: There are 137 Class A trailer campsites at Moraine View State Recreation Area. There is also the Gander Bay Campground area, which can be rented out and has 102 sites and a boat launch area of its own, too.
The campground was nice and quiet while we were out there on a summer day. There were many campers in the area we toured. Book a campsite at Moraine View right here.
Take a Hike or Go for a Swing
Must Know Info: Moraine View was made for exploration! We love the trails there, and how they weave around with the lake in close proximity much of the time. It provides a great backdrop to your swinging/picnicking/hiking visit. There’s no admission fee just to come out and play at Moraine View so you can drive out to explore what is available for YOUR family there and enjoy the scenery in the process.
There are many hiking paths that are very kid friendly and playgrounds just along the lake. We really liked how some of the trails were marked as handicapped accessible, as we know that strollers would navigate those paths along with anyone who has mobility special needs or challenges.
Grab a Bite, Rent a Boat or Cool Off at Moraine View Restaurant & Kayak Rental
Must Know Info: The concession area is open daily. If you’re visiting outside of Memorial Day to Labor Day, we recommend calling them at 866-724-6398 to confirm they are open first. Hours vary daily and seasonally, so check out their website here. The restaurant was really nice and they took good care of us. Everything is in the same building, whether you’re renting a boat, ordering food or grabbing bait to go fishing with.
The food got two thumbs up from our kids. The grown-ups loved their huge spring rolls and the kids thought the milkshakes were amazing (their words). We could have just eaten tons of fries and been happy, too! Eat inside in the air conditioning or relax outside on their porch overlooking the beautiful lake and boat docks. They also serve beer and wine.
For more summer day trip ideas, visit our list of 20+ Summer Day Trips from Champaign-Urbana.
Looking for more parks, closer to Champaign-Urbana? Here are some of our favorites: