15 Best Things to Do in Crystal Lake, IL

Crystal Lake, IL
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Crystal Lake is the largest city in Illinois' McHenry County.

This city is an affluent northwest suburb roughly 45 miles from Chicago.

Despite its unassuming appeal, this city is home to some exciting attractions, particularly its lake.

In addition, Crystal Lake is home to an eclectic collection of shops, restaurants, and entertainment that you won't expect to find in the suburbs.

Its streets are lined with well-preserved period-era buildings.

At the same time, its proximity to parks and outdoor destinations makes Crystal Lake the perfect jumping point for outdoor adventurers.

Moreover, Crystal Lake features fascinating historical landmarks and structures that will add more excitement to your visit there.

There are more things to do in Crystal Lake than you can imagine.

So, read on to discover the best things to do in Crystal Lake, IL.

Enjoy Outdoor Recreation at Moraine Hills State Park

Boardwalk near the lake of Moraine Hills State Park
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This vast 2,200-acre outdoor attraction outside Crystal Lake is the premier destination for recreational activities.

This place is in McHenry, Illinois, 15 minutes from Crystal Lake.

From hiking, camping, and angling to wildlife viewing, there are dozens of outdoor activities you and your loved ones will enjoy at Moraine Hills State Park.

Part of this state park's area is covered with lakes and wetlands, excellent for water activities such as boating and fishing.

Sandhill cranes on the grounds of Moraine Hills State Park
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At the same time, Moraine Hills has a vast 48-acre lake at its center.

In addition, Moraine Hills' terrain comprises stones, boulders, and gravel, making it an excellent place for hiking.

Aside from outdoor activities, you can proceed to the McHenry Dam Concession, the park's official store, where you can buy your supplies and rent a boat or tackles.

Fall scene at Moraine Hills State Park
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Have Extreme Fun at Three Oaks Recreation Area

On the southern portion of Crystal Lake is where you'll find the Three Oaks Recreation Area.

Instead of the usual water activities, the Three Oaks Recreation Area features more action-packed water activities you can enjoy.

This outdoor attraction features wakeboarding, standup paddle boarding, scuba diving, boating, and open water swimming.

Three Oaks Recreation Area once served as a quarry.

However, in 2010, they transformed it into a beautiful outdoor attraction in Crystal Lake City.

Three Oaks Recreation Area has a marina where you can rent a boat to explore the vast Crystal Lake.

At the same time, it has its sandy beach where you can get your tan during summer.

Have a Lovely Picnic at Lippold Park

For a more relaxing outdoor activity in Crystal Lake, head to Lippold Park.

This community park is famous for its sports facilities and picnic areas, making it an excellent place for you and your loved ones to hang out.

Instead of driving outside Crystal Lake to look for picnic areas, Lippold Park has all the amenities needed for an idyllic park.

This park in Crystal Lake was named after its former owners, who used it as a farm back in the day.

For those interested in sports, Lippold Park is home to eight baseball fields, an 18-hole disc golf course, four softball fields, infields of synthetic turf for soccer and football, sand volleyball courts, and a skate park.

Families can also set up their picnic blankets near these sports facilities, making it an idyllic location to enjoy the outdoors.

Beat the Heat at the Crystal Lake Main Beach

Aerial view of Crystal Lake Main Beach
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The main attraction of Crystal Lake is the lake itself, where you and your loved ones can enjoy an entire day of water activities.

The Crystal Lake Main Beach on the western shores of the lake boasts a gorgeous sandy beach, making it an excellent place to swim and enjoy various water activities.

Locals prefer to call Crystal Lake Main Beach "Main Beach," which also happens to be the city's first park.

Crystal Lake Main Beach has numerous amenities, including a bathhouse, picnic areas, boat launch, fishing pier, boat rental facility, a band stage, sports facilities, and a baseball diamond.

Aside from water activities, many locals frequently visit Crystal Lake Main Beach to play baseball and watch the famous Crystal Lake Little League.

During summer, Crystal Lake Main Beach hosts Tuesday night concerts where you can watch and listen to local musicians.

Visit the Raue Center for the Arts

This gorgeous arts center is situated in Crystal Lake's downtown area.

The Raue Center for the Arts has operated since 1929, boasting a gorgeous 750-seater theater meant for films and vaudeville shows.

Formerly known as "El Tovar," the Raue Center for the Arts is also famous for its terracotta tiles and adobe-style walls.

It's an example of unique architecture in a region such as Illinois.

The Raue Center for the Arts' auditorium also has an elegant courtyard, which boasts views of the beautiful night sky overhead.

This theater in Crystal Lake underwent massive renovation after being neglected in the late 20th century.

It took two years to restore Raue Center for the Arts' old beauty.

Today, the theater serves as the epicenter of arts in Crystal Lake and the entire McHenry County.

Don't forget to list Raue Center for the Arts on your Crystal Lake itinerary.

Stroll through Downtown Crystal Lake

Sunset over Downtown Crystal Lake
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An excellent way to start your Crystal Lake travel adventure is to visit its downtown area or Main Street.

It's practically the heart of the city, where you'll find the eclectic collection of diners, boutiques, and many businesses that offer various products and services.

Crystal Lake's downtown area, mainly its Metro station, is where you'll find these businesses and entertainment.

Buildings along Downtown Crystal Lake
IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

While strolling, you'll quickly notice the fine old streets lined with turn-of-the-century buildings that serve as shops or perhaps restaurants with their delightful offerings.

Of course, your experience visiting Crystal Lake's downtown area won't be complete without shopping or dining.

In addition, Crystal Lake's downtown area is where most of the city's happenings take place.

So, you'll likely join or celebrate a festival or community event with the locals, making your experience there extra worthwhile.

Knox builiding at Downtown Crystal Lake
IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Check Out Veteran Acres Park

If you're looking for an alternative venue to Lippold Park, check out Veteran Acres Park along Walkup Road in Crystal Lake.

This park in Crystal Lake is also an excellent venue to stretch your muscles or perhaps have a picnic with your family.

However, Veteran Acres Park is nearer to Crystal Lake's downtown area, making it convenient to visit.

You don't need to drive far out of Crystal Lake to reach cafes, restaurants, and shops because Veteran Acres Park is within walking distance of these businesses.

In addition, Veteran Acres Park has amenities to make your visit there worthwhile.

Veteran Acres Park has basketball, tennis, and softball fields and courts for those who want to sweat out.

Plus, it's nearby the Crystal Lake Park District Nature Center, where you can check out exhibits, a butterfly house, beehives, and a fossil collection.

Wander the Dole

This massive Civil War-era mansion in Crystal Lake is a fascinating place you must visit if you're looking for a unique attraction in the city.

The Dole, completed in 1864, served as the residence of the late Charles Dole, a known personality in Crystal Lake.

The Dole is now a renowned arts center that offers visitors a vast array of arts programs.

The Dole features two permanent galleries containing the best artworks from its in-house artists and those from other artists of McHenry County.

In addition, part of its arts program is a culinary class you can join.

Plus, it has numerous studios featuring various art classes to choose from.

If you're fascinated by the Dole's history, join the visitors' tour inside this historic house.

Step into the Historic Colonel Palmer House

Exterior of Colonel Palmer House
Teemu008 from Palatine, Illinois, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

For a historical side trip during your Crystal Lake travel adventure, head to the Colonel Palmer House.

This house belonged to the late Colonel Gustavus A. Palmer, a veteran of the Patriot War in the 1800s.

After Colonel Palmer's military service, he received considerable land in McHenry County as a grant.

He eventually incorporated his holdings in Crystal Lake.

To find out the fascinating backstory of Colonel Palmer and Crystal Lake, visit his house and check out its permanent and temporary exhibits.

The Colonel Palmer House features artifacts, equipment, and documents about how Crystal Lake's locals went on with their daily life back in the day.

In addition, the house itself features an elegant Greek Revival and Federalist design, making it a perfect backdrop to take photos.

Browse the Crystal Lake Farmer's Market

Meet Crystal Lake's community by heading to the Crystal Lake Farmer's Market, adjacent to the Downtown Train Depot.

The Crystal Lake Farmer's Market is where you can buy the local produce and specialty products you won't find anywhere else.

If you're looking for a souvenir from your trip to Crystal Lake, check out this farmer's market.

In addition, you can also treat your tastebuds to the farmer's market's freshly-baked pastries, bread, or donuts.

The Crystal Lake Farmer's Market runs from June to October during weekends.

It's a fun way to discover Crystal Lake's local products where you can also meet and talk to locals.

Taste Local Beer at Crystal Lake Brewing

Interior of Crystal Lake Brewing
Polina MB / Shutterstock.com

Another must-visit place in Crystal Lake is its brewery in Downtown Crystal Lake.

Crystal Lake Brewing is one of the favorite watering holes in the city where you can visit and enjoy a mug or a bottle of its finest brews.

This local brewery boasts some of the best German Lager in McHenry County.

In addition, they also brew German Blonde Bock, Belgian Wit, IPA, Hard Seltzer, New England Pale Ale, and other seasonal releases.

You can join its brewery tours to complete your visit, where they'll take you to its processing plant.

At the same time, you'll enjoy a tasty meal through its food truck parked outside the brewery every Friday.

Hike the Prairie Trail

Whether looking for the best hiking trails in Crystal Lake or perhaps a location for a fun-filled bike ride with your family, the Prairie Trail offers an excellent outdoor recreation venue.

The Prairie Trail stretches around 30 miles from Algonquin, just a few miles from the Wisconsin State Line.

It connects eight communities of McHenry County, including Crystal Lake, making it an incredible trail for hiking, especially for those who want to discover these towns from a different perspective.

Don't forget to bring your hiking shoes to Crystal Lake because part of your itinerary will be traversing the Prairie Trail.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Tour the Volo Auto Museum

This high-profile attraction in Crystal Lake is something you shouldn't miss.

You'll find this museum in Volo, Illinois, 21 minutes from Crystal Lake.

The Volo Auto Museum is a fascinating place featuring its vast collection of Hollywood films and television vehicles.

This vast museum features the Blues Brothers' Bluesmobile, the Ecto-1 of the Ghostbusters, Knight Rider's KITT, Alien's Nostromo Survey Buggy, and Bonnie & Clyde's Death Car.

In addition, you can also check out and take photos of James Bond's Vanquish vehicle used in 2002's Die Another Day.

These are just some of the vehicles you can find in the museum's vast collection.

The Volo Auto Museum also has exhibits featuring vintage campers, antique arcades, kiddie rides, Disney parade cars, dinosaur sculptures, airplanes, and more.

Go Skiing at Norge Ski Club

A skiing trip to the country's oldest open ski club is something you shouldn't miss on your trip to Crystal Lake.

You'll find it in Fox River Grove, Illinois, 16 minutes from Crystal Lake.

Since 1905, the Norge Ski Club has operated under Norwegian skiers who thrived in Illinois.

Illinois skiers and snowboarders flock to the Norge Ski Club during winter to experience its gorgeous ski area and club grounds.

If you want a one-of-a-kind activity during your visit to Crystal Lake, head to the Norge Ski Club.

Bring your family or travel buddies for a worthwhile skiing experience.

Norge Ski Club offers various ski jumps for adults and kids, making it a convenient experience for everyone.

Appreciate Nature at the Hollows Conservation Area

Head to the Hollows Conservation Area to witness McHenry County's natural beauty.

It's in Cary, Illinois, six minutes from Crystal Lake.

This conservation area features the flora and fauna of Illinois through hiking and nature viewing activities.

The Hollows Conservation Area features more than six miles of looped trails through forested areas.

During winter, this conservation area transforms into a cross-country skiing destination.

At the same time, it's a favorite campground and picnic destination for locals in McHenry County.

Overall, Hollows Conservation Area is an excellent place to immerse yourself in nature.

Final Thoughts

Crystal Lake may not be as famous as other tourist destinations in the nation.

However, it's packed with exciting attractions that are worth checking out.

This small city in McHenry County is an excellent weekend destination, especially for those coming from Chicago and Milwaukee.

It has all the attractions that make for a perfect and unforgettable outdoor adventure, especially with your family or friends.

Start planning your Crystal Lake trip today!

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