An Autumn Visit to Rend Lake, IL

When we were still pop-up trailer camping and our girls were young, we spent a weekend camping at Rend Lake. My memories of that weekend aren’t great. It was early May, rainy and cold. The trees in the campground were sparse and new. Fast forward to current day, and some friends of ours claim this as one of their favorite camping spots. What I didn’t know then, pre-Google era, was that Rend Lake has many campgrounds, and this one is called South Sandusky. It was not where we had been before. So, a month after our Colorado trip, so we were ready for another weekend out.

These two pictures above are of the Pine Tree Loop for camping, and it is full of pine trees which are not indigenous to this part of Illinois. This is where our friends like to camp and I thought it was a little crowded, but oh…that pine tree smell. It made me feel like I was out West again!

This was our site, in Cottonwood Loop, where our door opened to nothing but the tree-lined meadow above. The deer entertained us each morning. We were on the first road just beyond the entrance to the park, at the first site, so we could see the back end of the campground hosts’ trailers off at a distance, and a road in front of those, where campers entered the park. In busier summer days that could be an issue, but late in October, there was not much of that.

The other huge surprise was at the end of our little camping loop road. There was the lake, and the pelicans that you see in the top picture and below! What a surprise! All through the weekend, I would take a walk down the road to check on them. They were on their migratory route and stay at Rend Lake for about 2 months. Those pelicans really made the weekend for me. Here are a couple more pictures, because I was constantly photographing them.

South Sandusky campground also has a bike trail. Although our first morning was warm and sunny, there was a storm predicted to roll in later that day. I wanted to be sure we got our ride in, so off we went. Our biking experience in the last few years has been rails-to-trails and fairly flat. This trail was hilly, and I was very much regretting my Covid-era lack of exercise. I will be in much better shape next year, I am sure, when Covid is over. Still, the trail was beautiful. We had several glimpses of the lake, fall color was in the trees, and there were those same pine trees along a stretch of the trail. I would guess they were put there when the park was built. At our turn-around point, our friends in the pelican pod had a fly-over just above us to say hello.

Rend Lake was created by damming the Big Muddy River in the mid-60’s as a way to both provide drinking water and to prevent flooding for the area. Hence, you have a lake with square corners. This was just one part of it, though. The lake is 13 miles at its maximum length. It was built by the Corps of Engineers, and they also operate all five of the campgrounds around the lake.

We had dinner, breakfast, and lunch cooked and eaten out-of-doors at this point, but then the beautiful weather was over. A massive front rolled in which brought wind and rain for the afternoon. Behind it came the cold weather. It’s funny how different our attitude about weather is, now that we have a 5th wheel! We shrug it off, go inside, turn on the fireplace, and view the weather from our windows. The next morning we took a drive around the lake, stopping at the Visitors Center and checking out their little museum in our masks. We had the place to ourselves. We drove across the dam and tried to find our former camping spot without any success. Well, it was a long time ago. Campgrounds change, and trees grow.

I love being outdoors as much as I can when we are RVing, but back at home you’d be hard pressed to find me taking a walk when it’s anything less than fifty degrees out. That’s what it dropped down to here, but I had to check on my pelicans. We walked in the opposite direction of the bike trail, where we had a different view of the lake. The pelicans weren’t there. Hopefully they found a drier and less windy place to roost than their usual mud bar. The picture below has no pelicans. The people that you see in the picture below are standing at the end of our camping road, which is where I first discovered them.

There were a lot of wooly caterpillars on the trail. Supposedly, if their rusty band is wide, it will be a mild winter. I’m hoping that this wooly’s prediction will come true!

2 thoughts on “An Autumn Visit to Rend Lake, IL

  1. We love the Rend Lake area. We camp at the South Marcum campground. We’ve camped there twice since we got our Micro Lite. Each time take a day trip – Giant City and Cave in the Rock state park. We’re going again next month and will visit Garden of the Gods. Safe Travels!

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