Beach season in McHenry County promises summer fun

Some beaches in Crystal Lake, Lake in the Hills, Island Lake, Lakemoor and Oakwood Hills reopened for the holiday weekend

Children from a birthday party play on the beach Monday, May 23, 2022, at Crystal Lake's Main Beach, 300 Lakeshore Drive, in Crystal Lake.

As Memorial Day weekend approached, towns and subdivisions across McHenry County have been getting set to welcome people back to their beaches for the summer.

Despite some either reeling from staffing shortages or lower attendance last summer, park districts and recreation departments in McHenry County for the most part are expecting a stable season, with some offering expanded programming.

Beach season typically runs from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend, which falls on Sept. 5 this year.

BeachAddressDates and Hours
Crystal Lake Main Beach300 Lakeshore Drive, Crystal LakeMay 28 - Sept. 5 (Hours vary by day). More hours available on Crystal Lake Park District’s website
Crystal Lake West Beach2330 Lake Avenue, Crystal LakeJune 4 - Aug. 12 (11 a.m. to dusk)
Three Oaks Recreation Area5517 Northwest Highway, Crystal LakeMay 28 - July 31 (10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.), Aug. 1 - Labor Day (10 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Dorothy Court Beach209 Dorothy Court, Island LakeMemorial Day - Labor Day (dusk to dawn)
Veterans Park Beach316 Island Drive, Island LakeMemorial Day - Labor Day (dusk to dawn)
Butch Hagele Beach71 Hilltop Drive, Lake in the HillsMemorial Day - Labor Day (sunrise to sunset)
Indian Trail Beach228 Indian Trail, Lake in the HillsMemorial Day - Labor Day (sunrise to sunset)
Morrison Park Beach124 Lake Shore Drive, LakemoorMemorial Day - Labor Day (sunrise to sunset)
Petersen Park Beach4300 Petersen Park Road, McHenryJune 2 - Aug. 7 (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Oakwood Hills North Beach100 N Shore Drive, Oakwood HillsMemorial Day - Labor Day (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)
Oakwood Hills South Beach2 Lakeshore Drive, Oakwood HillsMemorial Day - Labor Day (11 a.m. to 7 p.m.)

Crystal Lake opened its Main Beach for Memorial Day weekend, while West Beach will open June 4, said Heidi Stolt, recreation aquatics supervisor. Staffing for the beaches this summer, particularly when it comes to lifeguards, has been strong, she said, which is a change from last year.

“We have lots of staff,” Stolt said. “We’ve been extremely fortunate with our lifeguards.”

Stolt said she expects the beaches this year to be busier than last summer, which saw some hesitant to go out following the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. Last year saw more than 26,700 people visit Main Beach.

“I think people will be less cautious about going out to public spaces, even though we had a great summer last year,” she said.

The city of McHenry’s Petersen Park Beach has had a bit of a different experience the past couple years, as attendance saw a sharp increase throughout the pandemic, said Nicole Thompson, athletics and aquatics supervisor.

Following 2019, which saw a little under 1,600 people come out to the beach, 2020 saw attendance eclipse 2,200. That number rose even higher last year, hitting almost 2,400, Thompson said. This year she’s expecting it to stay relatively the same as the past couple years.

“We opened [in 2020] as soon as the state allowed it,” Thompson said. “I think the biggest reason [for our attendance] is our beachfront is pretty open, so people could spread out.”

For several beaches across the area, attendance in 2021 surpassed 2019, Berggren said.

Having beaches in McHenry County can be convenient for residents so they don’t have to drive out to places like Lake Michigan, said Jaki Berggren, president of Naturally McHenry County, the county’s tourism agency.

“For residents, it adds to the quality of life,” Berggren said. “There is the option of different places to go and the amenities.”

Children from a birthday party play on the beach Monday, May 23, 2022, at Crystal Lake's Main Beach, 300 Lakeshore Drive, in Crystal Lake.

Programming will remain much the same for several McHenry County beaches, but the past few years have brought some notable changes.

Crystal Lake, for example, saw a significant increase in its boat rentals during the pandemic, Stolt said. In 2020, because of state restrictions, the park district couldn’t open the beaches, but it could offer boats, which saw a spike in use.

That trend continued into the next year as well, and so to meet the new demand, the Crystal Lake Park District purchased some new boats and paddle boards, Stolt said.

Thompson said she’s tried to offer new programming in the past, such as water yoga, but attendance wasn’t strong, she said. The newest addition in recent years are inflatables and boats, she said.

Swim and sailing lessons also are doing well, Stolt said. Crystal Lake is also offering a new social paddle club this year for people to paddle around the lake and make friends.

Kayaks and paddle boards are a “great past-time,” Berggren said, as they provide people different things to do in the water. Although lounging beside it is also nice, she said.

Both Stolt and Thompson said attendance is ultimately decided by the weather, which is part of what drives Petersen’s opening the week following Memorial Day, as the beach isn’t always warm enough, Thompson said.

“Leading up to it is just nerves,” Thompson said. “You just hope there’s no snags.”

McHenry will not be without other options, as its Merkel Aquatic Center opened.

Still, even if it’s chilly, many still come out to picnic and frequent the park, Stolt said.

James Norman

James T. Norman

James also goes by Jake and became a journalist to pursue a love of writing. He originally joined the ranks to be involved with football, but over time fell in love with community reporting and explaining policies. You can catch him at his computer or your local meeting.