Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area, or Dolan Lake, is a 1,683-acre outdoor playground ideal for outdoor excitement no matter what you are into. It's also known as the Hamilton County State Conservation Area. The Dolan Dam was constructed in 1962 after the state bought the property in 1960. This created the 75-acre lake with a depth of 18 feet located in southern Illinois near McLeansboro in Hamilton County.
The park has tons of fun activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming in the lake as well as hiking, RV camping, and primitive camping. And if you are more into glamping, there are five furnished cabins with bunk beds, heat, and air conditioning. If you have a horse, there are eight miles of day-use horse trails as well. The equestrian trail takes you on a winding tour meandering along the perimeter of the park.
The park also boasts 1,300 feet for hunting on small open fields and food plots where wildlife can eat. Make sure you have a hunting license as well as a windshield card, which you can get online. If you need to brush up on your targeting skills, you can also find a manual clay trap thrower area, which is first-come, first-serve, and open all year long. Be sure to check out the Dolan Lake Restaurant with a wide variety of specialties like catfish and burgers.
In southern Illinois right off of Interstate 64, you can find the Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area on Route 14. The roads to the park are paved but the closer you get to the park, the more winding and narrow the streets get. If you are pulling a trailer or camper or driving a large RV, you need to take it slow and easy.
Traffic is always light since you are so far from the city and the scenery is amazing so make sure you have the camera handy. You should also watch out for wildlife that tend to wander onto the road such as white tail deer, squirrels, and raccoons. You don’t want to hurt any of the local critters or put yourself or your family in danger.
There are two main entrances to the park, which are on County Road 1100 and County Road 1025. These are both paved and easy to navigate. Most of the roads in the park are also paved and you should not have trouble maneuvering your RV or trailer. However, most of the parking lots are small and do not have enough space to park comfortably in a large rig. It is best to walk or ride a bike around the park if you can.
RV camping at Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area is fun for everyone whatever you are into. Piney Wood Campground has 60 RV campsites with electric and pad sizes ranging from 39 to 68 feet long. There are also 10 primitive campsites. All sites are within a few feet of the lake and have a picnic table and fire ring. In addition, there is potable water access at certain areas in the campground and a shower with hot water in the middle of the campground by the camp host at campsite 22. If the kids need to get some of that energy worked out, there is a great playground near the shower house. An ADA-accessible campsite is available at site 23 and pets are allowed as long as they are on a leash or otherwise restrained at all times.
It is recommended that you make a reservation but not required so you can choose a site as a walk-in. However, you must get a camping permit when you get to the campground and reservations take priority.
Attach the kayaks or canoe to the camper before heading to the Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area because boating on Dolan Lake is fantastic. Since there is a limit of 10HP motors, the lake stays nice and calm for canoeing, kayaking, or paddle boarding. It is also beneficial in fishing and keeps the water clear. There is a boat dock at the Shady Rest Picnic Area, but you don’t need one if you are just using a paddle boat or kayak.
Pack the family in the RV and head to the park. There are three picnic shelters that are all on the lake. All shelters have picnic tables, potable water access, BBQ, and restrooms. Playgrounds and hiking trails are nearby as well. Ash Grove holds up to 50 people and is right at the beginning of the Sloan Trail. Catfish Corner Shelter holds up to 50 people and is at the Shady Rest Picnic Area. The Kiwanis Point Shelter is in the Rocky Point Picnic Area and holds up to 100 people. They are all ADA-accessible and allow dogs as long as they are on a leash.
Dolan Lake is the main attraction in the Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area so pack your poles in the rig so you can fish. It is 75 acres of clear water teeming with aquatic critters like catfish, sunfish, bluegill, and bass. There is more than three miles of shoreline to explore along the bank. And with a depth of about 18 feet, there is plenty of room in there for the fish to grow huge so bring a net to help get those lunkers on the shore.
Be sure to bring your hunting gear because there are 1,300 acres to explore of open fields bordered by fencing, pine trees, and plenty of brush for cover. The park even provides patches of food plots to attract the wildlife to these areas. Whether you are looking for large or small game, waterfowl, or fur bearing critters, the Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area has it all. It is also known for its sporting dog field trial program, where bird dogs and beagles compete for the honors.
Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area has a perk that many parks do not have. There is a manual clay bird throwing trap section for those wanting to hone their bird hunting skills. This is a first-come, first-serve activity and only open for shotgun use. You can find the clay trap section in the hunting area and it is open all year long. If you have any questions or need more information, you can get this from the ranger, who resides in the park.
There are four hiking trails and one equestrian trail in Hamilton County State Fish and Wildlife Area. The Giant Oak Trail is a one-mile walk in the woods, Sloan Trail is about a half-mile around the western section of the lake, and Chapel Trail is about a quarter-mile walk from the campground to the picnic area. Lake Trail takes you one a three-mile trip around the northern and eastern side of the lake from the campground to Catfish Corner Picnic Area. The equestrian trail takes you on an eight-mile journey around the perimeter of the park.