Kinkaid Lake & Trail System

Area Status: Open
A lake with a forest in the distance.

Kinkaid Lake is one of the few large lakes in the region that offers a variety of recreational activities. Popular activities include primitive camping, fishing, hunting, canoeing/kayaking, horseback riding, biking and hiking. A campground, picnic area and boat launch are located in the Johnson Creek Recreation Area on the northwest side of the lake.

Shawnee National Forest land surrounds most of the lake, creating the tree-lined shoreline. The Kinkaid Lake Trail System can be is accessed in several places and is a great way to reach many scenic and remote areas of the lake.

Kinkaid Lake & Trails brochure/map

At a Glance

Area Amenities: Boat ramp, Tent camping, Camping trailer, Toilets, Drinking water, Parking
Open Season: Year-Around
  • Pets are allowed only on a leash.
  • Picnic areas open 6am-10pm.
  • Use trash receptacles. Pack It In, Pack it Out rules apply to the entire trail system.
  • Stay on the designated trails.
  • No horseback riding is allowed in the picnic areas.
  • Primitive Camping is allowed outside of Johnson Creek Recreation Area for a maximum of 14-days continuous stay.
  • Camp at least 150 feet from the lakeshore or trail.
  • Practice Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics.
Closest Towns: Ava, IL 62907
Information Center: Mississippi Bluffs Ranger District (618) 833-8576

General Information


Driving Directions
To Johnson Creek Recreation Area, from Murphysboro: Take Highway 149 west 7 miles to Highway 3; then north 4.5 miles on Highway 3 to Highway 151. Turn right onto Highway 151 and go 4 miles to Johnson Creek Recreation Area.

To Johnson Creek Recreation Area, from St. Louis: Take either Highway 3 or Highway 4 south to Chester, IL. Then south 18 miles on Highway 3; turn left onto Highway 151 and go 4 miles to Johnson Creek Recreation Area.

To Buttermilk Hill Trailhead, from Murphysboro: Take Hwy 149 west 7 miles to Hwy 3, then north 2.75 miles on Hwy 3 to Buttermilk Hill Rd.  Turn north on Buttermilk Hill Rd. then east on Taylor Rd. 

To Hidden Cove Trailhead , from Murphysboro: Take Hwy 149 west 7 miles to Hwy 3, then north 4.5 miles on Hwy 3 to Hwy 151.  Go north 1.2 miles on Hwy 151 to Gum Ridge Rd., turn right onto Gum Ridge Rd., go 2 miles and turn right onto John Lee Road and proceed past private land ownership to the trailhead.  

General Notes:

Fishing Regulations: 
Lg./Smallmouth bass -16” min. Daily limit=3
Pure Muskellunge – 48” minimum length
White/Black or Hybrid Crappie – 9” min.  Daily limit=25
For site specific regulations or to obtain a fishing license go to Illinois fishing regulations.  

Watercraft Motor Restrictions:  None.

Boat Rentals: Sorry, no boat rentals are available at Johnson Creek Recreation Area.  
For boat rentals and service, check Kinkaid Marina; 2063 Marina Rd. Murphysboro, IL (618) 687-4914.

Johnson Creek Boat Launch: Recommended for small water craft, such as canoes, kayaks or small boat with motor. It is located in the large parking lot on the left upon entering the recreation area.

Primitive Camping: 
There is no fee for primitive camping outside of Johnson Creek Campground. Primitive camping is permitted 150 ft. off the trail and at least 150 ft. from the lakeshore with a maximum of 14-days continuous stay.

Trail System:
This trail system offers opportunities for both long, linear trails and shorter loop trails. Kinkaid Lake Trail is ideal for a longer hike or horseback ride. It winds along the shore of the lake from Johnson Creek Recreation Area to Crisenberry Dam, leading into remote fingers of the lake. However, you may still encounter other users such as anglers, hunters and boaters. 

Both Johnson Creek Recreation Area and Hidden Cove Trailhead offer excellent starting points for short day-trips. Johnson Creek Trailhead is large enough to accommodate horse trailers.

Buttermilk Hill Picnic Area either hike-in or boat access only to the site. There is a vault toilet but no drinking water. 


Overnight parking allowed at boat launch parking lot and trailheads.

Trailheads offer small areas for parking.

Equestrian Parking: Johnson Creek Trailhead is large enough to accommodate horse trailers.


Campground Camping

Dispersed Camping

Lake and Pond Fishing

Day Hiking


Horse Riding

Big Game Hunting

Small Game Hunting

Viewing Wildlife

Viewing Scenery


Boating - Motorized

Boating - Non-Motorized





Camping trailer: in Johnson Creek Rec Area
Tent camping: 150 Ft. from lakeshore
Parking: trailheads & boat launches
Toilets: in Johnson Creek Rec Area
Boat ramp: Johnson Ck Rec Area; Paul Ice Marina(private)
Drinking water: in Johnson Creek Rec Area

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities