The City of Crystal Lake lies approximately 45 miles northwest of Chicago in the southeast quadrant of McHenry County, Illinois. The city's name derives from a lake described by early visitors as "a beautiful sheet of water" that was "clear as crystal." Today, in addition to those sparkling waters, Crystal Lake offers its 40,300 residents a robust mix of great schools, fun cultural and historical attractions, plentiful recreational opportunities, a variety of shopping and dining options, and a family-friendly atmosphere.

Several major roadways border or bisect the city, providing easy access to the Chicago metro area and to interstates connecting Northern Illinois with other Midwest destinations. Crystal Lake houses a train station on Metra's Union Pacific Northwest line that provides daily service between Harvard, IL and Chicago's Ogilvie Transportation Center. The Pace Suburban Bus system offers weekday routes connecting Crystal Lake with other nearby communities, including Elgin, Fox Lake, and Harvard. Air travel via O'Hare International Airport is less than an hour's drive away.

McHenry County and the northwest suburbs of Chicago have seen significant growth in recent decades, affording residents a plethora of places to go for entertainment, recreation, or education. Some highlights of living and working in the area include:

Attractions and Entertainment

Raue Center for the Arts — This gem in the heart of Crystal Lake's
RaueCenter_Ron Cogswell CC BY 2.0
historic downtown district was founded in 1929 as a movie and vaudeville theatre with a different name. A major renovation and reconstruction of the building began in late 1999, resulting in a beautiful venue known for its wide variety of fine arts events and live performances. The Raue is also home to the Williams Street Repertory, a professional theatre group.

The Dole — The Dole is a Civil War-era mansion with a fascinating history. Completed in 1865, the luxurious home evolved over the years, functioning at times as a country club, seminary, church, and now as a beloved community arts center. Featuring a music venue, art galleries, a culinary studio, and other creative spaces, this landmark structure, along with the adjacent 12-acre Lakeside Arts Park, is a great location for concerts, art exhibitions, cooking classes, and special events, including the annual Fourth of July festival.

Downtown Crystal Lake — The charming and historic downtown district is an accredited member of Main Street America and a place where people gather to dine with friends, support local businesses, or celebrate special events.

Crystal Lake Historical Society — Housed in the Col. Gustavus A. Palmer House, a pre-Civil War era building of architectural interest, the historical society preserves and promotes the community's past through its archives, newsletter, and programs.

McHenry County Historical Society and Museum — The county historical museum comprises several buildings from the 1800s, fascinating artifacts, interactive exhibits, and a museum store. Special events, like Cider Fest, are both educational and fun.

McHenry Outdoor Theatre — Ahhh, the good ol' days of drive-in theaters are alive and well in nearby McHenry. Besides movies, the theater hosts special events throughout the summer and fall. Grab the kids and the dog and enjoy a summer evening of fun!

McHenry County Fairgrounds — Located in Woodstock, the county seat, the fairgrounds hosts the annual McHenry County Fair every August, plus several other events throughout the year.

Woodstock Opera House — The Opera House hosts hundreds of arts events each year in a beautiful late-19th Century building that anchors Woodstock's historic town square and is home to three resident arts companies and a fine arts association.

Other nearby attractions include Donley's Wild West Town and the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Santa's Village Azoosment Park in Dundee, Volo Auto Museum in Volo, and corn mazes plus other farm-related fun throughout the county.

Outdoor Adventures

Crystal Lake Parks District — In addition to maintaining two beaches on the beautiful (and still crystal clear) lake, the Parks Department maintains many other properties, including splash pads, athletic fields and courts, trails, boating facilities, a dog park, a golf center, nature center, and more. Through its wide-ranging programs and events, the district promotes fitness while helping educate and entertain people of all ages and interests.

ThreeOaksPaddleboats
Three Oaks Recreation Area — The City of Crystal Lake owns and manages this large, popular facility on the site of a former quarry. Water sports reign supreme, with fishing, boating, swimming, and scuba diving on one large lake, and a state-of-the-art cable wake park occupying the other. Besides the aquatic fun, there are picnic areas, hiking/biking trails, volleyball courts, restaurants, and a sledding hill to enjoy.

McHenry County Conservation District — MCCD celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021 as it continued its mission to preserve open space and to provide educational and recreational opportunities to visitors. The district cares for more than 25,000 acres of wetlands, forests, parks, trails, and prairies, and offers the public a wide variety of ways to learn about and enjoy the beautiful landscapes.

The Norge Ski Club of Fox River Grove — The Norge Club, just a short drive from Crystal Lake, gives beginning and experienced ski jumpers year-round opportunities to learn, practice, and compete in their exhilarating sport.

Education

Children who live in Crystal Lake are served by these school districts:

Crystal Lake Elementary District 47
Community High School District 155

Higher education options include:
McHenry County College
Columbia College of Missouri—Crystal Lake
Judson University (Elgin)

Other Links

For more information on the area, please visit these sites:

Downtown Crystal Lake
Naturally McHenry County
Enjoy Illinois

Photos courtesy of City of Crystal Lake; photo of Raue Center by Ron Cogswell via CC BY 2.0