One nice, free thing to do in Carbondale, Illinois, is to rent a boat at the Lake on the Campus at Southern Illinois University. Staffed by friendly SIU students, the boat dock is open from noon to 6 pm every afternoon in the summer.
From Route 13, take US 51 south to the entrance to the SIU campus. Take Lincoln Drive past the Student Center and take a left at Douglas Drive, then turn in to the first parking lot on your right, at the Tech Building (where they have the Dental Clinic). From the parking lot, it takes just a minute to walk past the sculpture to the boat dock at the edge of Thompson Woods.
They will set you up with a kayak, a paddleboat, or a canoe-for free! You don’t pay anything; you just have to leave an ID with them while you’re on the lake.
Also, you don’t have to be connected with SIU at all in order to enjoy this facility. If you don’t have an SIU parking sticker, pay a meter at one of the visitor’s parking spaces in the Tech lot for fifty cents an hour, or park in the Arena lot for free and get a little extra exercise walking up the hill to the lake. Or wait until after 4:30, when parking is free in all the lots for everyone.
Kayaks are for those who want to paddle alone across the lake. They are very easy to manage; with just one paddle that dips to the left and right, its only drawback is that it can shower you with water if you go deep, lifting the other end of the paddle up high. But it’s good exercise for your upper arms, and if the day is warm, a sprinkling of water might be welcome!
An easier ride is offered by the paddleboats, colorful two-seaters that are powered by your legs. You sit comfortably in a padded seat and chat with your friend as you move across the lake-or you can take one of these out alone if you wish.
The canoes offer the best opportunity for a workout. They can be taken out by one person, but the attendants say it’s better to have two people to share the paddlling.
Life jackets are available and required for each boater, for every type of boat.
Campus Lake is perfect for the novice or the experienced boater. It’s small; you’re not going to get lost boating on it. But it’s big enough and pretty enough to get out and enjoy the solitude and the beauty of nature. And it’s free!
I went late one afternoon and rented a kayak. I shared the lake with two swans and some people fishing off the bank. I saw people walking and running on the path encircling the lake (2.2 miles), and people playing Frisbee golf on the popular 9-hole course next to the lake.
Lake on the Campus at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois, is like a mini-resort, so pleasant and accessible-and definitely affordable! Treat yourself to a boat ride soon, while the weather lasts.