Wolf Lake is part of the Calumet water trails system and connects to the Calumet River through Indian Creek. Wolf Lake is comprised of 804 acres spanning the Illinois-Indiana border. The Illinois side of the lake is within William W. Powers State Recreation Area, located at 12949 S. Avenue O, Chicago, IL 60633 and is managed by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources.
Wolf Lake is a startling juxtaposition of industry and nature. Paddling the Illinois side and looking east offers views of industry, including tank farms containing fuel, oil, and solvents, and the railroad tracks that run through the Illinois side of the lake. Looking north yields wooded surrounding scenery.
Before settlement and industrialization, Wolf Lake was significantly larger, part of a vast complex of prairies, wetlands, and savanna that made up the Calumet area. The lake was particularly rich in plant and animal life, some unique to the area. Despite heavy industrial impact, Wolf Lake still supports more plant and animal species than almost anywhere else in the Chicago area and remains globally significant for its ecology.
The Illinois side of the lake is divided into a north, middle, south, and east region by levees, created when Wolf Lake was dredged to provide fill for the Indiana Toll Road and railroad tracks. There are two established launch sites on the Illinois side within William W. Powers Recreation Area: one on the northwest side of the lake, which includes two boat ramps, one leading to the north region of the lake and one leading to the middle. The other launch site, located on the northern shore near the Illinois-Indiana border, leads to the east region of the lake.
There are no boat rentals available at this time on the Illinois side, but you can bring your own canoe or kayak. Rentals are available on the Indiana side of Wolf Lake.
Once on the lake, waters are typically calm, but do not paddle after heavy rains or in strong winds. Water depth is an average of 8.5 feet, with depths reaching up to 20 feet in some areas. Prior to dredging, the lake was much shallower. Since 2000, much restoration work has been done to recreate shallows and wetland habitat on the Indiana side of the lake.
While paddling the lake, be sure to keep an eye out for fish. Wolf Lake is home to many kinds of fish, including some that require clear water and native vegetation, such as the Iowa darters and banded killfish. Also look for turtles including painted turtles, spiny softshell turtles, and snapping turtles. You can also find flowering plants along the shores and levees such as asters and milkweed. One hundred and seventy species of bird, including rare and endangered species including yellow-headed blackbirds and black-crowned night herons have been recorded at Wolf Lake.