Pulling into the driveway of The Lookout at the Lake, guests who are gearing up for an adventurous vacation full of boating, swimming and fishing on Lake of Egypt are met with a festive quartet of decorative oars on the soaring front face of the Creal Springs vacation rental owned by Jennifer and Brad Olson. Bright green topiary hedges flank the entryway and the brilliant blue sky above is interrupted only by the tops of trees surrounding the home. As evidenced by their five-star ratings and reviews, the Olson’s have proven to be spectacular hosts to lodgers renting the lakefront property for a weekend getaway or a summer holiday and they especially enjoy their role as proprietors of The Lookout.
“Getting it up and running once we closed on it was a job. Just to go through and get all of the linens and all of the pots and pans. One of the interesting things about this type of work is making sure that you have everything that everybody wants,” said Jennifer Olson.
The home, which is entering its third year as a vacation rental on Lake of Egypt, is unbelievably clean and well-appointed with a perfect floor plan for excursions with extended family or a group of friends. Olson has thought of everything and has learned from guests along the way if she is missing a key element. She truly has a knack for making guests feel comfortable and has learned some tricks over the past three years. For instance, some people prefer a manual can opener to an electric one, two corkscrews are a requirement, and at least two sets of linens for each room are a must at The Lookout.
Be our guest
Upon walking in the front door of the home, one of several beautiful stained glass light fixtures illuminates the stairway up to the main floor where a large, open floor plan awaits in the common area. The spacious living room is full of windows looking out onto the lake, and sits across from an ample dining area, a center island and a spacious kitchen. A gas range and sparkling new appliances are surrounded by shining granite countertops along with all of the amenities needed for comfort and convenience while guests prepare meals. A deck sits right outside the dining area, complete with a table, umbrella and lawn furniture with festive cushions. A stairway on the side of the deck takes visitors down to the ground level where a patio is appointed with bright Adirondack chairs, plenty of logs for the fire pit, and most importantly, a gently sloping lawn that leads to the home’s private dock right on the water.
Living the lake life
Lake of Egypt, popular for kayaking, fishing, swimming and boating, has long been a highly sought after location for both vacationing and a place to call home. The lake covers more than two thousand acres and has an impressive ninety acres of shoreline. With numerous inlets along the shore and plenty of bluegill, catfish, crappie and bass, fishing is a well-favored activity on the lake and the water is often dotted with boats casting lines out into the water. Kayakers are aplenty during suitable weather which Olson attributes to the horsepower limit. She says the wildlife is amazing, with eagle sightings and plenty of land critters like turtles, deer and geese.
“People feel better around water and there really is a calming effect. This is kind of an old school, traditional vacation to meet your family at the lake but it works. It’s refreshing to slow down and get unplugged,” remarked Olson.
Several guests at The Lookout have commented on the absolute quiet at the home in the morning hours and that the peaceful atmosphere makes it difficult to get out of the cozy beds. But there are plenty of reasons to get out and explore the attractions that are located within just a short drive of the lake. Olson always recommends Bell Smith Springs and Shawnee Canopy Tours, as well as popular golf courses and new restaurants adored by locals.
“I think my Chicago guests more than anyone else are surprised at the terrain in Southern Illinois. They see the wonderful rolling hills and cliffs and rock formations and it just looks completely different. We have so many good things to refer them to,” said Olson.
If guests prefer to stay close to the rental property, Olson suggests a number of various entertainment options and eateries to her guests that are just around the corner from the lake house. The Resort at Egyptian Hills oftentimes has live outdoor music or movies that can be enjoyed from the patio at the Resort or from a boat in the water. Mack’s Lake of Egypt Marina, which offers boat rentals and accessories, fishing supplies, and a convenience store with package beer and wine, is also home to Tommy’s Lounge which boasts a restaurant, a full bar and live music. Pyramid Acres Marina is another great stop for libations and entertainment with a different band almost every weekend. Big Blues Que in Creal Springs is just over five miles away and serves tasty classic barbecue with all of the favorite sides. Olson prides herself on being highly informed of many different destinations in the area to ensure every guest will find an activity they enjoy.
“I think hostessing comes very natural to me. I love it when people ask me for recommendations, whether it’s hiking or wineries. It gives me an excuse to live more like a tourist in our area because I can check out new places,” said Olson.
The rental business
The Olson family has plenty of experience outfitting a lake home as they own a vacation property of their own on Lake of Egypt which they frequent in the summer months and whenever possible throughout the remainder of the year. The couple began getting requests from several people to rent their personal lakeside property so when the home now known as The Lookout became available, Olson says they felt like the time was right for an investment property. One of the things Olson loves most about the house is the openness of the main floor, where guests can play board games, watch movies, cook dinner and still be together.
The spacious rental sleeps up to ten people and each bedroom in the home is an oasis of its own. The three bedrooms on the lower level are all furnished with queen beds and have sliding door access to the back yard and lake views. Guests can relax in their private rooms, while watching the sun rise over the peaceful waters, without having to leave their beds. The loft, which is accessed by an alternating-tread ladder staircase from the main level, has twin bunk beds and at the highest point in the house, it is the reason the home is named The Lookout. Olson said the loft is the most popular room in the house and guests clamor to call dibs on the cozy chamber.
“It’s the kids’ fan favorite. The trick [to the staircase] is to go back down like you came up though,” said Olson.
Two storage closets are packed with fresh, fluffy towels and extra linens while a modern washer and dryer set are available in the lower level to provide guests with the comforts of home. Olson tries to ensure a pleasant stay for everyone that rents The Lookout.
“The trick in any type of property management is coming in with fresh eyes because it’s so easy to miss things if you don’t,” shared Olson.
That fresh approach has created a popular destination for an assortment of guests from not just northern Illinois but Kansas City, Cincinnati, Columbus and as far as Newport News, Virginia. Renters at The Lookout are usually visiting the area for a typical lake vacation, sometimes bringing boats of their own, but Olson has seen visitors coming for class reunions, SIU graduation ceremonies, bachelorette parties and weddings. She said she has been pleasantly surprised at how well guests treat the home during their stay and she enjoys hearing how much they enjoy their visit. The property currently has a two night minimum stay but the owners are experimenting with a three night minimum so the turnaround time doesn’t come about so rapidly.
“I’m convinced that the move in and move out is the hardest thing on the house. When people are here, they’re outside a lot except at night. So we’re trying that [three-night minimum] and we’ll fill in the gaps,” shared Olson.
Upon visiting the spotless, perfectly outfitted home and experiencing its tranquil location at one of the most popular lakes in Southern Illinois, there is no doubt The Lookout will remain in high demand among travelers to the area.