If you haven’t experienced the thrill of paddling through the “canyons” of the Chicago River created by the skyscrapers looming on the shores you have an item to add to your bucket list. It’s not only fun, paddling in Chicago is a great way to experience city’s unique architecture, inspect the workings of the bridges, and, increasingly, appreciate the local wildlife.
So I was happy to hear about a new online guide to paddling in Chicago and northeast Illinois courtesy of Openlands. one of the nation’s oldest and most successful metropolitan conservation organizations.
Paddling in Chicago and Northeast Illinois
I’m partial to the Chicago River or the Skokie Lagoons. There are a handful of tour operators and rental outfits that can set you up. Out my way, if you don’t have your own boat, try a rental kayak or canoe from Chicago Canoe and Kayak. Check with your park district or local nature/conservation group to see if they have any trips planned that may help you stretch your comfort zone in terms of location, or time of day (moonlight paddles are cool!).
Here is the official press release:
Openlands announces the launch of an online paddling guide for the Water Trails of Northeastern Illinois. The website provides detailed information on over 500 miles of water trails for non-motorized boating on 10 of the region’s waterways, and promotes paddling as an inclusive activity for local tourism and outdoor recreation. The free guide is available at paddleillinoiswatertrails.org.
“For more than 50 years, Openlands has partnered with many organizations to ensure our waterways are clean, safe, and accessible to the public,” said Openlands President and CEO Jerry Adelmann. “Friends of the Chicago River was founded as a project of Openlands, we facilitate annual river cleanups around the region, and we host regular paddling events to foster greater appreciation for nature from the Calumet to the Kishwaukee.”
“This resource makes the region’s waterways more accessible to everyone, even individuals new to paddling who might not own their own equipment,” explained Laura Barghusen, Openlands Associate Greenways Director. “This builds upon our work and the work of our partners to make water trails inclusive and to allow people to explore some of the most diverse habitats in Illinois.”
The online guide contains detailed, step-by-step descriptions for over 50 trips throughout the region, with information on skill levels, trail length, directions, and equipment rental locations. Interactive maps are available for each waterway, indicating launch sites, dams, and the paddling difficulty along the trail. Paddlers are also encouraged to help keep the site up-to-date by reporting log jams, unexpected water traffic, wildlife sightings, and other significant observations via the comments for each trail.
About the Water Trails
- Calumet Area Water Trails: These water trails connect paddlers to waterways of globally significant ecology while exploring the area’s industrial past. Open paddling is an option on Wolf Lake and Powderhorn Lake.
- Chicago River Water Trails: From Skokie Lagoons or Evanston on the Northshore Channel, through downtown Chicago to Portage Park on the southwest side, paddlers can experience wooded areas, huge skyscrapers, and areas of historical significance on the Chicago River. The Chicago Park District’s new boathouses enhance access to these trails.
- Des Plaines River Water Trails: The 95-mile long Des Plaines River begins in Racine County, Wisconsin and flows south through four Illinois counties. With multiple boat launches available in Lake, Cook, and Will counties, the river changes in character from a prairie stream to a large urban river, and then to a major industrial waterway.
- DuPage River Water Trails: The DuPage River is a small-to-medium sized stream flowing through DuPage and Will counties, with east and west branches that meet south of Naperville. The trails include peaceful, scenic trips for beginner paddlers and rapids for whitewater enthusiasts.
- Fox River Water Trails: The Fox River Water Trails begin at the Illinois-Wisconsin border, traveling south from the Chain O’Lakes into highly urbanized areas including Elgin and Aurora, giving way to more natural settings and many islands downstream in Kendall County. These water trails, which include multiple dams and power boat traffic, are trips suitable for all skill levels.
- Kankakee River Water Trails: The Kankakee River provides great opportunities for paddlers to experience high quality aquatic habitat. Many sections have a gentle current and wide, shallow stretches. The water trail begins just east of the Illinois-Indiana border and flows west to the Kankakee’s confluence with the Des Plaines River.
- Kishwaukee River Water Trails: This river’s watershed covers 1,257 square miles across six counties in northern Illinois. The Kishwaukee has some of the highest quality aquatic habitat of the 10 trails, offering chances for paddlers of all skill levels to view wildlife.
- Lake Michigan Water Trails: Approximately 23 miles of Chicago’s Lakefront are almost entirely open, with many boat-friendly sand beaches throughout the city. This trail is for advanced paddlers, and part of the multi-state Lake Michigan Water Trail.
- Nippersink Creek Water Trail: This water trail is an excellent way to experience the landscapes of Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge in McHenry County. With high quality wetlands and gentle waters, the Nippersink offers an easy and scenic trail.
- Salt Creek Water Trails: Salt Creek Water Trails connect DuPage and Cook counties. Open paddling is available on Forest Preserves of Cook County’s Busse Lake, and the water trail begins below the lake’s dam, passing through high quality natural areas such as the Dorothy and Sam Dean Nature Sanctuary.
Openlands developed the Northeastern Illinois Regional Water Trail Plan in 1999 in partnership with Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, Illinois Paddling Council, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and multiple local government agencies. Grand Victoria Foundation provided essential support for the implementation of the Plan.