|OCEANIC LAKE: Chicagos skyline and the Lake Michigan coast (Corbis)|
Lake Michigan's waterfront is usually the star of the show when it comes to outdoor fun in the Windy City, but over the past decade, the Chicago River has proven a solid understudy. Dave Olson, owner and lead instructor of Kayak Chicago, offers rentals and guided tours on both the lake and river. Their architectural tour of the only river in the world engineered to run backwards is a popular excursion, he says.
"The boats we use are very stable, so you don't have to worry about capsizing," says Olson. "We go through basic instructions, paddle strokes, safety, and rules of the river before we go out." Tours last about three hours from training to take out. "We're only as fast as our slowest paddler and we stick together, so we base our rate of speed on that," Olson says.
The architectural tour covers the rich industrial and cultural history of Chicago, including the point of origin for the city itself, while passing through what local guides call the canyon of the city. "Seeing the spectacular size of the buildings as you go along is amazing," says Olson. The river winds past skyscrapers that come right to the river's edge, and Chicago is also home to the greatest number of moving bridges in the world, which adds to the urban experience.
For Olson, there's nothing else like it in the world. "Being in the middle of a busy city and feeling like you're all alone is great," he says. "You can hear background noise and see the hustle and bustle, but immediately surrounding you it's very peaceful and quiet while you relax and enjoy your day."
Access and Resources
Address: 1501 N. Magnolia Ave. (four blocks from the North & Clybourn El stop)
Cost: Architectural tour $50 per person; $15 to 25 an hour kayak rental only
Ages: While there's no age limit, they only offer life jackets for kids weighing 30 pounds and over; if your kid is smaller, bring your own personal floatation device; Kids 12 and over can paddle on their own
Where Guides Go for Grub: Goose Island Brewery or Uncle Julio's Hacienda, both near North and Clybourn
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication