Water Trails of Northeastern Illinois

Scenic Trips
By Gary Mechanic
  |  Gorp.com
Sea kayakers 2 miles offshore Chicago's north side at sunset.

Most canoe trips qualify as scenic. But these trips are somewhat longer and may require more paddling experience. Power boating is present on all of these waterways.

The middle section of the Fox River [Map] is a wide river running alternately through towns, rural residential areas and forest preserves. Two sections are recommended here with a combined length of approximately 6.3 miles.

Put-in below the dam in South Elgin on the west bank and travel downstream 2 miles to the Blackhawk Forest Preserve Canoe Launch on the north bank of the river. A shorter trip could begin at the Blackhawk Forest Preserve Canoe Launch and continue 4.3 miles down to the St. Charles Park District's Ferson Creek Park located on the west bank at the mouth of Ferson Creek. On the opposite (east) bank is Norris Nature Preserve. At higher water levels, a short trip up Ferson Creek leads to a small and interesting wetland area in the Wildrose Valley subdivision.

The Kankakee River [Map] is a wide, shallow river that is one of the highest rated rivers in the state for water quality. Tree lined with numerous islands and great fishing, the Kankakee provides many miles of scenic paddling. Canoe rentals are available in Kankakee, Kankakee River State Park and Wilmington.

Two sections are recommended here. The first is a thirteen mile trip between Bird Park in Kankakee and the Chippewa Boat Launch on the north side of the river, on the west side of the Warner Bridge Road in Kankakee River State Park. The state park provides nearby camping areas so these two sections can be paddled over two days by stopping over in the park. The second section is approximately 7 miles from the Chippewa Boat Launch to the Wilmington Dam in Wilmington. Take out above the dam in the city owned Wilmington Island Park.

Lake Michigan - 12th St. Beach [Map] is recommended for more experienced sea kayakers or newer kayakers with an experienced group or guide. The beach just south of the Planetarium on Chicago's lakefront affords easy access to the world class skyline of the downtown area. A four mile round trip to the end of Navy Pier and back provides exciting views of the city, Grant Park Harbor, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Chicago River Locks.

The confluence of the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers creates the Illinois River. The configuration of connecting waterways in the area of the confluence creates a unique loop watertrail called, fittingly, the Confluence Loop Watertrail [Map]. This watertrail has two access sites on a 8.0 mile loop composed of four rivers. Camping is available near both launchsites.

The four rivers are the Kankakee, Des Plaines, Grant Creek Cut-off and the Kankakee Cut-off. The trail may be entered at the Kankakee River Boat Launch Area in the Des Plaines Wildlife Conservation Area. (Exit I55 at New River Rd. on the north side of the Kankakee River. Turn right and drive northwest on N. River Rd. 1/2 mi. to the first left. Follow the road to the boat launch area.). Once on the river paddle approximately 3.5 miles downstream on the Kankakee to the confluence with the Des Plaines River. Approximately 1.0 miles up the Des Plaines is the other access site on the left bank at Will County's McKinley Woods Forest Preserve.

Landing is possible at the small limestone shelter overlooking the river. Campsites are available at the nearby Boatman's Landing Area in the Forest Preserve. Approximately 1/2 mile upstream is the mouth of the Grant Creek Cut-off. A little less than a mile into the Cut-off, Grant Creek enters on the left bank. Do not enter Grant Creek but continue another 1/2 mile south on the Cut-off to its end. Portage over the small strip of land into the Kankakee Cut-off on the other side. Paddle south another 1/2 mile until you enter the Kankakee River. Less than 1/2 mile upstream from the mouth of the Kankakee Cut-off is the Kankakee River Boat Launch Area on the left bank.

A somewhat longer trip can be paddled by adding two more waterways, the I&M; Canal and the DuPage River to the loop. Begin at the I&M; State Trail. Access parking lot on the south side of Bridge St. in Channahon. Launch on the east side of the parking lot into the DuPage River. Paddle approximately .75 miles south to the confluence with the Des Plaines River. Another 1.5 miles downstream enter the Grant Creek Cut-off on river left. Portage into the Kankakee Cut-off and out into the Kankakee. Turn right & paddle downstream to the confluence with the Des Plaines. Take out on the opposite (north) bank and portage over the levee and down into the I&M; Canal. Paddle upstream (to the east) past McKinley Woods. From the McKinley Woods landing it is another 3.25 miles on the canal back to the I&M; State Trail Access parking lot.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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