Water Trails of Northeastern Illinois

Canoeing and kayaking near - and even in! - Chicago
By Gary Mechanic
  |  Gorp.com
Page 1 of 6   |  
Beverly Serrell of the Chicago Area Sea Kayakers Association just outside the entrance to the Chicago Locks on the downtown lakefront.

The ten major waterways in the six county area of northeastern Illinois offer a huge range of paddling experiences. Stunning sunsets, spectacular moonrises and unsurpassed views of the city's skyline reward sea kayakers on the vast expanse of Lake Michigan. The quiet beauty of a prairie stream awaits canoeists on the DuPage River. Paddlers on the North Branch of the Chicago River find surprising solitude as they pass through county forest preserves and city parks. And the awesome, urban canyons of Chicago's downtown look nowhere more imposing than when seen from a small boat on the river.

Few places in the world offer such a spectrum of paddling experiences so close together. But no matter how varied the experience, no one river can never be all things to all paddlers. I've classified some water trails into basic categories:

Family/Beginner  - These are stretches of rivers or lakes that are suitable for novice paddlers and families with younger children. They are located where there are shorter stretches between access sites, where powerboating is not possible or allowed, and some include interesting landings or destinations.

Scenic - These are trips that include scenic areas and/or vistas but are not necessarily in quiet and/or natural areas.

Unique - Several stretches of northeastern Illinois' waterways provide paddling experiences unavailable elsewhere.

Quiet/Natural/Wildlife - These are trips where the waterway is generally further away from roads, more populated and industrial areas. These include longer stretches through forest and nature preserves where local and migrant wildlife is more evident.

Disabled - While no existing launchsites are developed as accessible, paddlers with various types of disabilities can, with some aid, access and enjoy many stretches of local waterways. These recommended trips are stretches that are clear of portages around obstacles such as dams and where powerboating is not possible or allowed.

Luckily, northeastern Illinois has it all. In one of the most densely populated places, the rivers remind us that there is more to the world, and life, than buildings and pavement.

For more information contact Gary Mechanic, Director of The Access Project of the Illinois Paddling Council.


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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