Kayaking in Illinois

You can choose various locations when it comes to kayaking or canoeing in Illinois; it's all a matter of which location is close to you and your skill level.

If you’re planning on setting off on a water adventure in Illinois, then you’re in luck! With the abundance of rivers and lakes riddling the state, you’ll find numerous opportunities for canoeing and kayaking in Illinois.

Whether you're looking to enjoy some time paddling on the water or want to explore Illinois through the watery routes, this guide is undoubtedly for you. So, read on to find the 6 best locations!

1. Chicago River

Chicago River Kayaking

From the impressive skyline in the morning to the mesmerizing lights at night, the city of Illinois will be a sight to behold when you’re exploring it via the Chicago River. This river is often frequented by pro paddlers, visitors, and citizens alike for the beautiful views of the day and nighttime it offers.

Luckily, you can find multiple guided tours and outfitters offering rentals so you can paddle across the water with ease, bask in the vibrant sun rays, and enjoy the warm glow of the city lights if you extend your journey to nighttime.

The Chicago River is an excellent destination for any kayak or canoe paddler with various skill levels. The water isn't turbulent, so you'll get to enjoy a leisurely trip with your friends or family members.

2. Lake Michigan

Lake Michigan Kayaking

Have you ever seen Chicago from the shores of Lake Michigan? Well, kayaking and canoeing there will certainly be your chance! Lake Michigan is well known to be one of the best places to paddle, especially for pros.

Starting from any of the access points in Chicago and going over to Jackson Park lagoon and the yacht club harbor, you'll get a magnificent view of Chicago and have access to incredible sightly beaches.

Kayaking or canoeing in Lake Michigan is better suited for expert paddlers, though, so if you have little to no skill in paddling, it’s advised that you get a tour or try out some of the spots best suited for beginners.

3. Clark Park Boathouse

Clark Park Boathouse Kayaking

In 2016, Chicago citizens celebrated the opening of Clark Park Boathouse, Ping Tom, and Park no. 571.

From the Clark Park Boathouse, you can enjoy paddling through one of the most famous waterways. This route extends between the River Park and Clark Park and overlooks a collection of impressive landscapes away from the city's hustle and bustle.

You can rent as many kayaks or canoes at the park as you wish, paddle, and enjoy the green of the conifers and land. You can do all of that at any time of the year, but it’s highly recommended that you start your journey in the summer and spring months to enjoy the secluded natural scenery to the fullest.

4. Illinois River

Illinois River Kayaing

The Illinois River is a tributary of the mighty Mississippi, which means that you’ll be able to enjoy an easy, pump-free ride through calm waters.

There are various starting points from which you can take your canoe or kayak and start paddling away, but the most popular spot is at the Starved Rock State Park, where you’ll also find a campground in case you want to bring in your RV as well.

During your journey, you'll get to see an expanse of sandy beaches along the banks, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to stop and take a break. The heat might be a touch unbearable, though, so be mindful always to stay hydrated.

If you feel like going bird watching, you might take a detour to the Mazon River, which is slightly smaller than the Illinois River, and only accessed via a canoe or a kayak. There, you can bask in the seclusion of scenic landscapes and enjoy bird watching.

5. Skokie Lagoons

Skokie Lagoons Kayaing

Skokie Lagoons is a chain of islands that can be reached within 30 minutes from the city and is favored among paddlers for how expansive the paddling routes are. In fact, expert paddlers might craft their own route and not risk getting lost through the twists and turns of this wooded preserve.

If you don’t have your canoe or kayak on you, you can still rent one at any of the outfitters on land at reasonable prices. As you make your way through the waters, you’ll be able to see an abundance of plants, wildflowers, and or even watch native birds at every turn of your route.

If you happen to paddle around Father’s Day weekend, you’ll have access to the waterway paths near the Chicago Botanical Gardens, where you can enjoy seeing a variety of vibrant greenery and plants.

If you’re looking for a peaceful, secluded destination for paddling with a canoe or a kayak, you might want to consider the Skokie Lagoons.

6. Nippersink Creek

Nippersink Creek Kayaing

Although a drive to the Nippersink Creek might be a bit long for some paddlers’ tastes (it takes about 1 hour to get there from downtown), the whole experience will pay off at the end of the day.

The 23-mile-long creek offers a great escape for both novice and experienced paddlers from all the city's noise pollution. If you like to extend your journey a little bit more, you can make your way to the Fox River, which stretches through the 138-square-mile watershed.

Start at any launch point, and you won’t be disappointed with what you’ll see: a stretch of secluded prairie grasslands and magnificent savannahs, which you can see when you make your way through the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge.

You can also see some of the rare wildlife in the area, like the endangered Blanding's turtles and bald eagles. Of course, you’ll be able to rent canoes and kayaks from any launch sites, like the Lyle Thomas Park or the Keystone Landing.

Wrapping Up

You can choose various locations when it comes to kayaking or canoeing in Illinois; it's all a matter of which location is close to you and your skill level. Irrespective of which location you choose, be sure you're well prepared for your adventure and enjoy paddling!