Best Kayaking Spots In and Near Chicago, IL (2024)
If you live near or around the Windy City and itching for some kayaking fun, you’re in for a treat. Chicago’s got this buzzing kayaking scene that’s just waiting for you to paddle in. So, get your sunscreen and water bottle because we’re about to go head first into world of the best kayaking near Chicago.
These are the best spots, the do’s and don’ts, and everything in between. You might be a seasoned pro or just dipping your paddle into the water, there’s something for everyone.
The kayak season in Chicago typically runs from spring to fall, roughly from April to October. However, specific timing can be influenced by weather conditions, water temperatures, and individual kayak rental companies’ operating seasons.
Kayaking season in Chicago:
- Spring (April – June): As the weather warms up and ice melts, kayak rental companies start opening for the season. Spring offers a refreshing time to explore waterways as nature comes to life.
- Summer (July – August): Summer is the best time and peak kayak season in Chicago. Warm temperatures attract paddlers, and many kayak rental providers are in full swing, offering various tours and experiences.
- Early Fall (September – October): In early fall, the weather is still pleasant, making it a great time for kayaking. However, as the season progresses, some rental providers may start to wind down operations.
Kayak Rentals in Chicago, IL
For kayak rentals in downtown Chicago, you have several options to choose from. You can rent both tandem kayaks/double kayak or single kayaks. Here are a few places where you can rent kayaks:
Located at North Avenue Beach, Kayak Chicago offers kayak rentals with stunning views of the city skyline and easy access to Lake Michigan.
Situated near the Chicago Riverwalk, Wateriders provides kayak rentals for exploring the Chicago River and the surrounding downtown area.
Chicago River Canoe & Kayak:
Conveniently located on the Chicago River, this rental spot allows you to paddle through the heart of the city, taking in iconic landmarks.
With locations along the Chicago River and Lake Michigan, Urban Kayaks offers both river and lake kayaking experiences.
REI Boathouse at Ping Tom Memorial Park:
Located in Chinatown, the REI Boathouse offers kayak rentals for paddling on the Chicago River, providing a unique perspective of the city.
If you’re looking to grab a sweet treat, check out this list of ice creams shops in Chicago and suburbs. Nothing tastes sweeter than ice cream after putting in some sweat equity on the water. If you need some actual food to refuel, check out this awesome list of Irish food in Chicago.
Different routes for kayaking Downtown Chicago
- Chicago River Architecture Tour: Paddle along the Chicago River to marvel at the iconic architecture. Admire the city’s skyscrapers, historic buildings, and unique bridges.
- Lake Michigan Shoreline: Launch your kayak from a downtown spot and explore the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Enjoy stunning views of the city skyline and, on clear days, catch a glimpse of the Chicago lighthouse.
- Chicago Riverwalk Section: Navigate through the Chicago Riverwalk section for a mix of urban and natural scenery. Pass by parks, gardens, and vibrant neighborhoods along the riverbanks.
- Navy Pier to Adler Planetarium: Start at Navy Pier and paddle south towards the Adler Planetarium. This route offers panoramic views of the city, with the iconic skyline as your backdrop.
Remember to check the weather conditions and any kayak rental guidelines before embarking on your scenic adventure. Happy paddling!
Boat launches along Lake Michigan
For kayaking on Lake Michigan, there are several launch points to consider. Click here to see a list of all the Chicago Park District boat launch locations:
Located in the northern part of Chicago, Montrose Beach provides easy access to Lake Michigan. It’s a popular spot with ample parking and nearby amenities.
31st Street Beach:
Situated south of downtown, 31st Street Beach offers a convenient launch point. Paddle along the shoreline and enjoy views of the city.
North Avenue Beach:
This iconic beach in Chicago also serves as a great launch point. It’s centrally located and provides an excellent starting point for exploring the lake. FYI, it can be quite busy during the summer months.
Head to Foster Beach for a more relaxed launch experience. It’s a bit quieter than some other beaches, offering a serene entry into Lake Michigan.
Burnham Park Beach:
Located near the Museum Campus, Burnham Park Beach is another option. Launch here for a kayaking adventure with a view of the city’s skyline.
North Branch of the Chicago River:
This is a great spot to stay in the city but escape the busyness.
Always check for any specific regulations or requirements at each launch point, and ensure that weather conditions are suitable for kayaking. Enjoy your time exploring Lake Michigan!
Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk (Portage, IN):
Situated in Indiana, this location offers a boat launch for kayakers looking to explore the southern shores of Lake Michigan.
Kayak rentals outside of the city of Chicago
In the suburbs and then some, you’ll find various places offering kayaking near Chicago. Here are a few options to consider:
Elk Grove Village: Busse Lake Boating Center in the Busse Woods Forest Preserve offers kayak rentals, providing a scenic escape in the suburbs.
Libertyville: Independence Grove in Libertyville is a beautiful spot with a lake where you can rent kayaks and enjoy a tranquil paddling experience.
Skokie Lagoons: Wateriders, located near the Skokie Lagoons, offers kayak rentals for those looking to explore this picturesque area. Don’t forget your fishing pole!
Lake Katherine Nature Center
Palos Heights: Lake Katherine in Palos Heights offers kayak rentals for paddling around the lake surrounded by nature.
Located in the Palos Cook County Forest Preserves, this is the ideal spot to escape the hustle bustle of the big city. (This is my personal favorite!)
Starved Rock offers kayak rentals as well as kayak guided tours. Pack your sleeping bag and make a weekend of it! It is worth venturing out a bit. Here, you’ll paddle along the Illinois River.
Des Plaines River
Here, you’ll find a full list of 6 canoe launches. You can also enjoy fishing from the shore.
Aurora is also a bit outside Chicago, but with that, you get less chaos.
This is a great option to take kids as it’s 3yrs +. These trips are anywhere from 2-6 hours on the water.
Indiana Dunes State Park
This place is still on Lake Michigan, but located in Northwest Indiana.
Chain O’Lakes State Park
This place is located about an hour north of the city, but still very enjoyable.
Located in Northwest Indiana, this place requires a small drive from Chicago. You can either rent equipment from them or bring your own.
Check out the Kish for a family-owned kayak rental. There are a few sandbars along the way to stop. Afterwards, stay for a picnic!
Chicago Botanic Garden
Once a year, you can paddle in the lake of the Chicago Botanic Garden in the annual Father’s Day Canoe Adventure.
Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro, here are some tips to enhance your kayaking experience:
Kayaking for Beginners:
- Take a Lesson: Consider taking a beginner’s kayaking lesson to learn proper techniques and safety measures.
- Start in Calm Waters: Begin in calm and sheltered waters to get comfortable with paddling and balancing in your kayak.
- Learn Basic Strokes: Master basic paddling strokes like forward, backward, and turning strokes. It makes a significant difference in control.
- Practice Safety: Always wear a life jacket and familiarize yourself with basic water safety rules. Know how to re-enter your kayak if it flips.
- Choose Stable Kayaks: Opt for wider and more stable kayaks when starting. They provide better stability for beginners.
Kayaking for Pros:
- Explore Advanced Strokes: Challenge yourself with advanced paddling techniques like the sweep stroke, draw stroke, and the high brace for improved control.
- Upgrade Your Gear: Invest in quality gear such as a lightweight paddle, a comfortable seat, and a well-fitted spray skirt for more advanced kayaking.
- Master Rolling Techniques: Learn and practice rolling techniques for kayak self-rescue in case of a capsize. It’s a valuable skill for experienced kayakers.
- Understand Weather Conditions: Experienced kayakers should have a good understanding of weather conditions and how they can affect paddling. Be aware of wind, currents, and tides.
- Join a Kayaking Community: Connect with fellow enthusiasts. Share tips, experiences, and learn from others. It’s a great way to discover new routes and stay updated on kayaking trends.
Remember to always paddle within your skill level and comfort zone, whether you’re a beginner or a pro. Enjoy your time on the water!
Family-friendly kayaking near Chicago Area
One of the best places to go kayaking with kids in the Chicagoland area is Independence Grove in Libertyville. Here’s why this place for kayaking near Chicago is the top choice for families:
- Scenic Setting: Independence Grove offers a beautiful lake surrounded by nature. The serene environment provides a picturesque backdrop for a family-friendly kayaking adventure.
- Family-Friendly Amenities: The park has family-friendly amenities, including a beach, playgrounds, and picnic areas. It’s not just about kayaking – you can make it a full day of outdoor fun.
- Calmer Waters: The lake at Independence Grove tends to have calmer waters, making it suitable for beginners and children. It’s a great place for kids to feel comfortable on the water.
- Rental Availability: You can rent kayaks on-site, which makes it convenient for families who might not have their own kayaking gear.
- Educational Opportunities: The park often hosts nature programs and events, providing an opportunity for kids to learn about the local ecosystem and wildlife while enjoying their kayaking experience.
Always check with the park for any specific guidelines or restrictions. Independence Grove offers a well-rounded experience for families, combining nature, recreation, and educational elements making it perfect for a family outing.
Safety Tips for paddling on Lake Michigan
When kayaking on Lake Michigan, safety is paramount. Here are some essential tips to ensure a secure and enjoyable experience:
Wear a Life Jacket:
Always wear a properly fitting life jacket. It’s a crucial safety measure in case of unexpected situations.
Check Weather Conditions:
Before heading out, check the weather forecast. Avoid kayaking in poor conditions like strong winds or storms.
Inform Someone of Your Plans:
Let a friend or family member know your kayaking plans, including your intended route and expected return time.
Stay Close to Shore:
Especially if you’re new to kayaking or the conditions are challenging, stay close to the shoreline. This provides a safer environment and easier access to help if needed.
Use a Kayak with Safety Features:
Ensure your kayak has safety features such as bulkheads, which add buoyancy and prevent sinking in case of a capsize.
Be prepared for changing weather conditions. Dress in layers, wear a hat, and consider a wetsuit or drysuit, especially in cooler temperatures.
Carry Safety Equipment:
Bring essentials like a whistle, signaling device, and a first aid kit. These can be invaluable in emergencies.
Be Aware of Boat Traffic:
Lake Michigan can have boat traffic. Be visible by using a brightly colored kayak or flag and be aware of your surroundings to avoid collisions.
Bring water to stay hydrated, especially on sunny days. Dehydration can affect your alertness and decision-making. This goes for many things, but if you find yourself kayaking near Chicago, I recommend bringing a water bottle.
Develop Paddling Skills:
Hone your kayaking skills, including self-rescue techniques. Knowing how to handle your kayak in various conditions adds an extra layer of safety.
Remember, safety first! Enjoy kayaking Lake Michigan responsibly.
Several places in Illinois offer kayaking lessons for beginners. Here are a few options to consider:
Kayak Chicago (Chicago, IL):
Kayak Chicago provides kayak lessons on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. They offer both beginner and advanced classes.
Chicago River Canoe & Kayak (Chicago, IL):
Located on the Chicago River, this outfitter offers kayaking lessons for various skill levels, including introductory classes.
Wateriders (Chicago, IL):
Wateriders offers guided kayak tours and lessons on the Chicago River. They cater to both beginners and experienced paddlers.
Rapid Transit Rafting (Algonquin, IL):
Rapid Transit Rafting offers kayak lessons on the Fox River. They provide instruction for beginners, emphasizing safety and basic paddling skills.
North Shore Outdoor Recreation (Skokie, IL):
North Shore Outdoor Recreation offers kayaking lessons on Skokie Lagoons. They provide instruction for beginners, covering fundamental techniques.
Learning proper kayaking techniques from experienced instructors can really enhance your paddling skills and overall enjoyment of the sport.
Snacks for Kayaking
When it comes to kayaking, it’s essential to pack snacks that are convenient, non-perishable, and easy to eat on the go. Here are some easy snacks to consider for your kayaking adventure:
- Trail Mix: A classic choice that provides a mix of nuts, dried fruits, and sometimes chocolate or seeds. It’s energy-dense and requires no refrigeration.
- Granola Bars: Compact and easy to carry, granola bars come in various flavors and provide a quick energy boost.
- Fresh Fruit (e.g., Apples, Bananas): Fruits like apples and bananas are durable and easy to pack. They provide natural sugars for energy.
- Jerky: Whether it’s beef, turkey, or other alternatives, jerky is a protein-packed, portable snack.
- Nut Butter Packets: Single-serving packets of peanut butter or almond butter are convenient and can be paired with crackers or sliced apples.
- Cheese Sticks or Cubes: Hard cheeses like cheddar or string cheese are tasty, and their individual packaging makes them easy to bring along.
- Pretzels or Crackers: Choose whole-grain options for sustained energy. Pair with cheese or nut butter for a more substantial snack.
- Energy Bars: Look for bars with a good balance of protein and carbohydrates. They come in various flavors and styles to suit different preferences.
- Dried Fruit: Dried mango, apricots, or raisins are lightweight and won’t spoil. They satisfy sweet cravings and provide natural sugars.
- Hydration: Don’t forget to pack water or a sports drink to stay hydrated during your kayaking adventure.
Remember to pack snacks in sealed containers or resealable bags to keep them dry and prevent them from getting crushed. It’s also a good idea to bring a small cooler if you have perishable items or prefer a chilled snack. Even though you may be kayaking near Chicago and have access to food, you will not regret bringing snacks.
A sunset paddle is a unique experience and would make a romantic date for some quality time together. Here are a few options in Chicago:
Urban kayak offers a 90 min tour
Bobby’s Bike Hike offers a 1-2 hour sunset kayak rental.
Sometimes you just want to take the guesswork out of it. Find a guided tour for a great time without the stress. Check out the kayak rentals above.
Now, as you gear up for your own kayaking adventure, we’ve got you covered. We’ve organized your gear, shared tips for seamless paddling, and explored considerations for various weather conditions. So, prepare your gear, strengthen your kayaking skills, and venture onto the water with confidence.
But kayaking is more than just a solo sport; it’s a community of adventure enthusiasts. Engage with fellow paddlers, mark exciting events in your calendar, and share your kayaking experiences. Build connections and let the camaraderie of the kayaking community enhance your adventures.
As you go kayaking near Chicago, remember to be mindful stewards of our waterways. Leave no trace, contribute to conservation efforts, and adopt eco-friendly practices. Our kayaking havens deserve our care and protection. Chicago’s kayaking wonders are ready for exploration.