Kayaking Chicago

Chicago  has many  recreational waters, but they’re not all created equal. Here are some of the best spots in Chicago for kayaking.

Kayaking in Chicago River
Kayaking in Chicago River

Kayaking in Wolf Lake


Paddling at Wolf Lake takes you by beautiful natural landscapes and blue waters that harbor a diverse array of fish and bird life, including an occasional white heron or osprey.  One of the most unique features about Wolf Lake is that it looks like two lakes in one, divided by a peninsula covered in cattails and marshland grasses.  The eastern side is open water with high bluffs; to the west lies a cypress swamp.

This channel was once the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, a way to move cargo from Lake Michigan down the Mississippi River.  Today it’s a popular place for kayakers and canoeists alike.

Kayaking in Calumet Sag Channel

The Calumet Sag Channel is a man-made waterway that connects the Grand Calumet River with Lake Michigan in Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood.  It’s very flat and calm, so it’s a good spot for beginner kayakers.  Visitors love to see the wildlife in this man-made waterway, such as blue herons and egrets.

Kayaking on the Chicago River

The Chicago River is another popular place for kayaking.  It can be hazardous at times, depending on the time of day, but kayakers can enjoy the views of downtown Chicago.  The river is also filled with history; for example, there’s a huge steel mill called Arcelor Mittal that was once owned by Henry Ford.

Kayaking in Salt Creek

Salt Creek is another great place for kayaks and canoes to explore.  Its clear waters and lush green surroundings make it a popular place for hikers, bikers, kayakers, and birdwatchers to visit.  Salt Creek is also known as one of the most polluted water sites in Chicago, so this makes paddling an interesting activity if you want to see firsthand how far this city has come in cleaning up its waterways.

There are many other places to go kayaking in Chicago, so this is just a small sample of all the places where you can get on the water.  Chicago has many beautiful waters that are great for paddlers of all levels, and kayaking here offers breathtaking views that will take your breath away!

Do you need a permit to kayak in Chicago?

No, you do not!  There are a few exceptions to the rule in Chicago, but for the most part kayakers can enjoy paddling in these waters.  You don’t need a license or permit to kayak here.  If you have an Illinois license, though, it’s good to bring it along just in case.

What are the benefits of kayaking in Chicago?

There are many benefits to kayaking, including exercise and better health.  It is a low-impact activity that can be enjoyed by people of all fitness levels.  Additionally, kayaking is a good, cheap way to explore nature and get exercise at the same time.  It’s also a great way to bond with your family or friends.

Is kayaking in Chicago safe?

Kayaking is very safe if you’re out on the water during daylight hours and are wearing a life jacket at all times.  You should always be aware of weather conditions, too, which can change rapidly. If you’re a beginner paddler, it’s a good idea to go out on the water with a more experienced kayaker who knows how to handle conditions.

Where can I rent a kayak in Chicago?

You can find many places that offer boat rentals, including most marinas and recreational areas around the city.  Some of the best kayaking is on Chicago’s beaches, so you might want to check those out!  A few places where you can rent a kayak include:

  • Kayak Chicago – they offer two-hour rentals for $35 and full-day rentals starting at $55.  
  • Sunshine Outdoor Center – they have one hour rental rates starting at $15 and full-day rentals starting at $25.    

There are some other kayak companies as well, so be sure to check those out too.

Do I need special equipment for kayaking in Chicago?

Most people use canoes and kayaks that they already own for this activity.  However, you may want to consider purchasing a lifejacket or personal flotation device (PFD) if you don’t already own one.  It’s also a good idea to bring sunscreen and insect repellent.

What are some safety precautions I should take when kayaking in Chicago?

When you plan your kayaking trip, always be aware of the weather conditions and pay attention to any signs that may indicate bad weather is approaching.  If you are out on the water, always wear a lifejacket or PFD.  You should also bring some sunscreen and insect repellent with you on your trip.

What’s the weather like in Chicago when going kayaking?

Chicago is known for having four seasons, and these seasons determine what time of the year is best to go kayaking.  

  • During the summer, it’s extremely hot so you’ll want to go in the morning or evening when it’s not as hot out.  It can be windy or stormy at times during the summer too, so check weather before going.
  • In the fall, it’s a good idea to bring a rain jacket.  The weather can be unpredictable in Chicago during this time of year because you never really know what the temperature will do.
  • In the winter months, kayaking is best done indoors or on warmer days where there isn’t any snow or ice on the ground.  It’s also a good idea to bring a rain jacket and dress warmly, as it can get very cold.
  • In the springtime, there is more daylight and it tends to be warmer out.  The weather is generally mild during this time of year so you can wear lighter clothing or layers if needed.

Are there any dangers I should look out for while kayaking in Chicago?

There are some dangers that you may encounter when kayaking, such as strong winds and waves.  You should always be aware of weather conditions before going out on the water and if things get too dangerous, get back to shore.  A few other dangers can include:

  • Algae/Mud that can cause you to lose your balance or drag you under.
  • Chemical waste that is dumped into the Chicago river system.
  • Shallow water in rivers and creeks where rocks are submerged beneath the surface.  These are especially dangerous for kayakers because it’s hard to see when you’re in a kayak.
  • Large vessels that could cause you to capsize if they hit your kayak from the side or from behind.

What are some tips for beginners who want to go kayaking in Chicago?

If you’re a beginner and this will be your first time going out on the water, it’s a good idea to have an experienced kayaker with you.  It’s also a good idea to go on calmer days, preferably in the morning when water is less choppy.

If you plan on kayaking in the winter, it’s best to go indoors.  You can also try ice-boating which is similar to kayaking but instead of water, you are on a lake that has frozen over.

Can you kayak downtown Chicago?

You can kayak in downtown Chicago but the water may be a bit choppy and you will have to watch out for larger vessels going by.  It’s also best if you go on a calmer day, especially during the warmer months when there tends to be more wind.

Are there any kayaking/canoeing trips or organizations in Chicago?

There are several places you can go kayaking, canoeing, tubing and ice-boating in the Chicagoland area.  You can also contact local sports shops to see if they offer any kayaking classes or guided outings.  There are also several kayaking and canoeing groups in the area.

  • Kayak Chicago – They offer kayak and canoe rentals during the summer months, along with lessons and guided trips on local rivers and lakes.  
  • Adventure Kayak – This kayaking association offers lessons, day trips and other kayaking events.  They also do overnight camping trips on local rivers.
  • Chicago Canoe Base – They offer paddle boat rentals at various locations around the city during warmer months.

Can I use my own kayak in Chicago?

If you have your own kayak or canoe, it’s not a good idea to bring it into downtown Chicago.  The waterways are often busy with larger vessels so if you get hit by one of these, it may cause serious damage.

It’s also best if you stay on the outskirts of Chicago when using your own kayak or canoe.

Is kayaking in Chicago good exercise?

Kayaking is a great aerobic workout because it involves using your arms, legs and core to paddle around different bodies of water.  It’s also an easy sport to learn so you can really take your time getting used to paddling.

How old do you have to be to kayak in Chicago?

Most places you go kayaking will require that you are at least 10 years old.  However, some groups and organizations might have different age requirements so it’s best to check with them first before going on a kayaking trip.

Can kids use their own kayak in Chicago?

If your kids attend camps or classes where they teach them how to kayak, then they will usually have their own equipment.  However, if you want your kids to go on a trip with you and use their own kayak or canoe, it’s best if they stay close to shore so that they can get out of the water quickly in case something happens.

What is the best time of year to kayak in Chicago?

Kayaking is a great activity for all seasons because you can do it on calm days, windy days and even the coldest days.  However, if you are looking for calmer waters or better scenery, try going kayaking during warmer months when there are less large vessels out on the water.

What are the rules for kayaking in Chicago?

During the warmer months in Chicago, you are allowed to kayak within 200 feet of the shore.  You are also not allowed to go on certain waterways so it’s best if you check with your local park district for any restrictions and guidelines.

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