7 Best Spots to go Kayaking in Chicago

Canoes and Kayaks

There are many fun and exhilarating activities to do in and around Chicago. However, kayaking in Chicago is a must-include on your bucket list if you want a new and exciting way to view the area. Here’s a rundown of our top 7 spots for kayaking, plus some excellent Chicago kayak rental options and memorable kayak tours.

kayaking in chicago

1. The Loop

The Loop is smack in the middle of downtown Chicago stretching from the Chicago River to the north and west, Harrison Street to the south, and bordered by Lake Michigan to the east. Although The Loop is only 1.58 square miles in area, it’s densely populated with many attractions ranging from Millenium Park to the Chicago Riverwalk.

The Riverwalk is where all the action is. It’s a 1.25-mile stretch of riverfront path packed with restaurants, parkland, and sitting areas. Not surprisingly, The Riverwalk is one of the most popular places for kayaking on the Chicago River, providing some of the city’s best views. 

Urban Kayaks is one of the most popular Chicago kayak rental companies in the Chicago area, providing a wide variety of guided tours. Their Sunset Kayak Tour and Historic Chicago Kayak Tour are amongst the most popular. 

You can rent recreational kayaks for $40 per hour from Urban Kayaks’ Riverwalk location. Prior kayaking experience is required here, so be prepared for a pre-paddle skills assessment and make sure you pre-book a kayak to avoid missing out.

2. Busse Woods Forest Reserve

Just a short 26-minute trip northwest of Chicago off the I90 lies Busse Reservoir. A 457-acre lake of calm and pristine water awaits catering to a wide range of activities for the public, such as hiking, picnicking, and boating. 

From April until October, you can discover this place’s nooks and crannies, which you can best experience in a kayak or canoe. However, pedal boats are available from Chicago River Canoe and Kayak if you want to get your legs pumping or perhaps grab a rod and reel for a bit of fishing therapy in a row boat.

You can find Chicago River Canoe and Kayak at the Busse Lake Boating in the middle of the lake, access via E Higgins Road. All boat craft hire ranges in price from $20 – $30 per hour with a special discount of around 20% on Mondays.

3. North Avenue Beach

North Avenue Beach is a Chicago summer staple. Residents and tourists flock to the 22,000 square feet sandy beachfront for volleyball, sunbathing, kayaking, and biking. The beach’s prime location is walkable from public transportation and surrounded by small vendors and restaurants. 

Kayaking is a popular activity at North Avenue Beach – visitors can rent kayaks from the south end of the beach or bring their own. The calm waters of Lake Michigan make it the perfect place to paddle around and take in the skyline sights. 

If you plan to paddle North Avenue Beach, you can rent a single or tandem kayak from Kayak Chicago Rentals for $30 – $40 per hour. All-day kayak hire offers the best value at $90 to $120. Stand-Up Paddle Boards are also available to rent at $30 per hour. Reservations are recommended, with walk-ups on a first come, first serve basis.

kayaking in chicago

4. Monroe Harbor

You can find Monroe Harbor in the heart of downtown Chicago just to the south of the Navy Pier and adjacent to the majestic Buckingham Fountain in Millennium Park.

The locals are passionate about this little harbor, which has a strong community of long-time boaters, the birthplace of the Chicago Yacht Club and Columbia Yacht Club. In addition, the lakefront is a favorite spot for kayak enthusiasts and sports fishing.

Monroe Harbor comes alive in summer as boaters take to the water to enjoy the warmer weather. Kayaking in Chicago is prevalent in Monroe Harbor, with several nearby kayak rental companies.

Monroe Harbor is an excellent option for those who have never paddled before. The lakefront provides calmer conditions than kayaking on the Chicago River and can be a perfect choice for beginners.

Urban Kayak on the Lakefront can be found off Lake View Park and can handle all of your kayak rental needs. Rental fees start at $40 per person for 60 minutes. You must be 18 to rent a kayak alone.

5. North Branch of Chicago River

If you’re looking for a kayaking experience that’s a little more nature-friendly, head to the North Branch of the Chicago River. You’ll find green riverbanks and quieter stretches of water here instead of high rises and offices. Furthermore, because it’s further away from downtown, you won’t have to contend with as much boat traffic. So if you’re seeking an escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, kayaking the North Branch is the place to go.

Where to Rent a Kayak: 

Wateriders is a Chicago River Kayak Tours and Rental that lets you explore the north branch of the Chicago River and paddle back to the Loop. They offer single and double kayaks as well as private and guided tours. You can find Wateriders south of the W Belmont Bridge at 3057 N Rockwell Street, Chicago.

During the weekdays, you may rent single or double kayaks at $60 per person for two hours, while during the weekends, you may rent their single or double kayaks at $70 per person for two hours. You may also paddle on a three-hour one-way trip to Waterider’s dock near the Kinzie Street Bridge at River North. This trip is not recommended for first-time paddlers.

6. Montrose Beach

Chicago is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, and Montrose Beach is one of the city’s best-kept secrets. Located 7.5 miles north of the city’s heart, Montrose Beach offers stunning views of Lake Michigan. It’s also an excellent spot for kayaking, with a gentle current and plenty of places to explore, including the docks within Montrose Harbor. 

Montrose Beach is dog-friendly, so you can bring your furry friend along for fun. Montrose Beach is the perfect place to start if you’re looking for a relaxed and scenic spot to enjoy the water.

Kayak Chicago Rentals also have a spot on the beach at the southern end, just south of The Dock restaurant.

As well as kayak rentals, Kayak Chicago offers a Stand-Up paddleboard tour where you can get lessons on balance, safety, and paddling techniques before hitting the water on this 2-hour, $65 tour.

kayaking in chicago

7. Independance Grove Forest Preserve

If you have a bit of spare time on your hands, about an hour’s drive north of Chicago, you’ll find a fantastic kayaking spot at Independence Grove Forest Preserve.

The picturesque Independence Grove is kayaking heaven for beginner kayakers. The large, clean lake is inland, making it ideal for those who want to avoid the strong currents often found along the coasts.

The Independence Grove Marina offers both single kayak and double kayak rentals. You can rent a single kayak for $12 for 1 hour on the water. Then, if you want to extend, pay an additional $6 for another hour. You can also rent a double kayak for $16 per hour; likewise, it can be extendable for $6 per hour.


Do I need a permit to kayak in Chicago?

Before starting your kayaking adventure, you must be aware of the Illinois kayak laws. Kayaks, canoes, and paddle boards are classed as unpowered vessels, meaning you do not need to register a kayak with the state or carry a boat license.

If your Kayak is motorized, you must have an Illinois Certificate of Number (registration), expiration decals, and Certificate of Title before heading out onto the water.

Do you have to wear a lifejacket in a kayak in Illinois?

Illinois law requires that all kayakers have access to a life jacket on board and that children under 13 yrs must wear their life jackets at all times. While this may seem inconvenient, it is an essential safety measure. 

Life jackets provide crucial support in the event of a kayaking accident and can help to prevent serious injuries. In addition, kayaks can easily tip over, and life jackets provide extra protection for kayakers who are not strong swimmers. 

How safe is kayaking in the Chicago River?

Whatever water activities you partake in, make sure to practice precaution. The Chicago River is considered generally safe for the public. However, it is essential always to be aware of your surroundings and to paddle with caution. The Chicago River can be busy with other water traffic, so it is vital to stay alert and not assume that other kayakers or boats can see you. When kayaking, always be aware of the nearest entry and exit points in case you need to get to shore quickly. And finally, remember that you are kayaking at your own risk and knowing your physical limits is crucial.

Chicago River water quality

Kayaking in the Chicago River needs some precaution as the river can sometimes contain high levels of bacteria. Take precautions not to swallow the water or deliberately roll your kayak.

A real-time monitoring website H2NOW  is available to the public to assess the water quality in different sections of the Chicago River. The platform allows you to immediately know the real-time water quality of the river based on the measurement taken every 15 minutes. 

Do you need to wear a life jacket kayaking on Chicago River?

It is a state law that requires that there must be one life jacket or Personal Floatation Devices (PFD) on board per person. In addition, children under the age of 13 must wear a PFD at all times on board any vessel under 26′.

Summing Up

From Lake Michigan’s shores to Chicago’s canals and lakes, kayakers will find plenty of great spots to paddle around in the Windy City. With so many waterways winding through Chicago, it’s no wonder this sport has become so popular.


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About The Author 

Hi, my name is Andy and I am the creator and owner of Canoe-Kayaks.com. I’ve been into water sports for as long as I can remember and I love nothing more than spending a day on the water with my family. This website is a way for me to share my passion with everyone, through providing some helpful guides and tips for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding.

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