Chicago isn’t exactly a hiker’s haven, and the amount of outdoorsy activities can sometimes be limited. But if you’re up for a little adventure in the city, you can certainly find it — you just have to know where to look! Kayak Chicago is a great way to feed the outdoorsman inside you, offering great water activities for the nature-loving city dweller.
I had to see for myself what it’s like to take on the city by kayak, and glance up at the towering buildings above from a 10-foot-long vessel. I set out on the adventure with my pops — proof that even old folks can enjoy this activity! (Just kidding, Dad. You don’t look a day over 30.) We decided on the Chicago river route, starting at 1501 N. Magnolia in Lincoln Park. There are a few different paths you can take from this point, but both lead around Goose Island and toward downtown.
The trek around Goose Island will take you about an hour, and that will be enough for some people. But if you have the energy in you I highly recommend going all the way to the downtown branch of the River, heading toward Navy Pier. The views are amazing, and you’ll get a whole new perspective on the city from way down below. Just make sure to stay to the right of the thoroughfare, like you would if you were riding a bike on the street. You’ll be paddling alongside some big boats, and you don’t want anyone stepping on your toes.
Moving at a fairly leisurely speed, it took us about 3.5 hours to get from home base to downtown and back. And geez — was it a great workout or what. By the end I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to get out of the boat if it required any upper body strength. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? No question. Though maybe next time I’ll brave the waves of Lake Michigan for a full skyline view.
A disclaimer: Yes, we all know the Chicago River isn’t exactly pristine. I went several days after a huge storm, and I did see some debris in the water. And yes, I took a shower the second I got home. But c’mon, you’re an urbanite, a Chicagoan. You can handle a styrofoam cup or two for the sake of something cool and new and FUN.
Check out the multitude of lessons, tours, and group paddles below, or visit the official Kayak Chicago website to learn more or make reservations.
Tours and Group Paddles:
Fireworks tour: This nighttime tour takes you down the Chicago River through the city to check out the Navy Pier summer fireworks from the best seat in the house.
Architectural History Tour: Learn about Chicago’s history, the River itself, and the looming skyscrapers that line it. Check out Al Capone’s hangouts, and where some of Chicago’s first settlers lived.
Lake Shore Skyline Paddle: Check out the view of Chicago’s magnificent skyline from Lake Michigan, as you paddle from beach to beach to explore the downtown shoreline.
Sunset Paddle: Just what it sounds like — a beautiful paddle through Chicago as the sun sets, gleaming off of the buildings and the water. A stunning sight.
Night Paddle: Check out the twinkling lights of the city as you paddle through the darkness down the Chicago River.
Intro, Intermediate, or Advanced Kayaking: Whether you’re a beginner or longtime kayaker, there’s always more to learn. These lessons will teach you everything from how to paddle correctly to boat control in 4-foot waves.
Eskimo Roll: Learn the art and technique of the self-rescue known as the Eskimo Roll. Coll off without leaving your boat.
Paddle Boarding: Enjoy the tranquility of this water sport. Paddle boarding is a mix of surfing, kayaking and walking on water. Originating in Hawaii, paddle boarding has become one of the fastest growing sports for all waters of the world.
Private and semi-private lessons are available.
1501 N. Magnolia
Season passes are also available.
Interested in a little adventure? Check out these other great kayaking companies in Chicago: