Paddling the Chicago River

It is my belief that the best place to see any canyon is from the middle of the river. The urban canyon of the Chicago River is no exception. It goes around the downtown loop for three miles, passing by the tallest and best known skyscrapers in our city. You, traveler, would love the shit out of this.

I finally went down there to paddle it after about 8 months of river withdrawal. I had just got out of PT because I sprained my rotator a couple months ago trying to roll a kayak in a city pool. As much as I try to avoid it, I usually do end up wasting time looking for answers on garbage websites like WebMD. Luckily my shoulder isn’t rotting off like those pseudo-medical clickbait websites want me to think.

But I did end up doing the right thing and got it checked out. I learned some good PT exercises, which I’m still doing to rebuild and strengthen my shoulders and core muscles. Now, the first weekend of May, was a perfect Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had to get out on the water.

I went down to the riverwalk where Urban Kayaks has a launch site along the river. I got in and paddled about three miles past the Drumpf Tower, Wilco Buildings, the infamous Dave Matthews Bridge, Civic Opera House, Sears Tower, and 21 bridges before I finally took out at the public ramp at Chinatown.

The air was warm, lake water was cold, and there was some unpredictable tunnel wind. In a kayak it doesn’t really matter, but in a packraft the wind is either your ally or your nemesis. I fought some bad headwind for the last mile right up to the end. But at least the shoulder didn’t give me any grief. And the scenic buildings towering over my head made everything worth it.

Come out and do it. You can rent from Urban Kayaks at either of their sites at an hourly rate. I’ve rented from them before and they have treated me well. Or if you have your own inflatable toy like I do, they will let you launch it out for $10.

And in case you’re wondering, no, the river isn’t the cleanest one around. The city regularly runs cleanup boats along the river all summer, but you still might see a Coke bottle, cigarette butts, and an occasional tennis ball. This doesn’t stop hordes of people from using the tour boats, kayaks, and riverwalk all summer long. It’s a city river, and it’s what it is.

Just up the street from the riverwalk is all the protein your body needs after a river trip. At the end of the day, nothing tastes better than Da Lobsta’s Surf & Turf Lobster Roll with a hot basket of hush puppies and Sriracha Mayo. Mow it down and thank me later.

Make the river part of your Chicago experience this summer. I’ll be back in August after some past due time in the great north. I’m leaving with my packraft, bike, gear, and shoulders of steel for two months of unfinished business in the boreal country. Onward to Alaska.

About Dan Hagen

I’m a guy from Chicago who travels as often as possible. It is my lifelong goal to see the world by train, foot, bicycle, and raft. I like open country roads, urban nightlife, good cuisine, local beer, alpine mountains, wild rivers, and lots of other badass shit. And I will write about it as often as I can.