Finding the Best Places to Kayak in Chicago

Exploring the Best Kayaking Spots in Chicago

Chicago has so much to offer kayak enthusiasts, and the diversity of kayaking spots in the city means there is something for everyone. First-time kayakers might want to stick with in-land rivers and reservoirs, while experienced paddlers might be drawn to the challenge of heading out on Lake Michigan. Whether you are a lifelong Chicagoan or a first-time visitor, Bobby’s Bike Hike can set you up to kayak around Chicago for some urban exploration from the water.

Whether you are looking to launch a kayak from the beach or take a paddle across a tranquil reservoir, there are many spots to explore for kayaking enthusiasts all over the city of Chicago. Offering rentals and tours, Bobby’s Bike Hike can set you up to do some urban exploration of the downtown area via kayak. If you would like to get a little distance from the city’s center, there are several popular kayaking spots within a short drive.

Here are some of the must-see kayaking spots around Chicago:

  • Downtown – As the birthplace of the skyscraper, Chicago has put a lot of effort into developing its skyline. There is no better way to enjoy it than seeing it from Lake Michigan
  • The Chicago River – As the Chicago River weaves through Chicago’s downtown, it is one of the best kayaking spots in any major U.S. city for urban exploration.
  • North Avenue Beach – You can launch a kayak at North Avenue Beach for a smooth transition into Lake Michigan with one of the best views of our skyline from north of the city.
  • Busse Lake – This reservoir nestled in Elk Grove Village has several islands you can paddle around for unparalleled wildlife exploration.
  • Skokie Lagoons – Seven connected lagoons create serene locations where kayakers can spot herons, ducks, minks, and if you are lucky, red foxes.

Lake Michigan

woman kayaking on lake michigan in chicago

Chicago and Lake Michigan go hand-in-hand. Known for its almost unbelievable shades of blue, Lake Michigan is ideal for experienced kayakers looking for a workout against the waves. Kayaking is an affordable alternative to boat rentals and tours, and it gives you complete control over your pace and point of view.

Navigating the Waters of Lake Michigan Safely

Before you head out on Lake Michigan, you need to take a few safety measures. If you are planning an outdoor summer adventure in Chicago it is important to read up on where you are going. Be sure to check in with a local expert to keep up with the latest updates about weather and water conditions. Like we always say, if you don’t like the weather in Chicago, wait five minutes! But it’s best to always consult with the radar.

Bobby’s Bike Hike provides life jackets for all kayak rentals, but if you are renting for someone else or using your own watercraft, be sure you wear a life vest when out on the water. If you are going out for a sunset kayak tour, bring safety lights. Day or night, boater awareness is paramount to staying safe on the water. On Lake Michigan, kayaks and other unpowered vessels have right of way but always stay aware of your surroundings. The best way to avoid potential disasters is to stay near the shore. Fortunately, this is also the best way to take in the stunning views!

The Best Kayaking Spots on Lake Michigan

Chicago’s lakefront shoreline stretches for 22 miles and is considered to be one of the most engineered shorelines along any of the five Great Lakes. With that, there are plenty of unique kayaking spots to choose from. Some offer scenic views and others will let you enjoy the area’s natural landscapes.

  • Ohio Street Beach– This shallow-water beach is protected by a seawall, making it the ideal spot to launch a kayak. From here you will get to see where Lake Michigan flows into the Chicago River. Head towards Bobby’s Bike Hike’s kayak stand to get kitted out with a single or tandem kayak!
  • Lloyd Beach and Boat Launch – This beach has a dedicated boat launch ideal for getting situated with your kayak. Lloyd Beach in Winnetka is known for its scenic views and peaceful setting. There are kayak rentals offered out of Lloyd Beach making it easy to quickly get on the water after you arrive.
  • Rainbow Beach – As far as kayaking spots in the city go, Rainbow Beach is a hidden gem along the Lake Michigan Water Trail. The beach has an area of dunes on the northeastern end that you can paddle to after getting your kayak into the water on the park’s southern end. It provides an incredible view of the city from the south side, but you’ll need to bring your own kayak here.
  • 57th Street Beach – The north end of the beach lets kayakers move out into the Lake Michigan Water Trail. Kayaking at this historic beach, you can enjoy navigating around Promontory Point. This is another spot to visit if you have a rack on your vehicle to bring your own kayak.
  • Montrose Beach – Like Ohio Street Beach, Montrose Beach offers a calm spot to take in the city. With a large park all around, it’s a great spot to spend an afternoon if you want to plan a picnic before or after your kayaking adventures.

Where to Find Rental Kayaks in Chicago

where to rent kayaks in chicago

There are several kayak rental outfitters in Chicago, many of which have rental locations at the previously mentioned spots. This way, you can get out on the water within minutes without having to stop in at an office. In addition to offering Chicago kayak rentals, some of the operators offer tour options to get you to the best spots with some expert insights and storytelling along the way.

  • Bobby’s Bike Hike – We offer kayak and paddleboard rentals just off Ohio Street Beach. You can rent a single or tandem kayak. You can also watch the sunset behind our skyline by doing a sunset kayak rental.
  • Urban Kayaks – Just a little further south you can find Urban Kayaks at Columbia Yacht Club as well as along the Chicago Riverwalk. In addition to rentals, they offer tours along the Riverwalk and lakefront. When Navy Pier sets off fireworks, you can book a special tour to see the sky light up from the water.
  • Wateriders – You can book a self-guided rental or a guided tour out of Wateriders at their locations in Bridgeport, River North, or on the north branch of the Chicago River. They offer nighttime tours on the Chicago River to see the city at night.
  • Kayak Chicago – Offering tours of the north branch of the Chicago River, North Ave. Beach and Montrose Beach, Kayak Chicago can be found at all of the essential kayak hotspots around the city.

For additional information on any of these outfitters’ hours of operation, pricing, and availability, check out their websites or give them a call.

The Chicago River

Chicago River Downtown Kayaking

The Chicago River flows right through Chicago’s downtown. It’s an ideal place to kayak without having to worry about the waves. Taking a guided tour is a great way to learn about the architecture you will see along the way too.

Where to Kayak on The Chicago River

  • Chicago Riverwalk – Just a short walk away from Bobby’s Bike Hike Headquarters the Riverwalk is a beautiful place to kayak. The flow of Lake Michigan into the Chicago River is controlled by the Chicago River Locks that keep a calm but steady flow of water through the city. Going along the Riverwalk you can enjoy the Chicago favorite “Art on the Mart” on view most evenings in the summer and fall.
  • Bubbly Creek – Technically a part of the Chicago River, Bubbly Creek is an interesting spot to see some of the floating wetlands and see the evolution of the mile-long creek’s ecology. Urban Rivers offers free kayak rentals for a limited number of people a few times a year.
  • Chinatown – Kayaking through Chinatown will take you along the south branch of the Chicago River. REI Co-Op offers rental services at the Ping Tom Boathouse. Be sure to look upstream at the St. Charles Air Line Bridge for an iconic view of the city.

North Avenue Beach

North Avenue Beach is a beloved spot for locals and visitors to Chicago. Any given weekend when the weather is warm enough, the sandy beaches will be packed with towels, volleyball nets, and people having picnics. In the water, kayaks are all around padding in waves of Lake Michigan and North Avenue.

Learning About the Beach and Its Surroundings

North Avenue Beach is accessible from Lincoln Park via the Lincoln Park Passerelle. Parking is somewhat limited at the beach during peak season so consider taking a rideshare or using public transportation to get there. Be sure to stop by the North Avenue Beach House as well. It’s a great lookout spot to see some of the area’s flora and fauna. You’ll pass by it on your way to the “hook”, the only spot in the water where kayaks are approved to go out from.

What to Expect When Kayaking Here

When kayaking at North Avenue Beach, expect some incredible views! The beach can get quite crowded but around the put-in point, things calm down. The most unique feature of the beach is the Beach House, a blue and white building inspired by the design of an ocean liner. As far as kayaking locations go, this is one you must try out. Rental options here include Kayak Chicago and ChicagoSUP.

Safety Tips for Kayakers at North Avenue Beach

Kayakers need to follow a few essential safety tips to have peace of mind before heading out on Lake Michigan. Conditions on the lake can change in an instant so having the proper gear on hand is very important as is choosing the right type of kayak. Kayaking on Lake Michigan is no joke, so you need to be confident in your paddling skills to get yourself back to shore at all times.

  • Wear sunscreen
  • Consider bringing a hat and sunglasses
  • Don’t go out without a life vest
  • Check the forecast before leaving
  • Have a water bottle
  • Eat something a few hours before heading out

Busse Woods

If you are looking for a totally different pace of kayaking, consider heading northwest of Chicago to explore the Busse Woods reservoir. It’s one of the largest boating waters in Cook County and has designated spaces for people with kayaks and canoes to get into the water.

Discovering the Wildlife and Nature of Busse Woods

Less than a 15-minute drive from the O’Hare International Airport, Busse Woods is bustling with wildlife. Known for its elk pasture, Busse Woods has something to offer to walkers, hikers, bike riders, and kayakers. Kayaks can be loaded into the water at the Busse Lake Boating Center’s ramp. While kayaking you might spot some walleye, largemouth bass, herons, egrets, and if you get lucky you might even see a bald eagle.

What to Know Before Taking a Trip to Busse Woods

Kayak rentals offered at Busse Woods are priced per hour. Occasionally guided tours are available, but your best bet is to call a few days in advance to schedule one. The accessible canoe landing helps you slip into the water quickly to maximize your time in the tranquil atmosphere. Pay attention in the summertime to algae blooms as they have happened in the past at Busse Reservoir. Algae blooms and the toxins they produce can make human beings break out in rashes or start vomiting, so whether or not there are algae blooms should be a key trip consideration.

Pulling up to the iconic Riverwalk or heading out into Lake Michigan for a view of the skyline is one of the best ways to take in the city. While there are incredible views and adventures to be enjoyed all over the city, taking a kayak ride on Lake Michigan is a quintessential Chicago experience. Come visit us at Bobby Bike Hike at Ohio Street Beach to rent a kayak!