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When people think of Chicago, shiny buildings, Millennium Park, and deep dish pizza might first come to mind. But surprisingly, the city is full of amazing outdoor attractions to explore. For avid paddlers, there are tons of places you can go kayaking in Chicago to get a new view of the city skyline and the surrounding nature areas.

In this post, we’ll share some of the best spots to go kayaking in Chicago, as well as some fabulous places to paddle outside of the city. We’ve also included some of the best businesses that provide guided tours and kayak rentals in Chicago and beyond.

Best Places to Go Kayaking in Chicago

1. The Loop

Think of the Loop as Chicago’s Manhattan. It’s bustling, shiny, and always full of cars and people. The Loop also has one of the largest concentrations of hotels in Chicago, and thus the largest number of tourists. With walking access to Millennium Park and Navy Pier, it’s easy to understand why this Chicago kayaking spot is so popular!

The Loop is also home to a vibrant Riverwalk, where there are restaurants, sitting areas, and small parks open to the public. Here, you can find a few businesses that offer kayak rentals and tours around the Chicago River. The Loop is the most popular spot to go kayaking in Chicago because it’s the epicenter of the city, and these stretches of the Chicago River give amazing access to some of the best views of the city.

Where to Rent a Kayak in The Loop: Urban Kayak is a popular kayak rental company that’s located in the heart of The Loop. Their sunset kayak tour is a popular option, especially during the warmest days of the summer!

  • Address: 435 E. Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60611

2. River North

The Chicago River separates the bustling Loop with its laid-back neighbor, River North. For a more peaceful, quiet urban kayaking experience, River North is the perfect choice. Paddle past the famous Merchandise Mart, which was once owned by the Kennedy family, and up toward some of the old factories along the Chicago River.

To experience the best of both worlds, you can absolutely pair a River North kayaking trip with an excursion through the busier Loop area.

Luckily, you can avoid the hullabaloo of The Loop and rent a kayak directly from the riverside in River North. Wateriders, located about 10 minutes from Merchandise Mart by foot, is your best bet for renting a kayak in the River North area.

  • Address: 500 N Kingsbury St, Chicago, IL 60654

3. North Avenue Beach

In the summer, Chicago is known for its buzzing lakefront beaches, which sport volleyball players, sunbathers, and bikers on any given warm day. North Avenue Beach is among the most popular beaches in Chicago, with over 22,000 square feet of sandy areas to hang out in and explore. It’s a local favorite because it’s walkable from public transportation and has tons of small vendors and restaurants where you can buy snacks and refreshments.

Because it’s so busy and vivacious, North Avenue Beach is also one of the most fun and lively places to go kayaking on Chicago’s lakefront. The lake can provide a different experience than kayaking on the river because it’s wide open and often has some wind and currents to paddle against.

On the shores of North Avenue Beach, Kayak Chicago offers kayak rentals, lessons, and guided tours for kayakers of all levels. Their prices are slightly cheaper than in the city for a double kayak, starting at $40 per hour.

  • Address: 1603 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60611

4. Monroe Harbor

Monroe Harbor is just south of Navy Pier on the lakefront. It’s the perfect place to go kayaking on Lake Michigan with the backdrop of the Chicago skyline behind you.

From the lake, you can soak in many of Chicago’s most famous sights. Bordering Millennium Park, Grant Park, and the Museum Campus, Monroe Harbor one of the most iconic and picturesque places to go kayaking in Chicago.

Like in the Loop, Urban Kayak also has a kayak rental location at Monroe Harbor. You can rent kayaks by the hour starting at $30 per person. They also offer guided tours of the area and SUP rentals.

  • Address: Monroe Harbor, 110 N Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60601

5. North Branch of Chicago River

Located in the Avondale area, the Chicago River’s North Branch offers a bit more of a nature-infused Chicago kayaking experience than the areas located closer to downtown.

Instead of big skyscrapers and busy streets, you’ll find green riverbanks and quieter stretches of water here. Townhomes and quaint cottages replace high rises and offices. All in all, this is a much more tranquil area to go kayaking in Chicago, away from the stress and bustle of downtown.

Chicago River Canoe and Kayak offers rentals from the east bank of the river near Addison Street. Rentals start at $20 per hour for a single kayak and $25 per hour for a double.

  • Address: 3400 N Rockwell St, Chicago, IL 60618

6. Goose Island

Between the neighborhoods of Wicker Park and Old Town, the Chicago River splits into two branches before reconvening near River North. The resulting “island” is called Goose Island, and its name was made famous by the iconic Chicago beer brand with the same name.

Kayaking around Goose Island offers a unique experience from the downtown areas because it’s a most quieter, more local-oriented area of town. The tourist crowds wane here and give way to Chicagoans who live in nearby Wicker Park or Old Town.

Additionally, this area is going to be home to the “Wild Mile,” a floating conservation area that’s still in development by the city of Chicago. Needless to say, kayaking the Chicago River here offers a more laid-back experience than closer to the Loop.

To rent a kayak, Kayak Chicago’s Magnolia Street location has you covered. They offer kayak rentals, lessons, and guided tours.

  • Address: 1501 N Magnolia Ave, Chicago, IL 60642
Photo Credit: John Picken Photo (Flickr CC)

7. Montrose Beach

Montrose Beach is one of the most beloved local beaches in Chicago. Known for its “Mondog” dog-friendly beach and more local crowds, Montrose Beach is a perfect little getaway from the main stretches of Chicago.

You can, of course, enjoy the beach from the banks, but another fun way to explore is from the water! Kayaking in the Montrose Beach area is a fun way to enjoy the water and scope out adorable dogs in the process.

Kayak Chicago’s third kayak rental location is in Montrose Beach, and like their other locations, they offer lessons and guided tours as well.

  • Address: W Montrose Harbor Dr, Chicago, IL 60640 (located on the south end of the beach)

Map of Chicago Kayaking Spots

Where to Go Kayaking Near Chicago

8. Independence Grove

Located just under an hour outside of Chicago, Independence Grove is a recreational lake area that’s perfect for a day of picnicking and exploring the tree-lined lake. Aside from the picturesque surroundings, it’s also a perfect place to get on the water and go kayaking near Chicago.

Independence Grove boasts a large, clean lake where you can go kayaking or boating. Because it’s located inland, there are fewer currents to paddle against, making it a fantastic area for beginner kayakers to get out and learn to paddle.

Where to Rent a Kayak at Independence Grove: The Independence Grove Marina offers kayak and paddleboat rentals for day use.

  • Address: 16400 West Buckley Road Libertyville, IL 60048
Photo Credit: CheepShot (Flickr CC)

9. Skokie Lagoons

Another gorgeous locale to go paddling is at Skokie Lagoons. Technically, the Skokie Lagoons are located in Chicago’s suburbs, a 30 minute drive outside of downtown just south of the Chicago Botanic Garden. This series of connected lagoons offers tons of places to explore on foot or by the water!

There’s tons of beautiful greenery and wildlife to enjoy at Skokie Lagoons, including local waterfowl, muskrats, and other local species. Additionally, the fall brings bright splashes of color to the nearby trees, turning the whole area yellow, red, and orange. With so many different areas and alcoves to explore, you could definitely spend a day lazily paddling along and enjoying this little piece of nature outside of the city.

Where to Rent a Kayak at Skokie Lagoons: Chicago River Canoe and Kayak offers affordable kayak rentals in the Skokie Lagoons area.

  • Address: 1770 Tower Rd, Winnetka, IL 60093
The peaceful Skokie Lagoon in the fall. Photo Credit: bradhoc (Flickr CC)

10. Busse Woods

One of the most underrated places to go kayaking near Chicago is at Busse Woods. With 3,558 acres of woodlands and marshes that you can wander through, there’s no shortage of things to see and do here – including kayaking! Plus, it’s only 30 minutes by car from the city, making Busse Woods an easy and stress-free day trip.

This recreational area has tons of stuff to do, including several miles of hiking trails, an elk pasture, and large lake areas to explore. Spend the morning kayaking, then hit some of the wooded, shady trails to escape the afternoon sun.

Where to Rent a Kayak at Busse Woods: Yet again, Chicago River Canoe and Kayak has a location in Busse Woods to rent kayaks and other equipment you need for a fun day out on the water.

  • Address: E Higgins Rd, Elk Grove Village, IL 60007
You can see lots of beautiful plant and animal life in Busse Woods’ waterways.
Photo Credit: Sajith T S (Flickr CC)

11. Starved Rock State Park

As one of Illinois’ most beloved nature areas, Starved Rock State Park has more than earned its spot on our list of best places to go kayaking near Chicago. It’s a National Historic Landmark that outdoor enthusiasts will love. Marked by canyon-like rock formations, raging waterfalls, and stunning forests, a visit to Starved Rock is well worth the 2-hour drive from Chicago.

Aside from hiking and camping, Starved Rock is also a prime spot for exploring on the water. You can rent a kayak and paddle around the Illinois River, admiring the variety of plant and animal life that calls this wild area home.

Where to Rent a Kayak at Starved Rock: Kayak Starved Rock offers kayak rentals and guided excursions in the Starved Rock area. They also have additional recreation areas, as well as camping and glamping options, in case you decide to make a weekend out of your Starved Rock adventure.

  • Address: 801 Kayak Morris Rd, Morris, IL 60450

12. Indiana Dunes National & State Park

Recently named one of the United States’ newest national parks, Indiana Dunes is a hidden gem of a park located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Known for its golden sand dunes located next to the expansive blue water of the lake, Indiana Dunes is one of the most picturesque Chicago getaways.

At just an hour from Chicago, Indiana Dunes National and State Parks (which are located right next to each other) offer so many options for people who love the outdoors. For those wanting to explore from the water, kayaking is an easy and affordable option. Nearby Portage offers a few options for kayak rental agencies and companies that offer guided excursions by boat.

Where to Rent a Kayak at Indiana Dunes National Park: Miller’s Marine Center offers canoe and kayak rentals nearest to Indiana Dunes. They have a two-hour rental minimum for kayaks, but you’ll probably need at least that to paddle to and from the Indiana Dunes National Park area.

  • Address: 1330 Crisman Rd, Portage, IN 46368
Indiana Dunes State Park is the perfect kayaking day trip or weekend getaway from Chicago!

Where to Rent a Kayak in Chicago

Chicago has several companies that offer kayaking rentals around the Chicago River and on the shoes of Lake Michigan. Here are the most popular companies to rent with:

  • Urban Kayaks – One of the most popular Chicago kayaking rental companies, Urban Kayaks offers rentals in the Chicago River and in Monroe Harbor.
  • Kayak Chicago – Kayak Chicago is one of the largest kayak rental companies in Chicago, with three locations at North Avenue Beach, Goose Island, and Montrose Beach.
  • Wateriders – Wateriders is a smaller Chicago kayaking company located in River North. They offer rentals and tours from a less crowded riverwalk location.
  • Chicago River Canoe and Kayak – Chicago River Canoe and Kayak offers kayak rentals in many places in the Chicago outskirts, including several of the places on our list! They are the most inexpensive rental company we’ve included here, with prices starting at $20 per hour.

*Be sure to check the websites or call ahead for the most recent pricing and availability. The prices you see here are updated regularly but are meant for reference and may not reflect the most up-to-date rates for each business.

For kayaking near Chicago, we’ve included links and addresses for the best reviewed and most popular kayak rental options available at each location. If you have experience with additional options, feel free to leave us a comment or shoot us an email with your recommendations.

Kayaking Tours in Chicago

If you’re visiting Chicago or simply prefer a guided experience, there are TONS of great kayaking tours in Chicago that will give you a new perspective on the city. Here are a few of the most highly rated ones by fellow travelers:

  • Chicago River Kayaking Tour – See the best that downtown Chicago has to offer…with a local twist! Your expert local guide will lead you on a 2.5-hour excursion on the Chicago River, where you’ll learn about some of the amazing architecture and historic sites of the city. It’s a kayaking tour of Chicago to remember!
  • Chicago River Ghosts and Gangsters Kayak Tour – This 2.5-hour evening kayaking adventure is one of the most unique tours of the city that you can take! Learn about the city’s mob history and legends as you paddle down the Chicago at night with an expert guide leading the way.

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Kay Rodriguez is the Chicago-based travel writer and photographer behind Jetfarer and Skyline Adventurer. When she's not blogging furiously on her laptop or editing photos, you can find Kay running, hiking, or paddling in a new city.

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