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Shedd Aquarium

Set Sail

Jan 01, 2016 Family Fun

A family with lifejackets on canoeing down a river

From urban kayaking to a paddle though an old-growth forest, find astonishing ways to get on the water in Illinois.

Our water shoes hardly have time to dry in the summer. Once May rolls around, our otherwise unsuspecting city car gets packed with paddles, personal flotation devices and some combination of boats. Summers are our time to explore new lakes and waterways while keeping up with our old favorites.

Kayak Chicago

After years of living in Chicago, my wife, Dee, and I have simply never gotten tired of its skyline. Dee still finds herself gazing up at the skyscrapers like she was a child on her first trip to the big city. There are literally hundreds of ways to see the Windy City’s famous architecture, but one in particular always thrills us.

Kayak Chicago is the premier outfitter for urban aquatic excursions. They’re outfitted with a full flotilla of professional-grade kayaks and standup paddleboards. With tours ranging from a pleasant architecture tour to full-day explorations, we’ve continually returned for their numerous trips.

Our favorite is the sunset tour down the Chicago River. Looking up from a kayak, the architecture is even more magnificent than when viewed from a walking tour. Views at Wolf Point, where two branches of the river converge, offer a glittering vista of many of the city’s iconic skyscrapers.

Another trip we recently tried was standup paddleboard yoga. Dee, a registered yoga teacher with her own following of students, was delighted. She combined the three things she loves the most: water, standup paddleboarding and yoga. Our talented instructor was able to accommodate the wide range of skill levels in the class so that nobody felt out of place. It is a seemingly odd combination of sports but it ended up being quite serene, even to this novice yogi.

People climbing into kayaks on the rivers edge
Kayak Chicago, Illinois

Vermillion River Rafting

The Starved Rock area is a favorite for Chicago outdoor enthusiasts. In the summer, our favorite antidote to high temperatures is a paddle trip with Vermillion River Rafting.

The Vermillion River, near Oglesby, carves out a surprisingly deep canyon abundant in natural beauty and adventure. With just the right ratio of rapids to pleasant floating, visitors traverse the river in about three hours. We prefer to take a whole day, as there are several places for a lunchtime picnic or swim. Run the river after a big rainfall or during mid–late spring and encounter some high whitewater at The Narrows and Wildcat Falls. It’s quite thrilling to thread through some of those steeper rapids, and it’s possible to haul the boats through the more difficult parts. The final section of the river is so calm we like to let the water take us along and listen to nature’s symphony.

Cache River with White Crane Canoes

A haven for rare wildlife and a conservationist’s dream, the Cache River is a gem of southern Illinois. A tour through this unique area—more of a bayou than a river—provides a prized trip for both novice and experienced paddlers. Having an experienced guide take us through the Cache River makes the experience even more memorable. This is because the guides of White Crane Canoes are a rare breed with a legendary knowledge of the area, and they never sound like a textbook.

As we paddled through the bayou, the cypress trees that towered overhead looked astonishingly ancient. Our guide was quick to point out that some were close to 1,000 years old and were among the largest specimens in the state. Talk about an old-growth forest!

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