Water Sports & Beach Life

Get wet and wild with five of our favorite water sports activities in Illinois.


by Amber Holst in Activities
June 26, 2018

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By Amber Holst of Concierge Preferred

With Lake Michigan to the northeast, the Mississippi River to the west, and plenty of water in-between, Illinois is home to plenty of water sports activities. Here are five of our favorite ways to make a splash in Illinois, whether you're looking to relax or out for adventure.

Stand-Up Paddleboarding on Lake Michigan

For Chicagoans who have never done this, shame on you. For visitors, you’re forgiven – but hey, it’s time to get the full Chicago summer experience by sampling this top-notch water sport phenomenon.

For those who have to timidly ask, what exactly is this? Let me help. Paddleboarding is actually a derivative of an ancient Polynesian practice, but today it’s just known as a ridiculously fun and challenging water adventure, termed “SUP” for short. Picture yourself canoeing standing-up, except you’re doing it on an oversized surfboard rather than a stable canoe. Oh, and picture a smile on your face, because you’re having about four times the fun!

Now, to be real, SUP ain’t for the weak and weary – it’s tough work! But may the heart-healthy among us rejoice, because battling through this fun-filled full-body workout rewards you with a view you certainly can’t find at any city health club.

Where to Do It

Chicago SUP at North Avenue Beach

Jet-Skiing on the Third Coast

For those who feed off of feeling the rush, how better to get your summer speed fix than the wet ’n wild way? You can view the iconic Chicago skyline while your heart and you wave runner race across the bright blue waters of Lake Michigan. Guys, bring your bikini-clad girlfriends and tell ‘em to hold on tight, because all the cc’s packed into these bad boys means one thing –it’ll be one heck of a ride!

Be sure to bring your cheapest shades to block the sun and the spray, but the lifejackets are already provided. Jet-skis can seat you plus two pals, or you can all rent your own and race.

Where to Do It

Chicago Jet Ski Rentals at 31st Street Harbor.

Looking for something more cutting-edge when it comes to watersports? They also offer flyboarding, where you can work to find your balance in a water-powered jet pack as you hover above the water à la Iron Man.

Urban Kayaking

Nothing beats the beauty of a paddle down the Chicago River for a more low-key day on the water. Float your way through the heart of the city on a guided tour taking you past the Opera House, Willis Tower, River City and Chinatown, or take off from Lagoons Launch for a more secluded, out-of-the-city feel, as you paddle through wooded ponds. On a guided tour from Lagoons you can also catch a summer sunset and enjoy a picnic dinner, without having to pack it!

Go solo or with a friend or two, just be sure to invite the ones with the best balance!

Where to do it

Chicago River with Kayak Chicago.

Wakeboarding in Rockford

Grab your wakeboard and get ready to enjoy Rockford's only wake park. West Rock Wake Park offers would-be water skippers the opportunity to wakeboard, without the need for a boat. How? It's done by using a cables and a pulley system to propel wake boarders across Levings Lake on Rockford’s Southwest side, and boy is it fun! It’s electric-powered cable system is suspended above the water by on-shore towers that propel riders across the lake surface while holding a tow rope. It has two straight-line runs that span the width of the lake. On the water are a few obstacles and a kicker ramp that resembles a floating skate park.

Where to Do It

Levings Lake at West Rock Wake Park

Or check out Quarry Cable Park & Grille in Crystal Lake

River Rafting in Oglesby

The Vermillion River is a fisherman’s dream, with numerous eddies, slack pools, and rocky shorelines. It’s also one of the state’s best places to take a whitewater rafting excursion. The big Vermillion River starts its 50 mile course as a pair of creeks on the border of Ford and Livingston counties, deepens as it rolls through Pontiac to the dam at Streator, picks up speed as it winds through Matthiessen State Park and empties into the Illinois River near LaSalle/Peru. There are 14 sets of rapids along the ten-mile stretch, with most of the rapids being classified as 1 and 2’s, making it perfect for those looking to take the kids along on their adventure. Fun fact? The Vermillion is one of the rare rivers that runs south to north and there is little-to-no developments along the River Banks so you feel fully-immersed in nature.

Where to Do It

Oglesby with Vermillion River Rafting

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