Paddle Boarding Chicago: 10 Best Places

Paddle Boarding Chicago: 10 Best Places

Discover the ultimate paddle boarding Chicago guide, where the urban landscape meets tranquil waters. From serene lagoons to bustling riverwalks, this list unveils the top 10 spots for every paddle boarder. Whether you're seeking the calmness of South Lagoon or the vibrant scenes of the Chicago River, the Windy City offers unmatched variety for enthusiasts of all levels.

1. South Lagoon

If you're looking for a picturesque paddle boarding Chicago spot in a protected area, head to the South Lagoon in Lincoln Park. The South Lagoon is connected to the southern end of Diversey Harbor and is located very close to the zoo.

South Lagoon

Source: freepik

It's an excellent option for beginners who are new to paddle boarding and also a great alternative for experienced paddlers if the waves on Lake Michigan are too rough.

  • Water Type: Calm waters are ideal for stand-up paddle boarding.
  • Skill Level: Suitable for all skill levels, including beginners.
  • Launching Points: Diversey Harbor Boat Ramp and Chicago SUP are common launch sites.
  • Amenities: Parking is available (fee-based at Diversey Harbor or free on the street). SUP rentals are available from Chicago SUP.
  • Unique Feature: Offers spectacular city skyline views and a serene paddling experience near Lincoln Park Zoo. It's a great option when Lake Michigan is too windy for enjoyable paddling.

2. The Chicago Riverwalk/The Chicago River

In the downtown epicenter of ChiTown, you can people-watch and marvel at the city’s architecture as you paddle alongside the 1.25-mile stretch of the Chicago River that makes up the Chicago Riverwalk enclave.

Soak up some serious buzz in the atmosphere as you paddle around the riverside promenade of The Loop, which is lined with restaurants, parks, and outdoor hangouts. There are plenty of street-level access points you can launch into the Chicago River from at each major intersection.

  • Water type and skill levels: The urban river environment has a lot of winds, which are suitable for intermediate to advanced paddlers due to potential water traffic and urban navigation.
  • Launching Points: Street-level access points along major intersections of the Riverwalk.
  • Amenities: Lined with restaurants, parks, and outdoor hangouts, offering a vibrant paddling environment.
  • Unique Feature: Allows for an immersive experience of Chicago's architecture and urban energy from the water. Paddle boarding Chicago enthusiasts can enjoy people-watching and the buzz of the city's heart.

3. Goose Island

As you paddle along the busy tourist activity of the Loop, continue inland along the Chicago River beyond the River North area until you reach the point where the river divides into two. This will lead you to the more relaxed and calm atmosphere of Goose Island. Once an industrial island, factories and warehouses along the banks are now replaced by a floating city wetland ecosystem known as the "Wild Mile."

Goose Island

Source: freepik

Here, you can explore the floating gardens along the river banks of this new eco-park in Chicago and witness the progress of the boardwalk and green zone developments. With some luck, you might even spot a playful river otter! However, it's essential to keep your eyes on your paddle boarding path and avoid distractions.

  • Water types and skill level: South Lagoon offers calm, protected waters within Lincoln Park. It's perfect for leisurely paddle boarding Chicago trips and enjoying the skyline views. So, all levels of paddlers are welcome.
  • Launch Point: Head to the REI store at 905 W. Eastman St. to start your paddle.
  • Amenities: You'll find public restrooms, picnic areas, on-site guidance, and parking facilities. Plus, paddle board rentals and tours are available at places like Chicago River Canoe & Kayak. They provide guided paddling, sunset nature trips, the Merchandise Mart, and more.
  • Unique Features: Cityscape Views: Paddle alongside industrial remnants and cityscapes, witnessing the fusion of nature and urban life.

Note:

  • Although the water may feel calm, it's essential to remember that you are on the Chicago River, which is a busy area with a lot of water traffic. Keep your senses alert and be prepared for the waves created by passing boats.
  • The water temperature remains cool throughout the year, making it important to dress suitably for the water.

4. Skokie Lagoons

Skokie Lagoons is a vast wetland wilderness located just a 30-minute drive outside the city of Chicago. It is a paradise for bird watchers and paddle boarding Chicago anglers. The chain of waterways comprises seven lagoons, all linked together by meandering channels and river systems dotted with lush islands.

Exploring the 11 miles of shoreline at Skokie Lagoons is a beautiful way to take in a tranquil exploration of Chicago's river wilds at your own pace. Don't forget to pack your fishing tackle to enjoy a spot of SUP fishing, as Skokie Lagoons boasts some of the best fishing in the area, with plentifully restocked species jumping for hooks.

  • Water types and skill levels: Skokie Lagoons offer a network of calm, tree-lined waterways within a forested setting, which is suitable for all paddling levels.
  • Launch Points:
    • Tower Road Boat Launch: Access the water from this designated launch point.
    • Forest Way Grove and Erickson Woods: Explore various entry points.
  • Amenities: You will find boat rentals, wildlife observation areas, and rest stops along well-maintained trails. Some rental places like Chicago River Canoe & Kayak operate at Skokie Lagoons. They offer canoe and kayak rentals, guided paddling, and sunset trips.
  • Unique Features:
    • Natural Hideaways: Discover secluded spots amidst the lush greenery.
    • Scenic Beauty: Enjoy the changing seasons reflected in the water.

5. Big Bend Lake

If you're looking for a break from the city's hustle and bustle, Big Bend Lake is the perfect place to enjoy a peaceful paddle boarding Chicago trip. Despite being just a half-hour drive from downtown Chicago, the serene atmosphere of this lake will transport you to a tranquil world. With its crystal-clear, glassy waters, you'll find yourself lost in meditation while paddling here.

Big Bend Lake

Source: freepik

  • Water types and skill Levels: Big Bend Lake is tucked away in a quiet corner and has calm waters with minimal boat traffic. This makes it an ideal environment for all levels of paddlers. You can hone your skills on the lake shore without having to worry about any wake from passing water traffic, as outboard motors are prohibited at this quiet oasis.
  • Launch Point: Simply head to Big Bend Lake.
  • Unique Features: Escape the noise of the city and immerse yourself in nature. Look out for birds and other wildlife along the shoreline.
  • Amenities: You can find benches along the nature trails and birdwatching platforms. Additionally, Wateriders, located in River North, offers kayak rentals in this area just 10 minutes away from Merchandise Mart.

6. Lake Michigan

Chicago is located on the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes of North America. Lake Michigan, known for its vastness and ocean-like conditions, provides a unique inland sea experience with strong waves, currents, and great depths. The lake's shoreline stretches across four states, including Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan, offering numerous launching points and scenic paddles.

For those starting their paddle boarding Chicago journey, areas like Muskegon provide protected waters and safe beaches, making it an ideal spot for beginners and families. The bay section of Lake Michigan in Muskegon is slightly warmer, offering gentle surfable waves perfect for first-timers. Meanwhile, more experienced paddlers can seek out the challenging conditions found at Holland State Park, where sugar-sand beaches and stunning sunsets create a beautiful backdrop for a day on the water.

For those seeking a more adventurous paddle, the Wilson Avenue Crib, a concrete structure over two miles from shore, offers an open water experience that requires planning and a comfortable level of skill in handling wake and currents.

  • Launching points: The preferable launch point for this journey is Montrose Beach in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood, providing ample parking and a scenic warm-up walk down to the shore.
  • Leland Harbor, located in Leland Township, Michigan, is a notable spot for launching a paddle board adventure; it allows paddlers to explore clear waters with accessible beaches and sand on the bottom.
  • Amenities: Heading right out of the marina to a private beach or left to a public beach called Vans, the area promises a picturesque day on the water with amenities like easy parking, family-friendly environments, and food nearby.
  • Unique feature: With its cooler temperatures in summer and slightly warmer days in winter, Lake Michigan remains a premier destination for paddle boarding enthusiasts seeking to explore the natural beauty and grandeur of the Great Lakes.

Note: It's important to stay close to the shoreline if you're a beginner. Always check your location in relation to landmarks to ensure safety.

7. Monroe Harbor

Monroe Harbor, which is situated on the coast of Lake Michigan, is a prime launch point for paddle boarding Chicago. As you paddle along the lakefront, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the iconic Chicago skyline.

Monroe Harbor

Source: freepik

The water here can be a bit choppy, so intermediate paddlers will enjoy the challenge. Whether you’re gliding past sailboats or catching glimpses of Navy Pier, Monroe Harbor offers an exhilarating experience.

  • Water types and skill levels: Be mindful of the water conditions. The lake's choppy waves can make your paddling experience a bit more challenging, which is more suitable for intermediate to experienced paddlers. It is recommended to check wind conditions before going on the water.
  • Launch points: Launch from the harbor or put in at 12th Street Beach. Paddle around the Planetarium for extra scenic views. You can also paddle along the lakefront and enjoy the iconic Chicago skyline.
  • Amenities: There are many Mooring Cans with stunning views, the accommodations for boats ensure a safe and convenient experience, the boater bathrooms and restrooms are accessible for paddlers, and the complimentary pump-out stations.

8. North Avenue Beach

If you're looking for the perfect beach to enjoy water sports, including paddle boarding Chicago activity, then look no further than this popular destination. Take in the stunning view of the city skyline while relaxing on the sandy shoreline.

For those seeking a classic summer experience, North Avenue Beach is the place to be. With its high-energy party atmosphere, you can explore the vast waterfront on a SUP board and soak up the bustling beach scene.

  • Water types and skill levels: The lakefront beach area has winds and soft waves that are suitable for all levels, including beginners, intermediates, and advanced paddlers.
  • Launch points: Launch directly right from North Avenue Beach.
  • Amenities:
    • Numerous rental places that provide surfing lessons are available.
    • After that, you can join the fun on the sand and choose from the various snack vendors at North Avenue Beach when you need a break.
    • Lockers are also available if you want to store your belongings securely while you paddle.

9. Montrose Beach

Take a quick 15-minute detour to escape the busy pace of the city and visit a local favorite oasis. Montrose Beach, located on Lake Michigan, is a unique spot that offers interesting sand dunes and diverse birdlife to discover when you come ashore.

Montrose Beach

Source: unsplash

Montrose Beach is located within Lincoln Park and offers a serene and expansive Lake Michigan beachfront for paddle boarding Chicago and relaxing SUP yoga. The Montrose Beach Dunes are home to several endangered species of plant life, making it a perfect place for peaceful SUP yoga. You can practice your downward dog on the water in the perfectly protected cove provided by Montrose Beach.

  • Water types and skill levels: The waters surrounding Montrose Beach cater to a variety of skill levels, from novice to expert. Its tranquil waves offer an ideal environment for beginners to hone their paddle boarding skills.
  • Launching points: Paddle boarders can easily access the water from various launching points along the beach. Whether you prefer to embark directly from the sandy shoreline or utilize designated launch areas, Montrose Beach accommodates all preferences with ease.
  • Amenities:
    • Visitors can take advantage of rental services to procure paddle boards and equipment, ensuring a hassle-free outing.
    • Nearby facilities offer convenient access to restrooms, showers, and refreshments, ensuring comfort and convenience throughout your paddle boarding excursion.
  • Unique feature: Montrose Beach offers a remarkable contrast of natural beauty and urban surroundings. Paddle boarding on Lake Michigan provides breathtaking views of the city skyline, while the nearby Montrose Beach Dunes serve as a habitat for endangered plants, emphasizing the importance of preserving natural habitats in urban environments.

10. Kathy Osterman Beach

For those seeking a tranquil paddle boarding Chicago experience away from Chicago's bustling beaches, Kathy Osterman Beach presents an idyllic setting. Nestled at the northern end of Lincoln Park, just beyond Montrose Beach, this secluded spot offers a peaceful retreat from the crowded city shores. The beach's position makes it a perfect destination for those looking to escape the more populated Montrose Beach, providing a serene paddle boarding backdrop with fewer visitors.

Embarking from Montrose Beach and heading south introduces adventurers to the scenic coastline of Lincoln Park, where the natural beauty of the Montrose Beach Dunes enhances the journey to Kathy Osterman Beach. This beach is not just a haven for peace and quiet but also equipped with all the amenities paddle boarders might need, thanks to its designation as a launch point on the Lake Michigan Water Trail. The meticulously maintained shoreline ensures a hassle-free launch into Lake Michigan's inviting waters.

  • Water Type: Lake Michigan shoreline with calmer waters.
  • Skill Level: Suitable for all levels, with conditions favoring both beginners and those looking for a calm paddle.
  • Launching Points: Designated launch points along the beach.
  • Amenities: Well-maintained lake shore, part of the Lake Michigan Water Trail, providing necessary conveniences for paddlers.
  • Unique Feature: Located on the northern tip of Lincoln Park, offering a more secluded spot away from more crowded areas. Its serene and peaceful environment is perfect for soaking up the atmosphere on Lake Michigan's calm waters.

Note: For those craving a bit more excitement, venturing towards the break wall that leads to Foster Beach presents an opportunity to experience the lake's vastness and hone paddling skills against a more challenging backdrop.

When is the Best Time to Paddle Board in Chicago?

The best paddle boarding in Chicago months, particularly for enjoying the optimal conditions on Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, is during the summer months, June, July, and August are considered the most ideal for stand-up paddle boarding activities in Chicago. These months offer warmer weather and more stable water conditions, making it more comfortable and safer for both beginners and experienced paddlers of all levels to explore the waters.

When is the Best Time to Paddle Board in Chicago?

Source: unsplash

For those interested in paddling the Chicago River, the months before and after the busy tour boat season—typically early spring and late fall—are recommended. These periods provide quieter waters and less boat traffic.

For those looking to paddle on the Chicago River, early spring (March and April) or late fall (October and November) are also recommended times. These periods offer less boat traffic, making it easier and safer to navigate the waters and allowing for a more peaceful paddling experience.

Note:

  • It's essential to check the weather conditions before heading out.
  • Winds over 10 mph can make paddling on Lake Michigan challenging, and similar caution should be applied when planning to paddle on the Chicago River.
  • Going early in the day can also enhance your experience, as the water tends to be calmer and less crowded.

Paddle Boarding in Chicago with iROCKER

Chicago's diverse paddle boarding locations offer something for everyone, blending city views with natural beauty. Whether you're a seasoned paddler or a beginner, exploring these top 10 spots will elevate your experience.

Ready to embark on your next paddle boarding Chicago journey? Let iROCKER’s Blue Adventure app guide your way to water-filled fun.


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