The Chicago River runs from Lake Michigan through the heart of downtown Chicago. If you love architecture or exploring beautiful cities by water, paddle boarding the Chicago River is perfect for you. It’s the urban version of the Grand Canyon with skyscrapers rising up on each side of the river.
I love paddling the river early in the morning before any boats are out and the water is calm. It feels like you have the entire city to yourself and is such a unique way to explore urban nature. The architecture of Chicago will be on display as you pass by skyscrapers and under the beautiful moveable bridges. The main branch of the river flows from Lake Michigan to the west edge of the loop and splits into a North and South Branch. You can paddle south to Chinatown and catch the Chicago Water Taxi back or north to Goose Island.
The best time of year to paddle the Chicago River is in the summer when temperatures are warm enough for early morning paddling. If you have a dry suit, fall and winter are also enjoyable with less traffic on the river. The highlights of this paddle boarding trip include passing by some of the tallest buildings in Chicago, including the Willis Tower along the South Branch of the river. The moveable bridges make for great pictures and don’t miss the trains crossing the Wells and Lake Street Bridges. Each spring and fall, the bridges are lifted on a pre-determined schedule to allow sailboats to pass through and it’s an amazing experience to watch the bridges in action from the water!
Check out the Chicago Riverwalk when you are finished with your paddle trip on the south side of the main branch of the river. You can visit Sweet Home Gelato for a well-deserved treat, enjoy a cold one at the Northman Beer & Cider Garden or have a glass of wine at City Winery. If you want to enjoy river views for dinner, check out Wollensky’s Grill, Chicago Cut, or River Roast on the north side of the main branch.
There are no SUP rentals on the river, so you will need your own board or an inflatable stand up paddle board. I would recommend an inflatable in the city to allow for easier portability.
Street parking on N McClurg Ct or the Navy Pier Garages.