10 Best Kayaking Destinations In Illinois


Surrounded by rivers and lakes, kayaking is one of the best ways to explore Illinois. It is gifted with beautiful waterways, which you can discover through paddling.

Even if it is not one of the top destinations for kayaking, Illinois has a lot to offer. Whether you are using whitewater kayak, ocean kayak, or inflatable fishing kayak, among others, there is a place that will be perfect for you!

Ready to explore Illinois while on a kayak? Get your kayak and kayak paddles ready! Below is a shortlist of the top places worth checking out for kayaking in Illinois.

1. Chicago River

As one of the largest cities in the country, a lot of people are in constant search of places where they can relax and be one with nature. With this, one worth checking out is the Chicago River. Explore the Chicago River Water Trail, which has a majestic waterway and beautiful views. There are also many commercial tour operators with kayaking packages at the Chicago River.

Whether you only have an hour or the entire day to spare, there is a route at Chicago River that will work best for you. Take the route from Clark Park to South Western Ave if you aren’t in a hurry. The journey is about twelve miles. It is a long journey, so make sure to master how to sit in a kayak to be comfortable.

2. Cache River

Located in the southernmost part of Illinois, the Cache River has a total length of 92 miles. It has a basin of 737 square miles and covers six counties, which speaks a lot about its size. This perennial favorite for kayaking Southern Illinois has an ancient cypress-tupelo swamp, which is one of its main attractions. It was also once recognized as one of the 10 Most Beautiful Hidden Gems in America.

More than just paddling, fishing is another activity that you are sure to enjoy at this popular spot for kayaking in Southern Illinois. It is home to catfish, crappie, and bass, among others. Make sure to bring with you the best kayak fishing accessories.

3. Hennepin Canal

This is another place in Illinois where you can bring your fishing kayak and enjoy a day of chasing a fresh catch!

At most of the length of the canal, the depth is only six feet. Plus, the current remains relatively calm, making it a great kayaking destination even if you are a novice. Throughout your journey, you will be passing through many historic bridges.

However, take note that the Illinois Department of Natural Resources recommends that you do not paddle farther than the west part of Lock 26.

4. Starved Rock State Park

If you want to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of nature, this is one of the best spots that you should be checking out. If you plan to go here, it is recommended that you start at Lone Point Shelter, which is located on the east end.

You do not need to think about bringing your own kayak. It is a popular spot for kayakers, so there are boats that you can rent.

5. Kishwaukee River


With a water trail that spans 63 miles, this is another place that you should not miss if you are interested in kayaking in Illinois. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, there is a trail that is best for you. You can also find parks and nature reserves in your kayaking route, so you can stop over for a quick meal or rest.

It has over 59 species of fish and more than 1,000 species of plants, making it excellent if you are looking for diversity.

6. Mississippi River

The Mighty Mississippi is recognized as one of the longest rivers in the country. It has cultural and historical significance, making it another must-visit if you are planning a kayaking trip in Illinois.

Most parts of the river are calm, making it an ideal choice for beginners. Even inflatable kayaks will be sturdy enough to withstand the environment.

If you want to stay for the night, you might want to go camping at Mississippi Palisades State Park.

7. Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area

The entire Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife Area has a size of 2,700 acres. It includes parts of the Middle Fork River, which has more than 1,000 feet of scenic area for kayaking and fishing.

More than the captivating scenery, it is also a great kayaking destination in Illinois because there is something for all skill levels. Many other activities can be enjoyed, including hunting, fishing, and camping.

8. Kankakee River

With a length of 133 miles, the Kankakee River offers a paddling environment for almost every type of kayaker. It is divided into different areas, which include the upper river, wooded channel, ancient wetland, and grand waterway.

Part of the water trail in Indiana and a portion is in Illinois. Only 59 miles of the river is in Illinois.  If you are a beginner, one of the best portions to explore is the Bird Park or Chippewa Boat launch, which covers seven miles.

9. Vermilion River

The Big Vermilion River is divided into three parts – Salt Fork, Middle Fork, and North Fork. It is an ideal choice for novices in kayaking, although, there are also some challenging parts that you might be interested in exploring.

However, take note that there is a low-head dam that you should avoid. Make sure to not ignore the sign just before the dam for your safety.

10. Argyle Lake State Park

This is a 1,700-acre wooded park that offers plenty of activities to enjoy for the whole family. Among others, you can choose to explore their 95-acre lake on a kayak. It is the perfect place for those who are looking for serenity to enjoy the beauty of nature.

Even when you are on your own, you will enjoy kayaking in the park’s lake, especially if you want to be peaceful.

Because it has a steady flow and still water, if you want to go kayaking in a lake, we recommend that you use a sit-on-top kayak, which is designed for calm environments.

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What are you waiting for? If you ever find yourself in Illinois or if you have plans on visiting, take note of the destinations mentioned above and explore them on a kayak! Kayaking in Illinois is sure to be fun!

Looking for other destinations? Check out our list of the best places to kayak in Austin and California.

More Kayak Reviews:


  1. Kayaking in Illinois, Enjoy Illinois
  2. Paddling in Central Illinois, Illinois Paddling
Globo Surf
My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!