Can You Kayak In The Chicago River?

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For many kayaking enthusiasts, it is a badge of honor to kayak through some exciting and memorable places, and what could be more fascinating than a river that runs straight through a city? Whether you’re an avid kayaker or just a regular tourist looking for an alternative way to explore the city, you may have wondered whether you can kayak on the Chicago River.

Kayaking down the Chicago River is a perfect way for tourists or even locals to view and appreciate the city’s beauty. Many guided tours are available that will take you on an adventurous tour and teach you about some of the captivating architectural histories.

The Chicago River has become quite a hotspot for many kayakers and tourism tours. After all, what is better than viewing the beauty of a city while paddling down a river? However, before booking your kayaking tour or bringing all your gear down, there are a few things you will have to familiarize yourself with.

Are You Allowed To Kayak On The Chicago River?

Although the Chicago River is bustling with various water taxis and barges meant for transportation, commerce, and recreation, you are still allowed to bring your kayak onto the river and join in with the fun. Running through the heart of the big city, kayaking down the Chicago River is an excellent way to tour the sites.

In recent years tourism to the river has flourished, as more and more paddlers are interested in viewing the city from their kayaks on the river. There are various tours available that will cater to everyone’s individual needs. From paddling down a riverbank that boasts a diversity of plant and animal life to kayaking through the city, where soaring skyscrapers will surround you.

Although you can kayak down the Chicago River, you must remember that it is a highly trafficked area, with many other vessels on the water. Therefore, even though the skill level of the river is for beginners – if you are someone who has never been in a kayak before, the Chicago River might not be a suitable option for your first-time paddling.

The water class for the Chicago River is Class I: easy. It runs through the city, which means the terrain is urban, and the best time to go kayaking is in late spring through to early autumn. A word of caution, the Chicago River is full of pollution, so try not to fall out of your kayak, do not drink any of the water, and make sure that you bathe with water and soap to wash off the dirty river water after your excursion.

Best Kayaking Tours Through The Chicago River

With so many different kayaking tours and rental companies available, you’re probably wondering which business will give you the greatest value for money and who offers the best tours?

Wateriders – Chicago Kayak Tours And Rentals

Wateriders is a great kayaking company that offers guided tours and kayaks for rental. They are based in an essential location at the East Bank Club, which means you’re just a few minutes of paddling away from the center of downtown Chicago.

They are also highly affordable, so you know you’ll be getting the best value for money when booking your trip or renting out a kayak to go paddling on your own. Another bonus you’ll receive when using their company is free kayaking lessons and on-water training for those who require it. Below you can see a list of some of the best tours that Wateriders offers:

History And Architecture Tour – If you’re interested in exploring Chicago’s rich history and beautiful buildings, then the History and Architecture tour is perfect for you.This tour is two hours long and will guide you through the city’s early years. You will also be able to see many unique ironwork bridges, including an operational drawbridge system, the second largest in the world!

Tickets prices are listed as $65 for adults and $45 for children under 16 years old.

Moonlight Paddle – This tour is unique because it takes place during the night! You can experience the magnificence of the Chicago River at its calmest and most illuminating time. The lights from the city will glisten onto the waters, making this a trip you will never forget.

Tickets are listed as $50 for adults and $35 for children under 16 years old.

Navy Pier Fireworks Paddle – For a memorable tour, the Navy Pier Fireworks Paddle will take you through the heart of Chicago to view the city under the beautiful sunset and into the night. With an unforgettable twist, in the end, there is a fireworks display over Lake Michigan.

Tickets are listed as $70 for adults and $45 for children under 16 years old.

Urban Kayaks – Guided Tours and Rentals In Chicago

Urban kayaks is an excellent company that offers exciting guided tours and kayak rentals if you wish to brave the river by yourself. They are well known for offering a season pass, which allows kayaking enthusiasts to kayak as much as possible with a 50% discount on all tours.

Historic Chicago Tour – This excursion will provide you with a guided tour along the Chicago River, passing through some impressive modern buildings. This is their most popular tour. It spans two hours, and prices are from $65 per person.

Kayak Chicago

Kayak Chicago offers guided tours, kayaking lessons as well as kayak rentals. With Kayak Chicago, you can paddle through the northern branch of the Chicago River and witness the magnificent skyline of downtown.

Architectural Tour – This tour will allow you to paddle through downtown Chicago while embracing the history and architecture surrounding you. The tour begins with a guide offering a safety lesson and ends with the glass and steel towers. It is priced at $69 per person.

City Lights Night Paddle – For those who want something a little more unique, Kayak Chicago offers a night paddle perfect for those who love being out in the dark and wish to see the city lights sparkling on the water. The tour is priced at $69 per person.

Tips For Kayaking On The Chicago River

Before embarking on your journey, a few tips could help you once you’re on the water. Remember, you share the river with many larger motorized vessels, so your safety should be a top priority when kayaking on the Chicago River. Below are some tips that could prove beneficial:

  • You should always wear a PFD (personal floatation device)
  • Remain near the banks and away from all larger vessels on the river
  • Always stick to your right
  • When crossing a channel, make sure you do so quickly
  • Wait for bigger boats to pass and then allow the wake to subside before continuing
  • You will need to display navigational lighting when kayaking in the dark


Kayaking down the Chicago River is an excellent chance to view the city uniquely. Numerous companies offer guided tours or rent out kayaks so you can explore the beautiful city in this alternative manner. There are also some fantastic night and firework tours where the city lights majestically illuminate the water.