My Experience Kayaking the Chicago River

My Experience Kayaking the Chicago River

Kayak the Chicago River- the best way to see the city of Chicago

Last summer, during my visit to Door County, I had the opportunity to try kayaking for the first time in years. Since I wasn’t very active back then, I was surprised that I enjoyed it.

When searching for a birthday gift for my dad this year, I stumbled upon a Groupon for an architectural tour of Chicago via kayaks with Wateriders. What an amazing way to enjoy the city!  I asked my dad if he would be interested and it was settled… this would be the perfect gift for him!

His birthday was back in April, but this weekend, on a hot July day, we were finally able to take part in the Wateriders- Classic Chicago History and Architecture Tour!

The Experience

We met our Wateriders tour guide, Joel, at the East Bank Club Riverwalk in River North. After a quick five minute kayaking lesson, the staff assisted us in getting into the kayaks.

Wateriders gives participants the option of riding in a single or double… my dad and I chose a double- in case one of us got tired. 

The hardest part of the tour? Stopping the kayak for Joel to talk at each stop, with the kayak noses not facing the wall. The two other guides assisted us in making sure we did this correctly throughout the tour. And I finally got the hang of it… by the last stop!

This particular tour took us through 3 portions of the river: the North Branch (where the tour started), the South Branch, and the Main Stem. These three points meet at Wolf Point (the second stop on our tour).

Joel, did an amazing job telling us the history of the city, the river, and all of our surroundings. As a lifelong Chicagoan, I thought I knew most of what Joel would be telling us, but I didn’t. I barely knew any of it at all… (I do have to give credit to my 3rd grade teacher who taught me who Marquette, Joliet, and DuSable were…) He also quoted poetry, books, and mentioned pop culture phenomenons throughout the tour!


A Bit of History about the River:

As a result of the Chicago River’s prime location, Chicago became a major player in world commerce today.

The river is attracting more locals and tourists than ever before, due to the recent expansion of the Riverwalk. A city known for its architecture, some of Chicago’s most unique and beautiful buildings are along the river. Plus, you can see the architecture at a unique angle from the water.


Is the water safe/clean?

The Chicago River will not be winning any awards for cleanliness any time soon! The water is not recommended for drinking… If swimming is what you want to do, head down to one of Chicago’s amazing beaches for a dip in the refreshing freezing Lake Michigan. You won’t get sick from the river, but swimming in it is not recommended either!

Where can you buy a guided kayak tour in Chicago?

1) Wateriders- my recommendation!
950 N. Kingsbury St, Chicago, IL
(312) 953-9287

2) Urban Kayaks Riverwalk
435 E. Riverwalk South, Chicago, IL
(312) 965-0035

3) Kayak Chicago
1501 N Magnolia Ave, Chicago, IL
(630) 336-7245

The locations above are located within the River North neighborhood of the city and offer great tours with views of many skyscrapers.

How long does it take?

Our guided tour lasted just about 2.5 hours, but they can be as long as 3 hours. The length depends on the tour operator offering the excursion. Most importantly, if a guided tour is not your cup of tea, many companies offer by-the-hour rentals.


Safety Reminders and General Suggestions

Remember to be aware of your surroundings, regardless if you have a guide or not.  There are a lot of big boats on the river (tour boats, yachts, water taxis).  Most importantly, remember to only cross the river at a 90 degree angle!

Children of all ages are welcome on the tours. Additionally, anyone under 12 does need to be with a parent/guardian/someone over 18 years of age.

Bring drinking water with you if participating in a tour/rental; this is a real workout!

And don’t let the clouds discourage you… Chicago weather (and sun!) is very unpredictable… Apply sunscreen and bring extra with you!

Bring a waterproof camera (such as a GoPro) or a waterproof phone pouch (like the one found here). My phone probably would have been drenched if it weren’t for mine!

Whether you are visiting or a local, if you find yourself in Chicago during the summer months, I definitely recommend taking advantage of the warm weather and taking a go at Wateriders kayak tours.


Have you ever taken a kayak tour? In what city? Did you love the experience? Let me know in the comments below! 

Kayak the Chicago River



  1. Patricia Antonakos
    February 14, 2018 / 9:03 pm

    Definitely adding this to my list!

    • Jet-setting Spirit
      February 14, 2018 / 9:05 pm

      A great summer time activity in our beautiful city!

    • Jet-setting Spirit
      January 22, 2019 / 11:06 am

      I can’t wait to do it again! It was such a great time.

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