How To Explore The Chicago River: On Foot, By Boat, By Bike | The Chicago River Tour with Geoffrey Baer

Volunteers and employees of Urban Rivers kayak near the organization’s floating gardens on the North Branch of the Chicago River

Volunteers and employees of Urban Rivers kayak near the organization’s floating gardens on the North Branch of the Chicago River. Courtesy Lauren Danilek/Urban Rivers

How To Explore The Chicago River: On Foot, By Boat, By Bike

Unprecedented efforts to clean up the Chicago River in recent decades are improving water quality, restoring wildlife habitats, increasing the number of species that call it home, and making the river more accessible and inviting for all.

Jumping in the Chicago River

Feature: Can We Swim in the River Yet?

The Chicago River is now cleaner than it has been for more than a century, leading some residents to ask when they’ll be able to dive in.

The Chicago Park District now boasts more than 600 acres of parks along the river, and in 1999, city regulations began requiring all new non-industrial riverside developments to keep at least 30 feet along the river’s edge accessible to the public.

There are myriad ways to explore the river and its shoreline – by boat, on foot, on a bike, or with a fishing rod in your hand. There are opportunities to learn, to sit back and take in the sights, or to volunteer your time and energy for the continued improvement of the river and its banks.

Below are just a few, organized by type of activity. You can filter the locations by selecting the icon on the top left of the map and selecting your preferred activities.

Don’t see one of your favorite spots listed here? Tweet it to us or write a Facebook post with the hashtag #WTTWriver and we’ll add it to the list.

Several other organizations have created activity-specific guides with more detail on:

Fishing

  • The Chicago Park District has several fishing camps and activities throughout the year, has 15 designated fishing locations along the river, and has a great site with tips for fishing the river (which includes lessons learned from years of fishing with kids). Bob Long, Jr., “The Fishin’ Guy”, leads camps and workshops for children as young as 8 years old.
  • Don’t forget your license. You can get one online or at a number of local vendors.

Biking and Hiking Trails

  • The Forest Preserves of Cook County has an excellent interactive map that allows you to find a biking or hiking trail near you, as well as many other features within their more than 69,000 acres of open space, much of it along waterways.

Boats travel back from Lake Michigan and under the Wells Street Bridge during an October 2017 bridge lift along the Main Stem of the Chicago River. Photo by Kristan Lieb

Kayaking and Canoeing Routes

Volunteering

Sites Further Afield

  • We also recommend you check out the I & M Canal National Heritage Area, which has an excellent guide to canal history, canal towns, bike trails, guided tours, and more.