Chicago Boating Guide.

Chicago Boating Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Written by Boatsetter Team
September 12, 2022

Chicago is conveniently located on the banks of Lake Michigan and the Chicago River, which runs through the heart of the city. The Windy City provides travelers interested in new and exciting things with bundles of adventure on its water! While here, you and your crew can visit one of the Great Lakes and discover the water world within the Windy City!

We’ve got everything you need to know about boating in Chicago:

  • Three best places to boat in Chicago
  • Best time of year to go boating in Chicago
  • Chicago boating rules

Explore Boat Rentals in Chicago, IL

Best Places to Boat in Chicago

1. Chicago River

Chicago River Boating.

The Chicago River is a system of rivers and canals that runs right through this city’s center. Over 100 miles of prairie rivers meander through Chicago; over 600 acres of waterfront parks graze the river’s shores. Locals and tourists have plenty of opportunities to explore and enjoy the waterways in and around Chicago.

Boats or personal watercrafts perfect for you and your crew to explore the Chicago River are:

  • Pontoons
  • Kayaks
  • Canoes
  • Rowboats
  • Paddleboats
  • Jet skis

There are various activities on this river, like lounging, day cruising, and touring this scenic city’s waterways. For those of you interested in fishing in Chicago, we’ve got the perfect Pro Boatsetter Tip for you:

Currently, the Chicago River has more than 70 species! You can find the following fish when there:

  • American Eel
  • Black Bullhead
  • Bluegill Sunfish
  • Channel Catfish
  • Common Carp
  • Crappie
  • Green Sunfish
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Northern Pike
  • Pumpkinseed Sunfish

You can get your fishing license online right here.

Chicago River Kayaking.

Reliable boat ramps on the Chicago River

1. Park No. 571 Boat Launch

This park sits at the convergence where Calumet Channel and Bubbly Creek meet the South Branch of the Chicago River.  You can view the Loomis Street Bridge, Canal Origins Park, and Canal Riverwalk Park from the park.

The launch is intended for small craft such as kayaks and canoes. You can find it at 2754 S Eleanor St, Chicago, IL 60608.

2. Ping Tom Memorial Park

Ping Tom Memorial Park is a stunning Chinatown Park with Chinese-style architecture, landscaping, and gardens. It features a boathouse, pagoda, playground, and beautiful green spaces to enjoy the riverfront.

It’s situated on the southeast side of the South Branch of the Chicago River. The launch is also intended only for small craft such as kayaks and canoes.

You can find it at 1700 S Wentworth Ave, Chicago, IL 60616.

3. Daley Richard J Boat Launch

This launch can accommodate motorized and non-motorized boats. It sits across from Western Avenue Riveredge Park and is just north of Brighton Park and McKinley Park.

You can find it at 3150 S Western Blvd, Chicago, IL 60608.

4. Clark Richard Park Boat Ramp

This launch is intended for kayaks and canoes. It sits in Clark Park on the North Branch of the Chicago River, directly across from Chamberlain University. It is across the street from the Kerry Wood Cubs Field, DePaul College Prep, and Lane Tech College Prep High School.

The park features a dock, a soccer field, and a dirt bike (BMX) riding area. It sits on old amusement park property, and the North Branch Riverwalk path runs through the middle of it.

You can find it at 3400 N Rockwell St, Chicago, IL 60618.

2. Lake Michigan

Chicago Skyline with Lake Michigan.

Lake Michigan is one of the five Great Lakes, and the city of Chicago has a front-row seat to it. The lake has a surface area of over 22,000 square miles. It has an average depth of 279 feet and a maximum depth of 923 feet.

Beaches of Lake Michigan include Esch Road Beach, Silver Beach, and North Avenue Beach. There’s also a piece of Lake Michigan in Ludington State Park where you can catch sights of its historic lighthouse.

If you enjoy fishing, you’ll love Lake Michigan. It houses brown, rainbow, and steelhead trout. Coho salmon, carp, walleye, sauger, yellow perch, bass, and pike are also common in the area. Fish the lake as if it were an ocean, and you’ll find yourself with a cooler full of delicious fish in no time. You can easily fish from the shore, from a boat, or out on the ice during winter.

Boats or personal watercrafts perfect for you and your crew to explore Lake Michigan:

  • Pontoons
  • Kayaks
  • Jet skis
  • Yachts
  • Sailboats

Reliable boat ramps on Lake Michigan

1. 31st Street Harbor

31st Street Harbor is an impressive 1,000 slip marina that features a beach, a skate park, playground, tennis courts, the La Ronda Parakata Gathering Space, Burnham Park, Pier 31 Restaurant, sports rentals, laundry facilities, and, of course, a boat ramp. It’s south of downtown Chicago and offers fantastic access to Lake Michigan.

Find it at 3155 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60616.

2. 59th Street Harbor

This harbor has so much to offer you could spend an entire day here without running out of things to do.

59th Street Harbor is in the heart of Jackson Park and features dozens of boat slips, a fuel dock, restaurants, a beach house, and more.

Here, you have quick and easy access to Wooded Island, East and West Lagoon, Garden of the Phoenix, 57th Street Beach, 63rd Street Beach, Castaways Beach, 59th Street Beach, Jackson Park Yacht Club, golf courses, parks, basketball courts, hiking and biking trails, and the Museum of Science and Industry Chicago.

This area also puts you near Promontory Point, South Shore Cultural Center, South Shore Beach, and Rainbow Beach.

You can find it at 5900 S Lake Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60637.

3. Burnham Harbor

This harbor is within walking distance of downtown Chicago, and it is next to Soldier Field, Field Museum, Adler Planetarium, the Adler Planetarium Skyline Walk, 12th Street Beach, Daphne Garden, Sledding Hill, Northerly Island Park, and Burnham Park Yacht Club.

The harbor itself offers laundry services, fuel, slips, transient docking, a restaurant, pump-out services, and a three-lane boat launch.

You can find it at 1559 E Waldron Dr, Chicago, IL 60605.

Lake Michigan, Chicago, Illinois.

3. Lake Calumet

This small lake is related to the famous Lake Michigan and connects to the Calumet River. It is hugged by the rolling golf hills of Harborside International Golf Center and Big Marsh Park.

This lake is great for people looking for a peaceful and quiet place to boat. Chicagoans do fish at Lake Calumet. This lake is said to have largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, and channel catfish.

Pontoons and fishing boats are perfect for you to explore Lake Calumet.

What is the best time of year to go boating in Chicago?

Go boating any time between June and August for the best climate on Chicago waters.

Alternatively, if you’re looking to save on your trip to Chicago, consider visiting in March, April, May, September, or October. There is plenty for you to do and see, especially by boat.

If you visit during St. Patrick’s Day in March, you’ll get to see the Chicago River get dyed a bright shade of green. Pub crawls and parades are just beginning to gear up for the season during this time too.

Chicago Bridge Lift.

Boaters, Obey Chicago Boating Rules

Always read local and state boating rules when boating at a destination that’s new to you! For the full Chicago and Illinois Boating Rules, read here.

Here’s what to review before hitting the water in Chicago:

  • All boats, with the exception of unpowered vessels and vessels registered in another state (using Illinois waters for fewer than 60 consecutive days), must be registered and have a certificate of title.
  • Children nine years and younger cannot operate any motorized boats, not even personal watercraft. Children ten to twelve years old can operate a motorized vessel that has more than 10 HP (including PWCs) if they are accompanied by a parent or guardian or a person who is at least 18 years old and designated by the parent or guardian.
  • People who were born on or after January 1st of 1998 must have a valid boating safety certificate to supervise persons between the ages of 10 and 17.
  • All boats need at least one U.S. Coast Guard-approved PFD. Children 13 or younger have to wear their PFD at all times when on the water.
  • Do not operate under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher is illegal.

Discover boating destinations like Chicago at Boating Guides & Resources!

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