Lake Michigan Water Trails

LakeMichigan1

Overview

Many partners and states are working toward developing a continuous four state water trail that traverses the entire shore line of Lake Michigan. In 2009, a section of the Lake Michigan Water Trail extending from the Chicago Park District’s Leone Beach at Touhy Avenue south along Chicago’s Lakefront and east along the entire shoreline of Indiana was designated a National Recreational Trail. All four states surrounding Lake Michigan shoreline are working to complete and improve the Lake Michigan Water Trail. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources Coastal Management Program has developed a website with information on the Lake Michigan Water Trail in Illinois. If you are planning a trip that includes another state, see information from the the State of Michigan, the State of Indiana, and the State of Wisconsin.

Please Be Advised: A trail on Lake Michigan presents considerations unlike those of the other water trails. A lake trail is defined only by the location of the access points. The distance paddlers can go from shore, the potential for high wind and waves, and high speed power boat traffic can make paddling on the lake a challenge even for experienced users. For these reasons, paddling on Lake Michigan is recommended only for paddlers with proper boats (sea kayak), equipment, and skills appropriate to the water and weather conditions. Paddling with a group or experienced partner is strongly recommended.

Always check the marine weather forecast before you put in.

Notes: All Lake Michigan trips can be run in either direction so only the access sites and parking is described for each site in a stretch.  Sites are not identified as the “put-in” or “take-out.”

The Illinois section of the Lake Michigan Water Trail stretches 68 miles from the Indiana border, at Calumet Park on the south side of Chicago, to the Wisconsin border, north of Winthrop Harbor in Lake County. The 23 miles of Chicago’s Lakefront are almost entirely open to the public thanks to Daniel Burnham’s visionary Chicago Plan of 1909. Boat-friendly sand beaches line its shore at some places on the south side and much of the shoreline on the north side of the city.

In northern Cook County and in southern Lake County, the beaches narrow and give way to high wooded bluffs topped by homes and a few suburban parks. North of the industrial area of Waukegan, the sand beaches return and Illinois Beach State Park protects several miles of shoreline from private development.

Beaches require little or no improvements to provide access for boats of a wide variety of design and materials. While access to and from beaches is important to the creation of a lake trail, harbor access also plays a critical role in Lake Michigan. High waves and the resulting surf in shallow waters can make an unprotected beach a difficult and/or dangerous place to launch from or land on for small boaters. Harbors, ramps, and protected beaches are therefore important design elements for a long lake trail.

Along the lakefront north of Chicago, many municipalities control parking and/or launching by imposing high daily and seasonal fees for non-residents and/or a restricted number of permits for non-residents to launch. Even paddlers who are residents of a lakefront suburb may find it expensive or difficult to access launch sites in other municipalities, limiting their ability to use the north shore as a trail for longer and one-way trips.


Explore our interactive map!

Using the interactive map below you have the ability to:
-Zoom in and out using the + and – buttons
-View the water trails through Google maps or satellite image
-Click on a launch site (blue teardrop) for more information on its location and possible trips
-Click on a dam (red diamond) for portage information
-Determine the paddling difficulty of a water trail (Green = Beginner; Yellow = Intermediate; Red = Expert)


Lake Michigan Water Trail Descriptions

12th Street Beach to Diversey Harbor

North Point Marina to Illinois Beach State Park

Leone Beach to Diversey Harbor

12th Street Beach to 63rd Street Beach

63rd Street Beach to Calumet Park Boat Ramp

Land Trail Extension: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore


12th Street Beach to Diversey Harbor

12th Street Beach
Skill level: Advanced

Length: Approximately 5.5 miles

Directions: 12th Street Beach, located just south of the Adler Planetarium on Chicago’s Lakefront, provides easy access to dramatic skyline views from Lake Michigan. Access Diversey Harbor, located at the north end of the Lincoln Park Lagoon, from the east end of Diversey Drive. A shortened four mile round trip from Museum Campus to the end of Navy Pier and back provides excellent views of the city, Grant Park, Chicago Harbor, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Chicago River locks.

Notes: This water trail is recommended only for experienced sea kayakers or kayakers with an experienced group or guide. The Chicago Park District has designated thirteen launch sites on beaches along Lake Michigan, making the Chicago Lakefront Water Trail one of the most accessible urban water trails in the country.

Always check water conditions before your trip.

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North Point Marina to Illinois Beach State Park

IBSP
Skill level: Advanced

Length: Approximately 3.5 miles

Directions: North Point Marina is located at the east end of Main Street (7th Street) in Winthrop Harbor. The south unit of Illinois Beach State Park is located at the east end of Wadsworth Road in Zion.

Notes: This water trail is recommended only for experienced sea kayakers or kayakers with an experienced group or guide. Overnight parking is permitted at North Point Marina, and campground sites should be reserved in advance. However, because much of the south unit of Illinois Beach State Park is a dedicated Illinois Nature Preserve, landing and launching is restricted to the northern half of the park. Access to areas south of and including the Dead River is by permit only.

Always check water conditions before your trip.

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Leone Beach to Diversey Harbor

Leone Beach

Skill level: Advanced

Length: 6.35 miles

Directions: Leone Beach is located at the east end of Touhy Avenue in Chicago’s Rogers Park neighborhood. Park in the meter parking lot on the east side of Sheridan Road at Touhy Avenue. The launch site is on the small beach on the north side of the parking lot.

Montrose Beach is located 3.5 miles south of Leone Beach. Launching is allowed at the south end of the beach near the fishing pier. However, if using Montrose Point as an access site, the carry from parking along the road near the beach house to the beach can be more than 1,000 feet. If you take out at Montrose Point, consider taking a walk through the Magic Hedge – widely recognized as one of the best birding locations in the Great Lakes region!

Diversey Harbor is accessible from the water only when the traffic light on the bridge over the harbor entrance is green.  There are two access sites in the harbor: the low wall at the north end of the harbor can be an easy or difficult landing depending on the water level. The Boat Ramp on the west side of the harbor is an alternative landing.

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12th Street Beach to 63rd Street Beach

LakeMichigan3

Skill level: Advanced

Length: 6.0 miles

Directions: The designated kayak launch at 12th Street Beach is the south 100 yards of the beach (during the summer beach season). However if you ask permission from the beach manager, you may be allowed to launch closer to the beach house.

Parking at 12th Street Beach is limited and can be expensive. The large parking lot between the beach and the Planetarium is a fee lot. Meter parking may be available on Bond Drive (the street leading out to the Planetarium).

Use caution when landing or launching from 12th Street Beach during high wave conditions. A steel bulkhead wall protecting the beach stretches from the point of the Planetarium to the south side of the beach and lies only a few feet under the water surface in normal conditions. It becomes exposed in the troughs of waves and can severely damage a boat’s hull.

The designated kayak launch at 63rd Street Beach is the south end of the beach. Parking is in the small lot on the east side of Lake Shore Drive, directly south of the beach house, or in the lots directly across of Lake Shore Drive on either side of Hayes Drive.

To access the Jackson Park Inner Harbor Boat Ramp enter the parking lot on the south side of Hayes Drive, just west of Lake Shore Drive. The ramp is in the southwest corner of the lot. To enter the lake, paddle south through the Inner Harbor, under the Lake Shore Drive Bridge, and then north through the Outer Harbor to the harbor entrance.

Notes: For information on paddling Lake Michigan safely, see the Safety Center on the Chicago Area Sea Kayaking Association’s website at www.caska.org.

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63rd Street Beach to Calumet Park Boat Ramp

12th to 63rd

Skill level: Advanced

Length: 6.3 miles

Directions: The designated kayak launch at 63rd Street Beach is the south end of the beach. Parking is in the small lot on the east side of Lake Shore Drive, directly south of the beach house, or in the lots directly across of Lake Shore Drive on either side of Hayes Drive.

To access the Jackson Park Inner Harbor Boat Ramp enter the parking lot on the south side of Hayes Drive, just west of Lake Shore Drive. The ramp is in the southwest corner of the lot. To enter the lake, paddle south through the Inner Harbor, under the Lake Shore Drive Bridge, and then north through the Outer Harbor to the harbor entrance.

You can take-out (or take a break) at Rainbow Beach. Enter Rainbow Beach from East 77th Street and drive east to the easternmost parking lot. The designated kayak beach is the east end of the beach (during the swimming season).

The Calumet Park Boat Ramp is accessible from East 95th Street and East Foreman Drive. Parking is free in the large lots near the boat ramp. A small sand beach next to the concrete ramps offers a softer launching and landing spot.

Notes: For information on paddling Lake Michigan safely, see the Safety Center on the Chicago Area Sea Kayaking Association’s website at www.caska.org.

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Land Trail Extension: Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Extension to IDNL - Portage Riverwalk

We encourage you to extend south-bound trips into Indiana so you can discover Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (IDNL). IDNL spans over 15,000 total acres, which include 15 miles of pristine Lake Michigan shoreline, and 50 miles of trails. The landscape of this area was shaped over 14,000 years ago by the last great continental glacier, and today includes dunes, oak savannas, swamps, bogs, marshes, prairies, rivers, and forests. The biological diversity within Indiana Dunes is among the highest per unit of any site in the National Parks system.

Openlands played an integral role in the designation of the site as an national lakeshore in 1966, and today it is one of the finest sites managed by the National Park Service in the entire Midwest Region. Learn more.

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For more information, please contact paddle@openlands.org.

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Categories: Cook County, Lake County

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