Kankakee River Water Trails

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Overview

The Kankakee River was designated as a National Water Trail in June 2016 for its entire length, starting at its origin in Indiana, all the way to its confluence with the Des Plaines River in Illinois. Where the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers meet, the river becomes the Illinois River.

As a National Water Trail, the Kankakee is part of a system of exemplary water trails that are cooperatively supported and sustained. The Kankakee River National Water Trail meanders through islands, cliffs, and wetlands in Illinois. The Northwest Indiana Paddling Association also maintains a website with information about the Kankakee National Water Trail.

Explored by de La Salle in 1679, the largely rural Kankakee River probably looks, in some sections, much like it did when he first saw it. It is considered one of the cleanest rivers in the Midwest, and it is popular with both recreational boaters and fishermen.

Kankakee water trail in Indiana: The Kankakee River water trail in Indiana is 85 miles long and flows through several state and county parks. The mainstem was straightened between 1903-1922 to drain surrounding land for farming, and the water trail is characterized by drainage pipes and side channels. In the spring and fall in Indiana, you can see migrating Sandhill Cranes from the water trail. They are often traveling to and from Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge where they stop to feed.

Kankakee water trail in Illinois: Once the water trail crosses the state line into Illinois, it follows its natural meanders through the landscape. It flows for 59 miles through Illinois before it confluences with the Des Plaines, where it becomes the Illinois River. There are three dams on the Kankakee in Illinois: at Momence, Kankakee, and Wilmington. The section of the river between the state line and Momence is surrounded by the Momence Wetlands, characterized by timber and relatively undisturbed wetlands. The river in Kankakee County is noted for its scenic beauty and water quality.

Rentals and guided trips are offered on the Kankakee by Reed’s Canoes.


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)


Kankakee River Descriptions and Detailed Maps

Bird Park to Chippewa Boat Launch

Chippewa Boat Launch to Area 9 Boat Launch

Chippewa Boat Launch to Wilmington Dam

Wilmington Dam to Des Plaines Conservation Area Boat Launch

Land Trail Extension: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie


Bird Park to Chippewa Boat Launch

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Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate

Length: Approximately 7 miles

Directions: Bird Park is located at 801 West Station Street in Kankakee, IL. The access is in Bird Park is between Station Street and Court Street.

Access the Chippewa Boat Launch in Kankakee River State Park, which is owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The launch is located just west of Warner Bridge Road and just north of the Warner Bridge on the Will/Kankakee county line.

Notes: The trip passes through limestone cliffs and around islands. It is one of the most popular sections of the Kankakee River Water Trail.

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Chippewa Boat Launch to Area 9 Boat Launch

BirdPark

Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate

Length: Approximately 4 miles

Directions: Access the Chippewa Boat Launch in Kankakee River State Park, which is owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The launch is located just west of Warner Bridge Road and just north of the Warner Bridge on the Will/Kankakee county line. Area 9 Boat Launch, also part of the Kankakee River State Park, is located north of Route 113 (River Street), approximately 1.9 miles east of Irish Lane in rural Will County.

Note: The trip winds through the park where the surroundings are relatively wild and the water quality is excellent. This trip can be extended to Wilmington Dam (details below).

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Chippewa Boat Launch to Wilmington Dam

Wilmington DamSkill level: Beginner to Intermediate depending on water levels.

Length: 10.65 miles

Directions: Access the Chippewa Boat Launch in Kankakee River State Park, which is owned by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). The launch is located just west of Warner Bridge Road and just north of the Warner Bridge on the Will/Kankakee county line.

About 2.4 miles downstream is the Area 9 Boat Launch. A shorter trip can start here. Access the Boat Launch from the north side of Route 113 (River Street), 1.25 miles northwest of Bauer Road.

The take-out is on river right at the head of the island just upstream of the Wilmington Dam.

Note: Alternatively, it is possible to paddle the channel on the east side of the island all the way north to the Wilmington millrace. Take out is on river left above the millrace. Do not run the millrace! Rebar and rocks in the narrow channels make this a dangerous passage at all but the highest water levels.

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Wilmington Dam to Des Plaines Conservation Area Boat Launch

KankakeeWaterTrail5.jpgSkill level: Beginner to Intermediate depending on water levels.

Length: 5.65 miles

Directions: Put-in downstream of the Wilmington Dam or at the downstream end of South Island, which on the east bank of the Kankakee River, in downtown Wilmington.

The take-out is on river right approximately 1.5 miles past the I-55 Bridge.
Access the Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area Boat Launch from the west side of N. River Road, just north of the intersection with I-55.

Note: Camping is available at the Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area. The campground is open from mid-April to mid-October, closed the rest of the year.

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Land Trail Extension: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

HYD_MNTPAs the largest open space in the Chicago region, the 19,000-acre Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie is the first such protected tallgrass prairie in the country and is managed today by the U.S. Forest Service. Midewin sits next door to Des Plaines Fish and Wildlife Area, and offers an expansive 22-mile land trail system.

Its expansiveness makes it an ideal habitat for grassland birds. In addition to native prairie, it contains a variety of ecologically significant habitats and natural areas. In 2014, it became a new home for a herd of American bison.

Openlands advocated for the creation of Midewin more than 20 years ago, and we have continued to assist in ongoing restoration since its establishment in 1996. Learn more about the recreation opportunities at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie.

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

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Categories: Kankakee County, Will County

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