Kishwaukee River Water Trails
The Kishwaukee is a beautiful river that offers some of the highest quality aquatic habitat in northeast Illinois. The river is home to over 1,000 species of plants, 59 species of fish, and 28 endangered species including the Sandhill Crane, Speckled Adler, and Mulberry-Winged Butterfly. Rabbits, woodchuck, and herons are common sights along the river, and river otters recently began inhabiting the region.
The Main Branch of the Kishwaukee flows east-west and is approximately 63 miles long. The river begins as a small, wetland stream in Woodstock and ends at its confluence with the Rock River, south of Rockford. The entirety of the river’s watershed covers 1,257 square miles, spreading across McHenry, Boone, Winnebago, Ogle, DeKalb, and Kane counties. Most of the watershed area is currently used for agriculture.
From the east, the river’s first launch site is located at County Line Road. on the border of McHenry and Boone Counties. From there, the river flows west through Redhorse Bend, after which non-motorized launches are located every three to five miles. The Belvidere Park Dam, located within Belvidere Municipal Park must be portaged on the left/south side of the dam. Launch sites are provided by the Boone County Conservation District, the Belvidere Park District, and the Winnebago County Forest Preserve District.
Much has been done in the last 20 years to ensure continued protection of the Kishwaukee. In 1996, The Kishwaukee River Ecosystem Partnership was founded to preserve the river’s natural resources.
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)
Redhorse Bend to Distillery Road
Skill Level: Intermediate
Approximate Distance: 7.8 miles
Directions: Redhorse Bend Canoe Launch, owned by the Belvidere Park District, is located two miles north of I-90 on Lawrenceville Road in Garden Prairie. From I-90, take the Genoa Road exit and drive north approximately 2 miles to Lawrenceville Road, then take a right. Launch entrance is located on the right side of the road. Redhorse Bend includes a public access canoe launch, parking lot, and fishing area.
The take-out at Distillery Road Launch Site is located approximately 2.5 miles south of US 20- BUS on Distillery Road in Belvidere. Parking is available at this launch site.
Notes: This trip is recommended for intermediate paddlers due to the portage around the Belvidere Dam located between Burgess Street and Hickory Bill’s Island access sites. Portage is recommended to the left/south of the dam but has been reported as narrow and muddy with the need to maneuver around a distillery strainer. River conditions on either side of the dam are typically calm and offer a contrast between urban and wild areas.
Distillery Road to Espenscheid Forest Preserve
Skill Level: Beginner
Length: 5.4 miles
Directions: Distillery Road Launch Site is located approximately 2.5 miles south of US 20-BUS on Distillery Road in Belvidere and is managed by the Boone County Conservation District. From I-90, take the Genoa Road exit toward Belvidere. Continue onto US-20 BUS and drive for approximately 7 miles. Take a left on Distillery Road and drive south for 1.5 miles. Parking is available at the launch site.
Take-out at Espenscheid Forest Preserve is located at 4800 South Perryville Road in Cherry Valley, just three miles southeast of Rockford. This launch site is managed by Forest Preserves of Winnebago County. The take-out is well developed with parking a few hundred feet away. Railroad ties are used as steps down to the river’s edge, and its banks are bermed by stacks of railroad ties. When the river is high, the railroad ties are covered in silt, which can make them slippery.
Notes: This trip is recommended for beginner paddlers and is known for its quiet beauty, abundant wildlife, and long stretches of undeveloped wilderness. Noted wildlife includes Great-blue herons, American goldfinch, turtles, and mollusks. Water conditions are normally calm, but can turn turbulent after heavy rain or in high winds.
Espenscheid Forest Preserve to Atwood Park
Difficulty: Beginner, Family Friendly
Length: 6 miles
Directions: Espenscheid Forest Preserve is located at 4800 South Perryville Road in Cherry Valley, three miles southeast of Rockford. From I-39 take exit 122-A for Harrison Avenue, then turn left onto Perryville Road and drive south for approximately two miles. The entrance to Espensheid Forest Preserve will be on the left and parking is provided. Railroad ties are used as steps down to the river’s edge, and when the river is high, the railroad ties are covered in silt, which can make them slippery.
The take-out at Atwood Park is located at 2685 New Milford School Road in Rockford and is managed by the Rockford Park District. This take-out is lined with gravel and has a corrugated mat at the end of the boat ramp that goes into the river. Parking is provided directly across the road from the take-out site.
Notes: This trip is recommended for beginners and families as river conditions are generally gentle with a few dropoffs that produce riffles and standing waves. It is an excellent stretch of river on which to learn the basics of paddling. Wildlife is varied and plentiful. Common sightings include Cedar Waxwings, Red-Tailed Hawks, and Soft-Shelled Turtles.
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