Fox River Water Trails

Fox River1

Overview

The Fox River presents a number of varied paddling experiences for different skill levels.

The Fox River enters Illinois between Spring Grove and Antioch, in Lake County. Approximately three miles below the border, it opens into Grass, Nippersink, and Pistakee Lakes, in the Chain O’Lakes area before becoming a banked river again. Through this area, the Fox Waterway Agency manages boat usage and in some areas, for safety and navigational purposes, confines the high speed, powered boat traffic to a series of channels in the middle of the lakes and river with more than 4,000 buoys.

Approximately four miles downstream of the Chain O’Lakes, the Fox flows over the McHenry Dam, the first of a series of dams on the way to its confluence with the Illinois River in Ottawa. Below the McHenry Dam there is moderate power boat activity which increases upon reaching Elgin. The dams on the middle section of the river restrict power boat traffic to pools above each dam. As the river enters Kendall County below Montgomery, it becomes a large, quiet, and scenic river flowing mostly through farmland.

Upper Fox: The Chain O’Lakes section below Chain O’Lakes State Park is shallow lake paddling. Winds can create challenging conditions for open boaters (canoes). Choppy waters, power boats traveling at high speeds in all directions, and their wakes can make canoeing difficult and suitable only for expert paddlers.

Below the lakes section, the buoys of the Fox Waterway Agency on the Upper Fox make it safer for non-motorized boaters to co-exist with the high speed power boaters by paddling along the banks outside of the buoy-defined power boat channel. However, the nearly constant engine noise and wakes make this area a less attractive section for most paddlers.

Below McHenry Dam, stretches of the tree lined banks and less riverbank development make this section a pleasant and easier trip suitable for less experienced paddlers.

Middle Fox: Through Elgin, South Elgin, St. Charles, Geneva, Batavia, and Aurora, the river passes through highly urbanized areas and over several dams. Portaging around these dams varies in difficulty. The most difficult part of all the portages is determining from the boat which side of the dam would be the easier way around. Between the towns and dams the river passes through stretches of scenic forest preserves and wooded areas.

Dams: Currently, the Fox River holds thirteen dams, originally built to help power manufacturing plants along its shores. Today, these dams serve little purpose and greatly affect the flow and connectivity of the river, hindering the movement of fish and other wildlife and degrading water quality. The Forest Preserve District of Kane County has so far removed two major dams along the Fox (the Batavia Dam in 2005, and the Aurora Dam in 2006), and has plans to remove the Carpentersville Dam as well as the causeway at Fabyan Forest Preserve in Geneva. Furthermore, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources is donating $3.5 million dollars towards dam removal and habitat restoration.


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)


Fox River Water Trail Descriptions and Detailed Maps

Oak Point to Weber Park

Weber Park to Fox River Forest Preserve

Fox River Forest Preserve to River Front Park

Buffalo Park Forest Preserve to Voyageurs Landing Forest Preserve

Voyageurs Landing Forest Preserve to Blackhawk Forest Preserve

Blackhawk Forest Preserve to Fabyan West Forest Preserve

Fabyan Forest Preserve to Illinois Avenue Boat Launch

Illinois Avenue Boat Launch to Saw Wee Kee Park

Yorkville to Silver Spring State Park

Silver Spring State Park to Shuh Shuh Gah Canoe Launch


Oak Point to Weber Park

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Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced

Length: Approximately 12 miles

Directions: Oak Point is located in Chain O’Lakes State Park, just south of Route 173, approximately 1.2 miles east of the Lake/McHenry county line. Weber Park is located on the east side of Riverside Drive, just south of Broad Street, in McHenry. There are at least three landings with picnic areas and/or restaurants on this route.

Notes: This trip is not recommended for families and beginners because of concentrated motor boat traffic, boat wakes, noise, and large open waters in Chain O’Lakes State Park. The Fox Waterway Agency charges a usage fee, and other fees may be required at private landings. The Fox River Waterway Agency is responsible for maintenance and navigational improvements for motorized and non-motorized use in this section of the water trail.

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Weber Park to Fox River Forest Preserve

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Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced

Length: Approximately 10 miles

Directions: Weber Park, which is owned by the McHenry Parks and Recreation Department, is located on the east side of Riverside Drive, just south of Broad Street in McHenry. Fox River Forest Preserve, owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve District, is located just south of Roberts Road, approximately two miles west of Route 59 in Lake Barrington.

Notes: This trip is not recommended for beginners and families because of concentrated motor boat traffic, boat wakes, and noise in a relatively narrow, shallow, and sometimes turbulent part of the river. Along this stretch, there are at least seven landings or access areas with picnic facilities, camping, and nearby hotels and restaurants. There is one portage at McHenry (Stratton) Lock and Dam. Fees may be required at private landings. The Fox Waterway Agency is responsible for maintenance and navigational improvements for motorized and non-motorized use in this section of the water trail.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Fox River Forest Preserve to River Front Park

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Skill level: Intermediate

Length: Approximately 9.1 miles

Directions: Fox River Forest Preserve, owned by the Lake County Forest Preserve District, is located just south of Roberts Road, approximately two miles west of Route 59 in Lake Barrington. Riverfront Park, owned by the Village of Algonquin, is located just east of the intersection of Harrison and Edward streets in Algonquin.

Notes: Families and beginners are urged to use caution on this trip because of motor boat traffic. An alternate take-out can be found at Buffalo Park Forest Preserve, which is located at river mile 82 and just east of Route 31 at the end of South Street in Algonquin. However, this requires a difficult portage on the left at Chicago Street in Algonquin. This trip has at least four access areas, including a landing and picnic area in Fox River Grove, a camping area, and nearby hotels and restaurants in Algonquin. Fees may be required at private landings. The Fox Waterway Agency is responsible for maintenance and navigational improvements for motorized and non-motorized use in this section of the water trail.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Buffalo Park Forest Preserve to Voyageurs Landing Forest Preserve

Fox River 9

Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate

Length: Approximately 7 miles

Directions: Buffalo Park Forest Preserve is located just east of Route 31 at the end of South Street in Algonquin, and is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Kane CountyVoyageur’s Landing Forest Preserve, also owned by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, is located one mile east of Route 31, just north of I-90 at the east end of Airport Road in Elgin.

Notes: There are at least four landings or access areas with picnic facilities, camping, and nearby hotels and restaurants in Algonquin, Carpentersville, West Dundee, East Dundee, and Elgin. This scenic trip also provides good wildlife viewing in several areas. The portage at Carpentersville Dam is a good place to rest and enjoy exhibits detailing the history of the Fox River. Just downstream of the dam, the water is often shallow and turbulent. Be sure to stay to the left of the island to avoid some unforeseen obstacles. Elgin’s Trout Park also has an accessibility-friendly canoe launch.

There is an alternative take-out located a short distance downstream on the east side of the river. Both of these sites are within view of I-90. The Forest Preserve District of Kane County is largely responsible for maintenance of this stretch of the water trail.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Voyageurs Landing Forest Preserve to Blackhawk Forest Preserve

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Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced

Length: Approximately 8 miles

Directions: Voyageur’s Landing Forest Preserve is located one mile east of Route 31, just north of I-90 at the east end of Airport Road in Elgin, and is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve, also owned by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, is located just south of Route 31, approximately 0.7 miles east of McLean Boulevard in South Elgin.

Notes: This trip is currently not recommended for beginners and families below the Slade Avenue take-out at river mile 74 because of obstacles at Kimball Street Dam and South Elgin Dam. For expert paddlers, there are unimproved portages around the dams, on river left and river right, respectively. The Elgin Parks and Recreation Department and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources have plans for improvements in the future. Downstream of the dams, the river is often shallow and turbulent.

Between the two access sites, there are at least four landings or access areas with picnic facilities, nearby hotels and restaurants, and the Grand Victoria Casino. Elgin’s Trout Park also has an accessibility-friendly canoe launch. There is an alternative take-out located a short distance downstream on the east side of the river.

The Forest Preserve District of Kane County and the Elgin Parks and Recreation Department are generally responsible for maintenance of this segment of the water trail.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Blackhawk Forest Preserve to Fabyan West Forest Preserve

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Skill Level: Intermediate or Beginner (with an experienced guide)

Length: Approximately 10 miles

Directions: Blackhawk Forest Preserve, owned by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, is located just south of Route 31, approximately 0.7 miles east of McLean Boulevard in South Elgin. Fabyan Forest Preserve, also owned by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, is located just east of Route 31 and just north of Fabyan Parkway in Geneva.

Notes: This trip has a difficult portage at St. Charles Dam (on the left side), and an easier one at Geneva Dam (also on the left). The river is often very shallow for several hundred feet downstream of the dams.

Please Be Advised: In midsummer, the water levels just below the Geneva Dam are very shallow, making the put-in difficult.

The first leg of this trip, from Blackhawk Forest Preserve to Ferson Creek Park, is ideal for larger group trips and use by commercial outfitters. The trip starts with a moderately strong current, but eventually opens up into a wide, quiet-water impoundment created by the dam in St. Charles. There is a dramatic view of the river valley, just after the trail turns south, about a mile into the trip. Heavy south winds and bright sun can be a challenge on this stretch, but these can generally be avoided by hugging the shoreline.

Ferson Creek flows into the river, on the right side, about four miles into the trip. Paddlers can turn right and paddle up the creek to the first set of riffles before returning to the river. In 2002, the Geneva Park District completed reconstruction of the short portage around the dam at Old Mill Park, on the left (east) side of the river, adding a fishing station and a gazebo. Watch out for cyclists on the busy bike path that runs along the portage.

Between the two access sites, there are at least ten landings or access areas with picnic facilities, hiking and biking trails, ball fields, nearby hotels and restaurants, and other amenities in St. Charles and Geneva.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Fabyan Forest Preserve to Illinois Avenue Boat Launch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASkill level: Intermediate or Beginner (with an experienced guide)

Length: Approximately 7.1 miles

Directions: Fabyan Forest Preserve, owned by the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, is located just east of Route 31 and just north of Fabyan Parkway in Geneva. The Illinois Avenue boat launch, owned by the Fox Valley Park District, is located in Illinois Avenue Island Park in Aurora.

Notes: This trip has 27 islands to explore and three moderately difficult portages. To improve recreational paddling and restore this stretch of the river to better health, the South Batavia dam has been removed and plans for removal of the north Batavia are under consideration. A continuous bike path follows along the water trail, passing through properties of the Forest Preserve District of Kane County, Batavia, and the Fox Valley Park District.

Between the two access sites, there are at least 11 landings or access areas with picnic facilities, hiking and biking trails, ball fields, a riverwalk, nearby hotels and restaurants, in Batavia, North Aurora, and Aurora.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Illinois Avenue Boat Launch to Saw Wee Kee Park

Fox River 5

Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced

Length: Approximately 9 miles

Directions: The Illinois Avenue boat launch, owned by the Fox Valley Park District, is located in Illinois Avenue Island Park in Aurora. Saw Wee Kee Park is located on Sundown Lane approximately one mile west of the Orchard Road bridge and roughly two miles west of Oswego.

Notes: A unique feature of this stretch is a canoe chute designed to allow safe paddling around the New York Street Dam. The chute opened in 1993, but was badly damaged during floods in 1996 and 1997. The chute reopened in late 1999, after nearly $500,000 in repairs. These costs were shared by the City of Aurora, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Forest Preserve District of Kane County. The water trail passes through properties of the Fox Valley Park District, Aurora, Montgomery, and Oswegoland Park District.

Between the two access sites, there are at least six landings or access areas with picnic facilities, playgrounds, nearby hotels and restaurants, and a riverboat casino, in Aurora.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Yorkville to Silver Spring State Park

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Skill level: Beginner

Length: Approximately 5 miles

Directions: The Yorkville canoe launch in Bicentennial Riverfront Park is located on the Fox River on Hydraulic Street, east of Route 47. Silver Springs State Park can be accessed by traveling from Yorkville on Route 47 then turning south on Fox Road. The park entrance will be visible in about five miles.

Notes: This is a great trip for beginners and families with children. Youth groups can spend the night at Silver Springs State Park (contact the park for information). This is a shallower stretch of the Fox River with several islands to paddle around and explore, and this is also a good trip for bird watching.  Freeman’s Sports rents canoes and kayaks, and offers transportation between Yorkville and Silver Springs State Park. The Yak Shack rents kayaks.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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Silver Spring State Park to Shuh Shuh Gah Canoe Launch

Fox River 11

Skill level: Beginner

Length: Approximately 2 miles

Directions: Silver Springs State Park can be accessed by traveling from Yorkville on Route 47, and turning South. The park entrance will be visible in about five miles. Access Shuh Shuh Gah canoe launch by taking Route 34 to Plano and turning south on Ben Street. Before reaching the Fox River, turn west onto Millhurst Road and take it to Whitfield Road. Then turn south on Whitfield Road and follow it to the intersection with Rogers Road. Turn east at this intersection (toward the river).

Notes: This is a great trip for beginners and families with children. Youth groups can spend the night at Silver Springs State Park (contact the park for information). This is a shallower stretch of the Fox River with several islands to paddle around and explore, and this is also a good trip for bird watching. Freeman’s Sports rents canoes and kayaks, and offers transportation between Yorkville and Silver Springs State Park. Combine this trip with the Yorkville to Silver Springs State Park water trail for a longer journey.

Always check United States Geological Survey (USGS) water data before your trip.

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

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