Des Plaines River Water Trails

 

13930453862_40ea1ea5a4_o

Overview

The Des Plaines River begins in Racine County, Wisconsin and flows south into Illinois as a small prairie stream.

It runs approximately 95 miles through four counties in Illinois to its confluence with the Kankakee River at Channahon, where it forms the Illinois River. Along the water trail, it changes its character (and legal classification) from a prairie stream to a large urban river, and then to a major industrial waterway.

At its headwaters, the Des Plaines River, like all rivers in Wisconsin, is considered “navigable” and legally accessible by the public. When the river enters Illinois, it becomes a “non-navigable” river until it reaches Riverside, just north of Ogden Avenue. Here, it once again becomes a public and navigable waterway to its end at the confluence with the Kankakee River.

Fortunately for recreational users, Lake and Cook County Forest Preserve Districts have protected long stretches of the river by developing a Des Plaines River greenway and bike path along its banks. They are in the process of implementing a plan to link all the forest preserves with a regional greenway trail, and have developed and promoted the recreational use of the river by creating canoe launch sites on the northern and middle section of the river. The lack of trailered-boat ramps makes this long river a quiet, beginner, and family-friendly river, free of noise and the challenges of coping with powered boat use. Depending on water levels in the Lake County portion, however, additional portages may be required.

Lake County Forest Preserves offers canoe and kayak safety instruction.

North Section—From the Wisconsin state line at Russell Road in Lake County to the Allison Woods Canoe Launch in northern Cook County, a number of developed canoe launches and undeveloped access sites form the basis of the trail system. Locate a Lake County Forest Preserve District canoe launch.

Middle Section—Through much of the Cook County section of the river, high banks and no official launch sites make the river more difficult to access. However, the Forest Preserves of Cook County has improved the launch at Dam 2, and has created launches at Northwestern Woods and Irving Park Road, improving access to this portion of the river. Locate a Forest Preserves of Cook County boat launch.

Lower Section—Of particular interest in this section is the historic Isle a la Cache. Here, on an island near Romeoville, a Will County Forest Preserve District canoe landing and museum make an interesting stop for a trip on the lower section. Safety considerations around the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District controlling works at Lockport, industrial barge traffic downstream of the confluence with the Sanitary and Ship Canal of the Illinois Waterway, and the Brandon Locks in Joliet make this last section of the river more difficult to develop for general public recreational use.

Until very recently, the Des Plaines River had over ten dams along its length. Originally installed for purposes related to agriculture, recreation, and sanitation, the dams created a safety hazard for paddlers, impeded the passage of aquatic life, and lowered water quality. The Des Plaines is now returning to a free-flowing river as these dams are removed.

Additional information on Des Plaines River dams.


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)


Des Plaines River Descriptions

Russell Road to Wadsworth Road

Wadsworth Road to Gowe Park

Gowe Park to Independence Grove

Independence Road to Route 60

Route 60 to Allison Woods

Allison Woods to Irving Park Road

Irving Park Road to Chicago Avenue

Chicago Avenue to Plank Road Meadow

Stony Ford to Columbia Woods

Columbia Woods to Lemont

Knollwood to Isle a la Cache

Confluence Loop

Land Trail Extension: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie


Russell Road to Wadsworth Road

Russell

Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate 

Length: Approximately 5.9 miles 

Directions: A number of Lake County Forest Preserve District canoe launches provide access to the upper Des Plaines River. This section starts at the Russell Road Canoe Launch, one mile east of I-94, on the south side of Russell Road, near the Illinois/Wisconsin border. The trip ends at the Wadsworth Road Canoe Launch, approximately 0.4 miles east of Route 41, on the south side of Wadsworth Road. 

Notes: This relatively wild and scenic trip runs entirely through forest preserves in Lake County. Beware of obstacles such as beaver dams and log jams, which you should portage around.

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

Back to Trip Descriptions


Wadsworth Road to Gowe Park

wadsworth

Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate

Length: Approximately 5.8 miles

Directions: Access to the canoe launch is on the south side of Wadsworth Road, on the east bank of the river, and is approximately 1/2 mile east of Route 41. The water trail winds through parts of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, past the Wetlands Demonstration Project, and Gurnee Woods. The trip ends at Gowe Park, just south of Highway 132. 

Notes: This is a pleasant paddle through forest preserves in Lake County. Beware of obstacles such as beaver dams and log jams, which you should portage around.

In the winter, a temporary bridge is constructed over the river to connect a snow-mobile trail. During this period, you will need to portage upstream of the bridge on river right, cross the bridge, and launch downstream from river left.

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

Back to Trip Descriptions


Gowe Park to Independence Grove

Gowe

Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate

Length: 5.1 miles

Directions: The Gowe Park canoe launch, located at the west end of McClure Road and on the east bank of the river, can be accessed from the west side of O’Plaine Road, approximately 1/2 block south of Grand Avenue, in Gurnee. The trip ends at Independence Grove Forest Preserve, located just north of Buckley Road, about 1/2 mile east of Milwaukee Avenue in Libertyville.

Notes: This trip features one of Lake County’s newer forest preserves.

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

Back to Trip Descriptions


Independence Grove to Route 60

Independence

Skill level: Beginner to Intermediate 

Length: Approximately 6.6 miles 

Directions: Independence Grove Forest Preserve, located just north of Buckley Road, roughly 1/2 mile east of Milwaukee Avenue, in Libertyvillle. Take-out at the Route 60 Canoe Launch, located just south of Route 60 (Townline Road), approximately 0.2 miles east of Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills. 

Notes: This trip passes forest preserves, parks, a golf course, and other open areas that make up the Des Plaines River Trail and Greenway. If you like to bike, this trip offers a nice land trail that loops you back to your vehicle: park your bike(s) at the take-out at Route 60 before starting from Independence Grove. Temporary boat storage at Route 60 canoe launch can be tricky, but not impossible—be prepared to secure your paddles and PFDs to your boat with a lock and cable.

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

Back to Trip Descriptions


Route 60 to Allison Woods

Route60

Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced 

Length: Approximately 12.4 miles

Directions: The Route 60 canoe launch is located just south of Route 60 (Townline Road), approximately 0.2 miles east of Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills. Allison Woods Canoe Ramp, located just west of Milwaukee Avenue and 1/2 mile south of Palatine Road in Mt. Prospect, is owned by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County.

Notes: This trip can be shortened by using an alternate take-out at either Rivershire Park, on Londonderry Lane in Lincolnshire, or Dam 1 Woods at the intersection of Hintz Road and Milwaukee Avenue in Wheeling.

There are two portages around dams at low water. Paddlers should use caution approaching all dams—even small ones can be potentially dangerous. Please respect the privacy of riparian landowners by not landing on private property.

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

Back to Trip Descriptions


Allison Woods to Irving Park Road

Allison

Skill level: Beginner

Length: 14 miles

Directions: Enter Allison Woods Forest Preserve on the west side of Milwaukee Avenue just south of the Des Plaines River at Winkleman Road in Prospect Heights.

Although scheduled to be removed, the Park Ridge Dam and Dam #4 may still be standing at the time of your trip. Watch for them as follows:

Approximately 1/4 mile downstream of the Tri-State Tollway Bridge is the Park Ridge Dam. Portage is possible at the built-in canoe chute on river right.

Just downstream of Devon Avenue Bridge is Dam #4. Portage is possible at the built-in canoe chute on river right.

The take-out is on river right just before the Irving Park Road Bridge.

Back to Trip Descriptions


Irving Park Road to Chicago Avenue

Irving

Skill level: Beginner

Length: 5.5 miles

Directions: Enter the Irving Park Road Canoe Launch on the east side of River Road just north of Irving Park Road in Schiller Park.

Just past the Chicago Avenue Bridge, stay to the left (east side) to enter the north channel around an island in the river.  The take-out is approximately 300 feet east from the beginning of the channel on river left (the north bank).

Back to Trip Descriptions


Chicago Avenue to Plank Road Meadow

Chicago

Skill level: Beginner

Length: 6.3 miles

Directions: Enter the Trailside Nature Center parking lot on the south side of Chicago Avenue between Thatcher Avenue and the Des Plaines River in River Forest. Follow the path at the west end of the parking lot to the put-in.

The take-out is on the Des Plaines River on river right, just past the confluence of Salt Creek. Enter the Plank Road Meadow Boat Launch on the north side of Ogden Avenue just east of First Avenue in Lyons.

Notes: The river in the middle section of this trip passes through several cemeteries. Look for the beautiful crypts and sculpture overlooking the river in the Forest Home Cemetery on river left immediately downstream of the Eisenhower Expressway. Downstream of Plank Road Meadow is the site where the former Hofmann Dam once stood. Paddlers beware that rubble at the former dam site creates difficult conditions for paddling. Take out at Plank Road Meadow before you reach the site of the former dam.

Back to Trip Descriptions


Stony Ford to Columbia Woods

Stony Ford

Skill level: Beginner

Length: 7.2 miles

Directions: Enter the Stony Ford Canoe Launch on the south side of Joliet Road just west of the Des Plaines River. Just over 0.5 miles downstream, the river passes through the Chicago Portage National Historic Site and changes from its natural bed to the man-made Des Plaines Diversion Channel as the river takes a turn to the southwest.

Approximately four miles downstream is a small landing at Santa Fe Prairie, an Illinois Nature Preserve. This small, rare, high quality prairie, located in the midst of an industrial park, has some interesting interpretive signage and an interpretive center in a restored caboose.

The take-out is on river right 0.5 miles downstream of the Willow Springs Road Bridge.

Notes: The historic Stony Ford, for which the put-in is named, is still visible in low water about 300 feet upstream of the canoe launch.

The Des Plaines River Diversion Channel was constructed in the early 1890s to move the Des Plaines River to the north side of its valley in order to make room for construction of the Sanitary and Ship Canal.

Back to Trip Descriptions


Columbia Woods to Lemont

Columbia Woods Boat Launch

Skill level: Beginner

Length: 6.85 miles

Directions: Enter Columbia Woods Forest Preserve on the west side of Willow Springs Road just north of the Des Plaines River in Willow Springs.

A shorter trip can be had by taking out or putting in 2.7 miles downstream at the Knollwood Boat Ramp

The take-out is on river left at the Lemont Road Bridge.

Note: Approximately one mile upstream of Lemont Road on river right is the Old Borrow Pit. Now a haven for water fowl, the riverside quarry was used to mine the landfill that was then barged up the river and out into the lake to create Lincoln Park.

Use caution when approaching and passing the railroad bridge just past the Old Borrow Pit. Debris piled up between the broken abutments of the old railroad bridge and rebar in the channels between the abutments make passing through hazardous in low and/or fast water.

Back to Trip Descriptions


Knollwood to Isle a la Cache

Knollwood

Skill level: Some paddling experience strongly recommended

Length: Approximately 8.9 miles

Directions: The put-in, located one block east of the southern end of Madison Street, approximately 1/2 mile east of Route 83 in Burr Ridge, is owned by the Burr Ridge Park District. The take-out is at Romeo Road (135th Street) on the west side of Isle a la Cache Preserve, one of just a few large islands in the Des Plaines River.

Notes: The trip passes through several forest preserves in Cook, DuPage, and Will counties, where wildlife abounds along the shore, in the many tributaries, and amidst adjacent riverine wetlands. Used for storage by fur trappers and traders more than 200 years ago, this stretch culminates at a small history museum.

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

Back to Trip Descriptions


Confluence Loop

I&M Canal Des Plaines Confluence

Where the Kankakee and Des Plaines rivers come together to create the Illinois River, a unique configuration of connecting waterways form an enjoyable water trail loop.

Skill level: Intermediate to Advanced

Length: Approximately 8 miles

Directions: Paddle approximately 3.5 miles downstream on the Kankakee River to the confluence with the Des Plaines River. Approximately one mile up the Des Plaines is the other access site, on the north bank, at McKinley Woods Forest Preserve in Will County. Landing is possible at the small limestone shelter overlooking the river. Campsites can be reserved at nearby Boatman’s Landing Area by contacting the Forest Preserve District of Will County in advance.

Approximately 0.5 miles upstream is the mouth of the Grant Creek cut-off. A little less than a mile into the cut-off, Grant Creek enters on the left bank. Do not enter Grant Creek.

Instead, continue approximately 0.5 miles south on the cut-off until it ends. Portage over the small strip of land into the Kankakee River cut-off, on the other side. Paddle south another 0.5 miles until you enter the Kankakee River. Less than a half mile upstream from the mouth of the Kankakee cut-off is the Kankakee River boat launch area, on the left bank.

For a longer trip, paddle the I&M Canal and DuPage River, which can be accessed approximately three miles southwest of the intersection of I-55 and Route 6 in Channahon. The water trail begins at the parking lot, just south of Bridge Street, two blocks downstream of the dam. Launch on the east side of the parking lot into the DuPage River. Paddle approximately 0.7 miles south to the confluence with the Des Plaines River. Another 1.5 miles downstream, enter the Grant Creek cut-off, on river left. Portage into the Kankakee River cut-off and out into the Kankakee River. Turn right and paddle downstream to the confluence with the Des Plaines River. Take out on the opposite (north) bank, portage over the levee and down into the I&M Canal. Paddle upstream (to the east) past McKinley Woods. From the McKinley Woods landing it is another three miles on the canal back to the I&M State Trail Access parking lot.

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

Back to Trip Descriptions


Land Trail Extension: Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie

HYD_MNTP

As 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 it 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.

Back to Trip Descriptions


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

Back to Home Page

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s