Directions: The Skokie Lagoons water trail can be accessed from Tower Road in Winnetka, just east of I-94. Exit I-94 at Tower Road and head east on Tower. The parking lots with boat access appear almost immediately on the south side of Tower Road. The lot closest to I-94 has a concrete boat ramp and the lot next to it is where the rental facility is located. There is a gently sloping bank to the water there where canoes and kayaks put in.
Notes: Skokie Lagoons is one of the Chicago River water trail system’s most popular and accessible segments. Managed by Cook County Forest Preserves, the nature preserve includes seven interconnected lagoons, totaling 190 acres. Water flows gently southward from the Chicago Botanic Garden through the lagoons to the Skokie River. Three low dams keep the water levels below the inner islands.
The inner islands are home to dozens of native species of wildflowers and plants, and hundreds of species of birds including seventy species that breed and feed in the area during the summer months, such as night herons and red-headed woodpeckers to wood ducks and red-tailed hawks. The presence of the islands adds a varied paddling experience, including narrower passageways to explore.
The lagoons were originally dug by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) between 1933 and 1942. The lagoons comprise a magnificent scenic area for recreation and a place for the public to partake of the area’s natural beauty. Besides birding and paddling, other popular activities include biking, hiking, and fishing. For paddlers who do not own their own boats, there is a canoe and kayak rental concession operated by Chicago River Canoe and Kayak. They offer tips for paddling to beginners to whom they rent boats.
DO NOT PADDLE OVER DAMS. They are easy to avoid at Skokie Lagoons, but can be hard to recognize if you are upstream from them and unfamiliar with their appearance. Look for the walls on either side and a line across the water stretching from wall to wall.