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Gouwens Park to Little Calumet Boat Launch - Paddle Illinois Water Trails

Gouwens Park to Little Calumet Boat Launch

  • Skill Level:Beginner
  • Trail Length:7 miles
  • Waterway Trail:Calumet Area Water Trails
Beginner, Calumet Area Water Trails, Medium Trips

Gouwens Park to Little Calumet Boat Launch

The Upper Little Calumet River begins in Indiana and crosses the Illinois border just south of 173rd Street, in Lansing. It meanders generally in a northwest direction through wooded areas and neighborhoods to its confluence with the Cal-Sag Channel, between Calumet Park and Riverdale. At that point, the river becomes a wide industrial waterway that continues east and north to its confluence with the Grand Calumet (at which point it becomes the historic Calumet River). Just north of 130th Street, the river branches, leading west into Lake Calumet and northeast to its mouth at Lake Michigan. The man-made Cal-Sag Channel runs mostly west from the Little Calumet to its confluence with the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal in Lemont.

Directions: The put-in at Gouwens Park, owned by the Village of South Holland, is located at 16170 Seton Drive in South Holland, Illinois. The take-out is at the Little Calumet Boat Launch, owned by Cook County Forest Preserves, and located just east of Ashland Avenue, north of Jackson Street, in Riverdale. Jackson and Ashland Streets do not connect, so you must use a small connector street on the east side of Ashland, just south of Broadway Street and north of 138th Street. Take the connector to Jackson, turn left, and then turn left again into the preserve.

Notes: This is an excellent trip for beginners and families with children, and it follows a beautiful stretch of the river. Although the river runs through populated urban areas, its banks are mostly wooded and wildlife is abundant, with common sightings of blue herons, American egrets, beavers, and deer. The last third of the trip is almost completely within Forest Preserves of Cook County land, and the stream bottom is composed of cobble, making good habitat for aquatic life. This stretch is approximately 7 miles in length and does not usually have obstructions that completely block passage. This is a shallow stretch with no powerboat use and no obstacles to portage around. It’s also one of the least-traveled waterways of the region. Please respect the privacy of riparian landowners—no landing on private property.

For a shorter trip, you can take out after five miles on the river right at the Forest Preserves of Cook County’s new launch at Kickapoo Woods. Kickapoo Woods is located on the west side of Halsted Street south of 144th Street in Riverdale.

This route is the focus of an annual cleanup open to the public, for which people clean trash out of the river by canoe and kayak. It takes place annually on the first Saturday of June. To see a video featuring Michael Taylor, Water TrailKeeper for the Little Calumet River, and an organizer of this clean-up, click here.

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

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1 Comment

October 23, 2022

Completed this trip on October 22nd. Water levels were EXTREMELY LOW – USGS gauge at South Holland was 5.15 feet. Even so I was able to complete the whole trip without getting hung up at all. Great option for low water times of year! Took a bit over 3 hours, would probably be quicker with more flow. Incredible amount of wildlife, tons of deer, herons, kingfishers, hawks. Cool mix of industrial railroad bridges and beautiful green riverbanks. No major obstructions even with such low water levels. Put in at Gowens Park is well marked with easy parking, about a 100 foot haul to the actual river. Take out spot at Little Calumet boat launch is a full-on boat launch suitable for motor boats and trailers. Also great parking and amenities at the park. If you want to to a paddle-and-pedal there are some good bike trails and none of the roads are too big, sidewalks all the way. Just make sure google maps doesn’t route you through the rail yards or scrap yards, that is private property. All launch sites are easy to find on google maps. Really recommend this paddle it is a beautiful river and beautiful part of Chicagoland!

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