Paddling trips that are described on this website have the following skill levels associated with them.
Beginner and Families with Children: The trip has no dams that need to be portaged, is generally on a waterway where large motorized boats will not be encountered, and where it is possible to get out of the water in case of an emergency or unexpected obstacle at most points along the way.
Intermediate: The trip may include portaging dams, or portaging and avoiding other obstacles, including obstacles below the water level or low bridges. There may be currents that qualify as rapids under some non-flood conditions. The trip may take place on a waterway where changing weather conditions can quickly and dramatically alter trail conditions for the worse. The waterway may be prone to fallen trees that block passage and need to be portaged or that require skill to maneuver around. It may be difficult to get to shore in case of emergency because of very high walls or banks or because of distance from shore.
Expert: These trips are on waterways where large power boats and barges are likely to be encountered, the waterway is difficult to exit in case of emergency due to high walls or distance from shore, and/or high waves and wind may be encountered than result in the need for an expert skill level (and adequate equipment such as a sea kayak) to successfully navigate the situations that may arise.
Beginner with a Guide: In some trips we will note in the trail where beginners can paddle with a guide. These are trips that are appropriate for less advanced paddlers if they are with a guide who knows the waterway and who has the advanced skill levels necessary to help less experienced paddlers avoid and navigate situations that demand expertise.
These are generalized designations based on aspects of the water trail such as whether there are dams or other obstacles to portage, whether there are power boats and barges on the waterway, how deep the water is, and how easy it is to get out of the water in case of an emergency.
It is important to remember that any waterway, even one rated for beginners, can and will become dangerous to paddle under some conditions. For example, when water levels are very high such as after storms or rain, high water will be moving extremely rapidly through stream and river channels, making it very difficult or impossible to control your boat and to avoid being swept into obstacles such as trees or dams.
Never paddle in fast water or in flooded waterways and never paddle over dams. Lowhead dams, found throughout northeastern Illinois, create dangerous currents that are deadly to those caught in them. To understand these currents and become more familiar with paddling safety, see these websites:
Please always keep in mind that rivers and lakes are dynamic features and will vary over time. Conditions can change quickly. Paddling may have inherent risks and hazardous conditions can occur anywhere along the trails. You are solely responsible for your own safety.