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.