The Kankakee River was designated as a National Water Trail in June 2016 for its entire length, starting at its origin in Indiana, all the way to its confluence with the Des Plaines River in Illinois. Where the Kankakee and Des Plaines Rivers meet, the river becomes the Illinois River.
As a National Water Trail, the Kankakee is part of a system of exemplary water trails that are cooperatively supported and sustained. The Kankakee River National Water Trail meanders through islands, cliffs, and wetlands in Illinois. The Northwest Indiana Paddling Association also maintains a website with information about the Kankakee National Water Trail.
Explored by de La Salle in 1679, the largely rural Kankakee River probably looks, in some sections, much like it did when he first saw it. It is considered one of the cleanest rivers in the Midwest, and it is popular with both recreational boaters and fishermen.
Kankakee water trail in Indiana: The Kankakee River water trail in Indiana is 85 miles long and flows through several state and county parks. The mainstem was straightened between 1903-1922 to drain surrounding land for farming, and the water trail is characterized by drainage pipes and side channels. In the spring and fall in Indiana, you can see migrating Sandhill Cranes from the water trail. They are often traveling to and from Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Refuge where they stop to feed.
Kankakee water trail in Illinois: Once the water trail crosses the state line into Illinois, it follows its natural meanders through the landscape. It flows for 59 miles through Illinois before it confluences with the Des Plaines, where it becomes the Illinois River. There are three dams on the Kankakee in Illinois: at Momence, Kankakee, and Wilmington. The section of the river between the state line and Momence is surrounded by the Momence Wetlands, characterized by timber and relatively undisturbed wetlands. The river in Kankakee County is noted for its scenic beauty and water quality.
Rentals and guided trips are offered on the Kankakee by Reed’s Canoes.