Guide To: Exploring The Chicago River

July 23, 2011 6:00 AM


The Chicago River flows 156 miles, backwards, right through the Loop; it turns vibrant green on St. Patrick’s Day and has its own troupe of water taxis – what’s not to love? Here are three ways to get better acquainted with our beloved river.
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Paddle A Kayak

Kayak Chicago
1501 N. Magnolia Ave.
(630) 336-7245

Hop into a single or double kayak at Magnolia and LeMoyne streets and paddle your way along the river with the help of an expert guide. You’ll circle the loop, learning more about riverside architecture and river history. You’ll also glide past the spot where the first settlers to Chicago set up their home base and the location of a former Capone era hideout. Three hour guided paddles start at $65, including equipment. Kayak Chicago also offers private and semi-private introductory, intermediate and advanced kayaking lessons.

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Make Friends

Friends of the Chicago River
28 E. Jackson, Suite 1800
(312) 939-0490

The mission of the Friends of the Chicago River is to “preserve, protect, and foster the vitality of the Chicago River for the plant, animal and human communities within its watershed.” That said, touring the river with these river lovers will offer you a unique, more naturalist-like perspective. The Chicago River Wilderness tour will lead you by canoe through the boundary between Lake and Cook counties. You’re sure to spot herons, minks, turtles, frogs, and deer, as you paddle near north side forests. The Downtown Canyons canoe trip will lead you through the canyons of downtown Chicago where urban wildlife will teach you survival of the fittest. Canoe trips are recommended for beginning to advanced paddlers. Check the Friends of the Chicago River’s website for dates and to reserve a spot.

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(credit: McCormick Bridgehouse Facebook)

The Bridgehouse

McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum
376 N. Michigan Ave
(312) 977-0227
Hours: Thur.-Mon. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
The museum is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Adults, $4; children, $3

If you love Chicago’s iconic drawbridges, you’ll love this museum. My kids are always super impressed by this one-of-a-kind museum – the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum – and it makes for an educational moment of relief from nearby Mag Mile shopping trips. Start your visit by heading straight down this five floor museum to the bottom floor – at river level – where you can visit Chicago’s one and only fish hotel, a floating garden that provides rest and a safe harbor for sunfish, bluegills, carp and other fish that are passing through the big city to spend the night (sometimes you might even spot a salmon!). Also at river level, you’ll see firsthand the gears that so elegantly lift our bridges, in action. Make your way past educational exhibits to the top of the Bridgehouse, where a 360 degree bridge operator’s perspective of the heart of the city awaits.

Amy Bocchetta is a writer, a teacher, and a mom to two kids. She lives in the city and blogs at

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