Kayak Guidance logo

Best Places

to Kayak in Illinois, USA

Best Options and Reviews

Published May 26, 2022

Illinois is a great place to explore the adventurous spots as it is home to some of the best kayaking opportunities in the country.

From the Rock River in southern Illinois to the Chain of Lakes near Chicago, kayakers can find plenty of scenic and challenging waterways to explore.

Whether you’re a visitor or a local, I’ve got some great suggestions for the best places to kayak in Illinois, USA and I am sure you’ll love these spots. So pack your gear and get ready for some fun on the water!

Best Places to Kayak in Illinois, USA: Summary

Argyle Lake State Park

Argyle Lake State Park-min in Illinois

Argyle Lake is a state park located near the city of Pittsfield in Pike County. The park offers a 93-acre lake with beautiful nature views and abundant wildlife.

With virgin forests surrounding it, you can explore the foot trails that lead through these dark pathways where only sunlight reaches bottom to reveal lush greenery below your feet on each step taken toward enlightenment at this serene spot.

Amenities include public boat launch facilities as well rental outfitters for boats of any size–from bass boats all way up towards kayaks!

The calm waters make Argyle Lake State Park one perfect place beginners will love too but experienced fisherman might take advantage of its no wake speed limit before going out fishing since bluegills seem most prevalent here during my last visit.

Kankakee River

Kankakee River in Illinois

Kankakee River is a great place for kayaking because of its calm waters and beautiful views. You can go through a limestone canyon or down one of the river’s grand waterways.

If you are interested in kayaking or canoeing, the Kankakee River is a perfect place to start. The scenery is always changing so you can explore different areas every time you come.

You can also find the different wetland habitats or take a wooded path. The river is also home to many different species of fish, so you’re sure to have a good time fishing here as well!

There are many places to launch your kayak in Illinois, but Bird Park or Chippewa Boat Launch offer more scenic routes. Don’t wait to start your engines and begin your adventure on this fantastic river!

Starved Rock State Park

Starved Rock State Park in Illinois

Starved Rock State Park is a great place to start your exploration of the Illinois River. The views from the top of the cliffs are breathtaking, and there are plenty of opportunities to paddle through the beautiful scenery.

If you have your own boat, or if you want to rent one nearby, there are plenty of options available. The Illinois River flows through the landscape and meets up with its famous neighbor to the north, Mississippi. Shortly south of this intersection is where paddlers will find Vermillion Falls.

Vermillion Falls is an excellent place to take a break and enjoy the scenery. There are plenty of rocks to sit on and take in the view, and the waterfall itself is impressively large.

If you’re looking for a smaller river to explore, Starved Rock is a great option.

Cache River

Cache River in Illinois

If you want to experience some of Illinois’ natural beauty, a trip down the Cache River is the perfect option. The river is much longer than any other in the state, so you’ll have plenty of time for exploration.

And since it can take all day to paddle down the river, camping overnight is a great way to make the most of your trip. Plus, the stars shine brighter here than anywhere else I’ve seen outside my home country USA!

If you’re looking to camp near the Cache River, there are several great options available. There are many different types of campgrounds available in the area, so you can find one that suits your needs. You can also rent a kayak to explore the river.

Camping under the stars in Shawnee National Forest is an experience you won’t forget. The Cache River is a hidden treasure in the heart of Illinois where you can explore the natural area enjoying its calm waters and vast forests before continuing your journey home!

Wisconsin River

Wisconsin River in Illinois

Kayaking is an unforgettable experience for any outdoorsman in Wisconsin River. The scenery along this pristine body of water will make you feel like your in another world as it flows through beautiful forests and across abandoned farms.

Kayaking the Wisconsin River is a great way to explore the state of Wisconsin and its natural beauty. There are many different kayak rental companies located throughout the state that can provide you with everything you need for a great trip down the river.

Whether you’re looking for a leisurely float down the river or a more challenging excursion, the Wisconsin River is sure to give you an incredible experience that you’ll never forget.

Pounds Hollow Lake

Pounds Hollow Lake in Illinois

The Pounds Hollow Lake is inside the Shawnee National Forest, which means it’s big enough to offer some extraordinary experiences. When visiting the lake, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the lake is only open during daylight hours.

This means that if you want to go kayaking, fishing or hiking, you’ll need to plan your activities accordingly. Garden of Gods Outpost offers kayak rentals so you can explore Pounds Hollow Lake on your own.

Whether you’re looking to camp, picnic or swim; there are plenty options here! Pine Ridge Campground is located on top of the ridge above Pounds Hollow Lake with its serene views and lush green forests all around.

Mississippi River

Mississippi River in Illinois

The Mississippi River is the second longest river in North America. The river has been a vital part of the country’s history, economy, and culture for centuries. The Mississippi River is approximately 2,340 miles long and flows through 10 states from Minnesota `to Louisiana.

The River is a great place to kayak, camp, fish, and enjoy other outdoor activities. There are many parks and recreation areas along the river that offer hiking, picnicking, and overnight camping.

One great spot for camping is Palisades Park in Illinois. One of the best things about Palisades Park is the views. It’s the perfect place to set up a tent and enjoy a campfire.

Whether you’re looking for a quick getaway or an extended vacation, the Mississippi River is a great place to explore.

Cedar Lake

Cedar Lake in Illinois

Cedar Lake is one of the many beautiful lakes located in Shawnee National Forest. This lake is a great spot for kayaking or canoeing, located near Kankakee, Illinois.

This beautiful Lake is known for being peaceful and calm, making it the perfect place to relax and enjoy nature. Many locals love to take advantage of this natural asset and visit often!

Kayaking along Cedar Lake is a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of Southern Illinois. The water here flows smoothly and clearly without any rocks or debris making it safe for all Skill Level kayakist.

There are no motors boats with more than 10 horsepower allowed on site by law. Moreover, it has depth of 60 feet which makes it more enjoyable for kayaking.

The best time to visit Cedar Lake is in the spring or summer when the water is warm and the views are stunning!

Rock River

Rock River in Illinois

Rock River is one of the perfect place to kayak and many different recreational activities. Whether you enjoy paddling, biking, camping, or just spending time outdoors, the Rock River has something to offer.

Paddling Adventures: The Rock River offers over 330 miles of scenic views and great paddling adventures. There are 55 access points located throughout Illinois and Wisconsin, so you can easily find a place to launch your boat or kayak.

Biking: For those who enjoy biking, there are many campgrounds available where you can bike under the stars with your family and friends!

Camping: Camping is a great way to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. There are many campgrounds located along the Rock River, so you can easily find a place to set up camp.

Rock River is a great place to spend time with your loved ones, enjoying the many different recreational activities that are available. So, get out there and enjoy the amazing scenery and adventures!

Kishwaukee River

Kishwaukee River in Illinois

Kayaking in Kishwaukee River is a great way to enjoy nature and see wildlife from your kayak. This 63-mile water trail passes through scenic natural landscapes with an abundance of trees, plant species, and different types of animals.

Paddling downstream is mostly easy going since the river is slow moving. However, there are some areas with faster currents and moderate whitewater rapids, so it’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times.

Whether you are a beginner or an experienced kayaker, the Boone McHenry County Line Road is the perfect place to launch your kayaking. The river is perfect for beginner kayakers because it is slow moving and has few obstacles.

If you choose to continue paddling along this river, you’ll eventually come to the Rock River.

Loud Thunder Forest Preserve

Loud Thunder Forest Reserve in Illinois

Loud Thunder Forest Preserve is one of the best places to kayak in Illinois! It is one of the largest forest preserves in Rock island County, Illinois. Lake George is one of the main attractions at this 1,480-acre park.

The lake is a popular destination for fishing and kayaking. It is 55 feet deep and home to many different species of fish.

In addition to Lake George, Loud Thunder is also known for many hiking and biking trails, picnicking areas, and a playground. The park also has a campground with over 100 campsites, making it the perfect spot for a weekend getaway.

If you’re looking to rent a kayak, there are many places nearby that offer them. However, it’s best to call ahead or check online to make sure they have one available. Otherwise, you can always bring your own kayak or canoe.

No matter how you choose to enjoy Loud Thunder Forest Preserve, it’s sure to be a day of fun!

Galena River

Galena River Illinois

Galena river is about 52 miles long and considered as an amazing place for a kayak trip because of its scenic beauty. The river is located in Illinois and forms the border between Illinois and Iowa.

It is a popular destination for kayaking, fishing, and camping. There are many different put-in and take-out points along the river so it is easy to find a route that fits your needs.

This river includes many different species of fish including bass, catfish, and trout.

Whether you are looking for a relaxing float trip or a challenging paddle, the Galena River is the perfect place for your next kayak adventure.

Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago River in Chicago, Illinois

Kayak tours in Chicago River are a great way to explore the city from a different perspective. You can enjoy tour guides that will take you through important places or choose your own adventure by going for sunset paddles, firework and architectural tours!

There are many things to see while kayaking on the Chicago River. The skyline is one of the most beautiful in the world, and you can get up close and personal with some of the city’s most iconic buildings.

The river has a variety of wildlife, so keep your eyes peeled for birds and other animals as you paddle!

If you’re looking for a unique way to experience Chicago, kayaking on the Chicago River is definitely something you should try. It’s an adventure that you won’t soon forget!

Governor Dodge State Park

Governor Dodge State Park in Illinois

The Governor Dodge State Park is a great place to explore nature and get some exercise. The Lost Canyon Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, and for good reason – it features a spectacular waterfall! You can also find two scenic lakes in the park: Twin Valley Lake and Cox Hollow.

Looking for a place to cool off? Both Twin Valley Lake and Cox Hollow are great spots for swimming, fishing, and paddling. And if you need to rest your feet, there’s plenty of camping available in the park.

The park is located near the town of Madison, which is a great place to explore after a day of hiking.

Pack your hiking boots and your swimming gear, and head to Governor Dodge State Park!

Hennepin Canal

Hennepin Canal in Illinois

If you’re new to kayaking, the Hennepin Canal is a great place to start. The calm water and variety of activities make it perfect for beginners and experienced paddlers alike.

The canal was built in the 18th century, and today it’s a popular spot for locals looking to get outside and explore. Whether you’re interested in fishing, bird watching, or just enjoying the scenery, the Hennepin Canal is sure to offer numerous activities for everyone.

If you’re a local looking for a new adventure or a visitor planning your trip to Illinois, be sure to add the Hennepin Canal to your list of places to see. You won’t be disappointed!

Kayaking in Illinois: FAQs

Can I bring my own kayak or canoe?

Yes, you can! There are many places nearby that offer kayaks for rent, but you can also bring your own and launch it from one of the many public access points.

What kind of wildlife will I see while kayaking?

The river is home to many different species of fish including bass, catfish, and trout.You may also see birds and other animals while paddling!

How long does a kayaking trip take?

A kayaking trip can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days, depending on the length of the route and your desired pace.

Can I go kayaking if I've never done it before?

Yes! If you’re new to kayaking, the Hennepin Canal is a great place to start. The calm water and variety of activities make it perfect for beginners.

How do you kayak long distance?

You can kayak long distance by planning a route and packing everything you need for the trip. Kayaking long distances is also a great way to explore new areas and see things from a different perspective!

How far can a person kayak in one day?

This depends on the individual and the conditions, but most people can kayak between 10 and 20 miles in one day with breaks in between.

How long would it take to kayak 100 miles?

It depends on how fast you are paddling and the conditions of the water.


There are many different places to go kayaking in Illinois, each with its own unique scenery and activities. Whether you’re looking for a relaxing float trip or a challenging paddle, there’s sure to be a destination that’s perfect for you.

From the Argyle Lake State Park to the Chicago River, there are countless kayaking adventures waiting to be had in Illinois. I am definitely sure that you will enjoy whichever trip you choose.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your paddle and start exploring!

Jay Schwartz author of Kayak Guidance

About the Author - Jay Schwartz:

Hey there kayak lovers! I’m Jay Schwartz, the author here at Kayak Guidance! You know water sports – you know me! My life is all about it. Kayaking, Paddleboarding, Fishing, Snorkeling and so much more. I love to share my passion and knowledge with all of you. 

More to Learn About Kayaks!