Ralph Frese, the 82-year-old owner of Chicagoland Canoe Base,
has been paddling the waters of northeastern Illinois for more than
half a century. He's adamant that being close to a major metropolis
doesn't negate paddling opportunities.
"People think they have to go to Wisconsin to go canoeing,"
Frese says. "Thank goodness we have forest preserve districts."
The protected woods around Illinois' waterways can hold deer,
fox, coyotes, minks and hundreds of species of birds-and the rivers
and lakes themselves are filled with fish, amphibians and
"There's a lot that can be done using the canoe as a teaching
tool," he says.
Chicagoland Canoe Base is just one of many outfitters in Chicago
and the surrounding suburbs that can suit up adventurous families
for a day trip or an overnight excursion. The stores are full of
guidebooks (and experienced guys like Frese) that can suggest a
suitable trip from Skokie Lagoons to the north, Busse Woods
Reservoir to the west, to Thorn Creek and the Calumet River to the
south, just to name a few.
If a sleeker boat and double-headed paddle is more your style,
Dave Olson is the owner and lead instructor of Kayak Chicago, which
boasts a trio of rental locations and offers a variety of lessons
Olson says no experience is required for his three-hour downtown
Chicago tours, perfect for families, who can put kids as young as 3
in the back
of a tandem (two-person) kayak. "Kids love it," he says.
Olson says the trips are safe for even the more boisterous of
kids; life jackets and basic safety training are provided, and the
trips are led by trained guides.
"We were really surprised that this thing existed," says Aaron
Symanski, who got his family into the sport through tours with
Kayak Chicago. His wife Stacy, 7-year-old son Render and 5-year-old
daughter Rowan all loved the experience.
Canoes have more cargo space, can hold an extra child passenger
or two and are easier to get in and out of. Kayaks have a lower
center of gravity, can keep gear assuredly dry in compartments and
cut quickly through the water. Whichever you choose, as Symanski
says, your family will be "making some good memories, being
together and being outside."
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