Boating Escapes Worth the Drive from Chicago

With Chicago beaches closed this year, many families are searching for ways to have a fun day on the water. Fresh air, sunshine, cool waves and the wind in your hair can be all yours when you rent a boat. It’s like your own, private mini vacation, just for the day. Here are some safety tips, rental options and fun things to do with your kids while on a boat.

Safety First

Boating can make for cherished summer memories. Maureen Vogel, spokeswoman for the National Safety Council, provides these tips to help ensure the whole family is safe:

  • Wear life jackets. Every person on the boat, including children, needs a properly fitted life jacket.
  • Know how to swim. Consider swim lessons for those that could benefit from additional water experience.
  • Discuss boat rules. Everyone should stay seated while the boat is moving and make sure to steer clear of the prop when swimming.
  • Pack sunscreen. Reapply every few hours and after swimming.
  • Stay hydrated. It’s wise to pack two coolers — one for food and one with plenty of water.

Boat Rental Options

Below is a list of some of the boat rental options within a few hours of the Chicago area. Some include gas while others charge extra for fuel. Please check the Chicago quarantine travel order list before making your booking decision.

Most families decide to rent pontoon boats because they tend to be more spacious. A tritoon can be faster and provide a smoother ride. Consider a tritoon, speed or ski boat if you’re interested in tubing or towing. Speed boats and deck boats can provide a more exhilarating ride. Retro boats from the 1950s and ’60s are available for rent in Saugatuck, Michigan, where you can also check out a Duffy boat (quiet electric boat, but not for swimming) or a donut boat (you guessed it- round, with a table in the middle.)

Spring Lake Marina
  • On the Chain O’ Lakes, 15 lakes connected by the Fox River
  • Approximately 1 hour from Chicago
  • Mini pontoons, standard pontoons, premier pontoons, deck boats and tritoons
  • 6-hour rentals during peak times, some 4-hour weekend spots and 2-hour off peak time slots

25125 Grass Lake Road, Antioch

Chain O’ Lakes Boat Rentals
  • On the Chain O’ Lakes, 15 lakes connected by the Fox River
  • Approximately 1 hour from Chicago
  • Medium pontoons, large pontoons and extra-large pontoons
  • 8-hour all day rentals, 4-hour morning or 4-hour afternoon slots

26050 West Riverview Place, Antioch

Wauconda Boat
  • On Bangs Lake, a natural glacial lake in Lake County
  • Approximately 1 hour from Chicago
  • 6-person, 8-person and 10-person pontoons
  • 2-hour and 4-hour rentals
  • Free boat rentals for veterans, active or retired

231 E. Liberty St., Wauconda

Starved Rock Adventures
  • In Illinois River Valley, near Starved Rock State Park
  • Approximately 1.5 hours from Chicago
  • All their pontoon boats fit up to 10 persons
  • 2-hour, 4-hour and 6-hour rentals

1132 N. 27th Road, Ottawa

Lake Shafer Boat Rentals
  • By Indiana Beach
  • Approximately 2 hours from Chicago
  • Ski boats, deck boats and pontoons
  • 1-8-hour rentals

2419 N. West Shafer Drive, Monticello, Ind.

Blue Water Boat Rentals
  • Lake Michigan, on the Southwest side of Michigan
  • Approximately 2 hours from Chicago
  • Speed boats and pontoons
  • 1-8-hour rentals

Locations in South Haven, Mich. and St. Joseph, Mich.

Retro Boat Rentals
  • Kalamazoo River
  • Approximately 2.5 hours from Chicago
  • Retro boats, donut boats, Duffy boats and pontoons
  • 1.5 hours for the retro boats, 2-4 hours for donut and Duffy boats, 4 hours for pontoons

730 Water Street, Saugatuck

Twin Lakes Boat Rental
  • On the border of Wisconsin and Illinois, Lake Elizabeth or Lake Mary
  • Approximately 1.5 hours from Chicago
  • Pontoon boats, ski boats, fishing boats and Tiki Bar XL Pontoons
  • 4-hour rentals (10 a.m.-2 p.m. or 3-7 p.m.) or 9-hour rentals (10 a.m.-7 p.m.)

3101 East Lakeshore Drive, Wis.

Lake Lawn Resort
  • Lake Delavan, near Lake Geneva
  • Less than 2 hours from Chicago
  • Speed boats, pontoons and tritoons
  • 1, 2, 4 and 8-hour rentals

2400 E. Geneva St., Delavan

Things to do when boating

Once you’ve cruised around on the water with the kids, you’ll want to be sure to anchor and swim. Finding a sandbar is key for groups that want to hang out and play games like Marco Polo. Many marinas and boat rental facilities rent tubes; just be sure the boat you rented is powerful enough to tow. Most tubes are round, but some are fun shapes like duckies with seatbacks. Some rental facilities also have big, floating mats that are fun to roll out and have the crew lounge on and jump off of.

Be sure to bring toys like pool noodles and balls that bounce on water for games of catch. Picnic lunches or snacks like sandwich rollups are also a great idea, especially if you can devour them on a beach. Enjoy your day on lake time, where life is often better on a boat!

Follow Chicago Parent on Instagram

Cortney Fries
Cortney Fries
An award-winning travel journalist, Cortney Fries (pronounced "freeze") has been writing about family travel for over a decade. She knows that parents planning trips are looking for all members to have fun and make lasting memories. Cortney believes that you should definitely try anything that makes you slightly nervous.
- Advertisement -


Cruise the Best Scenic Drives in Illinois

Buckle up, crank your road trip playlist and hit the road!

Step Aboard An Immersive Titanic Exhibit in Skokie

Embark on an interactive tour of one of the most captivating shipwrecks of all time.

Step Into Bluey’s World with New Chicago CAMP Store Experience

Following a sold out experience in Los Angeles, Bluey is headed to Chicago this spring.

- Advertisement -