While there are tons of hiking trails to get (proverbially) lost in, don’t overlook the other fun way to unplug and explore the ins and outs of Chicagoland—by kayak. A day or even just a few hours—out on the water will guarantee that your kids will put their phones and iPads down so you can spend some quality time together.
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Before you go, make sure you’re packed up and ensure that your family knows water safety. Here are a few things to know:
- Don’t skimp on safety. Ensure that everyone has a properly fitting life jacket (including you) and remind your kids that it needs to stay on for the duration of the ride.
- Pack the essentials. Water, sunscreen, snacks and a first-aid kit are MUST haves, no matter how long or short your kayak adventure is. It is fun for kids to have a sketch book along for the ride so that they can draw and write about their aquatic journey.
- Do your research. In addition to checking the weather forecast to ensure that you have clear skies for your boat ride, you might also want to watch a few videos online to see what to do in the event of an overturned kayak or canoe.
- Choose the right boat. If you are venturing out with little ones under 7, try a canoe since it is larger and tends to be more stable than a kayak. If a kayak is your only option, put your kiddo in the bow and let him or her enjoy a free ride while you paddle.
Where to Go Kayaking
Credit: Margie Walsh
Busse Lake, Elk Grove Village
Where to rent: Busse Lake Boating Center
This large lake has calm and open waters perfect for paddling, fishing or simply observing wildlife. When you travel past the small islands, you will definitely feel surrounded by nature thanks to the sounds of the creatures in the Ned Brown Forest Preserve. After kayaking, enjoy a hike or bike ride on the paths and visit the elk—yes, that’s right, elk—that live there all year long.
Skokie Lagoons, Winnetka
Where to rent: Chicago River Canoe & Kayak
Don’t be fooled by the name, the Skokie Lagoons are located just off Willow Road and stretch as far north as the Chicago Botanic Garden. It is a great spot for rookie paddlers because of the calm waters and its variety of pools and channels. The Skokie Lagoons are very buggy, so pack lots of insect repellent and wear appropriate clothing.
Monee Reservoir, Monee
Where to rent: Monee Reservoir
This 46-acre lake provides ample room for the youngest kayakers to work on their paddling skills, as well as observe more than 120 species of birds. You can bring your own boat (with permit) or rent one for both exploring and fishing. After your ride, head to dry land for a picnic or a game of bags, badminton or volleyball.
Chicago River, North Branch
Where to rent: Chicago River Canoe & Kayak (Clark Park)
Once you have gotten your kayaking “sea legs” under you, try out the North Branch of the Chicago River. It is calmer than downtown, but can have a stronger current on a windy day, so be sure to check weather conditions before you launch.
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This article originally published on Aug. 20, 2018. It has been updated with the most recent information. This article also appeared in Chicago Parent’s August 2018 magazine.