In some ways, the Fox River is the perfect paddling destination. It’s a big river, starting in Wisconsin, which enters Illinois and becomes part of the Chain of Lakes. From there it continues south as a banked river once again, and about four miles reaches the McHenry Dam, the first of 13 dams that make life difficult for paddlers as the river eventually reaches the Illinois River in Ottawa, Ill.
What Makes It Great
And those 13 dams are what keep the Fox from being a perfect destination. Take the stretch from St. Charles to Batavia, Ill., in which the river flows through historic downtowns and is enveloped by parkland. The Fox River Trail makes it one of the best biking and running destinations in the area, but for paddlers, those dams in each of the downtowns—especially a particularly dangerous one in downtown St. Charles—make what could be a short, fun trip less than ideal.
Of course, if you’re an experienced paddler, the portages may be part of the fun for you.
But that doesn’t mean the Fox River isn’t worth a trip. There are plenty of sections of the river that offer scenic paddling without dealing with a dam along the way. We’re going to highlight two trips of varying degree of difficulty that gives you the best of what the Fox has to offer.
Trip 1: Oak Point to Weber Park This 12-mile trip will explore the Chain of Lakes State Park, which is one of the most popular boating destinations in the state. You will have to pay the Fox Waterway Agency a usage fee ($10 for non-motorized boats), and you’ll have to be aware of the motored boat traffic that dominates the lake. For that reason, the trip isn’t recommended for beginners or families.
The Oak Point drop-in is just south of Illinois Route 173, north of the lakes and east of the river. Heading south you’ll enter the Chain of Lakes State Park, which will include Grass Lake, Nippersink Lake, and Pistakee Lake, before re-emerging into the Fox River.
You’ll exit the Fox at Weber Park in Lakemoor, Ill., on the right side of the river, just south of Broad Street. See the full route map here.
Trip 2: Jon J. Duerr Preserve to Ferguson Creek Park This is a popular destination for beginning paddlers and families, and you’ll find outfitters with large group using this section of the river. The Jon J. Duerr Forest Preserve (formerly called the Blackhawk Preserve, and it's labeled that way on the route map) is part of the Kane County preserve system. Located in South Elgin, it features a boat launch at a point in the river that actually runs east-west. Going west with the flow of the river, you’ll navigate around several islands before the island heads north before making a quick, large U-turn south.
From there you’ll go through a largely residential area, featuring some large bluffs and tree-lined riverbanks. You’ll hit the Ferson Creek Fen Nature Preserve on your right, followed by the Norris Woods Nature Preserve on your left. The exit at Ferson Creek Park will be on your right, just south of the creek. The total length of the trip is about three miles. Experienced paddlers can continue south through St. Charles, Geneva and Batavia, but you’ll have to portage those dams in each city. But it is a great trip if you’re willing to do so. You can take out at Fabyan West Forest Preserve in Batavia, about 10 miles from the start of the trip. See the full route here.
Who is Going to Love It
You can find a calm section of the river for beginners, or go on a long trip filled with plenty of portages.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Parking is ample at any of the forest preserves along the route.
Kane County Forest Preserves are open sunrise to sunset.