Sometimes you’re looking for a place to paddle and the answer is right there. As in the giant lake to the east of the city. Of course Lake Michigan is a destination for kayakers and stand-up paddle boarders.
What Makes It Great
The waves make canoeing a bit of stretch, but when the weather is calm and the water is flat it’s certainly a possibility. Access is the biggest obstacle, but despite the city’s crowded Lakefront, there are lots of opportunities to take advantage of Lake Michigan and enjoy one of the best skyline views around.
In the city of Chicago, you’ll find plenty of access points at the beaches operated by the Chicago Park District. But you’ll usually have to carry your kayak or SUP to the beach—paddling access doesn’t seem high on the priority list. Montrose Beach probably offers the best combination of parking and beach access relatively close to the lot. North Avenue Beach is good as well, but parking is usually more difficult.
Who is Going to Love It
Sea kayaking on Lake Michigan is a different experience that your typical river trip. If you enjoy wide open spaces and more of a challenge, Lake Michigan is worth it. It's also a great place to stand-up paddle board when the water is calm. It's easier to carry a paddle board than a kayak and you can stay close to shore and learn the sport in safe environment.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
If you don’t own your own sea kayak, it might make sense to start with a lake tour with some guided pros. Several outfitters around the city offer ways to explore the lake for a couple of hours with a group in their boats, while teaching the basics of sea kayaking, safety and lake rules. Kayak Chicago offers 2.5-hour lake paddles that start at North Avenue Beach, just north of downtown Chicago. The city of Evanston rents kayaks and stand-up paddleboard by the hour at the Dempster Street Beach. Group kayaking classes are also available for beginners.
Keep in mind that Lake Michigan’s weather can change quickly. Make sure that your skill level can handle the lake conditions. You should be comfortable making a wet exit and never paddle solo. Consider either taking a class or paddling with an organized group (or both) before tackling the lake yourself.