Salt Creek - Paddling

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Salt Creek, one of the designated official water trails in northeast Illinois, offers several distinct sections for paddling. The final nine miles are almost completely surrounded by forest preserve.

Written by

Jeff Banowetz


14.6 miles

Destination Distance From Downtown

14.6 miles


1 of 5 diamonds


Time To Complete

5 hours

5 Hours


Spring, Summer, and Fall

Spring and Fall

Dog Friendly

On Leash Only


Fees Permits



Land Website

Salt Creek - Paddling



The Salt Creek can be divided into three sections that run through northeastern Illinois, starting at Busse Lake in Elk Grove Village, Ill. Each section has it’s own unique attributes, but the final leg from I-294 until the creek reaches the Des Plaines River in Riverside, Ill., is the best section to paddle, offering more than nine miles of river nearly completely surrounded by forest preserves. 

Section 1: Busse Lake to Cricket Creek You can start a trip on the Salt Creek at the Ned Brown Forest Preserve—formerly and more commonly called Busse Woods—in Elk Grove Village, Ill., at Higgins and Golf Road. You can rent both rowboats and canoes at the concession area at the Busse Lake from April to October. Or drop in your own boat at one of the ramps in the preserve. You can travel nine miles south to the access point at the Cricket Creek Forest Preserve, passing through the North Salt Creek Forest Preserve, Salt Creek Preserve and Oak Meadows Preserve, which is primarily a golf course along the creek. (You can even paddle around an island green.) There is a portage at the manmade dam in this preserve as well.

The creek passes under I-290 and follows a mostly industrial corridor to the Cricket Creek Preserve, where you’ll find a take-out spot just north of Fullerton Avenue. Find a map of this section of the creek here

Section 2: Cricket Creek to Hunter Drive Start 6.95-mile section of the creek at will take you through the remainder of Cricket Creek Forest Preserve and the Elmhurst Salt Creek Forest Preserve. After that, you’ll have to portage left around a sheet-piling dam. The take-out is .75 miles further downstream. See the map here.

Section 3: Dean Nature Sanctuary to Plank Road Meadow This 9.25-mile section of the creek is accessed at the nature sanctuary on the south side of Canterbury Lane just east of York Road. From there you will go underneath I-294 and enter the Bemis Woods Forest Preserve. This is the nicest and most accessible section of the creek.

The 480-acre Bemis Woods Forest Preserve is situated on either side of Salt Creek, creating a north and south side of the park. Both sides feature amenities for picnicking, and there is a one mile unpaved path for hiking or running. Large shelters can be rented for groups, and there’s a canoe/kayak launch for those interested in taking out or putting in there.

After Bemis Woods, you’ll hit Salt Creek Woods, and have to do a portage around the Possum Hollow Dam just north of 31st Street. From there you’ll enter Possum Hollow Woods, West Chester Woods and Twentysix Street Woods. You’ll pass through the west side of Brookfield Zoo, but there is no access to the zoo from the water.

You can take out at the Brookfield Village Hall Canoe Landing, or continue south to the Plank Meadow Road Boat Ramp. But you must exit there. Beyond that you reach the Hoffman Dam, which is illegal to portage. See the map of this section here.

What Makes It Great

The Salt Creek trail is considered an excellent birding location, which is home to many migrant songbirds, cuckoos, indigo buntings and veeries, according to the Cook County Forest Preserve. Deer are also prevalent. But even if you don’t spot some wildlife along the route, you’ll enjoy the tree-lined river and some prairie landscape along the way.

Who is Going to Love It

The water level can get low, but in the spring and after significant rain, Salt Creek is an easy paddle with plenty to see along the way. 

Directions, Parking, & Regulations

Most all of the designated launches has plenty of parking. Parking at Bemis Woods is easy. Cook County Forest Preserve hours are from sunrise to sunset.

Have you paddled on Salt Creek? What did you think? Leave your comments here or post a photo.

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Salt Creek Trail

1100 Ogden Ave.
Western Springs, IL, 60154
41.820535, -87.902998

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