Canoe in Illinois [Best 16 Places for Canoeing in Illinois]

If you love to canoe, you will love Illinois. There are countless miles of streams, rivers, and shorelines, complete with beautiful scenic spots. Where exactly are the best places for canoeing in Illinois?

The 16 best places for canoeing in Illinois are as follows:

  1. Loud Thunder Forest Reserve
  2. The Cache River
  3. Middle Fork of the Vermillion River
  4. Governor Dodge State Park
  5. Pounds Hollow Lake
  6. Kishwaukee River
  7. The Kankakee River
  8. Rock River
  9. Illinois River
  10. The Wisconsin River
  11. Mississippi River
  12. The Galena River
  13. Cedar Lake
  14. Starved Rock State Park
  15. Chicago River
  16. Hennepin Canal

The many rivers through what is now present-day Illinois enabled explorers to canoe all throughout the area. You will get a glimpse of what these explorers saw and experienced when you go canoeing in these famous rivers of Illinois.

Read on to learn more about canoeing in Illinois, the many beautiful spots you can explore, and the exciting things each of these spots offers.

Canoe in Illinois [Best 16 Places for Canoeing in Illinois]

If you are after exciting canoe trips in Illinois, there are many amazing spots to explore. One of the Great Lakes, countless lakes and rivers, and all sorts of wildlife and scenic spots await you and your canoe.

Whether you are going to canoe for a day or you’re into long river expeditions just like those early explorers, Illinois has all the right places and spots that will give you more than enough satisfaction.

You’re allowed to bring your own canoe, or you can rent one from several outfitters that offer guided canoe trips in Illinois.

See below for the 16 best places to canoe in Illinois:

1. Loud Thunder Forest Preserve

canoe in illinois

Loud Thunder Forest Preserve is 1,480 acres of prairie land with trails, campgrounds, picnic shelters, two playgrounds, biking trails, and the beautiful Lake George. The government acquired it through a purchase in 1944.

Some establishments rent out canoes, kayaks, Jon Boats, and even a party barge. Thus, you and your friends can definitely enjoy the outdoor recreational opportunities and the preserve’s amenities without bringing along your canoe.

But it’s better to bring your own canoe so you won’t be limited in enjoying the sites’ beauty.

2. The Cache River

canoe trips in illinois

Next on our list of the best places to canoe in Illinois is the Cache River. This spot is much farther than the others, and you may have to spend a couple of nights here to maximize your long travel time.

But you will get the opportunity to experience several nights at the Shawnee National Forest under the twinkling stars.

The Cache River State Natural Area is full of swamps, trails, and forests. A dedicated canoe trail will allow you to paddle through the wilderness amidst big and ancient cypress trees. This place is considered a bayou country and is ideal for canoeing in Illinois.

Waters in these bayous are calm, relatively peaceful, and very easy to paddle. If you want to explore the area, there are several campgrounds near the Cache River. There are also outfitters in the area which rent out canoes if you don’t have one.

3. Middle Fork of the Vermillion River

This river stretches about 17 miles, from near east of Collison to near north of Highway 150. It was designated as a National Wild and Scenic River. This means that you will be assured of spotting wildlife while enjoying the scenery on your canoe when you visit this place.

The Vermillon River has several canoe access points along its banks. There are also access points within the Kickapoo State Park and the Middle Fork State Fish and Wildlife.

Both state parks have several campgrounds, but not all of them can be used as such. There are sandbars along the river that you can use as rest if you are already tired of paddling.

4. Governor Dodge State Park

Governor Dodge State Park is a huge park with many hiking trails that include the Lost Canyon Trail, with its magnificent waterfall. This park is located in Madison. Also, there are two lakes in the park, namely Twin Valley and Cox Hollow.

If you don’t have a canoe, you can rent one from one of the concessionaires at Cox Hollow that also offer canoe trips in Illinois. The water in Twin Valley is much bigger and quieter than at Cox Hollow.

5. Pounds Hollow Lake

Pounds Hollow Lake is inside the Shawnee National Forest. It is big enough to offer some secluded portions. It is only open during the day where you can go canoeing, fishing, boating, swimming, or hiking.

There is also a campground that you can use for relaxation after paddling for several hours. Development in the lake was completed in the 1940s. At present, it provides opportunities for families and groups to camp, picnic, swim, or hike.

Canoe and kayak rentals are available at the Garden of the Gods Outpost. There are several picnic areas on the lake’s banks, a big picnic shelter that overlooks the beach, and a fishing pier.

On the ridge top above the Pounds Hollow Lake is Pine Ridge Campground. This camping site offers 22 non-electric campsites, each with a lantern pole, fire ring, and a picnic table. There are also 13 electric campsites in this place.

6. Kishwaukee River

Kishwaukee River is a very famous spot for Illinois river canoeing. There is a 63-mile water trail that awaits you at Kishwaukee River. This trail passes through scenic natural landscapes where you could see different wildlife species and scores of trees and plant species.

You can choose to launch your canoe at several sites along the trail. The first one is at the Boone McHenry County Line Road. This river offers a lot of put-ins and take-outs. So, you can use your time on the water to improve your canoeing skill level.

The place also has several nature preserves and natural parks. You can see them along the route. You can stop by one of them to rest for a picnic. This river also flows into the Rock River. You can choose to continue paddling along this river.

7. The Kankakee River

The Kankakee River is only an hour’s drive away from the south of the city. It is known as a peaceful river and is one of the best places to canoe in Illinois. A canoe trip along this river will let you see towering oak trees and huge rock bluffs rising above you.

There are outfitters here that offer three kinds of canoe trips. These trips can range from two to six hours to complete. The outfitter will provide everything that you need on the water.

They will even give you transport to and from the river. The peaceful water of this river is ideal for beginners who are canoeing Southern Illinois.

8. Rock River

This river is included in the National Water Trails System. It offers the Rock River Trail, which is a 330-mile stretch of water. Along this trail, you will see scenic views and experience great paddling adventure.

This river actually originates in Wisconsin and flows to Illinois by way of the Mississippi River. The trail has 55 access points, with the first access located in South Beloit in Illinois.

This river trail also offers biking and hiking routes and access to several campgrounds in the different states along its route.

9. Illinois River

The Illinois River also offers exciting canoe trips. You can launch your canoe in various places located at Starved Rock State Park. A campground is also available in this park. Canoeing in this river may require you to spend a few days to complete your adventure.

Along the way, you will find other campgrounds where you can rest and eat. They include one at the Marshall State Wildlife Area. You can camp on one of the islands in this area.

10. The Wisconsin River

If you are looking ahead for overnight canoeing in Illinois, the best spot is the Wisconsin River. There are also several guided canoe trips available in this area. Some of them launch their canoe trips from the Prairie du Sac, an old-world town that goes southwest.

The guided tours usually include meals along with your choice of the canoe. They will also give recommendations about which sandbar you will find along the way is the best to set up camp for the night.

11. Mississippi River

canoeing southern illinois

One of the longest and mightiest rivers in the United States is among the world‘s largest river systems. Its cultural and historical significance makes it an ideal river to spend canoeing.

There are many spots along this river where you can launch your canoe trip. Several parks along the way are available for hiking, picnics, and overnight stays. One of the ideal places to camp is the Mississippi Palisades Park.

Most of the river stretches are calm because of the different pools that form on the river. They make it easier for beginners to canoeing their way through the river. This river is also a great way to discover Native American history.

12. The Galena River

The Galena River, which is also called Fever River, snakes through the verdant scenery of Northern Illinois before it winds inside Galena’s historic downtown. It is one of the most beautiful places to canoe in Illinois.

Launch your canoe trip near Galena’s main street, where you will have many opportunities to discover the river by yourself. Or you can join a day excursion offered by a local outfitter in the area.

13. Cedar Lake

Next on our list of the best places for canoeing trips in Illinois is Cedar Lake. It can be found in the Shawnee National Forest. The total area of this lake is about 1,750 acres, and its water stretches for 40 miles.

It is actually a water reservoir located in southern Illinois and was created through the damming of Cedar Creek in 1974.

Cedar Creek is a tributary of the Big Muddy River. The actual location of this lake is in Jackson County, southwest of Carbondale, in Illinois.

Cedar Lake has a maximum depth of 60 feet, which makes canoeing Southern Illinois exciting. Canoeing is safe here because motorboats with more than 10 horsepower are not allowed.

14. Starved Rock State Park

If you’re looking for unspoiled nature, then Starved Rock State Park is where you need to go. This canoeing spot is famous for its tree-covered bluffs and panoramic views. Only by canoeing on the Illinois and Fox rivers will you be able to see this magnificent landmark.

This park can also be your perfect home base for paddling the Illinois River. There are outfitters at Starved Rock Lodge who rent out canoes if you don’t have one. The place is also close to the Big Vermillion River.

15. Chicago River

Another way to discover and experience Chicago is by canoeing on the Chicago River. This magnificent waterway will give you a different view of the breathtaking scenery of this famous city.

There are tour guides that will take you to the most important places in this city from the river. You can choose to join the firework paddle, the sunset paddle, or the architectural tour.

16. Hennepin Canal

canoeing trips in illinois

There are 78 miles of calm water at Hennepin Canal that you may want to experience with your canoe. The water is calm and ideal for beginners. This canal was built in the early 19th century.

It was originally built for commercial and industrial purposes. Now, it is mostly used by tourists for recreational purposes. This place offers many recreational activities for locals and tourists alike.

Conclusion: Canoe in Illinois – Best 16 Places for Canoeing in Illinois

Below are the 16 best places you can go canoeing in Illinois:

  1. Loud Thunder Forest Reserve
  2. The Cache River
  3. Middle Fork of the Vermillion River
  4. Governor Dodge State Park
  5. Pounds Hollow Lake
  6. Kishwaukee River
  7. The Kankakee River
  8. Rock River
  9. Illinois River
  10. The Wisconsin River
  11. Mississippi River
  12. The Galena River
  13. Cedar Lake
  14. Starved Rock State Park
  15. Chicago River
  16. Hennepin Canal

Now, go ahead and paddle your way through these beautiful places in Illinois!