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The Best Places to Go Paddleboarding in Chicago

Posted by Jordan Curet

The Windy City might not be the first place you think of as a paddle boarding Mecca. After all, it is landlocked in the middle of America. But in addition to being alongside one of the Great Lakes, there are a bevy of rivers, tributaries, lagoons, and other waterways. As the second largest city in the US, Chicago is a bustling metropolis. But with the miles of waterfront access, you can easily leave the city behind and head out on to the water.


Let’s start with the most obvious – Lake Michigan. At 22,406 square miles, Lake Michigan is the second largest of the Great Lakes. And Chicago partakes in 26 miles of that lakefront, offering numerous parks and beaches. Just beyond downtown, and accessible by bike, foot or public transit is Ohio Beach. It is a great beach to launch from, as its waters are calm and protected. And rising just behind you the skyscrapers rise straight up. From there you can paddle around the protected harbor, or head out into the lake for a longer paddle. But beware of boats and wake. You can paddle around to Navy Pier, take in the sights, or follow the coastline north with more beaches dotted along the way to take a break at. 

Another great spot is Diversey Harbor. From the harbor you can access Lincoln Park Lagoon. This paddle is perfectly calm and beginner friendly. Or if you are looking for a fitness paddle, the glassy surface makes a perfect place to put in some long distance laps. But etiquette at this popular location is key – be sure to paddle the circuit counterclockwise on the lagoon. But the best part of this idyllic park is that the background can’t be beat - the downtown Chicago skyline rising above the trees is as picturesque as it gets. At both Diversey Harbor and Ohio Street Beach there are locations for Chicago SUP, offering lessons, rentals, and group paddles.

If you are ready for a paddle in the urban core of downtown, look no further than the Chicago Riverwalk. This epicenter of the city is packed with parks, a pathway to walk the river as well as cafes and more running parallel to the Chicago River. This section might be the quintessential spot to see the city from, it is also for only the most safety savvy paddlers. There is plenty of river traffic, with boats of all shapes and sizes sharing the water way. So be sure you are prepared to navigate the traffic, wearing all the proper safety equipment, and have the balance to stay on your board.


Just north of downtown, the river splits to flow around Goose Island. The water is peaceful, with just the barest hint of a current. Just adjacent to this section is REI (905 W Eastman St) not only do they have the gear you need to hit the water, but they also have a boat ramp to test out watercraft, and a great place to launch for a paddle. You can head upriver for a workout, and circumvent Goose Island, or head downriver and eventually meet up with the Riverwalk section. This section is a pleasant escape from the hustle and bustle of city life.


We have barely scratched the surface of ChiTown though. With so many beaches, parks, river miles and more, there are endless places to paddle. So, while Chicago might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of world-class SUP spots, we think it deserves a spot on the list. So, the next time you are headed there, be sure to pack your paddleboard and explore the many waterways that make Chicago one the coolest urban paddle destinations.