The Majesty of Chicago's Waterways

A guide to enjoying the Chicago River and Lake Michigan

From several branches of the Chicago River to the glory of Lake Michigan, Chicago has limitless ways to enjoy the miles of waterfront that have earned it the title of the “city by the lake.” Whether you want to partake in a relaxing beach day along 26 miles of the shoreline, take a walk along Michigan Avenue to see bridges lift for incoming vessels or enjoy the Riverwalk, here’s how to take it in.

Chicago’s Riverwalk

Chicago’s outdoor paradise is a sight to see in all seasons. This 1.25-mile stretch of walkway along the waterfront was purpose built for pedestrians to enjoy the terrain and all its features, including six scenic coves. In recent years, new opportunities for dining, lounging and frolicking have opened up, including City Winery (with heated domes in colder temps) and Island Party Hut for a tiki environment. There are also charter boats, leisurely stairs as well as the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum to learn about the rich history. Along the Chicago River, from Lake St. to Lake Shore Dr.

Navy Pier

This local treasure, which celebrated 100 years in 2016, was originally designed by architect Daniel Burnham as part of his vision to turn the lakefront into public space. Enjoy charter boats including the Odyssey that offers daily dinner cruises, an expansive playground with a Centennial Ferris Wheel to take in the view and indoor activities including the award-winning Shakespeare Theater, the Chicago Children’s Museum and lush Crystal Gardens. 600 E. Grand Ave.

Chicago Kayak Tours

Row, row, row your boat in this exciting urban adventure. In addition to free lessons that make you feel comfortable in your rented vessel, Chicago Kayak Tours arranges unique group tours, from the moonlight and sunset paddles to a Navy Pier fireworks paddle, ghost and gangsters tour and history and architecture tour, each is a great way to enjoy the water while learning more about and experiencing Chicago. Launches from The East Bank Club Riverwalk, 500 N. Kingsbury St.

Lakefront Trail

When you want to take the scenic route, hop on Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, an 18-mile-long stretch of paved ground that abuts beautiful Lake Michigan and is ideal for running, biking and roller blading. The pedestrian-friendly path starts at Ardmore Street (at Sheridan) on the North Side and ends at 71st Street (at South Shore Drive) on the South Side, running through the Edgewater, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, South Loop, Bronzeville and Hyde Park neighborhoods. Runs along Lake Shore Dr.