Five Nearby Canoe Adventures for the City-Weary Chicagoan

This is just one installment of 37 Things a Man’s Gotta Do This Summer, our annual compendium of everything worth seeing, doing, eating, drinking and generally making time for in your neck of the woods between now and September.

The call of the open waters: a man must heed it.

Preferably with a cooler full of beer in tow and nary a skyscraper in sight.

Which is why this summer, we’re recommending you grab a co-captain and escape the city to waterways unknown.

From day trips to overnights, lakes to rivers, here are the five canoe adventures worth taking this summer.

Governor Dodge State Park
This massive park located an hour west of Madison is rife with hiking trails, including the can’t-miss Lost Canyon Trail, which rewards hikers with a waterfall. But Governor Dodge also has two lakes — Cox Hollow and Twin Valley — that offer just as much respite as its trails. While canoe rentals are available at the Cox Hollow concession stand, look to Twin Valley for the larger and more quiet paddle.

The Kankakee River
The peaceful Kankakee River is no secret. Seeing it’s only an hour drive south of the city, it’s easy to understand why. Because accessibility has its advantages. Take, for example, Reed’s Canoe Trips, which has over 20 years experience in the area. The outfitter offers three different trips, ranging from two to six hours on the water, while rock bluffs and towering oaks make for an excellent backdrop along the way.

The Wisconsin River
For an overnight canoe trip, you can’t do much better than the Wisconsin River. And if you prefer your canoe trips guided, you’ll wanna buzz Driftless Paddling Guides. Launching from the quaint river town of Prairie du Sac going southwest, Driftless provides everything from meals to your choice of water vessel, not to mention local knowledge on the best sand bars to set up camp for the night.

The Cache River
A much further drive from home, but if you couple it with a few nights under the stars at Shawnee National Forest, it’s well worth the drive. Because this here’s bayou country. Known in the area for its ancient cypress-tupelo swamp, the Cache River State Natural Area is perhaps the most surprising places to paddle in southern Illinois. And the best outfitter to get you on the water? White Crane Canoes.

Starved Rock State Park
Chances are you’ve been to Starved Rock. But did you know the park serves as an ideal homebase to paddle the Illinois River? Rentals are available at the Starved Rock Lodge. For something a bit more challenging, Vermillion River Rafting offers whitewater rafting adventures just a short drive away.