Kayaking is a pretty popular activity in Chicago, though most people only think to explore the river within the city itself. The Chicago River is a wonderful option and takes a spot lower on this list, but kayaking Lake Michigan is truly a hidden gem. There are free-to-access launch points all along the lakeshore, making it obscenely easy to launch your own craft at a convenient spot. If you don’t have your own boat, you can rent one at North Avenue Beach.
I stumbled onto this find on the 4th of July last summer. I found myself frustrated by the heavy crowds that flock to the lakeshore for the firework shows and sought an alternative. I envied the great view boaters had out on the lake, with hundreds of fireworks littering the lakefront and a perfectly situated front row seat to each one. And then it hit me. We grabbed our kayaks, donned a few safety lights, and set out just before sunset.
We were rewarded with an evening we’ll never forget. There were more firework shows than we could count, with all of them shooting off over the lake — and we had the most covetable view in the city. While we were admittedly out on the best night of the year for firework viewing, Chicago’s Navy Pier fires off a show every Saturday and Wednesday night. After viewing them just once from the floating serenity of your kayak, you won’t want to watch them any other way.
One of the greatest things about Chicago is that almost 100% of the waterfront is public access. So when summer (finally) comes around, I take full advantage of the beautiful beaches and sunny days. If you’ve got access to a kayak, your options don’t have to stop at the shoreline. Setting off along the coast is a great and unique way to experience the city, with stunning skyline views throughout and miles of coastline and beaches to explore.
If you’re looking to give this a shot, make sure to check the weather and water conditions beforehand. Lake Michigan isn’t your average lake, and its waves can reach some pretty gnarly heights. Make sure you’re prepared for whatever’s out there — make sure to have life vests and safety lights if you’re going for a night ride. Be aware of boaters at all times, particularly inebriated ones. Even if your craft technically has the right of way, be cautious, as some boaters aren’t paying attention; stay out of their path, stick to the shore, and avoid any potential disasters.