Illinois Canoeists: The Kankakee Is Great For Beginners

Midwest residents looking for an exciting day trip need to explore the waters at the Kankakee River State Park.

Located 58-miles south of Chicago, the park has 11 miles of Class I water to explore. The park is a popular destination with beginning canoeists and families. In addition, the park’s concessionaire, Reed’s Canoes, is located on site providing the equipment, shuttle (to the starting point at the Kankakee Dam) and safety equipment.

The canoeist has the option to travel the river self-guided, or request one of the park’s naturalists accompanies them on a guided tour to the area’s flora and fauna.

The Float
While the waters of the Kankakee River, by no means can be classified as whitewater, the river’s 3-knot current provides for a “safe and steady” float. And the 11 miles of paddling give the “desk jock” a great workout and a chance to exchange the office for the fresh air and outdoors.

Kankakee River State Park, located 58 miles south of Chicago, has 11 miles of Class I water for canoeist as well as limestone bluffs, caves and waterfalls to explore.

After departing from the dam, the local waterfront residential setting is left behind and the canoeist soon discovers an ecological setting more diverse than Colorado and Wisconsin.

About one-quarter way into the journey, the canoeist should be on the lookout for a wrought iron footbridge; this area is know as Indian Rocks and is a must stop. Limestone bluffs, caves, waterfalls and some good hiking may be found here. The area’s rock canyons lead to some exciting exploring, but be careful: the footing is slippery and one slip may lead to disaster.

And don’t forget to bring a camera; the scenery provides for some “Kodak moments.” (Note: Parents should be especially cautious with children due to the high-bluffs and technical terrain.)

Five Great Stops
Back on the river, paddlers will pass a series of five islands that make for great stops and a picnic. All but Laghman Island may be explored. Laghman Island is off-limits due to its protection as a designated state nature preserve. The island is home to the Kankakee Mallow (Iliamna Remota), an endangered perennial herb found only in the island’s bedrock.

Passing the Kankakee Sportsmen’s Club marks the halfway point and a sandbar serves as a great spot to take in some of the local wildlife. Sightings may include whitetail deer, beaver, hawks and waterfowl. From this point on, canoeists should stay to the right on the river (during dry weather stay to the left, check with Reed’s before departure).

Passing under the power lines, canoeists will be near park boundaries, but the trip is not over yet. Some of the best scenery may be observed in this area. Look-Out Point is a series of limestone bluffs and small caves. From this point, on canoeists should be on the lookout for Rock Creek Landing. The landing marks the end of the trip and the return to Reed’s concession. Most canoeists complete the journey in between two and four hours.

However, your day is not over; the park has over 4,000-acres to explore. Bikers will find a 10.5-mile crushed gravel trail to ride; hikers can explore the 10.5-mile Davis Creek Trail and the 3-mile Rock Creek Trail (a must stop); anglers can cast their troubles away in search of bass, walleye, catfish and northern pike; and if you’re looking to camp, the park has 260 campsites.

Rates And Hours
Reed’s Canoe Rental is open Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; after Labor Day, Reed’s will be closed on Mondays and Tuesdays; reservations are strongly recommended; canoe rental is $33.

For more information: Reed’s Canoe Rental, 815-932-6555,

If you’re looking for a place to eat, Sam n’ Ella’s is a local waterfront favorite, while the nearby Stake n’ Shake is a guaranteed kid-pleaser.

For more information, contact:
Kankakee River State Park
PO Box 37
Bourbonnais, IL 60914, TX

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