Kankakee river kayaking guide (What to expect)

In northwest Indiana, 5 miles (8 km) or so southwest of South Bend, the Kankakee River rises. It follows a straight, channelized path across rural northern Indiana, usually southwestward, until it gathers the Yellow River from the south in Starke County. Along the way, it passes the towns of South Center and English Lake. Between Starke, Jasper, and Newton counties in the south and LaPorte, Porter, and Lake counties in the north, it serves as a boundary.

As it reaches Kankakee County in northern Illinois, the river turns westward. It receives the Iroquois River from the south and abruptly bends to the northwest for its bottom 35 miles, about 3 miles (5 km) southeast of Kankakee (56 km). 50 miles (80 km) southwest of Chicago, it merges with the Des Plaines River to create the Illinois River.

Around 7 sq mi (18 km2) of southwest Lower Michigan and 2,989 sq mi (7,740 km2) of northwest Indiana are drained by the Kankakee River Basin, as are 2,169 sq mi (5,620 km2) of northeast Illinois. Beginning at South Bend, Indiana, the Kankakee River travels west through Illinois before merging with the Des Plaines River to form the Illinois. The portion of Lake County that used to flow to Lake Michigan but is now diverted artificially to the Illinois River is not regarded as a part of the research area for the Kankakee River Basin. In this Kankakee River kayaking guide, we will be sharing all important details that you need to be aware of.

Kayaking in Kankakee River

As you may have guessed from the park’s name, paddlers go there to explore the Kankakee River, which is one of the state’s cleanest rivers and is a simple, shallow river for beginners.

What’s Great About It

Ethel Sturges Drummer gave the park its first 35 acres in 1935. In 1956, Commonwealth Edison contributed an additional 1,715 acres, and in 1989, further property. The Custer Bowery Amusement Park attracted many Chicagoans to the neighborhood in the 1890s, but by the 1920s it was closed. However, bungalows for summer vacations were still often built along the river. Since then, canoe and kayak lovers have made the river their destination.

The state park spans 4,000 acres in the counties of Kankakee and Will, effectively including both banks of the river with some extra land along Rock Creek. The park serves as a starting point for paddlers searching for a quick journey as well as a base of operations for fishing and other outdoor activities thanks to its many camping facilities and two boat launches.

Starting at South Bend, Indiana, the river meanders through Illinois and Indiana until merging with the Des Plaines River to form the Illinois River.

The Kankakee River historically drained one of the biggest wetlands in North America, but when the wetlands were converted into agricultural land starting in the middle of the 19th century, it underwent considerable changes. In Indiana, the river has a straight, channelized flow through mostly rural agriculture. The river in northern Indiana serves as both the southern and northern borders of the counties of LaPorte, Porter, and Lake as well as Starke, Jasper, and Newton. Just southeast of the city of Kankakee, in northwest Illinois, it enters Kankakee County.

Who can go for Kankakee River kayaking?

The Kankakee River State Park offers a clean river and beautiful surroundings for paddlers seeking a place to reconnect with nature. The park is well-known for its smallmouth bass, along with channel catfish, walleye, and northern pike, for people who like fishing.

Regulations, Parking, and Directions

The Kankakee River State Park has several entrances and parking areas, making parking there simple. The state park is accessible from dawn till dusk.

At the park, there are two boat ramps: one at the Warner Bridge Day Use Area and the other at the Area 9 parking area on the south bank of the river. In the park, only boats with engines under 10 horsepower are allowed to launch.

National Water Trail of the Kankakee River

Please review the safety page’s information before deciding where to launch. Also, remember to put your life jacket on!

A historic, undammed river that flows through multiple county parks is accessible for kayaking along the 133 miles of the Kankakee River National Water Trail. Before it was dredged and straightened in the early 1900s, the Kankakee River, once known as the Everglades of the North, served as a crucial conduit between French Canada and the Mississippi River. The river’s Indiana part allows both simple paddling and rural fishing. Only Indiana access points are included in this guide.

Security and safety

Be warned that there aren’t many amenities or support services along the route, including bathrooms, fresh water, and authorized portages. Avoid trying to paddle the river when it is about to flood.

Have a mobile phone with you at all times and know where you are as precisely as you can. There are several hunting preserves along the river. For details on hunting seasons, get in touch with any preserves along your suggested path. Bridges with limited chances for portaging might get clogged by tree falls and log jams. To find out the status of any known obstructions, contact the Kankakee River Basin Commission.

Kayaking knowledge

Today, on a clear July day in Illinois, we successfully navigated the Kankakee River. The temperature was at 80°F at the put-in and shot up to 94°F by the middle of the paddle. 10.6 miles upstream at 11.5 mph and the same distance back for a total paddle of 21.2 miles need a highly tenacious and skilled bunch of paddlers. In Mike Svobs Fourth Edition of Paddling Illinois, the trip from Aroma Park, Illinois, a community of 550 people located just east of Kankakee, Illinois, to the Momence, Illinois Bridge and Dam is well-described.

To meet at the put-in at Potowatami Park Rec Area (porta-potty, jungle gym equipment) right north of the Route 3 bridge in Aroma Park, we all travelled around 90 miles. Although the river seemed a little low, the water was cleaner and crisper than other rivers in Illinois and Indiana. We saw several bathers and a large number of aluminum canoe rentals from Reeds Canoes enjoying the river as a play area and swimming hole during the course of the day.

The group’s newest member, Dvdkitch, arrives with his gleaming, two-week-old QCC 700 Kevlar kayak prepared for the journey. I was able to quickly appreciate dvdkitch’s years of paddling expertise, especially his time spent living on Lake Michigan and kayaking the Great Lakes. It’s quite reassuring to have a paddler who is highly competent and up to the challenge of covering some distance in the heat.

When Chuck IL and Silverwave arrive, they are eager to paddle as is customary for them. Even though it’s just July, these paddlers had already traveled almost 300 miles apiece in 2007. With a Valley Avocet RM and Bohemia’s old Necky Chatham 17, respectively, and lovely new yellow deck lines, they are fully equipped and prepared to take on the Kank.

The squad is completed by Pnetter Bruce, the senior paddler in our company. He is a wiry man who is all muscle and is propelled like a steam engine by a fierce inner desire to perform. Bruce’s preferred playboat is a Valley Aquanaut RM. I, cooldoctor1, woke up at five in the morning especially to paddle my red Nordkapp RM with these friendly paddlers.

On this windless morning, we set sail at 9:30AM, just as the day begins to heat up and the humidity increases. The northeastern paddle to Momence is a long, continuous slog with at least 4-5 places of extremely low water in the 6 inch range, which accelerates the current and damages the bottoms of all boats, even the attractive QCC. We never manage to come to a full stop when traversing most of these shallows; but, on more than one occasion, I chose to walk/float the boat rather than slam my Werner Shuna into the gravel bottom. The group continued, stopping just once for a 20-minute stretch and a swim for dvdkitch, Chuck-IL, and S-wave throughout the upstream leg of the journey. I was pleased to see that everyone on the crew took the advice to pack and consume enough of fluid replenishment seriously.

We first see a bridge’s faint cast hours after the put-in, followed by Momence Dam. This sweating group of worn-out paddlers had successfully completed their mission: to get upstream to Momence. We spent about ten minutes wallowing in the mud on a goose-pooped tiny island in the sun and heat before deciding it was after 2:30PM and to head home for the second 10.2 Google Earthed miles of the trip: the downstream passage. There isn’t a great takeout at the dam or bridge (Svob mentions one slightly further upstream). A chilly headwind appeared to work against us like a tiny push in the other direction, as if Mother Nature were having fun at our cost even though the current was a help.

We did, however, arrive to Skeeters at 4 PM, an outdoor pub restaurant with a deck facing the river and parking for the kayaks and canoes, where we took a one hour break. Unfortunately, Dvdkitch had to start moving, so he continued paddling alone. For pitchers of Anchor Weisse, fried Portobello mushrooms, potato skins, and Skeeter Burgers on the riverfront terrace in the shade, we would have appreciated your presence. Next time, without a doubt, dvdkitch. As we ate at Skeeters, a must stop for every paddler on this stretch of the Kank, our punch-drunk, sun-beaten gang had a lot of laughter for the first proper meal of the day.

A chocolate Lab with an experienced canoeist at the helm of a Sea Wind calls out, One of you Bruce? as they exit the pub and make their way to the riverside boats. We all had the pleasure of paddling back with Indianan Hoosierpaddler. He’s been on the Kank since 3pm and found us at 5pm as we were stumbling out of Skeeters, which is a really nice treat. I’m glad to have you, hoosierpaddler.

We eventually regained our energy, fueled by the beer and food, and paddled the last four miles into the Aroma Park take-out. I experienced the same feeling that Bruce had on the trip to Momence, so I just kept on by myself, singing Jimmy Buffett’s Come Monday as I petted the Shuna for some strange reason. Right when I thought Come Monday, everything will be OK, I ran that Valley aground so forcefully that the plastic collapsed under my heels. I hoped not to see the QCC arctic hull white from the earlier crossing of dvdkitch and a little underwater dam. I didn’t observe any.

How to proceed with kayaking?

Most tours begin with a launch from a beach that slopes progressively inland. Precautions should be taken to prevent dragging the hull, particularly on rocky, sandy, or cement surfaces:

Ask a buddy to assist you in carrying the boat to the put-in location. Place it perpendicular to the coastline in shallow water. (A parallel launch would be preferable if you’re launching into a river or have a really long kayak.) The stern should be near to the coast and the bow should face away from the land for a perpendicular launch (but fully afloat).

Put a paddle blade in front of the cockpit, beneath the deck line. (The shaft may protrude in an odd direction like an outrigger.)

Straddle the kayak’s cockpit while standing above it. Lift your legs and slip your feet into the cockpit after grabbing the cockpit and placing your butt on the seat. Place both of your feet comfortably on the foot pegs and push your butt all the way back into the seat. To navigate your kayak around approaching waves and boat wakes, grab your paddle. Then, if you have a spray skirt, fasten it.

Simply paddle into your launch point later to exit your kayak, put up your outrigger, and then go the opposite route until you are straddling your kayak once again.

Final words

You can follow this Kankakee River kayaking guide and proceed with your kayaking adventures in the region. It will be a unique and a wonderful experience, which you will fall in love with.

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