United States of America

Paddling Lake Michigan, Chicago


Chicago, with its world famous skyline, is well known for its attractions and culture. Nestled comfortably beside Lake Michigan, as well as numerous rivers, Chicago offers tons of paddling possibilities.

Here's why paddling Lake Michigan from one of my favorite beaches should definitely be on your standup paddleboarding destination hit list.

Lake Michigan sits just east of the city and is one of the five Great Lakes. Lake Superior is the largest while Lake Michigan is the only Great Lake located entirely within the United States. Also known as an inland sea, Lake Michigan’s strong waves & currents, great depths, rolling waves and distant horizons would make one think of an ocean than a lake. But having the lake in our backyard gives Chicagoans several advantages, neighborhoods located nearby benefit with cooler temps in summer and slightly warmer days in winter.


  • While the lake itself is huge with plenty of space for all, your paddle will undoubtedly be impacted by plenty of wake, so if you’re not comfortable paddling on open water, stay near shore. Also, Illinois happens to be a state where PFD’s (Personal flotation devices) are required by law when operating personal watercraft – and this includes SUP’s.
  • One of my favorite paddles is one that requires a certain amount of planning, since this paddle is out in open water quite a distance from shore. Your route lies just over two miles to the lonely and desolate concrete structure known as the Wilson avenue crib (located at 41°57′58″N 87°35′28″W). My preferable launch point is Montrose beach in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. There’s plenty of parking, and the walk down to shore is a good warmup to the upcoming paddle.
  • The time to complete this paddle is at sunrise. You’ll be paddling facing the rising sun the whole way – and if you time it right, dawn’s colors shimmer and shift all around you as you paddle onward towards the crib, which slowly becomes larger and more distinct the closer you get to your destination. Round trip on a paddleboard takes about 2 hours in perfect calm conditions.
  • Not only cool looking and a little surreal, the Wilson crib, one of four in Chicago’s waters, is a 2-story high round brick structure that collects water from the lake and delivers it through a tunnel 200ft below the lake’s surface to the Jardine Water Purification plant, the largest in the world. The crib acts as a convenient stopping place for migratory birds as well as nesting place for dozens of cormorants and sea gulls. Peregrine falcons are known to nest in the area as well.
  • Finding your way to the crib is not difficult, since the structure is just visible from shore. 
  • Once at the crib, you will be rewarded with incomparable views of the Chicago’s sublime skyline reflecting the rising sun in all its glory.

Local Knowledge

  • Sat Nav

    41.96588879973466, -87.63756348403756

  • Nearest Parking

    Montrose Beach

  • Launch Point

    Montrose Beach public boat launch

Things to Know

  • One tip before heading out – choose a group of buildings or pier with a distinctive shape, it will make navigating back much easier. The city is immense, and you want to make your way back to with same place you launched from.
  • Paddling on the lake offer unique challenges to both the beginner and advanced paddler – weather and boat traffic among them. Weather on a lake this size is something to take seriously when planning your adventure. This means not just going by the standard weather app on your smartphone – but knowing wind direction, water temp, wave height, and likelihood of a storm that could make or break your trip.
  • Diligently check out the reports available online and check weather at NOAA, http://www.weather.gov/.