Kayaking in Chicago: The Ultimate Summer Social Distancing Activity

Here in Chicago, summer is normally spent savoring every ray of sunshine and relishing in coveted time on the water. After months of hibernation, it reminds us how lucky we are to have both Lake Michigan and the Chicago River in such close proximity.

This summer looks a bit different, as beaches in the city are still closed due to coronavirus. How can we get out and enjoy the warm weather before autumn sets in? Chicago’s kayak companies, which are still operating all over the city, are here to save summer.

Dave Olson, founder of Kayak Chicago, says there is no better social distancing activity than kayaking. After months of being inside, it is a wonderful way to be active in the sun – while also continuing to prioritize health and safety. Kayak Chicago requires masks while on land, but once on the water they can be taken off. They make sure to social distance at all times and thoroughly sanitize equipment after each use.

“Seeing Chicago from a duck’s eye view while paddling through canyons of glass and steel, or cruising the skyline on Lake Michigan, is something that never gets old,” Olson says.

From private rentals to ghost tours, kayak companies in Chicago promise to provide a fun, memorable and safe experience this summer.

Kayak Rentals Chicago:

Urban Kayaks

Urban Kayaks offers rentals on both the Chicago Riverwalk and the Lakefront at Monroe Harbor. The Riverwalk location is open by reservation only from 11am-9pm every day. They also offer a 90-minute architecture and history tour through the River’s Main Branch. For an extra-special experience, book your tour for sunset.


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Their rentals launch from the East Bank Club, only a few minutes’ paddle into the heart of downtown. They were the first company to host tours of the Chicago River and have been perfecting them since 1997.  They even offer a tour called Ghosts & Gangsters, which draws on Chicago’s unique history and infamous reputation of being home to mobsters like Al Capone.


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Kayak Chicago

Kayak Chicago has locations on the Chicago River, Montrose Beach and North Ave Beach – although their beach locations are currently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions. They have strict safety protocols in place like wearing masks when on-land, and booking online for contactless payment. They also offer guided evening tours every night, starting at 9 p.m.


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Independence Grove Marina

Hoping to escape from the city for the day? Located just under an hour outside of Chicago, Independence Grove is a recreational lake area that’s perfect for picnicking and kayaking.

Kayak Morris at Starved Rock

A National Historic Landmark, Starved Rock State Park is just a two-hour drive from Chicago. Marked by canyon-like rock formations, raging waterfalls, and stunning forests, Starved Rock will make you feel as if you’ve traveled much further from the city. Some of their camping areas are also open in accordance with Phase 4 guidelines, if you would like to plan a weekend of campfires and s’mores!

Clear Water Outdoor

Just under a two-hour drive from Chicago, Lake Geneva is another wonderful option for those wanting some refuge from the city. If you’re looking to turn your kayaking trip into a short weekend away – make sure to check out these uniquely-Wisconsin spots while you’re there.


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Kayaking Essentials:

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Madison Muller is the Assistant Digital Editor at Better. A recent graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, she approaches our contemporary media environment with compassion and candor. She is interested in writing about the intersectionality of social justice issues in marginalized communities and environmentalism. Madison proudly supports Action Now, a community organization that empowers and uplifts residents on Chicago’s West Side.

She also encourages reading and supporting The Marshall Project, a non-profit news organization that seeks to create and sustain a sense of national urgency about the U.S. criminal justice system. 

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