Kayaking the Kishwaukee River

It was the perfect day for kayaking the Kishwaukee River. An unseasonably warm October day was the backdrop for this relaxing kayak on calm water. I enlisted the help of my father to portage my truck to Atwood Park, where I would be taking out at Larry’s Landing (Larry Thomas was my grandfather). After we dropped my truck and transferred everything to the back of his, we headed out to Baumann Park in Cherry Valley, Illinois. The river was very low; I would have to keep an eye out for debris and the shallows.

The main reason for this kayaking day trip (besides having a good time) was to conduct a river test of my Tucktec foldable kayak. I had taken the Tucktec out on a lake kayak a couple weeks before, but I wanted to see how she would stand up to river kayaking. Granted, the Kishwaukee River is shallow and slow moving most of the time, but a river she is and would provide a great testing ground for this kayak.

Kayaking the Kish

The total distance from Baumann Park to Atwood Park on the Kishwaukee River is about eight miles. It normally takes 2.5 to 4 hours to kayak or canoe that distance, depending on how fast the water is flowing and how fast you are paddling. I took a leisurely pace to enjoy the fall colors.

I hadn’t kayaked a river since I was a preteen and I had forgotten that you have to pay a lot more attention to the water than when you are on a lake. There were a lot of shallow areas and downed trees I had to navigate around for the first two miles. I ran aground several times because the water was so low. But kayaking is like riding a bike; you never truly forget the skills you learned in the past.

readywise adventure meal wild rice risotto
ReadyWise Meal on the Kishwaukee River

There was a lot of wildlife on the river including Canadian geese, mallard ducks, and several blue herons. I also saw some large fish in the shallow waters. The leaves were beginning to change color and there were several shades of red, orange, yellow, brown, and green. It was a quiet day on the water as I only encountered four other canoers and kayakers.

I stopped for lunch about a half mile before the I39 bridge. After pulling up to a rocky shoreline, I went inland about twenty feet. I brought along a Readywise Adventure Meal of wild rice risotto and my Jetboil Flash to boil the water. I was sure to drink a lot of water while I waited for my meal to cook.

The Final Stretch

After about 30 minutes it was time to get back on the water. I loaded up my gear and headed on my way. About a half mile down the river was the I39 bridge, which is known for the wicked headwinds that come off it. I remember canoeing this river in February with my family when I was a child and the I39 bridge was always a really windy spot. Once past the bridge there was glassy, reflective water with lots of leaves floating atop. It was a picturesque scene.

And just like that, I arrived at Larry’s Landing in Atwood Park. When I was a child the landing had been completely rebuilt and had a large sign marking it. But time has done a number on the landing and it is now a pebbly, muddy beach with some sidewalks leading down to it. You know you have arrived because you will go under a pale blue suspension bridge. I pulled my kayak out of the water, folded it up, and went on my way.

The Baumann Park to Atwood Park section of the Kishwaukee river is great for all ages and skill levels. Be sure to check the water levels beforehand. The Kish is a shallow river and you have to keep an eye out for shallow spots, debris, and downed trees. If you paddle in the spring the water will be higher and faster with a bit more debris, so be vigilant. If you are looking for a calm river to paddle, the Kishwaukee River in Illinois is for you. Happy Paddling!

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