Winter SUP: Paddling the Chicago River
If you’ve read a few of my Paddle Chicago posts, you’re familiar with my love of paddling the Chicago River - especially in the winter. The Chicago Riverwalk just happens to be my favorite winter running trail, too. Why do I love the Chicago River so much in the winter? Simple - no crowds, very little boat traffic and the same beautiful city.
The development of the Chicago Riverwalk has enhanced the city and attracts the downtown happy hour crowd along with droves of tourists in the summer - which makes running the path a little crazy. You spend more time dodging wandering tourists taking a million pictures (I don’t blame you, I do the same) or the bar crowds that spill over into the path, than you do actually running. Make no mistake, this was the intent of developing the river, but that’s also why I love it in the winter. The well-constructed path meant for foot traffic in the summer turns into the perfect running trail in the winter. I love the lakefront trail for the same reasons, but the riverwalk is very well lit and a bit safer for an after work jog in the dark - not to mention the night views of the city are unmatched.
Paddling the Chicago River in the winter offers all the same benefits of jogging the trail. The launch process is easier and the river has almost no boat traffic. Not to mention, rivers are a great alternative to paddling Lake Michigan with calmer waters and decreased winds. I always wear my winter SUP gear and use the same launch spots under the Clark St. Bridge or the Ogden Slip.
In the winter, I monitor the weekend forecast like a crazy person to make sure I don’t miss a perfect paddle day. Last weekend, the forecast predicted temperatures in the 40’s, winds below 10 mph with partly sunny skies - good enough. I planned to get an early start on Sunday, but didn’t launch until around noon. Even though the sun was hidden behind the clouds and I encountered some drizzle towards the end, I enjoyed a 3 mile, round trip paddle from the Ogden Slip to Wells Street Bridge. It was warm enough to paddle glove-free, which made snapping pictures a breeze. It’s always challenging to remove gloves and take a picture before your fingers freeze! I encountered one tour boat, the Chicago Water Taxi and one personal boat that slowed down to ask several questions about my gear, including if I was wearing a dry suit - which seemed obvious considering I resemble a marshmallow in the suit!
People generally think I’m crazy for paddling in the winter, but is it that much different than hurling yourself down a mountain on skis? Mountains are too amazing to only enjoy in the summer or winter, so we adjust our gear and explore year round. It’s no different with paddling - we buy cold water gear and keep exploring. I like to think of it as defeating winter.