How to Paddle the Chicago River to Chinatown

I’ve made it known how much I love paddling the Chicago River.  The stretch from Lake Michigan west through downtown is breathtaking!  That alone is reason to explore the river on a stand up paddle board, but I decided to go on a little adventure and paddle to Ping Tom Memorial Park in Chinatown!   

My plan for this paddle adventure through Chicago was to launch from the Ogden Slip area with all my gear on board - backpack with pump, clothes and shoes.  I also packed a dry bag with my valuables, water, and a snack.  The Ogden Slip is just north of the river off McClurg Street.  To access the Chicago River, paddle east and then under the Lakeshore Drive Bridge.  

Launching from the Ogden Slip

Launching from the Ogden Slip

Lakeshore Drive Bridge

Lakeshore Drive Bridge

As you pass under the Lakeshore Drive Bridge, you will begin to see the beautiful Chicago architecture!  Chicago also has the most movable bridges of any city in the world.  I’ve seen these bridges in action from the Chicago Riverwalk, but never on the water - until now!  I was pleasantly surprised that I’d timed my paddle perfectly to watch the bridges open for a sailboat traveling to Lake Michigan.  It was pretty amazing.  Chicago posts the bridge opening times online if you want to incorporate that into your adventure!

Admiring Chicago's movable bridges

Admiring Chicago's movable bridges

The dock at Ping Tom Memorial Park

The dock at Ping Tom Memorial Park

The Chicago River runs east to west and splits into two branches - north and south.  Chinatown is south, so I began paddling the south branch of the river past the Sears Tower - and yes, to locals it’s still the Sears Tower!  You might see a little more trash on this end of the river, but keep paddling under the Roosevelt Road bridge and you’ll begin to see beautiful Ping Tom Park.  This is also the Chinatown stop for the Chicago Water Taxi, so my plan was to get out at the Ping Tom dock and hitch a ride on the water taxi back home - another benefit of an inflatable paddle board!  

Enjoying a different Chicago skyline view from Ping Tom Memorial Park

Enjoying a different Chicago skyline view from Ping Tom Memorial Park

South Branch of the Chicago River

South Branch of the Chicago River

Once I paddled to the dock and packed up my paddle board, I walked to the water taxi stop and boarded the boat.  For just $6, you get another beautiful ride through downtown - make sure to bring a credit card!  The water taxi makes a few stops along the river, but I didn't get off until Michigan Avenue.

My paddle adventure to Chinatown was about 4 miles and took approximately 2.5 hours - including the bridge opening picture break and some relaxing float time on the river!  I started around 8:30 am and was on the water taxi by 11:00 am.  There were a few tour boats on the water, but very few personal boats and kayaks, so definitely start early.  

Heading east on the Chicago River

Heading east on the Chicago River

Paddling from the east end of the river to Chinatown is just another way to explore and admire the city.  If you are looking for a longer paddle, you can paddle to and from Chinatown, but I personally enjoyed the water taxi ride home.  The relaxing ride through beautiful Chicago was a nice change of pace.  I'm always happy to paddle my way through the city and discover new adventures - I highly recommend it.