Paddle Chicago: SUP from North Avenue to Navy Pier

It’s that time of year when everyone in Chicago is taking advantage of any nice day because - winter is coming!  This weekend was gorgeous with warm temperatures and blue skies, which are perfect conditions for paddle boarding!  

My paddle adventure started at North Avenue Beach and ended at Navy Pier, which is about a 3 mile paddle.  I really didn’t have a plan, I just launched and played it by ear. I don’t recommend this, always have a plan!  If I’m paddling any distance on Lake Michigan, I typically start early to avoid boat traffic, but this weekend I didn’t launch until about noon.  The water was surprisingly calm at North Avenue, so I decided to paddle around the break wall towards Oak Street Beach.  

North Avenue Beach Break Wall

North Avenue Beach Break Wall

The water between North Avenue and Oak Street is always a little choppy during the day because of the steady stream of boats making their way to the Playpen near Ohio Street Beach.  Luckily, there was almost no wind and the current seemed to be pushing me south, so I was able to handle the choppy waters.  I paddled past Oak Street Beach and into the Playpen for a welcomed break.  After a snack and some water, I decided to continue paddling through the Playpen towards Navy Pier.  The boat traffic sharply increased from the south, so I made my way into the no boat zone near Milton Lee Olive Park - which helped with the boat traffic, but the water was still super choppy!  

Oak Street Beach

Oak Street Beach

View from the no boat zone in the Playpen

View from the no boat zone in the Playpen

At this point, I had a decision to make - either turn around and head back to North Avenue, fight the boat traffic around Navy Pier to Monroe Harbor or paddle to the sitting area on the north side of Navy Pier near the city buses.  My goal was to make it to Monroe Harbor, but between the boat traffic and choppy water, it was apparent that would be very challenging - and probably a little unsafe.  I decided to try the inlet of water on the north side of the pier to the sitting area - but, I’m not really sure I was supposed to be in this area!   

Navy Pier

Navy Pier

After taking a few pictures of the end of Navy Pier, I quickly paddled towards the inlet and was treated to a beautiful view of the skyline and Centennial Ferris Wheel!  I took a few more pictures and paddled towards the sitting area.  As I approached, I saw plenty of posted signs banning any unauthorized docking, but I wasn’t technically docking my paddle board, I just needed to get out of the water!  The water was about two feet lower than the concrete, so it was a bit challenging pulling my board out of the water, but I made it!

Navy Pier Inlet

Navy Pier Inlet

I’d recommend this scenic paddle trip to anyone, but I’d suggest doing the trip a little differently.  First - start early to avoid all the choppy water and boat traffic I encountered!  Second - I wouldn’t recommend getting out of the water near Navy Pier - like me.  I’d suggest paddling to Navy Pier and back to North Avenue or continuing to Monroe Harbor, but that definitely requires an early start!

I love exploring Lake Michigan and finding new views of the city from the water!  The views of Navy Pier were spectacular and worth battling the boat traffic to get there.