Chicago Whitewater Association & Kayak Club

Tips for the Pool

  • Bring your bathing suit, towel, eyeglass guards (if you wear glasses), nose plugs* (you’ll be upside down a lot), synthetic top or similar garment for warmth as some pool water is cold.
  • Leave jewelry at home, it can break, or fall off; there’s no time to search the pool for lost charms!
  • Bring a lock for the locker room.
  • Leave valuables at home.
  • You do not need to bring your own equipment, unless you have your own whitewater kayak you wish to learn in.
  • Please be on time for all classes, especially the classroom session, as topics will not be repeated, come a few minutes early.

* Nose plugs vary and we highly reccomend paddling specific ones - some classes even provide these for you! Check out the gear section to see what we reccomend!

Rivers

Some rivers we love, some are convenient, and some we hope to get to one day. The following are an arbitrary sampling of the rivers we know. Descriptions are provided by your fellow paddlers and do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of safety (or fun, for that matter). Your safety is your responsibility.

When boating in Illinois, keep in mind you need to register your boat!

Local (within 6 hours)

River Info Description Links
Big Pine Creek
Rainsville, IN
Big Pine Creek is one of the best play runs around. It's hard to catch it with water, but if you do, you're in for a treat. At two feet, the section from Rocky Ford to S-Turn is non-stop surf waves. There aren't many eddies, but if you wash off of one wave, just catch the next one. S-Turn has a particularly sweet wave that lets you do all kinds of tricks. At really high levels, I've heard some boaters compare it to the Dries of the New, which has a reputation for some of the best play in the East. There are a couple of different put-ins and take-outs possible, with the most popular options being putting in at Rocky Ford and taking out at either S-Turn or Twin Bridges. (DMG) Look for about 6 inches as minimum, above a foot as good, and 2-3 feet or above as great fun!


Conversion/Minimum Suggested Level: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River_detail_id_2563

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DuPage River
Shorewood, IL
Put in at Hammel woods, just north of Shorewood off Rt. 59. Class I. Low head dam and small riffles. Rock just before train bridge disappears at higher water (800+)


Conversion/Minimum Suggested Level: 300 cfs?

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Ferson Creek: St. Charles, IL
Bolcum Rd to Randall Road
A real treat when running. Suburban/wooded scenery This run starts in the Royal Hawk Country Club and Finishes in Leroy Oaks Forest Preserve. After passing through the Country Club, it enters into wooded areas and runs through a ravine. Upper class houses eventually appear. The river then returns to the woods when it enters Leroy Oaks. Take out at Leroy Oaks or park at the church on the corner of Randall and Crane (if there are no services or other activities). There are a number of playspots and drops in the class II range. A couple are relative large ledges. Keep an eye out for deadfall in the river, especially between the Golf course and Forest Preserve. Expect multiple muddy portages.


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Fox River
Batavia Dam
Batavia, IL
Access Issue - This dam is listed on the Illinois Dam Safety Act. Once exclusion zones are implemented, it will be a class A misdemeanor punishable by fines and up to a year in jail to approach the dam. Main feature of dam is broken out section near river left shore. This is a jumbled class IV slide. It continues to break out and is always changing. A retaining wall downstream forces current to the side. At low levels, all water goes here. At medium levels, other smaller breaches provide class II drops. At high levels, a natural slide on river right shore is runnable. At low to medium levels, some play exists at the base of the dam.


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Hickory Creek
Below the dam
New Lennox, IL
Hickory Creek is a short run with a few fun spots - Hick is good from 200 up, with 500 to 1200 being the best (4,000 flood stage and possibly dangerous). A few small features with the main draw being "The Squeeze" where the river runs into a concrete canyon. AW info: http://www.americanwhitewater.org/content/River/detail/id/6801/


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Lake Michigan
Montrose Beach
Chicago, IL
Lake surfing is a must-have experience. Watch the marine forcasts. When winds are out of the East/Northeast (North for Indiana) at 15-20 MPH for several hours, expect waves of between 3-12 ft. Kayak surfing is like board surfing but sitting down. Playboats work well, but dedicated surf boats rock. Wear a helmet and remember to lean into the wave. Larger waves give a powerful class IV experience. Sea Kayakers put in at Diversey Harbor. As a general rule, Chicago swimming beaches are closed during the times of year that most often produce waves. They also tend to close on the types of days that produce waves. If life guards or Police are present, they may not let you put in at beach. Folks have put in at south end of Montrose beach in the past. Also, one may often put in at the border of the dog beach. Kayaks are treated the same as motor boats and are expected to stay away from swimming beaches. Dog beach is generally open game. Do not paddle alone, Coast Guard or Police may come to "rescue" you. Montrose is somewhat bowl shaped. Waves reflect off of seawalls on the north end and the breakwater on the south. As a result, haystacks up to twice the size of the normal surf form at random. "Gauge" is a buoy located in middle of lake offshore of Racine.


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Lake Michigan
Illinois Beach State Park - North Unit
Zion, IL
Lake surfing is a must have experience. Watch the marine forcasts. When winds are out of the East/Northeast (North for Indiana) at 15-20 MPH for several hours, expect waves of between 3-12 ft. Kayak surfing is like board surfing but sitting down. Playboats work well, but dedicated surf boats rock. Wear a helmet and remember to lean into the wave. Larger waves give a powerful class IV experience. The North unit of Illinois Beach State Park is generally deserted, giving a nice place to surf. Gets smaller waves than further south spots. Needs a more easterly wind. "Gauge" is a buoy located in middle of lake offshore of Racine.


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Peshtigo River
Wisconsin
A fun intermediate run in northeast Wisconsin, the Peshtigo has great class 2 and 3 rapids with tons of play spots. The dark, tannic water, easy access, and fun rapids make this a midwest favorite. The run is about 4 miles long and has a gradient of 14 feet per mile. The gauge that most paddlers refer to is painted under the Highway C Bridge, on the north end of the east side and is read in inches. While you can scrape your way down at almost any flow, most people consider 5 inches to be a realistic minimum. At 18 inches or higher, you'll notice that it gets more difficult, and around 25 inches it is class 4, with a few holes that are sticky and very hard to avoid. If you paddle the Pesh, check out www.silvercliff.com after your trip. There may be pictures of you on the site. Note: To get the County C bridge reading in inches, subtract 4 feet from the gauge reading at Wabeno (link given on the right). (DMG)


Conversion/Minimum Suggested Level: Subtract 4 feet from gauge height reading

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Root River
Racine, WI
The 600-900 range allows for great leftie 360's at lower pipeline, great front surfing at upper and lower pipeline, and, if you have a short, loose boat you can do 360's on the far river right wave at upper pipeline. Possibly good front surfing at Malted Milk too.

Well, while the full-out freestyle/rodeo crowd doesn't usually bother coming until/unless the Root gets over 1000 (or 1200) cfs, when All Evil has enough depth and is big enough for them to trick it up in there . . . For most other boaters, who can find plenty of fun doing front surfs, side surfs, and flatspins, levels of 500 - 900 or so are the sweetest levels. Almost ALL the waves are 'in', and allow surfs and spins to your heart's content. If you hike (outside the park now ... they're enforcing the 'No Trespassing' past the fence at Upper Pipeline) or drive a short shuttle up to the dam, you can do some surfs (and MAYBE some spins, but not as likely) at Malted Milk (or, as I call it at these lower flows, 'Horlicks Lite'), and there's possible funky play in Diagonal Slice. Most boaters will just put in at Upper Pipeline, though. Both right and left waves here offer surfs and spins, though there's no eddy for the left wave at these flows. Lower Pipeline is great for sidesurfs and spins. Hanging Willows has a smooth, tame, river-left wave for easier front surfs. Right Hip Pocket, Good Intentions, and Mid-Evil are all surfable at the lower 600 range. There is a tree down on river-left at Midevil, but it is out of the way enough as to not be a problem (unless you surf Good Intentions and come off upside-down or out of control). This tree funnels water a bit over to the right, and is making Lesser Evil quite interesting. It was deep and breaking, allowing dynamic surfs and spins at the lower 600s.


Conversion/Minimum Suggested Level: 1200 max but possibly higher for more advanced paddlers

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St. Joseph River
East Race Waterway
South Bend, IN
http://www.sbpark.org/parks/erace.htm ( for forms and info see the CWA ER page) Welcome to the East Race Waterway - the first artificial whitewater course in North America and one of only six in the world. The Waterway opened in 1984 and routinely hosts national and word-class whitewater slalom races. The waterway brings Olympic winners and national champions to South Bend each season. The waterway and surrounding area are ideal settings for a variety of fun family activities. A seasoned, well-trained rescue team is on duty along the course during public operation hours.


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Vermilion River
Ogelsby, IL
The Vermilion is again open to paddling as of 4/1/2012 - as a result of the IL DNR leasing the river thru the cement plan property. This is the best-known whitewater run in Illinois, and its pool and drop character makes it ideal for beginners and advanced boaters alike. Depending on the flow, you will likely encounter plenty of surf waves-- several right at the put in. Wildcat rapid, just inside cement plant property, changed significantly in an April 2009 landslide - and continues to change. The rapid has lost its play character, and now is only a rapid to run, and then move on. One important spot to note is a dangerous low head dam next to the cement factory. Please stay right of the overhead buoys, as being left of the buoys puts a paddler into a DNR-designated NO ENTRY zone, which could net the paddler a ticket. One of the overhead buoys is right at the dam, and the paddler should be within 4-6 feet (to right side) of this buoy to hit the cleanest chute going over the dam. For more info, see http://www.chicagowhitewater.org/cwa/vermilion.asp, and see links in "Related Articles" box.


Conversion/Minimum Suggested Level: Minimum suggested 500 cfs or 3 ft at the bridge. Use this site to help determine current level http://www.wpr.pair.com/vermilion/

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Wisconsin River
Wausau Course
Wausau, WI
Whitewater course in Wausau, WI on the Wisconsin River. http://wausauwhitewater.org/


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Wolf River
Section 4
Langlade, WI
Section 4 is a step up from Section 3 in terms of difficulty. The river features are different as well. Flatwater stretches are mixed with constrictions in the river that concentrate the water, sending it over small waterfalls, ledges and slides. The Menomonee Indian Tribe allows us to run this section for a fee from May to November. The rules and fees have changed several times recently, so check ahead. (DMG)


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Wolf River
Section 3
Langlade, WI
Section 3 of the Wolf River is one of the midwest's standard runs, with a bunch of class 2 boulder garden rapids. There are many possible routes on each rapid, so you can change the pace as your mood and abilities dictate. Gilmore's Mistake, The rapid located behind the Wild Wolf Inn, is a great place to meet other boaters, organize impromptu trips, or wait for friends to arrive. It has lots of play potential and easy access. Please be very considerate here. Herb Buettner owns this land as well as the most popular put in. It is through their generosity that we enjoy such good access to the river. (DMG)


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Farther than 6 hours

River Info Description Links
Big South Fork Of The Cumberland
Northeastern TN
The Big South Fork of the Cumberland River in northern Tennessee (or BSF) can be a Class III-IV boaters dream trip. It has great scenery, technical water and plenty of action. The water levels vary based on rainfall from technical when low to downright pushy at high flows. The BSF offers plenty of big drops and rapids to keep the paddler busy from start to finish. Some of the rapids are long with steep canyon walls making rescue a problem at high water levels. This river is not only spectacular in scenic value; but heart-stopping in paddle pleasure for the experienced boater and their party. The shuttle drives tend to be long and the paddle season is best between November and June based on the rain. The BSF is one river to have on your "must paddle" list. Mostly Class III-IV, but a grade higher at high flow stages. Scenery is excellent to spectacular. For the gauge call the TVA Hotline at (865) 632-4100. (LS)




Charles City Whitewater Park (CCWP)
Iowa
The Charles City Whitewater Park (CCWP) was opened for public use in June 2011. This project is similar to the Yorkville project only in that an existing low head dam was modified to do away with the killer hydraulic at the base of the dam. This project was designed and built by Recreational Engineering and Planning, and is reported to be much more entertaining for the advanced boater than is the Yorkville whitewater course. CCWP consists of three drops, which are described at http://ccwhitewater.com/about See http://ccwhitewater.com/ for more info


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Cheat River
Narrows
Rowlesburg, WV
A short class II-III run with just a few rapids of consequence. Great warmup to the canyon or Yough River nearby. The road is always nearby so a quick takeout is always possible.


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Cheat River
Canyon
Albright, WV
Class III-IV A very pretty river with a lot of great rapids. Call Miller's Shuttle Service at 304.379.3404 to get a shuttle for $10 plus whatever you drink on the way back in the back of his pickup truck.


Conversion/Minimum Suggested Level: Alb. Bridge = (1.55 * Alb. PS) + 0.5

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Chippewa River
Jim Falls Dam
between Chippewa Falls and Cornell, WI
http://www.americanwhitewater.org/rivers/id/4098 The sign in location is north of the Cty Y bridge in Jim Falls. Alternate put-in a couple hundred yards north of the sign in site. You can park in the "Historical Monument" parking and carry your boats down a path to the river instead of hauling them down the steep bank.


Conversion/Minimum Suggested Level: 650 cfs will occur four times annually

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Gauley River

River Level Info:
(304) 872-5809




Gauley River
West Virginia
One of the all time classic whitewater runs. There are two main sections, the Upper and the Lower. The Upper Gauley is a class 4 and 5 run with too many difficult rapids to count. Very few rivers can match it for thrills. Go here only with a very reliable roll, good boat handling, and a good guide who can show you how to avoid the many dangerous spots. The Lower Gauley is a bit easier, class 3 and 4. It is nothing to laugh at, though. It is harder and more dangerous than the Ocoee, to be sure, but a wonderful play run for those ready for it. Nearly every rapid has a great play spot, most with easy access from an adjacent eddy. Gauley Fest, in September, is the AWA's largest fest. Big crowds, on and off the river are either a blessing or curse depending on your point of view. (DMG)


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Nantahala River
NC

River Level Info:
(704) 321-4504, NOC (704) 488-2175




New River
New River Gorge
West Virginia
A great destination in the summer when you donít feel like the Ocoee. In the spring, the New is a huge, big water run. With an enormous watershed, there's always water. At low water it's a favorite place for squirt boaters, especially in The Halls of Karma, the rapid after Lower Keeney. There are a couple of dangerous spots; so make sure someone shows you down the first time. At summer and early fall flows, I consider it a touch harder than the Ocoee, maybe class 3/4. I hear that it gets much harder at higher water. (DMG)


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Obed River
Obed System
Wartburg, TN
The Obed Wild and Scenic River sytem in Tennessee offers paddling in some of the most beautiful scenery in the Southeast. The rivers and creeks of this system are technical, but not overly pushy. You'll find steep gorges, thick forested banks and plenty of wildlife on the Obed system. There are a variety of river choices for every skill level in the Obed system. Clear Creek offers Class II-III on crystal clear water. Daddy's Creek has nerve racking Class III-IV water at mid to higher water levels, with several nasty undercut rocks. The Obed itself is a Class II-III paddlers dream, but it also throws a couple of Class IV rapids to get your attention. The Obed system offers the long weekend paddler a different option for each day. This is a rainfall dependent river drainage and you should keep an eye on the weather. Difficulty is from easy Class II to heavy Class IV-V depending on the weather. Scenery is beautiful to spectacular in spots. For the gauge call the TVA at (865) 632-6065 (LS)




Ocoee River
Ducktown, TN

River Level Info:
(615) 632-2264

The Ocoee River is probably one the premier playboating rivers in the U.S. The Ocoee is a dam controlled river and this provides paddling from March to November. This is a river for the intermediate to advanced paddler comfortable on Class III & IV water and is the perfect playground for aspiring playboaters. The Ocoee has a variety of big holes, surfing waves and hairy lines to provide a super play day for just about everyone. This is the river for working on the skills needed for the bigger river trips. Your heart rate will jump when you get to rapids like Table Saw and Hell's Hole! Difficulty is class III-IV with beautiful scenery. For the gauge call the TVA Hotline at (432) 632-4100 (LS)




Slippery Rock Creek
Wurtemburg, PA
Located 1 hour northwest of Pittsburg, PA., about 8-9 hours from Chicago. It is a nice one to do on the way to the Yough. One of the prettiest rivers in the country. There are two sections. Top section is the harder, but funner section. It is a class III run. There is a portage around a powerhouse dam in the middle. The lower section is a class II that is nearly as pretty. River is low volume and drop-pool in nature. Cliffs, thick vegetation, and hanging gardens is the normal scenery.


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St. Francis
Fredricktown, Missouri
Located 1 hour SW of St. Louis, Mo. and about 7 hours from chicago. This is a nice play run. At lower levels it is a generally easy class II (with one class III). At high levels, it challenges even experts and hits class V and above. Runs through wooded hill terrain in a state forest. Very popular run with Missouri boaters. It is flashy and is therefore hard for Chicago boaters to catch. When it is high, several smaller creeks in the aera become runnable


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Youghigheny
Top Yough
Maryland
The Top Yough, in northwest Maryland, has the most technical water the river has to offer. It starts with Swallow Falls, a huge sliding waterfall. After that is tons of boulder garden, with most of your visibility blocked by huge rocks. This section is rainfall dependent, and is usually a springtime run. It's mostly class 4. (DMG)


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Youghigheny
Upper Yough
Friendsville, MD

River Level Info:
(814) 533-8911

The Upper Yough comes next, and on days when there is a water release, it contains the most difficult rapids on the river. It's just a hair less technical than the Top, but it has a lot more push to it. I know from experience that there is a hiking trail on river right that you can walk out on if you're in over your head. It's a long walk from Zinger to the Town of Friendsville, Maryland, but I'm alive to tell about it. (DMG)


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Youghigheny
Lower Yough
Ohiopyle, PA
The Lower Yough is by far the most popular section of the Yough, with one great class 3 rapid after another. "Swimmers" is one of the greatest surf holes on the planet. It is here that Todd Leigh did his now famous juggling while surfing act. Ohiopyle is a fun town with lots of boat shops and other activities like mountain biking. (DMG)


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Youghigheny River
Maryland and PA
The Yough is a reliable river for summer fun. There are several sections, from class 2 to class 5. In the summer, you can find some Chicago people there almost every weekend. (DMG)


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