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My Favorite Rivers – Upper Des Plaines

By Don Mueggenborg



It is not often that you get a “new” river to paddle without leaving the old one. This year for the Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon, we will have a different river to paddle as more dams are removed. Most of this stretch of river is within forest preserve so you see trees, birds, maybe a beaver or coyote.

Of course, you can paddle this river whether or not you paddle the marathon. It is a lot of fun paddling with several hundred other people on the river with you, but a solo paddle or paddle with a couple friends on the quiet river can be enjoyable also.

We start out at Oak Spring Road in Libertyville. Take the ramp down to the river or launch from the shore. There is plenty of parking, except on race day when you might have to walk a block from your car to the put-in.

Note – there is also a bike path. Paddle down to Vernon Hills and bike back for a change of pace. I love to paddle and bike. You might even be able to load the bike in the canoe and only shuttle one way to pick up your canoe. Sorry kayakers, I haven’t seen the kayak that can carry a bike.

Within minutes there is a sharp curve to the left – fun when 10 other boats are trying to make the turn with you. Then under Rt. 73 and Old Rockland Rd. For a short trip, there is a park just past the bridge.

We wind our way downstream. As we round a bend, a large building rises to your right and you are approaching Hollister Dam. Is the dam still there (if so, slide over the notch in the center of the dam). If the dam is gone, how has the river changed?

Vernon Hills has a unique takeout. Just under the bike path bridge, there is an opening into a pond and the takeout is from the pond. (The IPC and Marathon helped put in this portage.) (If you planned to bike, this is probably a good spot to combine the two.)

Below the Vernon Hills access there is another small dam, or was a small dam. Again, if it is gone, has the river changed?

More bends, some shallow water by the golf course. This always provides a challenge – you usually can get through if you are very careful (apparently I am seldom careful for I often touch gravel with boat or paddle).

There is a park off Half Day road that can be used as a takeout. There is also a launch site in Lincolnshire, but I find that hard to find – both from the river and from the road.

Continue on – shoot though the old Ryerson Dam. This was taken out a couple years ago; not much effect on the water level, but fun to go through.

Look for the big blue building. Get over to the right as there are remnants of an old dam on the left (stay with the current and you should be ok).

At Potawatomi Woods (Dundee Rd), there is an area near the river to launch canoes. This is the start of the Minithon part of the Des Plaines Marathon. About five miles to go to the Marathon takeout.

A new river – Dam # 1 has been removed and the river is busy finding its channel. The long stretch above the old dam may be a grind with low water.

Under Willow Road and the river seems to have fewer curves. Start looking for Milwaukee Road bridge and fast water before Allison Woods – the last takeout before the Dam # 2 finish line.

A few more bends – ducks by the nature center – Euclid Ave – and Dam # 2 takeout is in sight. Again, a new river as Dam # 2 has been removed. Nice takeout at Dam #2 woods.

It was a fun run – on race day, stop and get a sandwich, talk with friends and fellow paddlers, listen to the band and enjoy.

The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon and the Minithon will be held May 17, 2015. Go to canoemarathon.com to register and join the fun.

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