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My Favorite River: West Branch DuPage River

By: Don Mueggenborg

It was just one of those near perfect days – in spite of the weather reports. The temperature had dropped from 90 degrees when I left Lemont, down to 87 with a soft breeze.   Our destination was the Mack Road landing (and dog park).

A couple years ago, funds became available to clean up toxic waste left over from about 1940 or earlier. Much of the river bottom was dredged and replaced. It is probably one of the cleanest rivers in Illinois now. When they redid the river, someone thought it would be a good idea to place boulders in the river – to increase the flow? In low water, these can be a problem, especially paddling upstream.

Today the river was up some and we headed up stream. Negotiating between boulders and fast current in a winding stream was a challenge at times.

As we approached Gary’s Mill Road, there were fewer boulders and a lot of yellow water lilies. Upstream of Rt 38, we lost the water lilies and the water was rather quiet.

Tree lined banks, a grove of dead trees off to the west, trees with vines (probably Virginia Creeper – they will be beautiful come fall).   One old Oak stood out with its many branches reaching out in all directions.

Cormorants in the trees, herons, a cardinal flew right by almost close enough to touch. Kingfishers. I was surprised no turtles sunning themselves.

An hour took us to Gary’s Mill Forest Preserve and time to return.

Now with the current, things looked a little different. We looked for the V between rock and tried to find the fastest current.

The takeout came too soon.

We had plenty of company – 9 kayaks passed us headed downstream – not one group, but singles or pairs. One with a small girl spread over her father’s bow while he pulled the kayak. It was a long trip for her.

There are canoe landings in Winfield, at Mack Road, in Warrenville, and McDowell Woods. (The landing in Winfield is about ½ block off the road, but the bank is really not too steep to launch right there.)   In Warrenville, they removed the picturesque dam leaving a chute you can paddle. (Takeout either upstream or downstream of the chute.)

McDowell Woods has a takeout just a few feet from the parking lot (each stretch should take about an hour and a half or so).

Below McDowell Woods, there is a rocky chute where a dam was removed. Downstream is what I call the guillotine dam. (The gates drop down like the blade ready to behead a canoe when they close off the dam.) There is a drop at the dam. The forest preserve tells you to portage and be safe. I understand that there was a problem there earlier this year.

You can continue on past the Naperville Riverwalk to Pioneer Park.

You can go upstream from Winfield, over a small dam that you can paddle over. One winter we took our big canoe upstream from Winfield on a warm January day and paddled through fields of snow. Beautiful. We also have done a guerilla put-in (park at the side of the road and put in by a bridge) at St Charles Road (water very low). We paddled past a golf course and picked up dozens of balls. We gave them to the first golfer we saw.

In low water, you do not want to paddle an aluminum boat in the West branch where we did.

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