Grab your canoe, kayak or paddleboard and float around Lake County

Grab your canoe, kayak or paddleboard and float around Lake County

We live most of our lives on dry land. But there are benefits to leaving solid earth behind and paddling some of the lakes and rivers flowing through Lake County.

Some perks of paddle sports are exercising, connecting with nature and managing stress.

Luckily, 11 paddling locations are available in your Lake County Forest Preserves, from inland lakes to launches on the Des Plaines River (DPR) and Fox River.

Common types of paddlecraft include canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards (SUPs). Canoes sit higher in the water and offer more room for supplies. Kayaks offer less room but sit lower in the water, which can feel more stable. SUPs combine aspects of kayaking and surfing, and allow flexibility to sit, kneel or stand while paddling.

Not sure which you prefer? The marina at Independence Grove Forest Preserve near Libertyville rents canoes, kayaks, SUPs and other watercraft seasonally for use on the preserve's 129-acre lake.

Four favorite floats

Environmental educators and volunteers at the Lake County Forest Preserves have been paddling for decades. Their top destinations for paddling in the preserves are as clear as a spring stream. Here are the top four.

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The Des Plaines River offers six canoe launches and 34 miles of water for paddling. Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves

Des Plaines River, 34 miles

Take advantage of six canoe launches and paddle through 12 preserves on the DPR. Enjoy viewing maples, willows and prairie grasses in northern Lake County, where the river valley is wide and the water meanders. In central and southern Lake County, the valley narrows and the river charts a straighter course through oak woodlands. Try to spot a mink den along the banks.


• Use of canoe launches is free and at your own risk.

• Set off from the launch in Van Patten Woods Forest Preserve near Wadsworth at Russell Road to experience the northern stretch of the DPR. Check the river gauge there to ensure the flow is 40 cubic feet per second or higher. If lower, frequent portaging may be required.

• For the southern stretch, launch from Independence Grove.

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Hastings Lake near Lake Villa is a popular location for paddling and features a wheelchair-accessible floating dock. Courtesy of Michelle Wendling

Hastings Lake, near Lake Villa, 74 acres

A paddle on Hastings Lake offers lovely vistas of surrounding uplands and wetlands. Keep watch for American white pelicans and other migrating birds. See fish and muskrats bustling in the crystal-clear water. Bluegill, largemouth bass and other species live here. State fishing regulations apply.

• Restrooms are a distance from the boat launch.

• A wheelchair-accessible fishing pier is on-site.

• Parking and lake access for cartop boats and other small, nonmotorized watercraft are available.

• Electric trolling motors are allowed.

• Trailers are not permitted.

<h3 class="leadin">Lake Carina, near Gurnee, 23 acres

A former gravel pit, Lake Carina is now a popular fishing hole, but some may not know about the paddling opportunities here. We recommend floating with the clouds on this wonderfully clear lake. Lie down on a paddleboard and enjoy looking at the sky. Reflected on the clear water, an inverted mirror of clouds surrounds you as you gaze upon a dreamy dome of fluffiness above.

This site offers:

• Calm water, excellent for paddling practice.

• Wheelchair-accessible fishing pier.

• Shoreline fishing.

• Access for cartop boats, canoes, kayaks, SUPs and other small, nonmotorized watercraft.

• Electric trolling motors are allowed.

• Trailers are not permitted.

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One of the oldest known oak trees in the forest preserves stands near Sterling Lake at Van Patten Woods. Courtesy of the Lake County Forest Preserves

Sterling Lake at Van Patten Woods, near Wadsworth, 87 acres

Float into serenity on Sterling Lake. Our educators use this location for sunset and full moon paddling programs because of its accessibility and abundant wildlife.

Quietly paddling into coves on this lake often rewards visitors with a glimpse of beaver lodges and soft-shell turtles basking in the sun. In spring and fall, this is a fun place to watch migrating waterfowl with a picturesque forest backdrop.

• A gorgeous, old-growth oak tree - one of the oldest known in the preserves - standing near the lake.

• Wheelchair-accessible floating dock.

• Two fishing piers.

• Boat ramp and sand launch area.

• Access for cartop boats, canoes, kayaks, SUPs and other small, nonmotorized watercraft.

• Electric trolling motors are allowed.

• Trailers are permitted, but parking is limited to the grass overflow parking lot.

• This column was written by Brett Peto, environmental communications specialist with the Lake County Forest Preserves.

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