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Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan.

Popular Boating Destinations in and Around Chicago

May 8, 2024 | Family Life

Boating in Chicago is as good as it gets. From the extensive harbor system along Lake Michigan to boating through the downtown Chicago River, the Windy City is a boater’s dream. There are also excellent fishing and sailing options around Chicago within a vast river system.

The Metro Self Storage team is here to help you find popular summer destinations by water and keep you updated on Illinois boating and fishing requirements. Whether you’re a seasoned vessel captain or want to dip your toe in what boating around the Windy City is like, this guide is for you.

Chicago Harbors

The city’s Chicago Park District runs 10 Chicago harbors along a 14-mile stretch of Lake Michigan’s shoreline. From May 1 until Oct. 31 every year, these harbors provide marinas for over 6,000 boats with easy access to Lake Michigan and the Chicago River:

  • 31st Street Harbor
  • 59th Street Harbor
  • Belmont Harbor
  • Burnham Harbor
  • Diversey Harbor
  • DuSable Harbor
  • Jackson Park Inner Harbor
  • Jackson Park Outer Harbor
  • Monroe Harbor
  • Montrose Harbor

Fuel up and dock your boat at any harbors for the day or an extended stay. The dockage cost will depend on the harbor you choose, the length of your boat, and if you need a boat stall or plan on mooring. Nonresidents of Chicago can expect an additional 20% fee.

Experience Chicago From Your Boat

View of Chicago from a boat cruising the river.

Boating down the Chicago River allows you to experience the city uniquely and conveniently. You can avoid road traffic to your favorite restaurants and soak in the sights.

Dock and Dine Along the Chicago River

Some restaurants have prime real estate along the downtown Chicago riverfront, where you can dock your boat and enjoy dinner with a view. Whether you’re in the mood for a classic Chicago dish or a fine dining experience, the Chicago River has many options to feed any of your passengers’ appetites.

  • Smith and Wollensky. Fine dining for any size party, this has been a Windy City staple since 1998.
  • River Roast. Great for brunch, lunch, or dinner, this restaurant is on many lists of Chicago’s favorites.
  • City Winery Riverwalk. Reserve a dock and enjoy what City Winery offers from your vessel.
  • Pizzeria Portofino. This fancy pizza joint “will transport you to the Italian Riviera.”
  • RPM Seafood. Sharing a dock with Pizzeria Portofino, RPM Seafood features three levels with indoor and outdoor options.
  • Lawrence’s Fish and Shrimp. The area has four locations, but the one on Canal Street is along the South Branch Chicago River. It’s perfect for docking and dining.
  • Azul. Latin-inspired food that has attracted Hollywood stars to their rooftop lounge near the North Branch Chicago River.

Sightseeing Chicago Landmarks From the Water

While cruising the Lake Michigan coast and through the Chicago River, you’ll see plenty of places Chicago is known for. The cityscape from the water is breathtaking, but if you look closer, you’ll spot some key landmarks.

Lake Michigan offers views of the Shedd Aquarium, Grant Park, the Art Institute of Chicago, and more. At the mouth of the Chicago River, the famous Navy Pier has its own marina, and in 2025, it plans to revamp its docks and add more accommodations. NFL fans can also see the Chicago Bears’ Soldier Field while boating Lake Michigan. The franchise announced plans for a potential new stadium that would still sit along the lakefront if the funding proposal passes.

As you enter the Chicago River, you’ll cruise alongside the Chicago Riverwalk. Tall buildings will surround you, including the third tallest structure in the country, the Willis Tower. Formerly known as the Sears Tower, it was the world’s tallest building from 1974 until 1998. It’s hard to miss!

Where To Fish In and Around Chicago

People fishing in a Chicago harbor.

Grab your tackle box and fishing rod and cast your line in the Windy City. Largemouth bass and northern pike are plentiful if you fish offshore, while different fish species live in the deep waters of Lake Michigan.

Chicago River, Lagoons, and Lakefront Fishing Sites

The Chicago Park District oversees 40 fishing sites between the Chicago River, lagoons, and lakefronts. Lakefront fishing is year-round in Lake Michigan and mainly consists of the harbors. Catch perch and smelt near the shoreline, and head out on your boat to catch salmon and trout in the open water. The Chicago River and lagoon fishing areas cannot be accessed by motor boat.

Wolf Lake Fishing

You’ll find Wolf Lake at the Illinois-Indiana border, home of the William W. Powers State Recreation Area. Wolf Lake has a boat launch and several fish, including largemouth bass, northern pike, bluegill, redear sunfish, crappie, walleye, and more.

Set Sail and Fish in Des Plaines, IL

Lake Park in Des Plaines offers boating, sailing, and fishing, among other summer activities, at Lake Opeka. Boating season is weather-dependent but is usually open from April 1 to October 31st. Cast your line in Lake Opeka for largemouth bass, bluegill, white crappie, northern pike, and channel catfish.

According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, the Des Plaines River is the longest stream in the Chicago region. It flows for 133 miles from southern Wisconsin through northern Illinois. Popular for catching Northern Pike, you can fish from the shore or by canoe and kayak.

Illinois Boating and Fishing Guidelines

The Handbook of Illinois Boating Laws and Responsibilities details everything you need to know before you launch your boat into Chicago waters. Here are a few boating law pointers:

  • Ensure your boat is registered in Illinois or another state if you don’t plan on boating Illinois waters for more than 60 days. Boat registrations expire every three years.
  • Have one floatable lifejacket for each person aboard your boat and one throwable flotation device per vessel.
  • You must be 18 or older to operate a boat, but children between 10 and 17 are permitted under competent adult supervision.
  • Drinking while operating a boat can get you in serious trouble if your blood alcohol level is 0.08% or higher.

For fishing, follow the Illinois Fishing 2024 Regulation Information provided by the state. Here are some general fishing guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Fishing licenses are required to catch fish in Illinois waters legally.
  • You can fish without a permit if you’re 16 or younger.
  • Read the regulations for fish size and bag limit. It differs for each fish species you catch.

Store Your Boat and Fishing Gear at Metro Self Storage

At Metro Self Storage, we offer a range of boat storage options. Protect your yacht and trailer from the harsh Illinois winters in our covered boat storage units, which can fit watercraft of all sizes. For moderate weather, our outdoor boat storage is an affordable solution. Our indoor self storage is an option if you have a small fishing boat, kayak, or canoe.

When you’re not on the water, use our boat storage facilities at any of these seven Illinois locations:

If you don’t have a boat but still need fishing gear storage for your fishing lines, rods, hooks, bait, and boxes, you can find the right one at any of these 21 Metro Self Storage locations in and around the Chicago area.

We offer a variety of storage unit sizes at 80+ locations in the U.S. You can also call us or use our FAQ page to find the boating storage answer you’re looking for.