The hustle and bustle of the city can’t touch the calm waters of Lake Michigan. There, on gently rolling waves surrounded by fresh breezes, Kayak Chicago hosts tours and lessons, and lets paddlers take to the waters on their own with rentals. Captained by Dave Olson, a kayaker for more than 20 years and outdoor educator for more than 10, the company entrusts certified instructors and guides with shaping the strokes of kayaking newbies. Their tours take aquatic explorers down the Chicago River at night to ooh and ahh over summer fireworks or during the day to survey the city’s renowned architecture and map out their next bank heist. The staff also plants patrons on standup paddleboards for introductory lessons or wave-top rounds of SUPYoga or SUPPilates.
Situated near Chicago Avenue at the Chicago River, Wateriders' experienced and knowledgeable guides have been leading relaxed kayak tours down Chicago’s picturesque waterways since 1997. Day and night tours explore the city's most exciting attributes, focusing on history, architecture, and eerie mob chronicles as guides provide paddling instruction and share true tales of Al Capone's mythical collection of tracksuits. Wateriders also rents its kayaks to independent paddlers who prefer to discover Chicago's sights on their own.
The die-hard paddlers of Geneva Kayak Center stay on the move throughout the year—both in their watercraft and across the globe. From May to September, they are headquartered in and around Chicago, where they teach kayaking during courses, workshops, and quick orientations, and dole out kayaks, canoes, and tubes for those who want to explore the Fox River's whitewater on their own.
When cold breezes start to blow through the Windy City, they head to Saint Marys, Georgia, to lead kayak camps and sea adventures on the Cumberland Island National Seashore. They also lead curated adventures off the costs of Alaska and Maine and in Wisconsin's idyllic Door County, where kayakers might spot deer grazing on grass or nibbling on cheese curds.
Janée Matteson is a little wary of technology. The more ubiquitous it becomes, she finds, it has more potential to keep kids indoors (a trend she has dubbed “acute nature deficit disorder”). Janée, whose family’s roots have been growing in Morris for nearly 200 years, basically spent her entire childhood outside, learning fur trapping and duck hunting with her father on the banks of the Illinois River. So in addition to her deep passion for the outdoors, founding Kayak Morris was largely inspired by doing whatever she could to help kids, their families, and domesticated teddy bears spend more time in nature.
Kayak Morris offers kayak and canoe lessons, and in addition, patrons can borrow their largely new fleet for leisurely trips along the Illinois River, Mazon River, or Illinois and Michigan Canal, which are home to wildlife such as great-blue herons, bald eagles, coyotes and red-tailed hawks. The staff also lead guided ecotours, which teach kids and adults about natural resources and what they can do to preserve and protect them for future generations. Family-focused private campgrounds is adjacent to the State Park along the rivers’ sandy shores invite groups to stay for monthly Glampouts (glamorous campouts) and spend their days taking advantage of potluck dinners, hiking, fishing, bike rentals, or guided kayak tours and to spend their nights watching a movie on Morris’ outdoor projection screen as campfires crackle nearby.
Brothers Aaron and Asher Gershenzon and friend James Morro grew up in the city, but always possessed a passion for the outdoors. They practiced wilderness kayaking for most of their lives before earning their American Canoe Association certifications on Lake Superior. Each of them brings dual passions for their home city and outdoor sports to the company’s guided group and private kayak trips. Guided paddles change on every outing as guides blend downtown architectural commentary and little-known Al Capone stories with tie-ins to current events. Though each guide tells different stories, often interspersed with humor, all of them focus on environmentally friendliness. Paddling trips utilize a fleet of lime-green Confluence Watersports kayaks, and staffers often wear lime-green shirts—all of which render them easily identifiable from the riverwalk, but well camouflaged in supermarket produce sections.
One guide leads six participants and prepares them with a briefing on paddling techniques, rules of the river, and assurances of the stability of their wide-river kayaks. The guides' watchful eyes and constant advice have instilled confidence in even the most unsure participants, including basketball player Andre Iguodala, who slowly grew accustomed to his kayak by the end of his session. When not guiding trips, staffers provide their single and tandem kayaks to customers who want to explore the river on their own. They extend their easygoing atmosphere to their office—nestled across the river from the Centennial Fountain's Water Arc—where picnic tables stand by the storefront, and the owners' chocolate Labrador frolics inside around a hanging hammock.