Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kayaking Skokie Lagoons

Skokie Lagoons (894 acres) is comprised of seven inter-connected lagoons located on the east side of I-94 (Edens Expressway) near the northern Chicago suburb of Glencoe. Originally a huge mass of marshes and wetlands, much of the area was drained by early settlers for agriculture. The area was known by the indigenous Potawatomi Tribe as Chebab Skokie ("big wet prairie"). In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps' largest national project was digging the current lagoon system, partially to alleviate flooding but also for recreational use.

A huge restoration was initiated by the Chicago Audubon Society and forest preserve from 1995 to 1999. All the fish were killed off, huge dredging operations removed decades of sediment, banks were re-established, invasive plants were replaced with local varieties, and fish were re-stocked in the lagoons.

Believe it or not, this is the boat launch ramp to the right of the Tower Road dock. Several weeks of rain that year had all our Chicago area waterways well above flood stage when this photo was taken. This launch is located at the Tower Road exit of Edens Expressway, immediately east of the expressway on the south side of Tower Road just before the bridge over the lagoon connector channel. This is the best place (at normal water levels) to launch and it provides access to lagoons 3 and 4 and 5, which suffices for most recreational boaters. You can also portage over low dams and dikes to reach the other lagoons.

This dam creates the seven lagoons of Skokie Lagoons as well as the lagoons north of here for Chicago Botanic Gardens, but again, this photo was taken at flood level. It is generally much lower. 

The North Branch of the Chicago River bike trail follows the river that flows from this dam. In addition, these seven lagoons are stepped up in height with three other dams, so two lagoons are on one level, the next three on a higher level, and the final two the highest. These three dams have stairs and concrete stoops to assist portaging, but they are designed more for canoes and rowboats than kayaks since their heights above water level require standing in the vessel to step up onto the stairs, but kayakers can easily portage over the land dikes alongside the dams. The gradations on the right-most post of this dam reads 620 feet above sea level.


Skokie Lagoons area measures 190 acres with depths up to 16 feet. Forest Way Drive borders the lagoons on the east and you could launch from shore in a variety of places. The North Branch of the Chicago River Bike Trail also makes a loop around the lagoons, giving some very nice views.

This map shows the layout of the lagoons and also the waters of the Botanic Gardens. You can see Forest Way Drive east of the lagoons and the Edens on the west border (click to enlarge.)



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