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Kankakee River in Illinois

Trip Overview

Bruce and I met at the Warner Bridge put-in around 0845, and the water was flowing indeed, and there were no other paddlers in sight. DNR officer checking for boat licenses, but gave no warning on what we were about to get ourselves into physically in the section of Kanakee River west of Rock Creek; this is the fastest section of the entire river. This is not the family friendly section that is on the canoe rental ads, we soon found out. Unloaded, packed our dry hatches, cloudy 45F day for the launch.

Immediately aware of the significant current, the river was about 50 yards wide at the put-in and we struggled north at a lowly 2.3 mph by GPS in this, the easiest section of paddling we'd see all day. It was heavy paddling - we predicted that we were paddling about twice as many strokes as we would on flat-water (quicker rate). In places of narrows, such as under bridge, we literally were making no forward progress. The water was crisp and clean, and although shallow on the river edges, the edges provided some limited relief from the current. The current, tested by float and GPS, was at 2.5-3.0 mph or more at least; faster by gorges and rock outcroppings. At one point we had to paddle backwards and cross a treacherous stretch even to maintain any upstream progress capsize was the last thing we wanted. Although we had to walk portage one area due to fast current, the remainder we paddled. My GPS shuts off (battery saver) when it senses no motion for a period of time; it shut off at least a dozen times even when I was stroking like a fiend. High angle paddle style hit rocks on bottom, so fast pace low angle was the name of the game. No consistent "slowing" of the river at the margins/egdes, and at times the edges were even faster current than the deeper middle water.

Happy to meet Magicpaddler at about 4/5ths of the way upstream from our put-in, and had a nice conversation; very much looking forward to paddling with you and the Rob Roy, Magic. You seem to be a fun and good person. We only managed about mile more upstream after we saw you before the current overcame us with fatigue, although we did in fact get up the toughest, fastest portion of the river, per Svob. This gave us a sense of accomplishment. Still cloudy, 50F now, wetsuits and windbreakers, and we took a nice break at Kankakee State Park, only 3.22 miles upstream from our put-in, but having logged about 2.5 hours of paddling at that point. With GPS, figured average progress upstream was about 1.5 mph! Walkers at Wal-Mart walk 2 mph, and speed walkers walk 3.5 mph! A fitenss walker at the park came up to us and was flabbergasted when we told him we just paddled up from Warner Bridge (since he was right there handy, we used him to take a picture of us all fagged out on the bench with our kayaks riverside). We were whipped, but for a first paddle of the year, the Calabrias did well (thank God for poly boats. many rocks, the sweet Rob Roy would have been history, Magic).

The trip back to the put-in, as you could imagine, was highly anticipated by us at that point, although we had some trepidation about a capsize still in the dangerous crosscurrents. But we stayed dry, and using our average, comfortable paddle stroke, plus the current, we averaged get this about 6.4-6.6 mph on the GPS going downstream. We were modockin! We were back at the boat launch in about 45 minutes.

A great early season paddle.


Camping available for a fee.


IL Licensed Paddling Boat


Interstate 57 to the Kankakee exit 312, then Court Street to Route 102 to Kankakee River State Park.


Svob, Paddling Illinois, details this exact route, but does not suggest upstream paddle like we attempted. We should have listened to Svob
  • Skill Level: Advanced
  • Water Type: River/Creek (Up to Class II)
  • Group Rates: No

Locations on this Trip