Canoe Program General Information

Friends of the Chicago River’s Canoe Program started in 1992 to support Friends’ mission to improve and protect the Chicago-Calumet River system by providing opportunities for beginner and seasoned paddlers to participate in stewardship and educational events that connect them with the river. Trips are coordinated by Annette Anderson, Friends’ volunteer, event and canoe program manager, and supported by our enthusiastic and dedicated volunteer canoe guides. This document provides guidance for those interested in setting up a canoe trip with Friends.

General Planning Information  

  • The paddle schedule is organized January – April. With many reoccurring clients and grant-required trips, we encourage you to request trips as early as possible to ensure the greatest flexibility in dates and location. Adding trips during the season is not impossible but difficult and unlikely. Capacity is based on the availability of our volunteer guide team and our two trailers which hold ten canoes each.
  • We offer public and private trips, May – October, and most leave and return to the same public dock. Trips are hosted throughout the watershed from the Skokie Lagoons to the Calumet River; different locations feature different notable Friends projects, river history, and vary in environmental landscape and difficulty.
  • There is a 10 person minimum to organize a private trip. Most trips are 14 people, we can accommodate up to 32 people at one time, or rotate paddlers to bring out more while adding service on land for those not on the water.

Age Limitations

Groups planning trips including minors need to discuss ages with the canoe program manager during planning, as some locations are more appropriate for minors than others. We strive to be family-friendly, so children as young as five may accompany paddling parents/guardians in the center of the canoe (if they are able to follow directions). Paddlers 8 - 12 years old generally need to paddle with an adult; ages 13 -17 may paddle together depending on location.

Friends Provides

  • We provide pre-trip communications including how to dress and what to bring.

  • We provide all equipment, snacks, a safety talk and paddle 101 before the trip launches.

  • Six to eight trained canoe guides to support the trip with on the water safety monitoring and paddle coaching  

  • All participants are required to sign a Friends waiver online or in person. Minors need a guardian or parent to sign on their behalf.

Trip Costs

Trips costs cover program planning, equipment, insurance, and help support Friends’ mission. Our pricing starts at $80 per person for a 3 hour trip. Non-profits receive a 10% discount. Returning clients receive a 10% partner discount. Clean ups are $10 off per participant.

Cancellation Policy

Friends reserves the right to cancel the planned canoe trip at any point up until the scheduled start time due to safety, weather issues or other causes outside of its control. Canoe trips cannot happen within 48 hours of a combined sewer overflow (CSO) upriver from the launch site. Should this take place, Friends staff will contact the group to either change locations, reschedule or cancel the event. Should inclement weather be a concern, Friends will communicate with the group 3-4 hours prior to the event start time to make the decision about hosting or rescheduling the event. The group leader will communicate with participants if there is a cancelation or rescheduling. If Friends decides to cancel the event due to weather or other causes outside of its control, Friends will provide the group with an opportunity to reschedule or will remit a refund minus a 20% planning fee. Should the Group cancel the event 6 weeks or more before the scheduled event date, Friends requires a 20% planning fee. Friends will work with the group to reschedule, but makes no guarantee rescheduling will be possible.

Should the group cancel the event within 6 weeks of the event Friends retains 80% of the total program fee, and is not obligated to reschedule.

Next Steps

To learn more or plan a trip, please send a few times when you are available for a planning call to Friends Volunteer, Event and Canoe Program Manager, Annette Anderson at

This information is available for download in a pdf here. 


Thank you for your interest in the connecting to the Chicago-Calumet river system by organizing a canoe trip with your group. We sincerely hope we can accommodate your requests and help each paddler grow their connection to this amazing natural resource.