I’ve always enjoyed boating on Lake Michigan, but I didn’t always know if you could boat from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
Instead of towing my boat to the Mississippi River, I thought it would be fun to make the journey on the water by driving my boat there. Whatever obstacles I’d face would be worth it for the adventure.
You can boat from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River by going through the Chicago, Des Plaines, and Illinois Rivers. There are connecting points along the way that will require you to pass through locks, which are stops that allow boats to cross river sections with different water levels.
The longest stretch of water from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River is the Illinois River, which is about 273 miles long. The entire trip from the Chicago Harbor in Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River is about 327 miles long.
If you are fond of waterways with different types of scenery, boating from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River should provide a number of landscapes for you to enjoy. You’ll be able to boat through the city and natural settings.
What Do I Need To Boat From Lake Michigan To The Mississippi River?
It doesn’t require anything that special to make the trip from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
The main things you’ll need are a dependable boat that is around 36 feet long and a solid boating experience.
Since you might have to take your boat through tight spaces, using a much longer boat may prove more difficult.
Your boat should also be able to make it under a vertical height of 17 feet or so.
If you can lower or break down parts of your boat that extend beyond 17 feet, your boat should be able to make it through fine.
The entire journey from the Chicago Harbor of Lake Michigan to where the Illinois River meets the Mississippi River is over a few hundred miles.
Depending on how fast your boat is traveling, it may take you many hours or several days to get to where you want to go.
Since it’s unlikely you’ll want to stop at the exact point you hit the Mississippi River, you should plan for as much travel time as possible.
To keep you and your passengers properly nourished during your trip, you should have adequate food and water on board in case you are unable to find resources along the way.
The amount of food and drinks you should have on board depends on how many passengers are traveling with you and how much you expect them to consume.
I personally like to make stops and explore various areas along the waterway when possible, so I will usually plan ahead of time to see where I can pick up goods.
I’ll also plan for docking, lodging and sightseeing on land, which can help to alleviate stress when it comes to navigation.
In terms of boating experience, you will run into several river locks that will require you to stop your boat and wait in an enclosed area before proceeding.
Though the process is generally straightforward for experienced boaters, you should familiarize yourself with specific lock locations and processes before heading out.
You have properties and accessories to secure your boat to walls when stopped at locks.
Why Should I Boat From Lake Michigan To The Mississippi River?
The waterways from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River have many fantastic views of Chicago and the more natural environments on the outskirts of the city.
Taking a boat trip along this path is a great way to relax, enjoy time with passengers, and see how the landscape changes as you move along.
As with narrower waterways, boaters are expected to travel at a relatively low rate of speed.
Being around other boats that aren’t zipping all around you will help to make your trip more easygoing.
Unlike a more open water excursion, I feel boating through rivers to be more pleasant since we are guided by the defined path of the rivers.
I don’t have to worry as much about navigating a large body of water and figuring out where to go.
For adventurous boaters that enjoy extended sightseeing trips across the United States, you might be interested in boating along the Great Loop.
The Great Loop is a circular boating path that goes down the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico, then eastward around Florida up to the New York area.
The path continues westward through either Canada or the northern part of the United States until you return to the Lake Michigan area.
The route from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River is a key segment of the Great Loop that takes you from cityscapes to the countryside.
There is a stark transition that occurs along this route that is unique to all other segments of the Great Loop.
While I have yet to traverse the entire length of the Great Loop, I feel going from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River is a great way to prepare for what lies ahead.
There are a number of stops, transitions, and conditions that are probably similar to other waterways along the Great Loop.
If you need to transport goods from the Chicago area to somewhere along the Mississippi River, it might be worthwhile for you to transport the goods on your boat.
Compared to sending goods by land or air, using a boat might be cheaper and more efficient depending on what you are transporting and your final destination for the goods.
How Do I Boat From Lake Michigan To The Mississippi River?
There are various ways to get from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River on your boat.
We’ll take you through a general route that starts from the Chicago Harbor and ends on the Mississippi River near the city of Grafton, Illinois.
If your boat is in Lake Michigan, you would first make your way to the Chicago Harbor, which will lead you into the Chicago River.
You will then need to travel to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal, which is a relatively short distance inward to the south.
You should then travel the length of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal until you reach the Des Plaines River.
The length of the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal is approximately 30 miles.
The next segment of your boating trip will take you to the Des Plaines River.
You will travel on the Des Plaines River for approximately 35 miles until you reach the Illinois River, which is the last segment of your route to the Mississippi River.
As around 327 miles long, your voyage on the Illinois River will be the longest part of your trip.
The Illinois River is one of the primary rivers that flow into the Mississippi River.
You should be mindful of the locks you will encounter on your way from Lake Michigan to the Mississippi River.
If any of those locks are closed due to maintenance or any other reason, you won’t be able to continue your boating trip beyond that point.
You should research ahead of time if any relevant locks are out of commission so you aren’t left stranded and waiting until the lock opens again.
Extended maintenance and repairs of some locks could take several months or more.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson