Chicago is a big city and there certainly is a lot to see. We always say that the best way to view the city is from the Chicago River but that begs the question – what am I looking at? Lucky for you, each one of our boats comes equipped with a handy dandy map that not only points out areas of interest but gives cruise recommendations as well as time to allow for each route. Of course, our crew members are always happy to share recommendations before sending you on your way.
One Hour Cruise Routes
The Main Branch
While you won’t have time to see the whole river with a one hour rental, it is enough time to see the Main Branch. When departing the marina, we recommend first traveling west to Wolf Point, which is where the river splits north and south. From there, turn around and start heading east, pass our docks, and continue east to the locks, where the Chicago River meets Lake Michigan. Turn back around and face the city for one of the best views of the city.
Two Hour Cruise Routes
The South Branch & The Main Branch
When you have an extra hour to explore the Chicago River, we recommend adding the South Branch to your cruise. This area offers some of the city’s most iconic architecture and you will pass such buildings as the Civic Opera House and The Willis Tower – though it will always be Sears to us.
To add the South Branch, turn left when you get to Wolf Point and venture into the shadows of the sky scrapers. We recommend following the South Branch until you get to Chinatown before turning back around heading back toward the locks. Be aware that the South Branch tends to have more traffic so keep an eye out for water taxis and larger tour boats, always keeping to the side.
The North Branch & the Main Branch
The North Branch will lead you away from downtown and into calmer waters. While the North Branch is more industrial and has less iconic sites to see, it offers a quiet and relaxing cruise. When you leave the docks, head west to Wolf Point and then turn right. Continue on the North Branch until you get to Goose Island. Journey around the island and then head back toward the main branch so that you have enough time to see the locks.
Abbreviated North Branch, South Branch & Main Branch
If you have a 2 hour rental but simply cannot decide between the North and South Branches, we have just the option for you! When you leave the docks, head west to Wolf Point and then turn right to first explore the North Branch. This will give you a chance to get comfortable with how the boat drives on the quietest part of the river. Continue until you hit Goose Island, then turn around and head back toward the Main Branch. At Wolf Point, continue to go straight into the South Branch of the river and continue down among the buildings until y0u hit Harrison. Then turn around and head back to the Main Branch so that you have time to see the locks before you return to the dock.
Three Hour Cruise Route
See All Three Branches
If you’re lucky enough to have the boat for three hours then you’ll have plenty of time to see all three branches of the Chicago River at a rather leisurely pace. We recommend seeing the North Branch first, then the South Branch before heading back to the Main Branch and to the locks.
Need a little inspiration? We love this time-lapse video that one of our guests made of their recent cruise!