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Old 02-11-2021, 11:01 AM
 
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Would like to get a pontoon boat this spring. We had a chance to boat with some friends who had a pontoon last summer where the Kankakee and Des Plaines River basins meet. Are there any boaters who could compare the boating in that river to the Chain O Lakes/Fox River?

We are in the Western Burbs (Batavia/Aurora). Love the area and thanks for the recommendations from this forum when we moved!
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Old 02-13-2021, 04:41 AM
 
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Here's the pro's and cons of each. I've been boating for almost a decade and I spent my first several years on the Chain. I now boat exclusively on the Illinois river launching in Ottawa. The Des Plaines River area is nicer overall but more crowded than if you launch in Ottawa.

Chain O' Lakes/Fox River:
Pros
- Almost entirely used for recreational boating
- "party" atmosphere if you're into that, sand bars, Blarney Island bar
- Lots of restaurants and bars that you can dock at, a lot of nice waterfront residential areas and scenery to view
- Lots of marina's nearby serving both high-end and low-end budgets
- Lake boating offers a lot more freedom than river boating, more room to explore.
- Each lake has it's own unique personality, for example Channel and Catherine have bridges that keep out larger boats, Fox Lake is huge, Petite has the sandbar, etc.
- Active police enforcement
- Fox Waterway Agency does quite a bit of repair and maintenance work on the waterways

Cons
- Extremely crowded, possibly one of the most crowded recreational waterways in the country!
- Annual stickers required for use
- "Party" atmosphere, you'll encounter a lot more drinking and drunks doing stupid things
- Lots of rookie boaters who make a ton of stupid, ignorant, and dangerous mistakes
- Farther drive from Batavia area
- Active police enforcement (expect the possibility of safety checks and random enforcement stops)


Illinois River
Pros
- Decent launch facility at Allen Park in Ottawa, about an hour drive from Batavia
- No sticker fees, no launch fees, no police enforcement (could be a con, too)
- A lot less crowded, and the people on the river seem to be more dedicated and experienced boaters
- Has a far more laid back feel than the Chain, due to lack of "weekenders" and the party crowd, though that still exists to a degree

Cons
- Many parts of the riverway are primarily used for hauling and transportation via barges and cargo ships, you are a guest in their house.
- Fewer options for restaurants and bars to dock at
- River boating is not as exciting as lake boating IMO, it sometimes feels like you're stuck on a highway going back and forth.
- Overall a lot emptier, not as much to look at in terms of scenery but lots of nature if you like that.
- Almost zero police enforcement (not good if there's an emergency)


That's about it. Ultimately for me, the crowded nature of the chain is what keeps me away. It's much more relaxing being on the Illinois river. If you decide to stick with the river, there is a difference between the Ottawa area of the river and the Des Plaines river / Kankakee River area, I'd suggest trying both and see what you like best.

Usually the type of boating I'm doing for the day determines where I go. If I'm taking along a bunch of friends or first-timers, the Chain is the most exciting place to go. If it's just my family looking to relax and anchor for the day, we hit the Illinois river (this is 90% of what we do).
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Old Yesterday, 01:38 PM
 
2,722 posts, read 920,575 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Caglee View Post
Here's the pro's and cons of each. I've been boating for almost a decade and I spent my first several years on the Chain. I now boat exclusively on the Illinois river launching in Ottawa. The Des Plaines River area is nicer overall but more crowded than if you launch in Ottawa.

Chain O' Lakes/Fox River:
Pros
- Almost entirely used for recreational boating
- "party" atmosphere if you're into that, sand bars, Blarney Island bar
- Lots of restaurants and bars that you can dock at, a lot of nice waterfront residential areas and scenery to view
- Lots of marina's nearby serving both high-end and low-end budgets
- Lake boating offers a lot more freedom than river boating, more room to explore.
- Each lake has it's own unique personality, for example Channel and Catherine have bridges that keep out larger boats, Fox Lake is huge, Petite has the sandbar, etc.
- Active police enforcement
- Fox Waterway Agency does quite a bit of repair and maintenance work on the waterways

Cons
- Extremely crowded, possibly one of the most crowded recreational waterways in the country!
- Annual stickers required for use
- "Party" atmosphere, you'll encounter a lot more drinking and drunks doing stupid things
- Lots of rookie boaters who make a ton of stupid, ignorant, and dangerous mistakes
- Farther drive from Batavia area
- Active police enforcement (expect the possibility of safety checks and random enforcement stops)


Illinois River
Pros
- Decent launch facility at Allen Park in Ottawa, about an hour drive from Batavia
- No sticker fees, no launch fees, no police enforcement (could be a con, too)
- A lot less crowded, and the people on the river seem to be more dedicated and experienced boaters
- Has a far more laid back feel than the Chain, due to lack of "weekenders" and the party crowd, though that still exists to a degree

Cons
- Many parts of the riverway are primarily used for hauling and transportation via barges and cargo ships, you are a guest in their house.
- Fewer options for restaurants and bars to dock at
- River boating is not as exciting as lake boating IMO, it sometimes feels like you're stuck on a highway going back and forth.
- Overall a lot emptier, not as much to look at in terms of scenery but lots of nature if you like that.
- Almost zero police enforcement (not good if there's an emergency)


That's about it. Ultimately for me, the crowded nature of the chain is what keeps me away. It's much more relaxing being on the Illinois river. If you decide to stick with the river, there is a difference between the Ottawa area of the river and the Des Plaines river / Kankakee River area, I'd suggest trying both and see what you like best.

Usually the type of boating I'm doing for the day determines where I go. If I'm taking along a bunch of friends or first-timers, the Chain is the most exciting place to go. If it's just my family looking to relax and anchor for the day, we hit the Illinois river (this is 90% of what we do).
That's a great list - the only thing I didn't see was a comment on "water quality", for swimming or skiing. I'm pretty sure the Chain O' Lakes is used extensively for that. But isn't the Des Plaines River fed by both the Chicago Sanitary Canal and the Cal Sag waterway, neither of which people are supposed to enter due to high bacteria loads? Is there adequate time for sunshine and dilution to do its job as it is added to the Illinois? I know Peoria is big on boating activities, but there's a lot of real estate between here and there.

My two cents comes from the Iroquois River down by Watseka. A friend bought a cottage on the river down there and had a pontoon boat, and loved it for most of the years he had it. Unfortunately, in about 2002, ice flows dammed up the river and heavily flooded Watseka (and his cottage above it). He rebuilt and it happened again in about 2015, but he had insurance this time and totaled the place, and sold the land. It was hard to believe, his place had to be ten or fifteen feet above the "normal summer" level of the river, but Nature had other plans. It never occurred to him that rivers are at the "low point" of their respective geology, and most are subsequent to pretty dramatic elevation changes. I have another friend on the Fox up by Yorkville, but he's maybe twenty feet higher than the river, and has never flooded (but he has been "threatened" LOL).
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Old Yesterday, 02:50 PM
 
Location: Sweet Home Chicago!
5,852 posts, read 4,540,456 times
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Curious, how does one boat on the Fox river with all the dams?
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Old Today, 02:55 AM
 
2,722 posts, read 920,575 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flamadiddle View Post
Curious, how does one boat on the Fox river with all the dams?
Damned if I know...
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Old Today, 04:48 AM
 
160 posts, read 120,571 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by flamadiddle View Post
Curious, how does one boat on the Fox river with all the dams?
There's about a 4 mile stretch of boatable river along St. Charles, the launch is at Boy Scout Island. Going north, you can launch in Algonquin and from there you can get through the Stratton Lock to ride up to the Chain. I haven't been in that area in a long time, but you need to pre-plan your routes because not all damns have locks to get through. Other parts of the Fox, like around the Yorkville area, would be restricted to canoes and paddle boats I would imagine due to their shallow depths.

Quote:
That's a great list - the only thing I didn't see was a comment on "water quality", for swimming or skiing. I'm pretty sure the Chain O' Lakes is used extensively for that.
I just assume the water quality everywhere is bad, lol. I always shower after a day on the boat. I've never noticed a difference between the river and the chain to be honest, of course I've never done any water tests either. I wouldn't drink from any of them.
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