Wet Hot Chicago Summer

June 2019 View more

In these lazy, hazy days, the call of the water is a siren song few can resist. And while the Midwest may not have an ocean of its own, the beauty of its natural splash pads puts most salty shores to shame. Read on for 15 glorious ways to enjoy our most refreshing resource, whether you’re eager to learn a new skill, boost your calorie burn, or get in some serious play time. Pick a mode of transport and come on in—the water’s great. By Cara Sullivan


The word itself comes from a Greenlandic one that means “hunter’s boat,” referring to the ancient Inuit technique of paddling a small vessel alongside a riverbank to sneak up on prey. But that was then. Fast-forward to 2019 Chicagoland, where the low-riding, marquise-shaped boats and double-bladed paddles are used purely for recreation, offering a duck’s-eye view of nature whether by lake, river, pond, or stream. Here, a few ways to get in on the action—no animal ambush required.

Naperville Kayak: Kayak Rentals
Naperville Quarry, Naperville
Step right up to the rental hut across from Riverwalk Café in downtown Naperville, at the base of Rotary Hill, and hand over a 10 spot. Like magic, a friendly and knowledgeable instructor will hook you up with all the equipment you need, a few words of wisdom, and 30 minutes to test out your kayaking skills in the comfort of the quarry’s calm waters.
From $10/30 minutes, napervillekayak.com

Chicago River Canoe and Kayak: Cardio Kayak Classes
North Branch of the Chicago River, Roscoe Village
A group fitness experience like no other, this evening class meets just before sunset at Clark Park’s WMS boathouse (near the corner of Addison and Rockwell). Once in the water, you’ll embark on a 90-minute round-trip paddle that returns to the dock just as the twilight sky turns Technicolor. $95/4-week session, chicagoriverpaddle.com

Kayak Morris: Guided Kayak Tour
Starved Rock State Park, Ottawa
Hiking Starved Rock is one thing; seeing it from the unique vantage point of a kayak is quite another. This two-hour tour departs from the park’s Lone Point Shelter and winds its way along the Illinois River where soaring sandstone bluffs and deeply carved canyons make for beautiful views. No previous kayaking experience is necessary, and kids are welcome—but those under 11 are required to ride tandem with an adult.
From $35/person, kayakmorris.com


Stand up paddleboarding (that’s SUP for anyone seeking street cred) may look intimidating, but balancing on a floating board is actually a lot like riding a bike: One minute you’re wobbling around like a baby giraffe, and the next you’re up slicing through that morning mist like a pro. Throw in the fact that a leisurely paddle burns twice as many calories as an equally paced walk, and this one’s a no-brainer: get thee on a paddleboard, stat.

Naperville Park District: Paddle Board Yoga

Centennial Beach, Naperville
Park district paddling? Yes, please! This recent addition to the Centennial Beach class lineup is a fun, low-key way to learn the sport (think of it as paddling basics with a hearty side of Zen thrown in). The fan-favorite class fills up fast, which means scoring a spot on the age 16+ roster requires rubbing a talisman or two come registration time—a good reminder for all popular park district offerings!
$32 (resident) or $48 (nonresident)/12-week session, napervilleparks.org

Standup and Flow: SUP Yoga

Bangs Lake, Wauconda
Yoga is a killer workout on its own; throw paddling into the mix and your practice will make serious waves. Not only does it require increased balance and focus, but forget about plain old “om”—you’ll be saying, “Omigod that’s so beautiful,” once you’re out there surrounded by all that nature. Note that while neither paddle nor yoga experience is required for this class, you will need to know how to swim.
From $30/class, standupandflow.com

Chicago Paddle Company: SUP Rentals

Kathy Osterman Beach, Edgewater
Tucked into the lakefront at the northernmost point of Lincoln Park, this crescent-shaped scoop of sand is a hidden gem. The water here is calm enough for first-timers, yet pros angling to make an afternoon of it can embark on a 3.5-mile paddle south to Montrose Beach, where the wake from boats and jet skis offers slightly more challenging conditions.
From $35/hour, chicagopaddlecompany.com


If rowing was a single on Tinder, there’s not one person in the universe who would swipe left, and for good reason: The full-body, low-impact cardio workout builds muscle, boosts stamina, increases flexibility, and torches calories like a pyro. (Hel-lo, fitness soulmate.) To kick off your love affair, tap into the potential of your gym’s rowing machine, or track down a boat and get out on the water. Hint: The latter is a lot more fun.

Chicago Rowing Foundation: Learn to Row

North Branch of the Chicago River, Roscoe Village
Anyone seeking an escape from the grind should strongly consider this workshop, which meets in the early evening (one of the most peaceful times of day) on the North Branch of the Chicago River (one of the most beautiful parts of the city). It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that this is one of the most relaxing ways to learn the basics of rowing.
From $150/5-class session, rowchicago.com

St. Charles Rowing Club: High School Team

Fox River, Wayne
This teen-only club is making good on its mission to advance high-performing athletes into collegiate rowing careers: Since its inception in 2012, 23 SCRC athletes have been awarded college scholarships. Offering everything from intro classes for row-curious kids to competitive teams for experienced rowers, SCRC is a solid option for teen athletes seeking an alternative to high-impact spots.
From $135/3-day intro session, saintcharlesrowing.com

Lincoln Park Boat Club: Annual Membership

Lincoln Park Lagoon
The LPBC was founded in 1910, making it Chicago’s oldest rowing club. Run by an all-volunteer staff, the programming changes frequently and includes classes, regattas, and events for all ages. A membership here is one of the best deals around, as the annual fee buys practically unrestricted access to its rowing shells, canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, and weight equipment. Craving a row on a Thursday afternoon? For members, it couldn’t be easier—just drive on over and plop a scull into the lagoon.
From $300/year, lpboatclub.org

Modern sailing may have a bit of a soft reputation, but it takes more than topsiders and lobster-embroidered shorts to excel at this sport (yep—sailing made its Olympic debut in the 1900 Paris Games). But even Olympians have to start somewhere, and there’s no better place to learn the ropes than Lake Michigan. Whether your goal is to master the basics or let someone else take the helm while you sip a cool drink (in which case said topsiders and lobster shorts are practically a requirement), there’s a pro here to help you get your sea—er, lake—legs.

Chicago Sailing: Intro to Sailing Class

Belmont Harbor, Lake View
This 101 is all about fours: After completing four, four-hour sessions, you’ll be capable of taking a keelboat out on your own. (Fun fact: Four is also the number of medals won by Paul Elvstrom, the most successful Olympic sailor to date.) Chicago Sailing’s on-water training is as comprehensive as it gets, and covers everything from the theory and physics of the sport to line handling and knots and crew overboard procedures—not that you’ll ever need to put that one to use.
$545/16-hour course, chicagosailing.com

Real Life Fitness: Total Body Strength Class

Downtown Naperville
In order to become a true-blue sailor, you’ve got to train like one. America’s Cup winners follow a strict workout regimen that builds core strength and endurance—and that’s exactly the focus of this self-paced class. With its results-driven approach and unique mix of free weights, kettlebells, TRX, medicine balls, resistance bands, body weight, cardio, and interval training, you’ll be shipshape in no time.
From $15/class, rlfnaperville.com

Fairwind Sail Charters: Private Charter on Lake Michigan

Burnham Park Harbor, Museum Campus
If the mere thought of DIY sailing makes you anxious, you can take a deep breath: There’s a guy for that—Captain Sells, the owner of Fairwind Sail. Cap and his crew are available for private charters of all kinds, like the two-hour sail for six: two hours spent floating around on Lake Michigan with a BYO picnic, five of your VIPs, and a pro at the helm. If there’s a more relaxing way to spend a summer afternoon, we have no idea what it is.
From $395/2 hours (up to 6 people), fairwindsail.com

Love this? Try that!

Give your landlubber hobby a well-deserved summer break and spend the season with its off-shore equivalent.

Love rock climbing? Try scuba diving
Opposites? Not really—they’re both solitary, pulse-pounding, and transport you to another world. Get PADI certified (you can do it in a single weekend!) with Underwater Safaris, and you’ll be exploring the area’s quarries and shipwrecks in no time.
From $250, uwsafaris.com

Love golfing? Try fly fishing
Take a break from the links and cool off with a casting lesson or day trip with DuPage Fly Fishing Co. Hot tip: The half-day Walk and Wade, a guided hike through the region’s more intimate creeks and streams, is a top seller.
From $75/hourlong lesson, dupagefly.com

Love motorcycles? Try jet skis
Calling all adrenaline junkies! Grab a friend and head to Chicago Water Sport Rentals to take a Yamaha VX Cruiser out for a tandem spin—or go solo on a Sea Doo Spark.
From $59/half-hour, chicagowatersportrentals.com

Photo by Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty and courtesy Chicago Sailing