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Long Distance Paddling Events



If the 18.5 miles of the Des Plaines Marathon (May 22 this year) are not long enough for you – participate in one of these events to test your stamina – or at least, be astonished that some paddlers can do this.

Friday, April 22 – to Sunday, April 24 – CAMPUS TO COAST – www.msuoc.org/c2c/ 

Starting in Wonch Park, Okemos, MI and ending in Grand Haven on the edge of Lake Michigan.  Campus to Coast (C2C160) is a paddle sport adventure race put on by the Michigan State University Outdoors Club. The race starts on MSU’s campus at the Rock (central part of campus), following the Red Cedar River into the Grand River and out through Grand Haven, finishing at Grand Haven State Park. The race is approximately 160 miles, with estimations of the fastest times being anywhere from 26-40 hours, depending on the river conditions, and 57 hours being the cut-off time. This race also contains 7 portages, along with one section where racers must “canoe line” a small section of fall over dams.  This race can only be competed in using kayaks, canoes, or a vessel that is strictly “man powered.”  Participants are from all over the U.S., as well as other BIG 10 Universities.

Saturday, June 11 – Texas Water Safari – http://www.texaswatersafari.org/

Described as the World’s Toughest Canoe RaceThe Safari is an annual race via the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, from Aquarena Springs in the college town of San Marcos, to the shrimping village of Seadrift on the Texas coastline, a total distance of 260 miles. The first official race was held in 1963, and is run annually on the second Saturday of June.  It actually has a series of events – so be sure to check the calendar page for more details http://www.texaswatersafari.org/calendar/

Wednesday, June 29 – to Sunday, July 3 – Yukon River Quest – http://www.yukonriverquest.com/

Described as the “Race to the Midnight Sun,” this 444-mile wilderness adventure paddling race is held on the Yukon River, from Whitehorse to Dawson City, in Canada’s Yukon Territory. Held during the last week of June, the YRQ is the world’s longest annual canoe and kayak race. Paddlers race round-the-clock under a sky that never gets dark. There are just two mandatory rest stops – totaling 10 hours – over the course of the entire event. The Yukon River Quest draws participants from all over the world. In 2015, 57 teams from 12 countries started the race and 44 teams finished.

Saturday, July 30 – AuSable River Canoe Marathon – www.ausablecanoemarathon.org/

This is a non-stop canoe race that starts at night with a thrilling running-start to the river in Grayling, MI, and ends 120 miles later near the shores of Lake Huron in Oscoda, MI.  Contestants must navigate the narrow, winding upper stretch in total darkness, as well as stump-filled ponds and the blazing July sun in the lower stretch.  This race is not a recreational canoe float, but a professional, ultra-competitive race with the very best professional paddlers from around North and Central America. Before planning to participate, check the website for more details – this is not for beginners.

From one participant:

Throughout my life I have been a waterman. I have snorkeled, done scuba diving, fishing, rec. canoeing, surfing. When I started training for racing I had finally found a way that I could tie my love for the water in with mastering an artful craft. A race canoe is something that you can master. There is so much technique and skill involved you can always be improving. The AuSable Marathon is the ultimate proving ground for your hard work and dedication. You don’t have to be a top ten paddler to be a master of your boat. By L.j. Bourgeois      

For more AuSable Marathon pics, info, and videos:



Check each website for more information, pictures, and if you know of any other North American long distance paddling races, let us know and we’ll add them to the list.

Ralph Frese Memorial Paddle

Sat, April 9, 9 AM

Ralph Frese
Ralph Frese

Willow Road Dam, Winnetka

Experienced paddlers, bring your canoe or kayak and celebrate the legacy of canoe legend Ralph Frese by paddling down the Chicago River from Willow Road Dam to Linne Woods in Morton Grove. A shuttle bus will be provided and will run from 8 am to 2 pm from Linne Woods (Dempster St and Ferris Ave) to Willow Road Dam. The event is free and concludes with a celebration at Linne Woods where refreshments will be served.

For more information call 312-533-5751.

Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/ralph-frese-memorial-paddle-tickets-21462682461.

Cost: Free


Save the Date to Paddle The 59th Annual Des Plaines Canoe & Kayak Marathon And Minithon


dprm logoMay 22, 2016

More picnics are spoiled by weather reports than by the weather, wrote Don Mueggenborg (who has paddled every event but one since its starting) after last year’s event. Forecasts had everyone concerned – rain, high winds, lightning. Instead we had a great day. Overcast early with a slight mist and headwinds to cool the paddlers down.

More than seven hundred paddlers participated in 2015, including 37 in the shorter Minithon, with several SUPs finishing the whole course. Most paddlers came from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin, but also from as far as Arizona, Florida, Nebraska and Texas. Everyone who finished the course received the coveted embroidered patch. New in 2015 was also the inclusion of the Des Plaines River map on the back of the t- shirts that brought many congratulatory comments, and will be on this year’s t-shirts as well.

The Des Plaines River Canoe and Kayak Marathon, founded in 1958 by Ralph Frese, is the second oldest continually held paddling competition in the United States. The course is 18½ miles on the beautiful and historic Des Plaines River in Northern Illinois. Numerous classes accommodate people of all ages, crafts, and skill levels, and a 5.25 mile, non-competitive Minithon offers a shorter option. First time participants, repeat paddlers, and serious competitors can all enjoy the excitement, challenge, and wonderful scenery that this historic event provides. Great music, good food, and camaraderie await everyone at the finish line.

Registration opens March 1 – early bird discount until April 15

For more details check out www.canoemarathon.com



Des Plaines River Marathon - at the put in
Photo by Rich Hodgkins

McHenry County Conservation District’s Paddle in the Park

The McHenry County Conservation District is hosting our eighth annual Paddle in the Park event Saturday May 14, 2016, 10:00am – 4:00pm. 

This event will be held on Lake Atwood, within The Hollows Conservation Area, 3804 US Highway 14, Crystal Lake, Il.

The Hollows is a 338 acre site that features hiking trails, picnic shelters, fishing, canoeing, and a camp ground among its amenities. Lake Atwood is a 20-acre, self-contained, artificial lake. It has a boat ramp, fishing dock, picnic shelter, restrooms, drinking water, and a large paved parking lot. It has good access from several different points, including about a ½ acre area of shallow, sandy bottom, beach-like water.

The purpose of the event will be to:

  • Showcase the various forms of paddle sports
  • Provide an opportunity for paddling clubs and conservation organizations to promote their activities
  • Provide an opportunity for Canoe, Kayak, and Paddle Board instruction to beginning paddlers
  • Offer a venue for paddle sport retailers to showcase their products
  • Offer an opportunity for potential buyers to view and test paddle various boats

Entry to the event is free for the public; the only charge will be a $5.00 fee if you wish to participate in paddling activities and clinics.

Paddle a small, well-sheltered lake in the McHenry County Conservation District property. Live entertainment, food available (or bring your own). Introductory classes for tandem and solo canoe, kayak, and SUP. Test paddle vendors’ boats, or bring your own. This is a small, local event that packs in a lot of fun! 10AM – 4PM.

A Jewel on the south side has finally been discovered

By Michael Taylor

No motor boats, no barges, and deep enough not to scratch the bottom of your boat.  Finally the secret of a beautiful flowing river in the southern suburbs of Chicago has been rediscovered.  In the fall of 2015, the Cook County Forest Preserve opened a new boat ramp along the Little Calumet River at the Kickapoo Woods Forest Preserves.  The immediate feedback from paddlers and novice alike was that it is a perfect venue.  Kickapoo Woods offers plenty of parking in a safe, well-lit area for paddlers to enjoy.  Not only does the new launch site offer easy, safe access to the river, but the location along the shallow portion of the Upper Little Calumet River makes it a perfect place for beginner and intermediate paddlers.  Meander is the perfect verb and noun describing the paddling experience on this section of the river.  The river bends and curves, and on most days, the river’s flow is calm enough to offer a gentle riding experience in the great outdoors.

Join the coalition of outdoor enthusiasts and community organizations in not only a river clean up, but an introduction to both canoeing and kayaking on this gem in the southern suburbs. Saturday morning, June 4 2016, is the day of the “Little Calumet River Day at Kickapoo Woods;” please join us on exploring this secret south side treasure.

Winter Paddling Inspiration

Need some inspiration for winter paddling, or at least a little reminder of the advantages? Check out this article about winter paddling from The Southern Illinoisan: http://thesouthern.com/lifestyles/magazine/recreation/kayaking-a-great-way-to-relieve-the-stress-of-a/article_23d46c03-7021-58de-bb25-e81b8e454374.html

Although it’s focused on winter paddling in the warmer end of the state (i.e., Southern Illinois), the images evoked and tips provided are applicable state-wide. Though you might want to check out Paul Klonowski’s article on cold weather paddling in this TIP before heading out.


We already have dates for some races; we’ll keep you updated on those still tentative

May 1 Current Buster* – Started in 1974 and hosted by the St. Charles Canoe Club on the Fox River, distance 10 miles. www.stcharlescanoeclub.com

May 22Des Plaines Canoe & Kayak Marathon* – Started in 1957 by Ralph Frese, Mr. Canoe – second oldest one day paddling event in the nation. 18.5 mile marathon, and 5.25 minithon, from Libertyville, it ends 18.5 miles south at Dam #2 in Mt. Prospect. Sponsored by the Des Plaines River Association. www.canoemarathon.com

Des Plaines Canoe & Kayak Marathon

May 28Abe’s River Race – Started in 2014 on the historic Lincoln Heritage Water Trail in Central Illinois and hosted by the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association. Point-to-point on the Sangamon River, from Irwin Bridge to Lincoln’s Riverside Park in Petersburg. www.lincolnheritagewatertrail.org/race.html

June 5Mid American Race – Began in 1960 on the Fox river, from St. Mary’s Park in St. Charles to McCullough Park in Aurora – about 11 miles. Sponsored by the Fox Valley Park District.   www.foxvalleyparkdistrict.org

LATE JUNE Voyageur Landing Race* – First event held in 2001, organized by Kevin Bradley and Larry Steffens. Held on the Fox River north of Elgin in the Voyageurs Landing Forest Preserve, distance 8 miles. kaab610@aol.com

MID JULYThe Five State Challenge – Spring Green to Muscoda, the Big Five Challenge comprises all the race classes in the 21- and 15-mile courses, wherein paddlers earn points for their state by placing in their class. www.wicanoeracing.com

July 16Illinois Whitewater Festival & Buttercup Slalom Series – Buttercup Series Slalom Event. Held at the Marge Cline WW Course in Yorkville. Plus Yorkville Rib Fest featuring great food, spirits, and live music. Chicago Whitewater Association.  www.facebook.com/WhitewaterFestival

August 7Pecatonica River Water Trail Canoe/Kayak Race* – First held in 2008, the 18.2 mile race starts at Browntown, Wi. The 6.7 mile recreational race starts at Brewster’s Landing. Both races start at 10am and end at McConnell Bobtown Landing. www.pecriver.org

August 11 – 14 USCA National Canoe & Kayak Championships, Northfield, MA – www.uscanoe.com

SEPT Joe Kowsky Memorial Race (I &M and DuPage)* – Started in 1999 and sponsored by the Morris Marathon Canoe Club, held in Channahon on the DuPage River where the I&M Canal cuts diagonally across it – about 7 miles. buckley.david@gmail.com

September 17 – 5th Annual Quincy 5 Miler – This is an open water race that includes portions near the main channel of the Mississippi River and “The Cut” from the main river back to Quincy Bay. The race takes paddlers from the start located in an approximate line even with the Knapheide Landing Boat Ramp, then past the south end of Hogback Island, over four wing dams. Then, to the north end of “The Cut” channel that leads into Quincy Bay. After paddling thru the Quincy Bay, the course will once again be in the main river, goes under the Quincy Bayview Bridge and the Quincy Memorial Bridge. The race will then conclude at the historic South Side Boat Club. http://quincy5miler.com/

Quincy 5 Miler & Bear Creek Grunt Race Flyer

September 18Vic Hopp Memorial Race* – Began in 1975 on the Fox River, then moved to the Des Plaines River in Wheeling, held in memory of Vic Hopp with proceeds donated to cancer research. Total 9 miles: 4 ½ miles upstream to Deerfield Road and 4 ½ downstream to finish. Jim Peterson akpcpa@yahoo.com

Sept 25 – tentative – Fox River Fall Classic* – Began in 2008 and hosted by the St. Charles Canoe Club. On the Fox River, it starts and finishes at the Ferson Creek Park (off RT31) north of St. Charles. Nine miles – www.stcharlescanoeclub.com

*Denotes an IPC Points Race to qualify for awards at the annual banquet

Please send any announcements about competitive events to be included in our events calendar to


Canoes and Candlelight

sangamonOctober 3, 2015

Petersburg, IL

Join the Lincoln Heritage Water Trail Association for the Sangamon River Fall Foliage Float & Candlelight Tour of Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site.

Paddlers will enjoy a short, leisurely float down the Sangamon River to Lincoln’s New Salem State Historic Site where the fall colors, quiet vistas, and shadows of the past signal the changing seasons. Joining you along your journey on Lincoln’s river will be staff from the Illinois State Museum and Dickson Mounds State Museum, who will provide unique perspectives on the history of the river and where evidence of creatures and cultures may yet remain hidden not so far below the river’s reach.

Once off the water, you will be greeted by a bonfire, wiener-roast, and traditional tastes of autumn. Here, stories of legends and lore will spin back to life among the swirling smoke and rustling leaves. And, in Illinois’ early prairie pioneering years, there was no greater mysterious and unexplained myth than that of the Legend of the Piasa ~ Storm Bird, that is said to lurk both below water’s edge and above in the dark expanses of starless skies.

As dusk approaches you will leave the riverside area and head to the New Salem Visitor’s Center where the Candlelight Tour begins at 7:00pm and continues to 9:00pm.

The Tour offers the only opportunity to see the village at night. Staff and volunteers in period clothing will be inside many of the log homes and shops in the village to talk about life in 19th century Illinois. Gingerbread and cider will be served in the Rutledge Tavern. The Candlelight tour is also offered Friday the 2nd and Sunday, October 4th.


New Launch Site on Little Calumet River

The little calumet river enters Illinois from North West Indiana and flows through the south and south-west suburbs into the Cal-Sag Channel and eventually into Lake Michigan. A full description of the river can be found on the OpenLands Web Site: http://www.openlands.org/calumet-area-water-trails


On September 26, the Forest Preserves if Cook County commemorated the grand opening of a new Launch Site at Kickapoo Woods by inviting the community out for free canoe rides. Over forty people enjoyed their first canoe trip.


Kickapoo woods is located off of Halstead, Between 147th and 144th in Riverdale IL. Park opposite of the model airplane flying field. There is a short carry to the river.  https://goo.gl/maps/euQVnQNuzv82