The Chicago River runs through the city of Chicago, starting 40 miles north of the downtown loop area and flowing south to the Calumet river system. This expansive waterway connects to Lake Michigan and offers several sightseeing opportunities from unique vantage points. Learn more about what river runs through Chicago and how to enjoy its waters. 

How Deep is the Chicago River? 

At its deepest point, the Chicago River is 21 feet deep. It runs 156 miles from start to finish, with three main branches — North, Main, and South — along the way. The river is 800 feet at its widest and ultimately helps connect the Great Lakes to the Mississippi River Basin, which leads to the Gulf of Mexico. 

Chicago River Sightseeing  

Having a river run through Chicago allows for many exciting activities and tourist attractions. When you are planning a visit to Chicago, be sure to include: 

  • Chicago Riverwalk: Located on the north end of the downtown loop area, the 3.4-mile Riverwalk is packed with dining, entertainment, and reaction activities, including a scenic bike path and comfortable rest areas. 
  • Architecture tours: One of the best ways to take in Chicago architecture is from the water, with boat tours offering a one-of-a-kind vantage point to the city’s most iconic buildings and skyscrapers
  • Kayak rentals: Spend a day on the water when you rent a kayak, traveling north or south with major landmarks dotted along the way. 

Chicago River Fun Facts

The Chicago River is known as an engineering marvel, because in 1900, engineers implemented a series of canal locks to actually reverse the current, causing water to flow from Lake Michigan instead of into it. The goal of this endeavor was to help flush out the pollution accumulated during the 1800s, providing cleaner water for all to enjoy. Ongoing beautification efforts continue to improve the waterway, and along with the Riverwalk addition, the Chicago River grows in popularity every day. 

If you find yourself in Chicago around St. Patrick’s Day, you’ll notice the Chicago River looking a little green; this is because the city dyes the water emerald every year at this time in correlation with the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade. It is an over 50-year old tradition that residents look forward to. 

See What River Runs Through Chicago from Skydeck!

While a boat tour from the Chicago River offers a unique perspective of the city, no view beats Skydeck, which hovers 1,353 ft in the air! Get tickets for this special attraction today to see Chicago in a brand new way!