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The Chicago Triangle Tour

The Chicago Triangle Tour is divided into three distinct groups: the river and canal system composed of the Calumet River system, the Cal-Sag Channel, and the Sanitary and Ship Canal; the Chicago River; and Lake Michigan. In this website the tour has been separated into those three categories because there are a wide variety of starting points for this fascinating trip and therefore no exact starting point. This segment is the Chicago Triangle Tour (the river system outside of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan).

From our experience, it is best to take this portion of the tour during daylight hours. At night the channels and canals are so dark, you will need a spotlight to navigate. The darkness and water will seem to swallow the light beam, forcing you to travel at idle speed. Barge traffic and floating debris makes this even trickier.

Lake Michigan

Be careful as you approach the entrance to the Calumet River. There is often a lot of chop near the breakwaters. South of this entrance is Calumet Park, one of Chicago’s lakefront parks, and further down, the heavily industrial region of southwestern Indiana. Billowing smokestacks appear in the horizon, marking the steel manufacturing factories located in this area. There is a heavy concentration of shipping facilities around the mouth of the Calumet River. The shipping vessels congregating around the entrance to the river are mostly meeting the steel industry’s needs.

Calumet River

Quick Launch to Calumet River System Marina, Restaurant, and Launch Information
A-1 Millennium Marina
Crawley's Yacht Yard
Marine Service Corporation
Pier II Marina
Riverdale Marina
Skipper's Marina
Smuggler's Cove
Waterfront Pub

As you enter the Calumet River, you will now begin to see barges, basically huge floating storage facilities usually measuring 35 feet wide by 109 feet long. These gigantic non-motorized vessels do not travel alone – they are often tied up with other barges and are pushed through the waterways by tugboats. These floating cities take up a lot of space and generally churn up the water surrounding it. Therefore, it is a wise move to keep as far away from any moving barges as possible. Get too close to the back and you can be sure that debris flung out from the tug’s propellers will create an obstacle course. Do not travel too closely to the sides or front of the barges as the tugboat pilot may not be able to see you and will definitely not be able to stop very quickly. It is especially important to be alert at night as the lighting on the barges is minimal and their intense spotlights may blind you.

Further down the Calumet you will see the 125-foot high bridge called the Chicago Skyway. This toll way connects the Dan Ryan Expressway with the Indiana Toll Road. Along the Chicago waterways, you will see a diverse selection of stationary and moveable bridges.

In an effort to clear up the river, special water stations (SEPA) have been built that pull water from the river to an elevated pool. The water then travels back to the river through a series of manmade waterfalls, which aerates and cools the water. This process helps to keep the water in the river healthier, making it a better environment for fish and fauna. The first SEPA station is between the Torrence Avenue bridge and the next railroad bridge, just north of the Ford Assembly Plant.

A variety of heavy industrial companies surround the banks of the Calumet River. These include auto assembly plants, scrap yards, cement distribution, landfills, steel recyclers, and, of course, steel. This is not a pretty leg of the trip, but it is impressive.

There are numerous slips and turning basins along the river until you reach Lake Calumet. These provide docking and large turning areas for the various shipping vessels and barge traffic that serve the many plants and storage centers. Lake Calumet is one of the last remnant lakes that remained after the glacial Lake Michigan retreated. Once the site of Pullman, a company city built by George Pullman in 1880 to house the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company, it is now an industrial lake.

After 130th Street Bridge, the water traffic is limited to small watercraft and to river towboats and barges. Shortly after this bridge, you will come to the Thomas J. O’Brien Lock & Dam. Just before the lock, the water is very rough. Boats coming out of the lock push the throttle and the ensuing waves bounces off the river walls creating chop that sometimes rivals Lake Michigan during high winds. Getting through this lock is not as easy as the Chicago Lock. There is usually a lot of barge traffic and once again commercial vessels have the right of way. This is compounded by the fact that a towboat may be pushing six to eight barges. The towboat pilot must tie up the barges, break them apart, and take them one at a time into the lock. Each barge must be tied up to the lock walls, and then the towboat goes back for the rest. After the commercial vessels have loaded into the dock, the pleasure crafts can take up any of the remaining space. Passengers must be wearing life jackets and you will need to secure your boat to the lock wall or another vessel. The incoming gate is closed, the outgoing gate is opened, and the water level lowers. Once again the lock operator signal the okay to leave the dock.

Immediately after leaving the dock, you will notice a large hill on the right side of the river. This is not a natural formation, but rather a landfill. Eventually, this artificial rise will be turned into park and recreational facilities. As of early 2005, no final decision on its fate has been decided. The intensity of the industrial region gives way to a more pastoral setting with residential communities, marinas, and natural forests. As you travel through this part of the Chicago waterways, you should be observant of the numerous no-wake zones set up around marinas and dock areas.

At this point in the river, you will begin to encounter several marinas and boat launches. The various marinas, restaurants, and boat launches on the Calumet River and Little Calumet River are listed in no particular order at this time after this section.

The Grand Calumet River is a natural stream that flows into the Calumet River just under the Torrence Avenue bridge. It’s easy to spot because there is a sunken boat right in the center of the waterway. At this point the Calumet River becomes the Little Calumet River. On this portion of the river opposite Acme Steel you will see the second SEPA station.

After the Conrail Bridge, the terrain once again changes, this time to forest preserves and private homes. Heading southwest past the Halsted Street Bridge, you can see the remnants of the old Blue Island Lock that was destroyed when the O’Brien lock was built. It is here at the old Blue Island Lock that the water changes to the Calumet-Sag Channel, better know as the Cal-Sag.

Cal Sag Channel

This Calumet-Sag Channel had its beginnings from a small stream called Stony Creek. The channel was widened from its original 60-feet to 225 feet in 1946. The first city encountered on this waterway is Blue Island, which really was an island before Lake Michigan receded. You will see the third SEPA station between Chatham Street and Western Avenue.

You will now begin to travel through various suburban cities: Robbins, Alsip, and Crestwood. At the next community, Worth, you will find the fourth SEPA station, followed immediately by the Worth Police boat launch. This two-lane boat launch is only a few years old. There is plenty of dock space alongside the launch ramps, which allows you a moment to tie up and load/unload your passengers easily. It also affords people the opportunity to watch boaters loading and unloading their boats - as you know not always a pretty sight. The parking lot is extremely large; we have never seen it filled to capacity. Parking for a vehicle with trailer is $7.00. Although the ramp is manned during peak hours, you can still drop in by placing your payment in a drop-box.

Palos Heights, Palos Hills, and Palos Park appear in rapid succession. In Palos Hills the original Stony Creek reconnects to the Cal-Sag on the north side of the channel. Just out of sight along the northern side of the channel are several ponds and sloughs, the largest being Saganashkee Slough.

Immediately after you travel under the Sag Highway Bridge (IL Route 83), the original Illinois and Michigan (I & M) Canal is visible. This canal was an important factor in the growth of Chicago and Illinois. Although construction began in 1836, the canal was not completed until 1848, due to a temporary halt in 1841. In April 1848, the General Fry, a passenger vessel, made the initial ceremonial trip down the canal. After the first commercial cargo traveled from New Orleans through the I & M Canal to Chicago and then onwards to Buffalo NY, Abraham Lincoln made a presentation to Congress about the importance of such an accomplishment. With the advent of railways and the connected waterways, Chicago became known as the “Big Junction”. The I & M Canal traveled for 96 miles from the Chicago River to the Illinois River. With a width of 60 feet and a depth of 6 feet, it often encountered natural streams, which resulted in the construction of dams and aqueducts to retain a consistent elevation. Though the canal was eventually enlarged, the size of the canal made for slow, arduous travel and was eventually deserted as a navigable waterway in 1932. Presently the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Historic Corridor forms a partnership between the federal government and the communities that line the old canal. Preservation of historic sites and construction of parks and public access spaces will preserve this portion of Illinois history for future generations.

After passing the I & M Canal, you will see the fifth SEPA station and the end of the Cal-Sag Channel in the town of Lemont. A small lighthouse next to the SEPA station marks the turning point between the Cal-Sag and the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. It is here that you will make a sharp U-turn to enter the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal and begin your journey back towards Chicago. If you were driving on Route 83, you would pass over several waterways, the Des Plaines River, the Sanitary and Ship Canal, the Illinois & Michigan Canal, and the Cal-Sag Channel, all within an extremely short distance of each other.

Chicago Sanitary & Ship Canal

Now heading back in an easterly direction, you will pass the Hannah Marine shipyard. If you look to the right, you may be able to see the St. James of the Sag church steeple, but the dense trees of the Argonne Forest Preserve shroud the buildings. Although the present structure was built in the 1850s, St. James of the Sag has been in existence since 1833. This beautiful portion of the canal is surrounded by forests. The canal sides are formed by limestone, although it has deteriorated in several sections.

You now begin to travel through several communities along the canal. First up is Willow Springs, near the fairly new Willow Springs Bridge, where the canal noticeably widens. One remarkable historical fact of this section of the canal occurred in 1989 when barges began to strike something under the water. Upon investigation, it was discovered that there was a veritable underwater island of submerged cars. Although most of the vehicles had been dumped for fraudulent purposes, a six-year-old missing person investigation was ended when one of the cars turned up with a dead body in the trunk. This resulted in the conviction of several individuals for murder and accessory to murder, including the chief of the Willow Springs police.

Passing Willow Springs, the journey upstream takes you through Justice, Hodgkins, Summit, Argo, and finally Chicago. Between Argo and Summit you will encounter the B & O Chicago Terminal Railway. This bridge is almost a boundary between the heavy forests of the western canal and the urbanized and industrial eastern canal. You will notice a small launch ramp in Summit at mile mark 313, but it has been closed for several years. It is here you will begin to see low-flying passenger jets arriving and departing from the nearby Midway Airport.

Just past Harlem Avenue, a double fixed bridge, is an area surrounded by history. Several water formations existed in this area before the development of the Cal-Sag Canal: Mud Lake, a shallow pond in the middle of a marshy area, and the west fork of the Chicago River’s South Branch. Both were eventually filled in when the Cal-Sag began to dominate the water traffic and the need for land increased. In this area is a center-pier swing bridge, named for its ability to pivot around a central pier allowing water traffic to pass on either side. This bridge is no longer functional as all machinery has been removed, but you can still see the old gears and wheels that operated the bridge. Directly past this bridge you will see an abundance of electrical towers and cables, followed by the Stickney Water Reclamation Plant, which is one of the world’s largest sewage treament operations. Treating 800+ million gallons of water a day, there is a water outflow from this plant that may give your boat a gentle push as you pass by.

Before you reach California Avenue, you should be able to see the Cook County Correctional Facility rising to the north over some nearby plants. The nearby railroad bridges set the height restriction for the rest of this waterway until Lake Michigan at 17 feet. If your boat is higher than that, you will have to approach Lake Michigan on the Cal-Sag.

The Sanitary and Ship Canal widens into a large basin of water just west of the Damen Avenue bridge. This marks the end of this waterway and begins the South Branch of the Chicago River.

To continue with the Triangle Tour, you will need to open the Chicago River and Lake Michigan portions of this website.


Calumet River Marinas, Restaurants, Launches

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Smuggler's Cove
Marina Name Marine Services Corporation
Address 14001 Cottage Grove Avenue
  Dolton, IL 60419
Phone Number 708-841-5660
Web Site www.marineservicescorp.com
Email Address lc@marineservicescorp.com
Directions by car Highway 94 coming from Chicago, exit on Dolton Avenue west. Turn right on Cottage Grove Avenue, heading north. Marina's private road is on the right immediately after the railroad tracks. Follow road to gate at the marina.
Directions by boat Mile Marker 324 on the Little Calumet (Cal-Sag)
Hours of Operation Monday-Saturday: 8 am - 4:30 Sunday: 10 am - 3 pm (hours are 10am-3pm Dec-Mar)
Information Specifics
Boat Slip Rentals? 25' stardocks (no need for dingy); 32', 40', 50' slips; 30/50 power and water
Transient Slips? 6 slips
Temp slips to use facilities? Along the harbor walls and on pier ends
Boat Store? Boat parts
Restaurant? No
Type of food: No
Bar? No
Ice? Yes
Restrooms? Back side of office (includes showers)
Fuel?  
Boat services? Full service; WiFi; courtesy vehicle
What kind? Mechanical, fiberglass work, engine overhaul, certified Mercury technicians/dealer, winterization, etc.
Outdoor Storage? $28.00/foot plus blocking
Indoor Storage? $5.75/square foot for non-heated indoor; $8.75/square foot for heated indoor (length and beam)
Boat launch? Crane 40-ton rail lift
Parking for vehicles w/trailers? 100 spaces
Any clubs or associations? Dolton Yacht Club
Additional Information Elite Yacht Brokerage 630-887-1478

Back to Top Waterfront Pub
Restaurant Name Waterfront Pub
Address 14042 Croissant Drive
  Burnham, IL 60633
Phone Number 708-862-5118
Web Site  
Email Address  
Directions by car 141st and Torrance
Directions by boat Between Mile Markers 326 and 325
Hours of Operation 8 am - 4 pm

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Information Specifics
Transient Slips? 6 piers
Temp slips to use facilities? All slips in front of restaurant
Type of food: Limited: pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs
Bar? Yes - full bar
Ice? Yes
Restrooms? Yes
Boat launch? Yes - $10.00
Parking for vehicles w/trailers? Yes - minimal - parking along fence and in adjoining boat yard when empty
Any clubs or associations? No

Marina Name A-1 Millennium Marina
Address 14042 Croissant Drive
  Burnham, IL 60633
Phone Number 708-868-4567
Web Site  
Email Address  
Directions by car 141st and Torrance, four blocks west of Torrance on Croissant Drive
Directions by boat Between Mile Markers 326 and 325 on the Little Calumet River, southwest of the O'Brien Lock
Hours of Operation  
Information Specifics
Boat Slip Rentals? Yes
Transient Slips?  
Temp slips to use facilities?  
Boat Store?  
Restaurant? Near Waterfront Marine
Type of food:  
Bar?  
Ice?  
Restrooms?  
Fuel?  
Boat services? Full service
What kind?  
Outdoor Storage? Yes
Indoor Storage?  
Boat launch?  
Parking for vehicles w/trailers?  
Any clubs or associations?  
Additional Information  
Back to Top Smuggler's Cove
Restaurant Name Smuggler's Cove
Address 14000 Croissant Road
  Burnham, IL 60633
Phone Number 708-891-6606
Web Site  
Email Address  
Directions by car 140th and Torrance to 140th and Croissant
Directions by boat Between Mile Markers 326 and 325
Hours of Operation Bar: 11am - 4am
Restaurant: 11am - 10pm (Sunday 9am)
Information Specifics
Boat Slip Rentals? Yes - $20/night, with power and water
Transient Slips? 4 Piers
Temp slips to use facilities? In front of restaurant
Restaurant? Yes - Sal and Rocco's
Type of food: Ful menu (dine-in, carry-out, catering): appetizers, sandwiches, salads, steaks, chops, seafood, pasta, pizza
Bar? Yes - Full bar
Ice? Yes
Restrooms? Yes
Any clubs or associations? Croissant Yacht Club 708-891-6606
Additional Information  


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Marina Name Pier II Marina
Address 826 E. 138th Street
  Chicago, IL 60627
Phone Number 773-468-9605
Web Site  
Email Address  
Directions by car  
Directions by boat Between Mile Markers 324 and 323 in a small harbor on the south side of the Little Calument River
Hours of Operation 9am - 5pm Tuesday through Saturday
Information Specifics
Boat Slip Rentals? Yes
Transient Slips? Yes
Temp slips to use facilities?  
Boat Store? Yes
Restaurant? Yes
Type of food:  
Bar? Yes
Ice?  
Restrooms? Back side of office (includes showers)
Fuel?  
Boat services? Yes
What kind? Mechanical, pump-out station
Outdoor Storage? Yes
Indoor Storage? Yes
Boat launch? Yes
Parking for vehicles w/trailers?  
Any clubs or associations?  
Additional Information  


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Marina Name Skipper's Marina
Address 13421 South Vernon Avenue
  Riverdale, IL 60827
Phone Number 708-841-1300
Web Site www.skippersmarina.com
Email Address  
Directions by car From I-94, take the 130th Street Exit going west until you reach Indiana Avenue. On Indiana Avenue make a left, heading south on Indiana Avenue until you reach 134th Street. Make a left on 134th Street, going east on 134th Street. Pass two (2) stop signs. After the second stop sign, proceed about 30 feet and make a right on the gravel road (Vernon Avenue).
Directions by boat Between Mile Marker 323 and 322 on the Little Calumet River
Hours of Operation  
Information Specifics
Boat Slip Rentals? Yes
Transient Slips? Yes
Temp slips to use facilities?
Boat Store? Yes
Restaurant? Yes
Type of food:  
Bar? Yes
Ice?  
Restrooms?  
Fuel? Yes
Boat services? Yes
What kind? Mechanical,pump-out station
Outdoor Storage? Yes
Indoor Storage? Yes
Boat launch? Yes
Parking for vehicles w/trailers? Yes - limited
Any clubs or associations?  
Additional Information  


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Marina Name Riverdale Marina
Address 13100 S. Halsted Street
  Riverdale, IL 60827
Phone Number 708-849-2200 Fax: 708-849-2532
Web Site www.riverdalemarina.com
Email Address chuck@riverdalemarina.com
Directions by car I-57 south to 127th east Halsted; south on Halsted to first right after bridge over Cal Sag
Directions by boat Enter from Lake Michigan through Osen Locks, continuing west to approximately the 338 Mile Marker
Hours of Operation Monday-Friday, Sunday: 10am - 7pm
Friday-Saturday: 11am - 2am
Information Specifics
Boat Slip Rentals? Yes
Transient Slips? Yes
Temp slips to use facilities? Yes
Boat Store? Yes - boating supplies, parts and souvenir clothing
Restaurant? Yes
Type of food: Casual
Bar? Yes
Ice?  
Restrooms? Yes
Fuel? Yes
Boat services? Yes
What kind? Mechanical, winterization.
Outdoor Storage? Yes
Indoor Storage? Yes - heated, sprinklered, secured
Boat launch? No - launch with lifts
Parking for vehicles w/trailers? Yes
Any clubs or associations?  
Additional Information DJ/Karaoke on alternate Fridays 9-1; Band on Saturdays 9-1; Blues Jam on Sundays 4-9


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Marina Name Crawley's Yacht Yard
Address 3434 East 9th Street
  Chicago, IL 60633
Phone Number 773-221-9990
Web Site  
Email Address  
Directions by car Immediately east of the Calumet River on south side of 95th Street
Directions by boat Between Mike Markers 333 and 332, just past Turn Basin No. 1 and East 95th Street bridge
Hours of Operation  
Information Specifics
Boat Slip Rentals?  
Transient Slips?  
Temp slips to use facilities?  
Boat Store?  
Restaurant?  
Type of food:  
Bar?  
Ice?  
Restrooms?  
Fuel?  
Boat services? Yes
What kind? Mechanics, winterizing, pump-out station
Outdoor Storage? Yes
Indoor Storage? Yes
Boat launch? Yes
Parking for vehicles w/trailers?  
Any clubs or associations?  
Additional Information Yacht delivery services, shuttle service to Chicago Harbors