Travel Ideas for the Waterfront - 5 Great Harbors in Chicago
By its very definition a harbor is a place of refuge and rest for ships, and their passengers, regardless of the rigors they may have encountered to reach their destination. For that reason, I find personal delight in harbors given their character and their rich histories. Hidden beneath the surface are wonderful stories of ships and people passing in the night. Where some may find respite in the mountains, playing golf or relaxing at a spa, for me, the sights and sounds of the harbor draw me in the way Hemingway was drawn to a different dimension of the sea. I treasure my memories of a sailboat or motorboat gracefully slicing through the harbor as it glistens in the sun. In those memories lies a secret passage to wonderful stories untold.
One of those stories springs
from the most unlikely place, Chicago,
Illinois. As the nation’s third largest city (behind NY and Los
Angeles), Chicago is home to an estimated
2.8 million people and close to 12 million business travelers  annually. On a global
scale, the Chicagoland area is home to an estimated to 10 million people.
Attractions such as Navy Pier, the Magnificent
Mile, Millennium Park and Grant Park attract nearly 32
million tourists and are well-documented.
But beneath those statistics lies a hidden fact, a secret
that the world is unaware - Chicago has the largest harbor system in the United
States. "With berths for more than 5,000 boats, the Chicago Park District
operates the nation's largest municipal harbor system; larger
even than port cities, such as New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami. . Journey with me as we explore the many delights within three of my favorite Chicago harbors including a harbor whose park has a dog beach near by and a historic beach located just north of Navy Pier and the Magnificent Mile, Oak Street Beach. The best part of Chicago Harbors is the Park District's bike trails that will readily take you from harbor to harbor - no parking, simply pedaling!
Chicago Yacht Club 1912
History of the Chicago Harbors
NINE CHICAGO HARBORS
Today Chicago Park District is caretaker of 9 harbors. These lakefront marvels extend from Lincoln Park, from the north, to the south of the city, to Jackson Park. This system is the United State's largest municipal harbor system and includes amenities such as state-of-the-art floating docks, moorings, star docks, fuel facilities and other amenities for Chicago boaters and their guests.
Location of the Harbors - Lake Michigan
As they say in real estate, the three most important things are "location,
location, and location." The location on the beautiful waters of Lake Michigan were not always so beautiful. Sadly for decades pollution was the norm. In the past three decades, significant advancement has been made in easing the pollution along this amazing waterfront.
Reports now detail that Lake Michigan is second in the world only to Stockholm for cleanliness. The Chicago Park District is stringent in its testings and tests beach waters for E. coli levels at five times per week.
The Village of Chicago was officially platted on August 4th, 1930. In 1831, historians detail that the Village of Chicago had 60 residents! In 1833, the number more than doubled to 150! In 1833, a 1000-foot pier was built and created the first harbor - south of the mouth of the river - most likely the Du Sable harbor. Chicago's population now is recorded in excess of 2.5 million people and 10 million for the Chicagoland area.
Lakefront Map Detailing the Nine Harbors
Chicago's Many Claims to Fame
“Considered America’s most American city, this inviting metropolis blends Midwest manners with a world-class cultural and culinary scene.”
- National Geographic Traveler April, 2004
A Few of Chicago's Highlights
- A top-10 bicycling city (Bicycling Magazine)
- 29 miles of shoreline,
- 15 miles of beaches, and
- 552 parks in the City of Chicago alone 
- United States' largest municipal harbor with 5,000 berths
Summary of Chicago Harbors
601 W Montrose Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60613
Location: Just north of Lincoln Park.
Harbor Stats: 630 docks, mooring cans, and star docks.
Other: The Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club is located here.
3600 Recreation Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60613
Location: Lincoln Park.
Harbor Stats: 730 docks, mooring cans and star docks.
Other: Transient docking is also available*. There is a ship's store, fuel dock, and waste pump-out station.
2601 N Cannon Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60614
Harbor Stats: 714 docks and star docks in the harbor.
Other: Transient docking is also available*. Fuel dock, public boat launch ramp. Parking for 67 cars and trailers.
111 N Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60611
Location: Heart of downtown, foot of Randolph Street.
Harbor Stats: 420 docks.
Other: Transient docking is also available*. There is a waste pump out station and a ship store.
Foot of Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603
Location: Heart of downtown Chicago, adjacent to Chicago's Loop.
Harbor Stats: Approximately 1,000 mooring cans.
Other: Transient mooring is also available*. Tender service (delivery and pickup of boat to the harbor aka "in and out service"). Waste pump out.
("The Loop or The Chicago Loop are the terms used to designate the historic commercial center of downtown Chicago. It is the seat of government for Chicago and Cook County, as well as the historic theater and shopping district (including, "State Street, that great street")
Harbor Stats: More than 1,000 mooring cans.
Other: The Chicago Yacht Club and the Columbia Yacht Club both make their home at this harbor.
Chicago Yacht Club and Columbia Yacht Club both reside at Monroe Harbor
400 E Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603
Phone: 312.861.7777 / 312.938.3625
Website: www.chicagoyachtclub.org / www.columbiayachtclub.com
1559 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605
Harbor stats: 1120 docks
Other: Transient docking is also available*. Fuel dock, pump outs, and a ship store.
Burnham Park Yacht Club
1500 Lynne White Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605
Location: Located on the Museum Campus (Field Museim etc...). Walking distance to downtown.
Harbor stats: 1120 docks, mooring cans and star docks.
Other: Transient docking is also available*. Fuel dock, ship store, laundry. Waste pump out. Launch ramp. Parking for 43 vehicles and trailers. Mast stepping/unstepping capability at the Burnham Park Yacht Club, which is located on the east side of Burnham Harbor.
Jackson Inner Harbor
6400 S Lake Shore DR, Chicago, Illinois 60613
Location: Jackson Park
Harbor stats: 165 docks and star docks.
Other: Transient docking is also available*. Boat launch ramp.
Jackson Park Outer Harbor
6400 S Coast Guard DR, Chicago, Illinois 60649
Location: Jackson Park
Harbor stats: 169 docks.
Other: Transient docking is also available*. Fuel dock, waste pump out station.
59th Street Harbor
5900 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60615
Harbor Stats: 125 docks.
Location: Jackson Park.
Other: Transient docking is also available*.
*Reservations are recommended.
Season: May 15th - October 1st - check:www.chicagoharbors.info for further updates.
Lakefront Bike Path Map - Harbor to Harbor
Harbor to Harbor - Bike Path Trail
The best way to see Chicago and its gorgeous lakefront is on your robber blades or your bike. Chicago's bike trail extends from from Montrose Harbor to Burnham and perhaps even beyond (the map below suggests the trail continues to Jackson, I have gone a far only as Burnham). Check out the lake front map for the trail rides. This is the very best way to experience the harbors - up close and personal with the wind in your hair and sun on your face.
Chicago's Montrose Dog Friendly Beach
Montrose Harbor - Northern Edge of Lincoln Park
On the far end of Montrose Harbor is a dream for dog lovers - a park that actually allows dogs and encourages them to venture forth into Lake Michigan. I am told that the pier at Montrose is great for fishing with the best catches being Lake Michigan Perch. Montrose is north of Navy Pier. At the very north end, off of Wilson Avenue, you will find Montrose Dog Park. This is the only "off-leash beach side park" in Chicago. Lake Forest used to have a free site, then they started limiting their beach to Lake Forest only residents. If you have a dog - and you are in Chicago, this is the place to be. Incidentally, Geneva Lake, Wisconsin is dog friendly for its waterfront too!
The north end is completely fenced in for the dogs. It is clean and offers another magnificent view of the waterfront. It is hidden - it is behind "old black steel walls" of a former boat house. While this is a park, it is a sand park - absolutely no grass. All waste must be properly disposed of by the dog owner. Baggies were provided when I visited long ago.
Canines Off-Leash at Montrose Beach
Within the fenced in boundaries, the dogs may run completely off-leash. Beyond the gate, the leash must be on. Do not take your dog off leash until after you are through the gate. There was at the time I was there a limit of three dogs per family.
While a fun and family-friendly place to visit, please be cautious when attending. Remember, there is a ":friendly dogs only" rule in place, but a strange dog is just that, a strange dog. Always remember to approach other animals with caution and do not leave your children unattended. For further safety, a doggy first aid kit has been recommended by many who have attended the beach. While the dogs are off-leash, out of respect and safety for other dog owners, careful attention must be made to never take your eyes off your dog. Wading with them in the water is encouraged. Fetching and retrieving in the water is a delightful site for both the dog owner and the on-watchers. Enjoy this very special Chicago welcome and celebration to our canine friends!
Diversey Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
Diversey Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
Diversey was my home for two summers - long ago. Diversey is unique in its boat traffic pattern, note, the exit and entrance are timed with single lane traffic - under the bridge, under U.S. Route 41. Patience is a requirement when boating from this harbor.
Beyond your boat traffic, you must concern yourself with your car, like all places in the City, parking is very limited. My travels to Diversey would take place at the bright hour of 4 a.m. in the morning so that I might be able to find a parking spot up the street. No hike was too far as long as I didn't have to move my vehicle every two hours. And yes, I did try the 4 hour parking on Cannon Street and was sadly caught - it just doesn't work. Parking is a premium in any big city, add sunshine and a harbor nearby and Lincoln Park and now you know why I left from the Chicago suburbs so early to travel down to the city!
Diversey Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
Belmont Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
Belmont Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
Walking around Belmont Harbor is a joy - there is room from either side. Additionally, Belmont houses not just motor boats but is also home to many a sailboat. The circular moors are unique only to Belmont and gracefully dot the inlet marina.
Do take the time to walk on the other side. The view changes just enough to keep your interest up. Every boat is different so the scenery is ever changing. I love chuckling at the various names of the boats.
Oak Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois
Yacht Party Chicago Shoreline
Oak Street Yacht Party, Chicago, Illinois
33 man-made beaches, extending for 28 miles (45 km) grace the waterfront of the freshwater lake we know and love called Lake Michigan. The first Chicago Public Beach opened in Lincoln Park in 1895. The sandy beaches are carefully groomed and replenished by the Chicago Park District who employs over 1000 life guards to provide safety sunshine fun from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.
Chicago Skyline Aerial Video of the Harbors and City Skyscrapers
Belmont Harbor Sunrise
Chicago Harbors - A Safe Haven and More
It is a mere fact that we navigate the obstacles of day to day life. Yet, when we open our eyes to a life filled with wonderment, stretching from blue water to a blue sky, a safe harbor always awaits.
A harbor is a safe home for a ship, a tranquil place for resting, building strength and awaiting the next journey.
A harbor is a reminder to us, that life gives us pause – a break from the rough waters of life, if we only take the time to enjoy those tranquil moments.
In the same way that a great book transports us to exotic locations, a beautiful harbor cradles us in its safety as we prepare to wade into the waters of life’s adventures.
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Belmont sunrise photo 3150nlsd.com
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