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Travel Ideas for the Waterfront - 5 Great Harbors in Chicago

Updated on August 28, 2015

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 [1] 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. [2]. 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


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.

Population Growth

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 [3]
  • United States' largest municipal harbor with 5,000 berths

Summary of Chicago Harbors

Montrose Harbor

601 W Montrose Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60613
Phone: 312.742.7527

Location: Just north of Lincoln Park.

Harbor Stats: 630 docks, mooring cans, and star docks.

Other: The Chicago Corinthian Yacht Club is located here.

Belmont Harbor

3600 Recreation Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60613
Phone: 312.742.7673

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.

Diversey Harbor

2601 N Cannon Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60614
Phone: 312.742.7762

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.

DuSable Harbor

111 N Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60611
Phone: 312.742.3577

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.

Monroe Harbor

Foot of Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603
Phone: 312.742.7643

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: /

Burnham Harbor

1559 S Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Illinois 60605
Phone: 312.747.7009

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
Phone: 312.427.6446

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
Phone: 773.288.7106

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
Phone: 773.288.1065

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
Phone: 312.747.7019

Harbor Stats: 125 docks.

Location: Jackson Park.

Other: Transient docking is also available*.

*Reservations are recommended.

Season: May 15th - October 1st - 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.

Montrose Harbor

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

View of Diversey Harbor Facing North
View of Diversey Harbor Facing North
View of Diversey Harbor Facing West
View of Diversey Harbor Facing West

Diversey Harbor, Chicago, Illinois

 Diversey Harbor, Chicago, Illinois
Diversey Harbor, Chicago, Illinois | Source

Diversey Harbor

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

diversey harbor, chicago, il:
Diversey Harbor, Chicago, IL 60614, USA

get directions

Belmont Harbor

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.

Belmont Harbor, Chicago, Illinois

Belmont Harbor, Chicago, Illinois

Oak Street Beach, Chicago, Illinois

Oak Street Beach - Chicago, IL

Oak Street Beach, Chicago, il:
Oak Street Beach, County subdivisions not defined, IL, USA

get directions

Navy Pier, Chicago, Il:
Navy Pier, Chicago, IL 60611, USA

get directions

Yacht Party Chicago Shoreline

Oak Street Yacht Party, Chicago, Illinois

Chicago Beaches

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

Famous Harbor and Sailing Quotes

“A ship is safe in harbor, but that's not what ships are for.”

William Shedd quotes

“It is the set of the sails, not the direction of the wind that determines which way we will go.”

Jim Rohn quotes

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.

Bon Voyage.

In Appreciation


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Belmont sunrise photo

History provided by:


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    • GmaGoldie profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      9 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      Chicago is wonderful and the harbors in Chicago are simply natural wonders. Some of the best things in life are free - viewing the harbors is free - the time and effort are expensive but well worth it. Thank you for stopping by.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      An overall description about chicago is available in this hub. Good work.

    • GmaGoldie profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      10 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      I LOVE Chicago - it truly is one of the greatest cities in the world - I am glad my hard work and research and personal knowledge came across.

      I encourage to make Chicago a priority - it truly is remarkable - it has an energy that is very memorable.

    • applejuic3 profile image


      10 years ago from San Diego, CA

      wow! what an incredible hub. you obviously put a Lot of time and effort into this post. not only is it very informative, it shows how great the city really is. i can't wait to visit chicago one day.

    • GmaGoldie profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      10 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      James A. Watkins,

      So good to hear from you! I am very glad about the efforts on Lake Michigan - what a great resource - and finally we are taking care of it - see we are not just getting older - we are getting wiser!

      Thank you so much for stopping by.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 

      10 years ago from Chicago

      I am glad to hear how clean Lake Michigan is these days. I grew up on Lake Michigan, albiet on the Michigan side, straight across the lake from Chicago (St. Joseph/Benton Harbor).

      Thank you for this informative Hub and the beautiful photographs. I enjoyed this very much. Well done!

    • GmaGoldie profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      10 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      H P Roychoudhury,

      The harbors are wonderful and the Chicago beaches are great. So glad you stopped by. Thank you!

    • H P Roychoudhury profile image

      H P Roychoudhury 

      10 years ago from Guwahati, India

      Wonderful Harbor and beautiful beaches of Chicago seems to be extra ordinary site to be visited.

    • GmaGoldie profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      10 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin


      Chicago has so much to offer - it is truly amazing Chicago has 5,000 berths and yet we never think of the Windy City as a boating city. You are right they are each unique, one with more sailboats, one with mega yacht, one with the dog park and so on....Glad you stopped by. Thank you!


      The Harbors are gorgeous - the water quality has dramatically improved - it is great to see progress especially on the environmental side - the unsung heros of doing something right. Thank you for stopping by.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      very interesting.. i didn't know that either.. sweet!!

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      10 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, I had never read anything about Chicago's harbors before. Very cool! Each one seems to have something unique and interesting to offer.

    • GmaGoldie profile imageAUTHOR

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      11 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Minnetonka Twin,

      It was a fun Hub - great City - great fun!


      It has been years since I thought back to those years of sunshine and boating carelessness. Thank you for the kind compliments.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      11 years ago from south Florida

      Thanks for reminding me about my birth city which I left many years ago with the fondest of memories. I knew many of the harbors with their hundreds of boat slips but did not know there were nine in all. Thanks for this beautiful hub and the excellent photos.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      11 years ago from Minnesota

      Thanks for a very calming and beautiful harbors hub. It amazes me that there are so many harbors and beaches in Chicago. I loved the videos and pictures. Fun hub.


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