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Sugar River

Fast with riffles and deep pools, the Sugar River flows through “wild” country of wooded banks and secluded backwater areas. Good fishing for smallmouth bass, walleye, northern pike, and channel catfish. Nelson Road canoe launch in Wisconsin to Two Rivers Forest Preserve in Shirland which is 15 miles and takes approximately seven hours in Wisconsin at Sugar River and County T, you have to portage down the grass bank. The Sugar River Park of Rock County is posted closed 10 p.m. – 5 a.m. The canoe launch from Colored Sands Forest Preserve to Two Rivers Forest Preserve is 7 miles and takes approximately three hours.

Pecatonica River

This river flows from the Pecatonica River Forest Preserve at the Pecatonica Village past Pecatonica River Forest Preserve, Trask Bridge Forest Preserve, and Two Rivers Forest Preserve up to Macktown Forest Preserve where it joins Rock River. Boat ramps in Sumner Park and Winnebago County Fairgrounds on both sides of dam in Pecatonica Village. The launch on Farwell Bridge Road over Pecatonica River in Stephenson County has a gravel road to the bank. Going from the Pecatonica River Forest Preserve to Two Rivers Forest Preserve is 16 miles and takes approximately five hours. Going from Trask Bridge Forest Preserve to Two Rivers Forest Preserve is 10 miles and takes approximately four hours. Pecatonica River Forest Preserve has a boat ramp

Kishwaukee River

This rocky bottomed stream flows through a beautiful, wooded valley and, with the exception of Belvidere, New Milford, and Cherry Valley, has little urban development near its shores. Except during heavy rainfall, the stream is relatively clear, and in the spring you can see smallmouth and rock bass hovering over their beds. Many rocky riffles and gravel bars characterize the 30-mile course from Belvidere, and during the last three miles to the mouth, the stream becomes abraded with many channels–some navigable and some not–but all are interesting and wild. Fishing on the stream is excellent. Going from Baumann Park in Cherry Valley to Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve is 4 miles and takes approximately two hours. An easy two + hour trip is from the canoe access at Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve to the ramp at Atwood Park (Atwood Outdoor Education Center). There are other canoe launches at Espenscheid Memorial Forest Preserve, Oak Ridge Forest Preserve (south branch). There are four canoe access launch sites in Belvidere and Atwood Park in New Milford. The Kishwaukee River south branch from Oak Ridge to Blackhawk Springs is definitely for only canoes–narrow, winding, trees down, and so shallow at times it is only inches deep where you have to get out on foot. After crossing under Perryville Bridge into Blackhawk Springs (posted on walk bridge), the south & north branches join and the river becomes deeper and wider. After entering Kishwaukee River Forest Preserve under Blackhawk Road, it becomes shallow again with islands and there is a “Rock” dam going across the river at the Sportsmen’s Park.

Rock River

Nearly all of the river’s 165 miles provide quality canoeing if a few simple rules are followed. The river has low head dams at Rockton, Rockford, Oregon, Dixon, Sterling (two dams), and Milan. Either plan your trip between a single pair or plan to portage around them. Never paddle near the dams during periods of low visibility. The Rock River sports the largest population of northern pike in Illinois. Diversity is its key, with strong currents, calm pools, turbulence below the dams, shallow sloughs and islands. Atwood Homestead Forest Preserve, Hononegah Forest Preserve, Macktown Forest Preserve and Rockton Village all have boat ramps. Hononegah Forest Preserve has a 57 site campground.

Safety & Registration

Non-motorized watercraft, canoe, kayak, paddle boat, or sail board, in Illinois are no longer required to be titled/registered in Illinois, unless the vessels have a motor or sail.


Canoeists on Illinois rivers receive permission from landowners whenever utilizing private property. Many of the streams in Illinois are bounded by private land. Any stream that is not legally public and navigable is private and can only be used with permission from the landowners. Obtain permission from landowners before launching, take out, camping, picnicking, portaging, or parking vehicles on private land. Remember that your conduct will greatly influence the landowners attitude toward other canoeists.

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