Chicago to St. Louis

Hey all, first post here, an internet search led me to a similar topic on this board so I thought I would try again. I’m planning a trip from the northern Chicago suburbs to St. Louis, following the Fox to the Illinois in a 2-man canoe. Does anyone have any information about the trip? I’ve figured about 15 days to make it, and about 330 miles to cover. I’m wondering about the camping situation along the way, am I allowed to just pull up on the riverside and make camp? What about fires? any input would be appreciated, thanks!

What sort of canoe camping have you
done already? What is your standard of quality?

I would not do that trip because substantial portions are inferior canoeing water. But there are shorter portions, especially in the first half of the run, than might be worth the effort.

Canoe camping is a big investment in time and effort. To me, it doesn’t make sense to do it on big, open, boring water full of barges and powerboats.

What’s good for the goose,
is not always good for the gander.

I tip my hat to someone who wants to tackle a large river that can be slow moving and residential. You should certainly research all the campgrounds along the 330 stretch of river you want to paddle. Otherwise you’ll have to ask the landowners if you can pitch a tent for the night.

I’m not sure what your motivations are… whether it’s tied to emotional conquest, if you want to conquer a long paddle, or if you simply want to escape. For me, seeing houses on my long trips can damper the sense of exploration and seclusion. Facing rapids and getting out of them unscathed is another part of a trip that can be ridiculously fun, memorable and beneficial to your paddling skills.

Gaining 22 miles a day, that must be a pretty fast river. Our longest day last year was 17 miles on a slower portion of the James River - a lot of work for two people.

river trip
That should be a fun trip! I have Some experience on Illinois industrial rivers. I have never found camping to be a problem for me. With that said though you must not have any illusions that every one is going to be a good campsite. I have been stuck in some pretty sketchy spots. While I have never had any problems, the threat was there. I have been forced to camp on side of hills, and mud holes littered with beer bottles. I always try to camouflage my canoe and use a tent with natural colors. I follow the rule " don’t set up till dusk, and gone at first light". I usually don’t have a fire, if ever. As far as milage, twenty miles should not be hard at all. I have done as much as high fifties on slugs like the wabash river. If you plan to paddle for ten hours a day then you only have to move at two miles per hour. That is crawling. Barges moving on the water posed very little threat to me. The channels are usually marked and they are slow moving. I found the biggest threat to be the parked barges that are being staged for loading and unloading. You have to paddle out around them, and it forces you into the main channel. The waves rebounding from the walls of shear metal are killers. Tug boats are to be avoided at all costs. They come out of no where and produce wake that will come over your sides. Just stay alert and make very conservative decisions and you should be fine. I found the biggest threat on these rivers is average joe six pack. ninety percent are great people that will give you the shirt off their back, and a cold beer for you aching body! The other ten percent are no fun to deal with. I have been cussed at, buzed by boats, and just over all threatened. If one of these types happens to come across your campsite move it. When someone asks where I am heading I say I am getting picked up at the next take out. As a rule of thumb I also dont go poking my nose around in the places I stop. I stay next to my tent and mind my own business. You could stumble on an irate land owner, pot plants, or even a meth lab. With all that said, you will see things from a perspective that 99% of people will never see. You will have an adventure, and get a thrill from leaving your safety zone.You truly make your own way. I have had great times on rivers such as these and will continue to paddle them. Plus saying that you paddled from chicago to saint louis is pretty bad ass!! Good luck, stay alert stay alive, and take an obscene amount of water.

Made it about halfway
Hey guys! Thanks for all the advice and help!

Unfortunately we did not make it the whole way, we did 160 miles in the first 6 days and had to pull out at Henry so I could make an interview, but it was absolutely amazing!

There was no real point to the trip except to see if we (me and my brother) could do it, and I truly think we would have. The Fox River was a hassle most of the way with all of the shallow water and portages, but there were some very nice forested areas, and there’s a whitewater recreation park in Yorkville that was a blast.

Camping was iffy at times, but we remained safe and secure, most of our problems ended up coming from the weather, bad headwinds, lightning storms, and the like, but never did we feel like we were in serious danger (we stayed off the river during the lightning).

I expected a little more current out of the Illinois, and I definitely was not ready for how bad a problem the Asian carp were, they were jumping into our boat and even running into us! There were a couple points we got caught in the middle of a big school and just had to float and have some batting practice ;).

I see what you meant about the tugs, luckily the only one that passed close to us slowed down to give us an easy wake to ride over, pretty nice people out on the water, but we had one go by at night after we set up camp and the waves were huge!

If you can handle the stress, weather, and being so very very dirty the whole time I would recommend it, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever done before

Congratulations! Don’t feel bad about not making it all the way, that’s why such a trip is called an expedition and not a vacation. This spring I tried to finish paddling from champaign IL to the gulf and had to pull out a little above memphis because of the flood. You can always go back and finish. Do you have any pictures? I would love to see them if you do. If you like big rivers you might want to consider doing the wabash river. It is interesting and there is no barge traffic. Thanks for the update.

I’ve got a couple of pictures, give me a few days to track everything down and get them loaded up, the picture craze kind of died off after the first few days though, its funny how your priorities and lifestyle change once you get in the groove of things. I was making a good attempt to document everything, via picture and journal, but once we got to the point where it was all about miles everything else fell by the wayside. I’ll look into the Wabash, I think our next voyage will be to finish up the trip to St.Louis, and hopefully to the gulf for the one after that

I do the exact same thing. I plan on taking pictures and a journal, but it usually falls to the wayside. When I go solo I do a lot more of it. Helps break up the time alone i guess. It is easy to get in a rut and get to focused on miles. I have to remind myself that I am supposed to be enjoying myself. What did you take for food?

Have you done the Middle Vermillion?
Have you done the big Vermillion and seen the new version of Wildcat?

You’re welcome to paddle barge channels if you want, but I like rivers with wildnerness quality. This is, after all, a wilderness forum.

Here’s a link for some of the pictures, I’ve still got to grab the ones off the other camera…

For food we tried to keep it light and pack provisions for a week, rationale being we could stop after 7 or 8 days and restock. We brought oatmeal for breakfast, peanut butter, honey, and bread for sandwiches at lunch, and canned chicken and instant-mix rice and pasta for dinners, along with oranges and tinned fish for snacks.

The food ended up being a lesson in and of itself, we never cooked breakfast, always just woke up and packed, then ate an orange with some cold instant-mix coffee on the canoe, it was too much of a hassle trying to start a new fire every morning. Lunch was good every day, and we ended up stopping in towns for a good meal about half of the days. After the first couple nights we started foregoing dinner as well, opting to eat a big lunch and maybe a small sandwich if we were starving, cooking and cleaning just got to be too much of a hassle for how labor intensive the trip was

I have to agree with you on that. I usually eat a cliff bar for breakfast. Then I graze on food throughout the day. I eat a little of trail mix, beef jerky, and a power bar. I pretty much always have a hot dinner. I really like powdered potatoes with a pouch of tuna or chicken. The potatoes come in all sorts of different flavors. I also take a series of high endurance vitamins from gnc. On my long trips where I am pounding out miles I also take a testosterone booster. Those things get me humming along pretty well!