Paddling the length of the Illinois to the Mississippi

Hey everyone, new to the forum but a lifelong paddler.

Like a lot of us, I’m feeling cooped up and need a long trip to reset. I was thinking about doing the entire length of the Illinois River, ending at the confluence with the Mississippi in St. Louis.

I know there’s quite a few locks, and I’m curious how one navigates a lock in a canoe. Do you portage or do they send you through the lock?

Portage, especially if there are any other boats around.
When I was a kid we used to paddle up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Maryland go down the Potomac River. We always portaged.

How long is the Illinois R?

When I was a kid I used to do the Fox River to the Illinois and then on down to Starved Rock or LaSalle/Peru to take out. We always locked through at the Starved Rock dam, though if it had been at all possible a portage would have been both safer and less spooky. (I suspect each lock will be different and it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to look them over and plan how you’re going to deal with them even before committing to such a trip. ppine’s got a point - portage if its at all practical.) Sitting in a canoe with water dropping close to thirty feet between a dripping algae covered cement wall and a barge makes one feel quite small and powerless. One REALLY hopes the ropes on that barge are well secured. I don’t know about now, but back then (mid-60s) they’d put a canoe or other small boat up in the front of the lock by the downstream door. They’d open with a few inches more water in the lock and you’d squirt out ahead of the big boys, giving you time to get to the side before they got rolling.

Enjoy those silver carp. I bet it’ll feel good to get out and cover some miles, though.

In the early 80s, a friend & I paddled down the Des Plaines and onto the Illinois, taking out at Starved Rock as well. PJC is correct, portaging seemed a whole lot safer, BUT the lock authorities insisted we lock down. While landing at one, and starting to unload the canoe, one guy came running out of the lock house, yelling at us to get back in our boat right now, we could be charged with trespassing, etc etc etc. You might want to find out what the “authority” organization is, and check with them, before starting out, just so you know…

Be sure to have a rope handy if you lock thru, so you can loop it around a guide cable rather than touching something nasty with your hands. The cables run vertically and you use them to keep position while the thing is flushing out.