Everyone likes to travel to far away destinations in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana or Missouri and visit a river or stream to float down with their favorite canoe or kayak. But you can’t do that every time you have the urge and why should you. Salt creek is just one of the many alternatives that you have if you live in the Chicago land area, especially the western suburbs, north and south.
Every year, access to the creek gets easier with landings being installed along its banks. I paddle the southern section, from below the dam at Graue mill in Hinsdale to the confluence with the Des Plaines river in Lyons. After it passes under highway 294 the creek flows through a good deal of Cook county forest preserve. It is void of houses with just the occasional bridge. The only people you see are either other boaters or bicyclists that ride along the creek on the designated bike trail. With a little scouting, you can find the egress points and plan your trip.
Besides Graue mill below the dam, you can enter the creek at the Dean property in Oak Brook or Bemis woods north. Travel down stream and exit at the 26th Street West forest preserve, Forest Avenue in Brookfield or the end of the road at First Ave. and the Des Plaines river.
Plan on taking a few items with you on your trip. There are no places to stop along the way for necessities like water or snacks. Take them with you, water and a few items like dried fruit, granola bars, light sandwiches can really enhance your time on the water. But don’t forget a garbage bag for your trash and any refuse that you may find along the way. There is always something to pick up and it will make you feel better when the trip is over and you have collected a full bag of refuse from garbage that washed into the creek and got caught up in the downed log jams along the shore.
The creek can be beautiful, full of wildlife and sometimes some tricky, narrow log jams to navigate. Just below the access below the dam at Graue mill there is a rock riffle neck down that you need to pay attention to. It is easy to navigate, just pay attention and stay river left. Aside from sweepers and dead falls that try to grab your craft the only other man made problem for boaters is a spill way across the entire creek below the bridge at 31st street. The spillway is breeched and you can float through, just stay river right at this spot. Neither of these areas are in deep water but who wants to dump and spoil a nice day. Along the rest of the creek you should pay attention when going under bridges, some get clogged with woody debris. They can also be shallow and rocky, slow down, and check out the fastest, deepest water to drift through. With children in the boat, and anyone else that doesn’t feel comfortable, make sure life preservers are being worn. It’s a state law to have them in the boat and a good idea to wear them. There is no shame in wearing the best piece of safety equipment that you can carry with you.
Speaking of safety, there are plenty of places to check flow rates on the stream, right from your home, a link can be found for the USGS stream monitors on this page in the right side column. Before you go, check flow rates. The creek can get fast and muddy quickly, it starts above Busse lake woods and flows through many suburbs gathering runoff from all of the roads and parking lots along the way. If you don’t feel comfortable floating on that day, don’t. There are plenty of things to do and your day should not be ruined because mother nature doesn’t cooperate. Brookfield zoo is right down the road. Remember the creek has a bike trail along its entire route. Keep your options open but don’t stay home. Get out and enjoy.
Written by Stan Zarnowiecki, SCWN director and avid canoeist