West Branch, DuPage River: Centennial Park (Naperville) to Private Residence near 95th Street (Bolingbrook) ✶✶✶
This stretch of river, hardly a wilderness experience, puts you through a charming downtown area with some nice riffles and waves immediately, and then winds its way through suburban development before tucking into a nice forest preserve for the final mile or two before the pullout. I took out at my girlfriend’s house, after the confluence with the East Branch of the DuPage River.
Skill Level: Beginner, some experience recommended. Some class 1 rapids and many riffles.
Distance: 6.5 miles
Gage: USGS gage 05540130 at ~360 cfs and ~6.3 feet
Recommended levels: I have paddled this section lower, but I don’t know that I would again. I would hit this at a minimum of 300 cfs, and expect to scratch bottom a few times. I did once at 360 cfs. I would love to run this at something like 500 cfs, but at anything higher would scout some of the low-lying bridges first.
Time: Put in at 3:10 PM, pulled out at 5 PM; 1h40m.
Last week a huge warmup thawed out a ton of snow–ten inches, in some places, and brought over three inches of rain to the entire area. On the second to last day in February, the mercury soared over 60 for the first time this calendar year, and I got out for a really quick paddle.
I’ve put in a few (several?) times at Centennial Park in Naperville now, right on the river near a play ground, and I think I have finally (maybe) found the actual put-in. If you’re looking at the playground with the river directly behind it, the put-in looks to be stone steps on the left that are a little hidden until you walk up to them. Regardless, I’ve never had any difficulty putting in at less than ideal spots here; folks are usually just very curious to see ya luggin’ a big boat and paddles and will ask questions!
The first mile or so in this section is by far the most fun, with numerous riffles and small rapids, pedestrian bridges, and a really attractive downtown riverwalk as you course through downtown Naperville. The section here is about 75′ wide if I had to guess, and the river only ever gets up to 100′ wide or so–wide enough to prevent logjams (I have never seen one on this stretch), and small enough to feel, well, small.
After the first mile, you pass the North Central College football field to your left, marking your exit from downtown Naperville. Almost right across the river from that, the hospital I was born in towers over the river! You’ll then spend the next few miles fluttering through suburban housing developments and tracking Washington Rd closely; as I said before, this is hardly a wilderness float. Even still, the loud din of birdsong rings out well over the volume of Washington Rd
At 4.8 miles in, you pass under Washington Rd and into a really nice forest preserve, with attractive oak groves to your right and a hilly wooded bank to your left. You can’t see it from here, but on the right side of the River and across the street is the organic farm that I work on! It’s here that I heard an owl and a woodpecker on this warm February day. This is one alternate takeout that would shorten this trip; just before you pass under Washington Rd, Weigand Riverfront Park also presents another opportunity for a takeout, at 4.88 miles into the paddle.
All things considered, this was a great way to get out and start the paddling season. I would add–this was my first trip with a lifeproof case for my phone (for the forthcoming pictures) and the frog-togg raincoat that I have, and that setup worked extremely well to protect from pretty cold water. This is definitely the coldest I would paddle in!