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Difficulty I-V
Length 0 Miles
Gauge N/A
Flow Range
Reach Info Last Updated 09/11/2009 8:13 pm

River Description

When the winds switch around to having some Easterly component (NNE, NE, ENE, E, ESE, SE, SSE) check out the wave reports. When sailboats are heading for cover due to 'Small Craft Warnings", experienced kayakers might want to head to the lake.

Forecast wave heights are generally reported in ranges.
At 1-2', generally forget it -- things are too tame to really get any surfs.
At 2-4', tame entertainment may be found.
At 3-5', you'll start catching some more worthwhile rides.
At 4-7', expect some sweet rides.
Above that, things start to get epic.
(See "Flow Info" tab for info on lake reports.)

DO NOT TAKE LAKE SURFING LIGHTLY! This is a whole different challenge than the river! On the river, each feature (wave or hole) is relatively 'constant' at a given flow. On the lake, every wave changes as it heads toward shore. When waves break, they can have powerful force as the weight of many gallons of water crash down on you. Having some sort of anti-implosion device for your sprayskirt is imperative at larger wave heights. Especially when waves are up, there will likely be strong currents sweeping out and down the shore. If your skirt implodes and your boat fills with water, each successive wave will hit you, making it like trying to run a class III (or higher) river with a swamped boat, but here there are NO EDDIES! Any time waves are larger than 2-3' you should not boat alone. The combination of wind and waves and currents can make self-rescue far more difficult than on any river you'll encounter in the Midwest.

Rapid Descriptions

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Obviously there are innumerable locations in Illinois (on the 'West Shore' of Lake Michigan) where one could access the lake for possible surfing action. What follows are just a few known, popular spots.

Do you know of a location where the surfing action is just 'too sweet' (when the wind and waves are right)?
Please feel free to "Add a Comment" or "Report" detailing any additional 'hot spots' you are aware of on 'the big pond'.

Just to have some consistent means of logical order, locations are being listed from South to North, from the Illinois/Indiana border to Winthrop Harbor. (Listed 'distance' is derived from Google driving directions, using a starting point of the Illinois/Indiana state line and ending as close as possible via road access to each beach.)

59th St.Harbour/Promontory Point

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Boating in the shadow of the Museum of Science and Industry. Between Promontory Point and the breakwall for the 59th St.Harbour lies a fine stretch of beach in a cove. Waves should wrap into here from Northeast or Southeast winds.


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Where W.Montrose Ave. hits the lake, a breakwall and fine sandy beach will catch NorthEast winds.

Tower Road

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There are two different beaches here. Reportedly they get good, consistent waves.

Waukegan - North Beach Park

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Illinois Beach State Park

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No 'point', but a fine sandy beach.

There are signs about asbestos on the north side of the park


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Douglas Tally
4 years ago

I live on the 18th floor of a condo building across the street from Montrose Harbor. We eyeball Montrose Beach and the wave activity for packrafting. Yesterday, May 5, 2016 I took pix with a long range lens of a surfer between the dunes fence (in the water) and the seawall. It's a good location but she identified waves one wave too soon as my pix show the larger wave behind her. There are surfing conditions at Montrose but there are conditions in which the waves are much larger than yesterday and surfing would be great fun. Kiteboarders are regular at Montrose although I use an Alpacka Packraft (Denali Llama) to push through the waves cresting over my head. I've seen kayakers but in conditions that were too difficult for sit on top and sea kayaks they had, more for the challenge to renter and skill level. There is a spot (last year identified by a red buoy) that creates the largest waves at Montrose. It's directly out from a clearing of trees onshore about midway between the dunes fence in the water and the dog beach fence. Last fall I began to think there is no wave I could not punch through. The size of the wave contributes to the challenge but timing is everything... that it crest overhead v crest into a bubbling wall and head on collision. My best was riding over the tale of a large wave and my packraft slapping down on the backside riding to the bottom of a trough so deep i could not see the light towers on the seawall... I saw nothing but water with a quick 360 look. The most difficult wave is one that crests to strike head on, I lay down on the spray deck which causes greater rigidity of the craft buts the wave was so large the packraft buckled under me. Now I have an Alpacka floor accessory that will provide the rigidity I need to punch through waves larger than any i've seen at Montrose. Check back and I'll post what's happening at Montrose for great wave conditions.

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Gage Descriptions


Directions Description

'Shuttle' (for each site) is carrying from the parking area to the water and back.The map below is only to show the extent of the Illinois lakefront for Lake Michigan.

You can use the text-entry box to enter the location of any of the suggested surf sites, and you will get drive time, distance and directions from there to the Wisconsin/Illinois state line (Winthrop Harbor). (The 'default' mapping is from the 'take-out' or your specified location, to the 'put-in' (which, for this lakefront 'reach', is the Wisconsin/Illinois state line). However, the resulting map should give you a good idea of the location of each of these spots, and you can mentally adjust to work out your driving directions from your starting location.)

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Revision #Revision DateAuthorComment
1196006 09/11/09 Rob
1196013 09/11/09 Rob Add beaches
1196005 09/11/09 Rob n/a