Ping Tom Memorial Park
Those of us brave (or foolish) enough to take a canoe or kayak out on the Chicago River know that places to launch without membership or some kind of fee are limited. The ever-expanding Ping Tom Memorial Park offers one the only free put-ins open to the public. Just a short way north from the 19th Street park entrance, urban river folk can find an architecturally wondrous cascading cement staircase reaching all the way down to the water. Paddling south takes you under the old Canal Street train bridge, a mysterious-looking structure that still lifts for large boats. Or better yet, head north. You’ll find yourself between downtown’s grand edifices within a half hour. Just be on the lookout for Chicago’s many touring boats and taxis. They’re bigger and faster than you.
Ping Tom Memorial Park, 300 West 19th, pingtompark.org
Best of Chicago 2012