The Chicago River used to flow into Lake Michigan. The rapid growth of Chicago created a sewage problem which was solved by deepening a cut of the Chicago River, creating the Chicago Ship & Sanitary Canal and actually changing the direction that the river flowed. Today the Chicago River and the Chicago S&S Canal extend 40 miles downstream to Lockport, Illinois. The construction of the Chicago S&S Canal was the largest project of this type in the 19th century. As you travel from Lockport downstream, the navigation channel follows the Des Plaines River for 15 miles until it finally joins the Kankakee River and Illinois River. The remaining 275 miles of the Illinois Waterway continues down the Illinois River where it joins the Mississippi River just above St. Louis at Grafton, Illinois.
On the Chicago River vessels will encounter a 19-foot high railroad bridge that is inoperable. A few miles downstream on the Chicago S&S Canal another inoperable railroad bridge has only a 17-foot clearance. After these two bridges, all the remaining bridges will either be high clearance fixed bridges or operating swing or lift bridges. With our mast down, our clearance is 9-½ feet (if we lower the flag pole and bring in the fishing poles) so we are able to navigate under the bridges without calling the bridge tender for a lift. On the entire 326.9 miles of the Illinois Waterway, the boater passes through 8 locks and dams between Chicago and the Mississippi River.