Touring the Chicago Loop Bridges on your own
The information provided on this site and its mobile version should provide enough information for a self-guided tour. In addition, there are on-site resources and information provided below that can be accessed / downloaded for your use. If you have any questions, feel free to e-mail.
The N. Franklin St. bridge, with the Willis Tower in the background - one of the many scenic spots on the Chicago River
Wacker Drive is a multilevel street that runs both East-West and North-South. With the one exception noted below, stay on the upper level of this street as you walk.
One of my favorite routes is to start at the Monument of the Millennium at the mouth of the Chicago River and travel west along the south bank of the river. This is the beginning of the city's river walk trail that parallels Lower Wacker Drive. The city of Chicago has plans for a continuous river walk trail along the south bank of the Chicago River from Lake Michigan to the bridge at West Lake Street. Currently this trail extends from Lake Michigan to the North State St. bridge. At this bridge, use the stairway to access Upper Wacker Drive. From this point, you can walk west along Upper Wacker, using stairways at most bridges to access river level.
As you make the turn from West Wacker to North Wacker at Lake Street, you will notice that the river is no longer next to the street. After you have explored the West Lake Street bridge, continue south on Wacker to Randolph Street. Walk west on Randolph, over the bridge. From this point, you can travel south along the river bank to the West Jackson Boulevard bridge. Note that while there is free pedestrian access along this stretch of river, all of the property between streets is privately owned and controlled. Taking photographs from these private property areas may be questioned by building security personnel.
Walking provides the “top side” view for all the bridges, as well as the shore view of many of the bridges. Plan for two to four hours for the one-way trip.
A second touring option is to ride a water taxi. The water taxi is the quickest and least physically demanding of the two options and provides the unique view of the bridges from the water. A one-way water taxi ride from Navy Pier to West Jackson Blvd is about twenty minutes.
A tour that combines a walk along Wacker Drive, with a water taxi ride back to Navy Pier, combines the best of both touring methods. Regardless of the touring option chosen, the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum in the southwest bridge tender house at the North Michigan Avenue bridge is a must see.
If you are interested in watching these bridges operate, the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) maintains scheduled bridge lifts for the movement of sail boats to (late April to June) and from (September to early November) Lake Michigan. A link to the schedule can be found here.
I have prepared a short audio tour of the five bridges from N. Lake Shore Dr to State St. You can access the audio files and the map here.
A general touring brochure describing some history and engineering with a map can be found here. It is in pdf format for easy printing.