Cruising the Great Loop: Chicago, Illinois to Mobile, Alabama


This segment of the Great Loop is a trip through America's heartland of more than 1,000 miles on the inland rivers. Chicago is the last big city you see until you reach the Gulf of Mexico. Many areas are rather remote, and all but very fast boats will likely have to spend a few nights at anchor on this segment because of the lack of marinas. This segment includes the westernmost point on the Great Loop as well as the longest distance between fuel stops. There are several locks along the way operated by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.

Starting Point on The Great Loop

Hammond Marina* (Hammond, Indiana) or DuSable Harbor (Chicago, Illinois)

Hammond Marina is just 12 nautical miles from downtown Chicago and is adjacent to the Horseshoe Casino. Visitors enjoy activities that appeal to every age, all of which are linked together by a two-mile pedestrian trail.In the heart of downtown Chicago at Navy Pier, DuSable Harbor offers more than 400 slips for vessels up to 60 feet and complimentary pump-out.

LEG 1. Harborside Marina

Wilmington, Illinois

Estimated Mileage: 55 nmWhen departing Chicago, two routes continue your Great Loop cruise. Route one via the Chicago River is a scenic cruise through downtown to the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal. There are more than 40 bridges within five miles. The lowest bridge has a fixed vertical clearance at 18.5 feet.Route two via the Calumet River to the Calumet-Saganashkee Channel is the only option if vessels cannot clear the lowest bridge.

Regardless of which route is taken from Lake Michigan, boaters eventually arrive at the lowest fixed bridge on the Great Loop. At Mile 300.5 on the Illinois River is a fixed railroad bridge that is charted at 19.6 feet. Reaching Mile 288, many cruisers on the Great Loop opt to tie up overnight at Joliet City Dock which offers complimentary power and dockage.Brandon Road Lock and Dam is located at Mile 286.

Reaching Mile 273.33 near the mouth of the Kankakee River southwest of Joliet, dockage is available at Harborside Marina, which offers a full-service facility for any type of vessel.

LEG 2. Starved Rock Marina

Ottawa, Illinois

Estimated Mileage: 48 nmShortly after departing Wilmington, boaters reach the Dresden Island Lock and Dam at Mile 271.5.At Mile 240, directly adjacent to Starved Rock State Park in Ottawa, is Starved Rock Marina, a full-service port with on-site bar and grill, boutique and water-sport rentals.

If the cruise from Ottawa to Peoria Heights is too lengthy to complete in one leg, consider docking at Henry Harbor Marina in Henry, Ill. at Mile 196.

LEG 3. Illinois Valley Yacht Club

Peoria Heights, Illinois

Estimated Mileage: 76 nmDirectly off the Illinois River boaters can find dockage at Illinois Valley Yacht Club, complete with a fuel dock, laundry and restroom facilties, and a recently renovated clubhouse. Peoria, Ill. is on the Illinois River at Mile 168.

LEG 4. Tall Timbers Marina

Havana, Illinois

Estimated Mileage: 48 nmAbove the confluence of the Illinois River and Mississippi River, four miles downstream of Peoria at Mile 157.6, is Peoria Lock and Dam. On the Illinois River at Mile 120, vessels up to 50 feet in length can tie up at Tall Timbers Marina in Havana, Ill.

LEG 5. Port Charles Harbor*

St. Charles, Missouri

Estimated Mileage: 121 nmContinuing downstream, you will find several small towns but few facilities for docking. Since this is a long leg, consider taking two days to cruise with overnight at an anchor.

Full-service Port Charles Harbor in St. Charles hosts a large fuel dock with ValvTect fuel, pump-out station, a ship's store and newly upgraded restroom and shower facilities.

LEG 6. Hoppies Marina

Kimmswick, Missouri

Estimated Mileage: 63 nmWhen departing for Kimmswick, plan to get an early start as commercial traffic has priority through the two busy locks on this leg.The Mississippi and Missouri rivers converge at Mile 195.3 on the Upper Mississippi.

At Mile 158.5, stop over at Hoppies Marina, as this facility is the last option for fuel for about 200 miles and is also a short walk from downtown.

LEG 7. Paducah, Kentucky

Estimated Mileage: 205 nmPlan to anchor on this long stretch of the Upper Mississippi. Facilities for pleasure craft are few and far between, but fuel can be purchased at Kidd River City Fuel, located at Mile 51.9.

At Mile 0 on the Upper Mississippi, the Great Loop route for most Loopers takes a turn onto the Ohio River. The junction of the Ohio and Upper Mississippi rivers is at the Ohio River Mile 981.Paducah is located on the Ohio River at Mile 934.5, which is also the junction of the Tennessee River.

LEG 8. Green Turtle Bay Resort*

Grand Rivers, Kentucky

Estimated Mileage: 93 nmThis leg of the Great Loop includes another route choice. Route one turns onto the Tennessee River at Paducah. The Tennessee River runs from the south to the north, keep in mind that red buoys are now on your right and green will be on your left and the right descending bank is now on your left as this leg is on an upbound river.

Many Loopers opt for Route two, traveling 12 miles farther on the Ohio to the Cumberland River to bypass a long wait on the Tennessee River at the Kentucky Lake Lock and Dam. On this route, the Cumberland River intersects the Ohio River at Kentucky Chute.The Barkley Lock & Dam is at Mile 30.6. Loopers take the Barkley Canal at Mile 33 to cross into Kentucky Lake on the Tennessee River.

Green Turtle Bay Marina is a must-stop destination for cruisers. This full-service marina features more than 450 slips for vessels up to 100 feet and offers ValvTect fuel, on-site Dockers Bayside Grille, provisioning and spa services.

LEG 9. Cuba Landing Marina

Waverly, Tennessee

Estimated Mileage: 55 nmCruise up the Tennessee River to the full-service Cuba Landing Marina at Mile 115.5 for access to ethanol-free fuel, provisioning, upgraded bath and laundry facilities.

LEG 10. Clifton Marina

Clifton, Tennessee

Estimated Mileage: 43 nmFarther up the banks of the Tennessee River in Clifton sits recently renovated Clifton Marina at Mile 158.8. The full-service facility has recently undergone over $1 million in improvements.

LEG 11. Grand Harbor Marina*

Iuka, Mississippi

Estimated Mileage: 57 nmLocated at Mile 449.7, about nine miles upstream of Pickwick Dam, boaters can tie up at Grand Harbor Marina. The marina offers dockage for vessels up to 70 feet and has all of the top-notch facilities you expect to find at the ultimate marina resort.

Grand Harbor is at the entrance to the Divide Cut, which marks the beginning of the man-made canal that connects the Tennessee River with the Tombigbee River. Turn into Yellow Creek at the Mississippi/ Tennessee state border.

LEG 12. Fulton, Mississippi

Estimated Mileage: 56 nmOn the way to Fulton there are three locks: Jamie Whitten Lock at Mile 411.9, G.V.; Montgomery Lock at Mile 406.7; and John Rankin Lock at Mile 398.4. After crossing through the three locks, cruise to Fulton located at Mile 392.

LEG 13. Columbus Marina

Columbus, Mississippi

Estimated Mileage: 59 nmContinuing on to Columbus, boaters cruise through several locks: Fulton Lock at Mile 391.0; Glover Wilkins Lock at Mile 376.3; Amory Lock and Dam at Mile 371.1; Aberdeen Lock and Dam at Mile 357.5; and John C. Stennis Lock and Dam at Mile 334.7.

Conclude this leg at Mile 335 at Columbus Marina, located four miles from Columbus' city center that's full of shopping and restaurants.

LEG 14. Demopolis Yacht Basin

Demopolis, Alabama

Estimated Mileage: 119 nmDeparting Columbus, boaters approach two locks: Tom Bevill Lock at Mile 306.8 and Howell Heflin Lock and Dam at Mile 266.Most Loopers include an overnight stop and anchor at the Cochran Cutoff at Mile 287.3.

Your next destination is Demopolis Yacht Basin at Mile 216.7, which is near scenic walking trails and downtown Demopolis.

LEG 15. Coffeeville, Alabama

Estimated Mileage: 98 nmShortly after leaving Demopolis, you reach the Demopolis Lock & Dam at Mile 213.3. This leg requires an overnight anchorage at Bashi Creek at Mile 145.

Coffeeville at Mile 118.9 is the location of Bobby's Fish Camp, where boaters can dock for the night and fuel up.

LEG 16. Dog River Marina

Mobile Bay, Alabama

Estimated Mileage: 119 nmIf the trip from Coffeeville to Mobile Bay is too extensive for one day, an anchorage can be found at Three Rivers Lake at Mile 63.0.

This final leg of the inland rivers on the Great Loop includes the Coffeeville Lock & Dam at Mile 116.6.

Arriving in Mobile Bay marks a milestone completing the inland rivers portion of the trip. You will find plenty of opportunities to get provisions and prepare for your Gulf crossing.

For dockage, Dog River Marina offers a convenient facility where hospitality, service and facilities are at their finest. Explore one of the oldest and most charming cities in the country filled with art, museums, historical sites and fresh seafood.

*Denotes AGLCA Sponsor Marinas

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