The Chicago River is a winding, wonderful and wacky body of water. It flows backwards, right through the heart of Chicago, linking Lake Michigan to the Mississippi and the Gulf of Mexico. Not only does it get dyed bright green on St. Patrick’s Day, but it also has its own incredible, unique bridges that open and close to traffic, as well as its very own troupe of water taxis. Read on to learn how to get a truly unique look into the magic behind the iconic Chicago bridges with a visit to the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum.

McCormick Bridgehouse 3

See the inner mechanisms that make a Chicago River bridge move
Located on the south end of Michigan Avenue, the museum begins at river level and spirals five stories up. This one of a kind museum takes you inside a Chicago drawbridge, where you’ll have the chance to see firsthand all the large and small gears that so elegantly lift our city’s bridges. Educational exhibits showcase the history of both the river as well as the science and technology behind it all. Be sure to climb to the tippy top of the Bridgehouse, where you’ll be treated to a splendid 360 degree view of both the city and river.

Make a reservation at the Fish Hotel
Chicago’s one and only fish hotel is located in the river, just near the McCormick Bridgehouse. The hotel is actually a floating garden that provides rest and a safe harbor for sunfish, bluegills, carp and other finned friends that pass through the big city to spend the night. See how many fish you can spot mingling in the hotel’s seaweed-filled lobby.

photo: courtesy of Jaysin Trevino via flickr

See a bridge lift in action
From April to November, Chicago bridges lift and let through passing boats. You can see this engineering feat in action from inside the Bridge Museum. You’ll need to make a special reservation to take part in this truly amazing event, so check the museum’s schedule of bridge lifts at bridgehousemuseum.org/bridge-lifts and order tickets in advance.

Hours and cost to visit
The museum is open May 18 through Nov. 3, Fri.-Mon., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Thurs., noon-7 p.m.  General admission runs $6/adult, $5/ages 6-12 and free for ages 5 and under. Bridge lift viewing tickets are $10. Tip: General admission is free for everyone on Sunday!

Spend a day on the Chicago River
Make a day of your visit to the McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum by taking some time to explore the river by boat and bike. Take a (super cheap!) river cruise in a Chicago Water Taxi, which carries passengers between Chinatown and Madison Street on the south branch; La Salle Street, The Chicago Riverwalk at Clark Street, and Michigan Avenue on the main branch, and North Avenue on the North Branch. Dig into an all-American beef burger with a yummy shake (or icy, blended cocktail!) on the side as you overlook one of the best vistas in the city at the Chicago Burger Company located on the Chicago Riverwalk.

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McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum
376 N. Michigan Ave.
312-977-0227
Online: bridgehousemuseum.org

— Amy Bizzarri

Photos: McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum