Dead River – Waukegan, Illinois - Atlas Obscura

Dead River

Waukegan, Illinois

A river with some unusual, and occasionally dangerous, habits. 


Dead River is so named not because it is polluted, but because it runs toward, but does not flow into, Lake Michigan.

Just yards from its goal, the river disappears into the sand in an apparent dead end. Periodically, the water builds enough pressure to burst its sand bar barricades in a violent outbreak, which can be very dangerous to bystanders. Mostly, however, the river snakes placidly from the marshes of Dead Lake a mile or two to the dead end on the beach, hardly seeming to flow at all.

In pre-settlement times, several rivers in the Chicagoland region experienced the same conditions, where the force of the waves pushing sand onto the beach was stronger than the river flow downstream, since there is very little river gradient in this flat area. Nowadays the Chicago and Calumet Rivers have been dredged and industrialized beyond recognition, while the Dead River alone carries on this peculiar habit.

Know Before You Go

Follow hiking trail in Illinois Beach State park south along the river to its mouth.

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March 17, 2010

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