You don’t have to go to downtown Chicago to find a scenic riverwalk. The Naperville Riverwalk, located in the western suburb of the same name, is a 1.75-mile path that runs alongside the DuPage River. Residents and visitors can stroll along this stretch dotted with covered bridges, artwork, and Naperville history. Plus, the central location of the riverwalk makes it easy to explore more of the city’s downtown area.

A Transformative Project

Downtown Naperville Development / Courtesy of the City of Naperville

The Naperville Riverwalk was built in 1981 as part of a celebration of the city’s 150th anniversary. After nearly 40 years, it is hard to imagine Downtown Naperville without it, but how has the Riverwalk helped change its city? 

Before the Riverwalk was first envisioned, downtown Naperville was struggling. The banks of the DuPage were lined with dirt paths and a collection of storage buildings and junkyards, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Riverwalk helped completely transform Downtown Naperville into a bustling shopping and dining district. 

"There's no question (the Riverwalk) was the turnaround of downtown Naperville. The revival of downtown was a straight line. That was a brilliant, borderline-genius decision,” Mayor Steve Chirico told the Chicago Tribune.

The Riverwalk Today

Courtesy of The City of Naperville

Now the linear park is the gateway to several amenities. The path connects with a park, which features a clock tower, a fountain, and the Paddleboat Quarry. You can rent a paddleboat or kayak and get out on the water all the way from 10 a.m. to a little bit before dusk. The Riverwalk will also take you to Naperville’s Centennial Beach, a swimming quarry with swim lanes, slides, and diving boards.

In 2000, Naperville held a festival celebrating the beginning of the third millennium, and the city built the Millennium Wall at Jackson Avenue to commemorate all the people and businesses that made the celebration happen. Today, the curved wall serves as the top of the Riverwalk Amphitheater, which hosts open-air shows.

If you don’t want to leave the Riverwalk to explore the many restaurants of Downtown Naperville, you can grab a quick snack and a drink at the Riverwalk Cafe.

Last year, five new murals debuted on the Riverwalk. The murals series, named “Streaming History,” pay homage to the city’s history.   

Water Street District and New Development

Courtesy of Water Street Community

The Riverwalk is getting even more attention as a new mixed-use development takes shape right next to the park. Water Street District is a $93 million project that has added 500 more feet to the Riverwalk, according to the Daily Herald. Other features of the development include the 158-room Hotel Indigo, a 520-space parking garage, 40,292 square feet of retail and restaurant space, and 14,190 square feet of office space. The majority of the development was completed in 2016. Last year, SixtyFour, a wine bar and sushi grill, joined the restaurants in Water Street District

This year, Naperville is working on adding two new parks to the Riverwalk. One park, Jaycees Smart Park, will be located near the Naperville Municipal Center, while the other, Harmony Park, will be located on top of Rotary Hill, according to the Chicago Tribune. The Naperville Riverwalk Commission has already given the two parks the green light, but the Naperville Park Board and City Council still need to weigh in on the project. 

Jaycees Smart Park will use solar panels to power weatherproof power stations with power outlets and USB ports for smartphones and laptops, according to the report.

What It Means to Naperville Residents and Visitors 

Centennial Beach / Photo by Supracoriolis / CC BY-SA

The Riverwalk is an important amenity for the city. Last year, a Naperville Riverwalk Survey polled 1,523 Naperville residents and 119 non-residents. Of these respondents, 13.2 percent used the Riverwalk more than once a week, 21.6 percent used it weekly, and 32.44 percent used it monthly.

This year, ranking website Livability included Naperville on its list of the top 100 places to live in the country. Naturally, the Riverwalk was cited as one of the reasons Naperville made the list.