Rentals on the River: Heritage Harbor packed with adventure

For Rick and Tracy Heidler of Channahon, summers are about visits to Heritage Harbor, the waterfront marina community in Ottawa.

“We go boating a lot on the Illinois River,” said Rick, who has a 24-foot pontoon boat. “We kind of stumbled across Heritage Harbor some years ago and we’ve been going there ever since.”

While the community offers homes for sale, Heritage Harbor also has rentals available for those in the market for a weekend retreat.

“Every weekend we’re pretty much putting the boat in the water and going to Heritage Harbor,” said Tracy.

The Red Dog Grill, which is open year-round, boasts a large patio overlooking the Heritage Harbor marina.

It features American grill and seafood style casual dining both indoors and, weather permitting, outdoors as well as a tiki bar, often with live music on Friday and Saturday nights.

“Sometimes we’ll go out to Starved Rock for dinner,” Tracy said.

The Heidlers first saw Heritage Harbor when it was in its infancy.

“They had like a demo unit in their parking lot so people could see what the places would look like,” said Rick. “The next year they starting building them and as soon as we could we started renting them.”

And it’s not just Rick and Tracy who stay. For about one week each July they typically show up with 15 to 18 other family members and rent three vacation homes within walking distance of each other.

“My wife has a very big family,” said Rick. “She has eight brothers and sisters and like 54 nieces and nephews.”

Those get-togethers are special, the Heidlers said.

“There’s no hustle and bustle,” said Tracy. “It’s just all about all of us getting together.”

There are a dozen rental units to select from, with different decors and sizes. The units sleep from four to 11 people. Prices range from $169 to $350 a night. They come fully equipped with everything from linens to pots and pans. Pets are not allowed. There are multiple views of each of the units at under the “stay” tab.

Rick says the key is to make reservations early, which can be done online.

His family likes to stay in the same units each year.

“I’m kind of spoiled because I like to have a river view,” he said.

“I definitely like the units,” said Tracy. “I think the sizes are nice and I definitely like the ones that have two separate bedrooms with their own bathrooms.”

“The units are spotless,” said Rick. “And if you have a special need they are more than accommodating to help you however you want.”

The full kitchens also are a plus. The families take turns preparing evening dinners.

For exercise and exploring there is a walking path around the harbor and two swimming pools as well as access to the Illinois & Michigan Canal trail for bicycling.

The Heidlers’ family also explores the area, with downtown Ottawa being a favorite destination.

“We’ve been going there for many years now, but there’s always something new to see,” Rick said.

The Heidlers also appreciate Heritage Harbor’s affiliation with nearby Quest Watersports, a full-service boat dealer.

One time when there was a problem with their pontoon boat a mechanic from Quest quickly made a repair — and then stopped back the following day to make sure everything was OK.

Tammy Barry, of the Heritage Harbor marketing staff, said most renters are from the west and southwest suburbs, as well as “people looking to get out of Chicago for a break.”

“We see an equal number of couples and families,” she said.

Like the Heidlers, there are other boaters who like to stay at Heritage Harbor.

Some keep their boats there.

“But Heritage Harbor also is one of the few places you can stay where you can bring your boat and have some way to launch it,” Barry said.

For those without boats there are kayaks, paddle boards and pontoon boats that can be rented by the day.

The special time at Heritage Harbor for the Heidlers is the evenings.

By the river there is a fire pit — firewood supplied — where their family gathers for bonfires.

“My nephew and brother-in-law play guitars, so they’ll sing while the rest of us will toast marshmallows or make s’mores,” said Rick.

Afterward, it’s time to enjoy the night air.

The kids on the trip can be outside getting in some final play time with no fear about their safety.

“I like that the cottages where we stay have screened-in porches,” said Tracy. “It’s just a nice atmosphere. It’s special.”

For more information call 815-433-5000 or visit