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Discover Michigan Kayaking: Top 10 Must-Visit Paddling Spots

By: Dave Samuel
Updated On: November 29, 2023

Is Michigan on your radar for your next kayaking adventure? If not, then perhaps it’s high time you consider it! With its stunningly diverse landscapes, over 11,000 inland lakes, and borders touching four of the five Great Lakes, the beauty of Michigan’s waterways is second to none. The Wolverine State presents an array of experiences that both novice and seasoned paddlers can indulge in while making memorable splashes.

From mellow flat waters to challenging swift rivers, Michigan harbors some of the best places to kayak in the country. Prepare for a scenic journey as we paddle through tranquil forests, pass by historic towns and cities, and witness majestic lakeside cliffs—all that make Michigan kayaking truly remarkable.

What Will You Gain From This?

  • Find out about the uniqueness and allure Michigan holds for kayakers
  • Discover top-notch spots throughout the state offering unparalleled paddling experiences
  • Get tips on gearing up for your ultimate Michigan kayak adventure
  • Insights into safety measures required during a paddling expedition

Michigan Kayaking: A Slice of Paddler’s Paradise

Michigan, with its endless waterways and diverse natural beauty, is nothing short of a playground for kayakers. The state’s intricate shoreline, abundant rivers, and matchless Great Lakes make my home state a genuine paddler’s paradise.

Michigan Kayaking: A Slice of Paddler's Paradise

Why Choose Michigan for Your Kayaking Adventure?

When I first started kayaking in Michigan, what struck me most was the sheer variety. This place isn’t about just one or two great spots; it’s an entire network of thrilling paddling adventures! Let me share some reasons why you should consider it for your next adventure:

  • Immense Variety: From serene inland lakes to the rough waters of Lake Superior, Michigan has a spectrum that can cater to both beginners trying out their first paddle strokes to seasoned kayakers yearning for their next adrenaline rush. Great Lakes kayaking, in particular, is quite an experience.
  • Stunning Landscapes: In addition to sparkling blue waters, Michigan kayak adventures offer incredible views. Imagine paddling beneath towering sandstone cliffs at Pictured Rocks or alongside forests echoing with bird songs at Huron River – enchanting, isn’t it?
  • Endless Opportunities: I’ve probably spent more days than I can count exploring different routes on my kayak, and yet it seems like I’ve barely scratched the surface. There are simply so many best places to kayak in Michigan that you’d be hard-pressed not to find a new favorite on every trip.
  • Wildlife Encounters: With many nature reserves situated along these waterways, you are always likely have some heart-warming encounters with wildlife along your journey – from playful otters to graceful herons soaring above.

From its crystal-clear lakes that mirror beautiful sunsets to exciting white-water rapids serving up thrill after thrill – each paddle spot brings something unique. Trust me when I say that there’s no such thing as too much Michigan kayaking.

Also Read: The Charm of Stand Up Paddling: A Comprehensive Guide

Top 10 Paddling Spots in Michigan

It’s the ultimate haven for those who wish to connect with nature while challenging their skills. And, I’m here to guide you through some of these top Michigan paddle spots you absolutely need to check out!

1. Huron River

If you’re craving a taste of real Michigan kayaking, the Huron River should be first on your list. Flowing through Southeastern Michigan, this 130-mile gem is a haven for paddlers of all skill levels.

  • Location: Starts at Big Lake and flows into the Detroit River at Lake Erie.
  • Level: Beginner to Intermediate. Its calm waters are ideal for beginners while more advanced kayakers can enjoy its lower sections boasting occasional rapids.
  • Uniqueness: Known for its scenic beauty and diverse wildlife, it offers an urban paddling experience through Ann Arbor, giving you a unique blend of nature and cityscape.
  • Who It’s For: Adventurous souls who love a mix of serenity and excitement in their Michigan kayak adventures.

2. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Gorgeous scenes await you at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, one of the top Michigan paddle spots. With jaw-dropping multi-colored sandstone cliffs and serene blue water vistas, it’s an Instagram-ready paradise.

  • Location: Along Lake Superior’s shoreline in Alger County.
  • Level: Intermediate to experienced.
  • Uniqueness: Towering cliffs adorned with nature-drawn pictures courtesy of mineral stains – hence its name ‘Pictured Rocks.’
  • Who It’s For: Seasoned paddlers eager to immerse themselves in Great Lakes kayaking with breath-taking landscapes.

3. Two-Hearted River

As if straight out of a Hemingway story, the Two-Hearted River is as picturesque as they come. Your journey down this river will be one filled with tranquil moments interspersed with doses of adrenaline.

  • Location: Streams from north-central Luce County into Lake Superior.
  • Level: Intermediate to Advanced.
  • Uniqueness: Named after two separate branches that eventually join, creating a dynamic river with fast and slow sections.
  • Who It’s For: Those looking to spice up their Michigan kayaking with an energetic paddle downstream.

4. Detroit River

Ever wanted to round off your day of paddling with a vibrant cityscape? Look no further than the Detroit River, where urban meets nature in perfect harmony.

  • Location: Runs between Lake St. Clair & Lake Erie, separating Michigan from Ontario, Canada.
  • Level : Beginner to Intermediate.
  • Uniqueness: Provides an exceptional view of Motor City’s skyline and historically significant islands like Belle Isle.
  • Who It’s for Urban explorers who love the excitement of city life as much as they love kayaking in Michigan.

5. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Prepare for your jaws to drop at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore! With Clear sparkling blue waters contrast stunningly against high dunes offering a mesmerizing Michigan kayak adventure.

  • Location: On the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.
  • Level: Intermediate to Advanced.
  • Uniqueness : Features majestic sand dunes that rise up 450 feet high!
  • Who It’s For: Adventurous spirits craving aesthetic satisfaction along with their waves on this stunning part of Great Lakes kayaking.

6. Grand Island

Perched in Lake Superior just off Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Grand Island is renowned for its unquestionable beauty. A true gem on the list of top Michigan paddle spots, this island boasts several miles of spectacular coastline that simply beg to be explored by kayak.

  • Location: Situated in Lake Superior near Munising, Michigan
  • Kayak Level: Mostly calm waters making it ideal for all skill levels
  • Uniqueness: Picturesque cliffs, sandy beaches, and abundant wildlife
  • Suitability: Perfect for family trips and solo adventurists alike

Kayaking around Grand Island feels like cracking open a storybook from nature herself. It’s well worth the visit on your next Michigan kayaking adventure!

7. Au Sable River

The Au Sable River is an absolute must-visit if you are planning a day out paddling in Michigan. As one of the best places to kayak in Michigan, it has quite a lot to offer.

  • Geographic Position: Flows through the northern lower peninsula of the state
  • Tourist Facilities: Numerous campsites and picnic areas dotting the riverbanks
  • Highlights:
    • Uninterrupted views of lush forests
    • Wildlife spotting are frequent
    • Known for its clean water and excellent trout fishing opportunities

The captivating natural sceneries coupled with exceptional facilities make Au Sable River the epitome of the Great Lakes kayaking experience.

8. Menominee River

If you crave more than just serene waters and beautiful scenery from your Michigan kayak adventures, then Menominee River is just what you’re looking for.

  • Location: Defines part of the boundary between Northeast Wisconsin and Upper Peninsula Michigan
  • Unique Features:
    • Offers thrilling whitewater opportunities thanks to its rapid-filled sections
    • Boundless opportunities for fishing, particularly smallmouth bass

The Menominee River promises a pulse-racing experience that’s simply bound to make lifelong kayaking enthusiasts out of even the most casual paddlers.

9. Sturgeon River

For those seeking a mix of tranquillity and adrenaline, look no further than the Sturgeon River. A favorite among Michigan kayakers, this river has earned a special place in many hearts.

  • Geographical Position: Flows through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
  • Landscapes: Majestic hardwood forests and diverse wildlife
  • Thrill Factor: The fastest river in Michigan’s lower peninsula with speedy currents

Lose yourself in the incredible beauty of the Sturgeon River while enjoying a thrilling speed ride down its course – it truly does offer the best of both worlds!

10. Les Cheneaux Islands

Last but certainly not least on our list of top paddle spots are Les Cheneaux Islands. They absolutely cannot be missed when discussing Michigan kayaking endeavors.

  • Geographic Position: Found along Lake Huron’s northern shore
  • Tourist Facilities: Welcoming marinas, waterfront lodging options, and charming eateries
  • Highlights:
    • Series of 36 islands providing sheltered channels ideal for peaceful paddling
    • Amazing bird-watching opportunities

With their scenic splendors and calm waters, Les Cheneaux Islands ensure any kayaker will feel as if they’ve stepped into a paddler’s paradise. Utterly unforgettable in every single way!

Also Read: A Comprehensive Guide: Inflatable vs Hard Paddle Boards

Preparing for Michigan Kayaking Adventure

When looking forward to a profound Michigan kayak adventure, it’s vital you secure all the necessary equipment and understand the safety measures that should be taken. Let’s delve into this in more detail below.

Preparing for Michigan Kayaking Adventure

Necessary Equipment for a Kayaking Trip

Paddling spots in Michigan offer diverse experiences, from tranquil waters to adrenaline-inducing rapids. Regardless of your chosen location, being well-prepared will make your kayaking experience more enjoyable and safe. Here are some essentials that you should pack for your trip:

  • Kayak: Whether you own one or wish to rent one, ensure it is designed for the specific type of paddling (sea, recreational, or white-water) you intend to do.
  • Paddle: Selecting a paddle with the right length and blade size is fundamental.
  • Personal Floatation Device (PFD): Your safety can never be compromised; hence using an appropriate PFD is non-negotiable.
  • Helmet: Primarily crucial if you’re embarking on white-water kayaking — it protects your head from collisions with rocks
  • Sprayskirt: This helps keep water out of the cockpit during rough conditions.
  • Dry Bag: Ideal to keep your items like phone, camera, and clothes dry while you enjoy paddling around top Michigan paddle spots.

By taking care to carry all necessary equipment such as these above–your next best place to kayak in Michigan waits with open arms!

Safety Measures While Kayaking

Once equipped properly let’s focus next on safety measures vital during Great Lakes kayaking adventures.

  1. Stay Close To Shoreline: If still learning or getting acquainted with local waterways – don’t venture too far offshore initially.
  2. Check Weather And Water Conditions: Always get updated information about weather patterns and water conditions before venturing onto any body of water.
  3. Wear a Life Vest: Many accidents happen close to shore, so wear your PFD whenever you’re on the water.
  4. Avoid Alcohol: It’s illegal to operate a kayak while under the influence–Play safe.
  5. Plan Your Route and Share It: Make sure someone trustworthy knows where you intend to paddle and when you plan on returning.

Michigan kayaking envelops memories waiting to be created and pristine scenic beauty. However, have these safety steps at your fingertips before embarking on your adventure.

From spotting wildlife along the Huron River to maneuvering through the rapids of Menominee River –there’s an experience great for every kayaker out there! Happy paddling!


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After meandering through the treasures of Michigan, I’m spellbound by the magic of this state. A gem for kayakers, Michigan has a bounty of experiences waiting to paddle on your dream kayaking adventure.

With the Great Lakes, serene rivers, vast inland water systems, and breathtakingly beautiful coastlines, there’s a fresh revelation at every stroke. Michigan kayaking is truly an unparalleled experience that captures the heart.

Key Takeaway Points:

  1. From beginners to expert paddlers, everyone will find a suitable place for Michigan kayak adventures.
  2. Whether it’s the Huron River or the unique Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, each paddling spot in Michigan carries its own charm and challenges.
  3. Always remember safety measures and necessary equipment while embarking on your trip to the top Michigan paddle spots.

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