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Kayaking On Lake Superior, Michigan – Where To Go

Mark Armstrong
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Kayaking in Lake Superior can be an eye-opening experience, with spectacular cliffs, sea caves, and almost 3,000 miles of shoreline to explore.

With shorelines in three US states plus Canada, you’ll find plenty of places to launch into the world’s largest freshwater lake.

To give you some ideas, we’ve put together a list of some of our top spots to kayak on this big lake.

A view at kayakers in front of the picturesque cliffs of The Superior lakePin

5 Best Places To Kayak In Lake Superior

1: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

A view on the rocky cliffs from a kayakPin
Courtesy: Rick Briggs on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore runs from Munising to Grand Marais, Michigan and can be best experienced from the water. The Pictured Rocks are a 15-mile stretch of multicolored cliffs that tower 200 feet above Lake Superior and can be a spectacular sight for paddlers.

However, this can be a dangerous spot to paddle because of the limited places to land safely in rough waters. So it can be best paddled in calm conditions and only if you have the correct equipment, including a sea kayak.

If you have limited sea kayaking experience, there are guided kayaking tours available. And if you’d prefer to stay in calmer waters, you can paddle close to the shore in South Bay or the shores of Grand Island. Kayak rentals are available in Munising.

Where to launch & How to get there:

Miners Beach, Shingleton, MI 49884

2: Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin

Sea kayaking along Apostle Islands National LakeshorePin
Courtesy: Tim Wilson on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore covers 22 islands and parts of the Wisconsin mainland. It can be a fantastic place to kayak, with sea caves, shipwrecks, and various other cultural and geological points of interest to discover.

There are several outfitters offering guided tours or kayak rentals to explore this beautiful protected area. There are also several spots to launch, including at Little Sand Bay and Meyers Beach within the national park. You can also launch at other locations, such as Red Cliff and Bayfield, where you’ll find kayak outfitters.

Some of the bays, including Red Cliff can offer more sheltered waters for paddling, which can be suitable for less experienced paddlers.

Where to launch & How to get there:

32660 Little Sand Bay Road, Bayfield, WI 54814

3: Isle Royale National Park, Michigan

A kayaker paddling near the rocky cliffs of a lakeshorePin
Courtesy: Joe Ross on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Isle Royale National Park lies close to the border with Canada and can be accessed via ferry or seaplane from Minnesota and Michigan. It’s a wilderness area, so there are no vehicles on the island.

This area can feel pretty remote so it can be an excellent place for a backcountry kayak camping trip. Remember to get your overnight permit beforehand.

There are many miles of waterways to explore, with inland lakes as well as coastal waters to check out. This can also be a good place for wildlife watching, with moose, wolves, otters, and lots of birds making their homes on the island.

Kayak rentals are available seasonally in Rock Harbor and Windigo. Alternatively, you can arrange transportation of your own kayak through one of the ferry services.

Where to launch & How to get there:

Rock Harbor Visitor Center, Isle Royale National Park, Houghton Township, MI. Take the ferry from Copper Harbor, MI or Houghton, MI. Alternatively, take a ferry from Grand Portage, MN.

4: Duluth, Minnesota

A look at kayaks on Park Point at the lake SuperiorPin
Courtesy: Sharon Mollerus on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

If you’re after a more urban paddling adventure, Duluth can be the place to go. There are several places you can explore, offering fantastic views of the city and the famous Aerial Lift Bridge. You can even paddle underneath the bridge.

For sheltered waters, you can paddle in Superior Bay, launching from Park Point Recreation Area. The bay can offer calmer waters than the “big lake” and can be ideal for all levels.

You can also paddle around Hearding Island, a wildlife refuge, before heading to explore the harbor. Just keep an eye out for large vessels and keep out of shipping lanes, as this is a major port. There’s also access to the St. Louis River from here.

For sea kayaking, you can head out into the lake under the bridge and paddle along the Duluth coast toward Brighton Beach. Kayak rentals and tours can be found in Duluth.

Where to launch & How to get there:

Park Point, 5041 Minnesota Avenue, Duluth, MN 55802

5: Grand Marais, Minnesota

The joy of kayaking on Lake SuperiorPin
Courtesy: Stone Harbor on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Grand Marais can be a beautiful place to paddle, with opportunities to head either northeast or southwest on the Lake Superior State Water Trail. The water trail stretches around 150 miles from Duluth to Grand Portage, near the border with Canada.

Launching from Grand Marais, you can paddle in the sheltered harbor before heading between the two lighthouses out into the “big lake”.

Paddling along the coastline offers scenic vistas of sandy beaches, rocky coves, stunning cliffs, sea caves, and waterfalls. There’s also the chance to spot wildlife, including bald eagles, bears, moose, and wolves.

Kayaks can be rented in Grand Marais.

Where to launch & How to get there:

County Road 10, Grand Marais, MN 55604 (at the end of Broadway Avenue)

Kayak Safety On Lake Superior – Why Is Lake Superior So Dangerous?

Lake Superior is the largest lake in North America and the largest freshwater lake in the world. Being one of the Great Lakes, it behaves less like a lake and more like an ocean. And this is what makes Lake Superior so dangerous: it’s a coastal, marine environment.

While there are many sheltered coves and shallow bays where you can often launch a kayak onto calm waters, the conditions can change rapidly. The conditions can also change as you paddle around a bend, changing from calm waters to large waves.

Recreational kayaks and canoes are not recommended to be used on Lake Superior. Only sea kayaks should be used, and you should have experience with self-rescues and paddling in marine conditions.

The temperature of the water can also affect your safety. Lake Superior is cold all year round, with an average temperature of 36 degrees Fahrenheit and rarely getting above 60 degrees in the height of summer. So it can be vitally important to dress appropriately, wearing either a wetsuit or drysuit for added protection and insulation.

As with most coastal environments, wind will often be a problem. You should not paddle in windy conditions. It can be a good idea to keep up to date with the weather through the use of a marine radio, so that you can avoid storms and dangerous conditions.

Things To Remember:

  • PFD – you should always wear your PFD on Lake Superior as it can help to save your life.
  • Check the weather – this can help you plan your trip, avoiding dangerous conditions.
  • Plan ahead – plan your route, with launch points, campsites and exits studied beforehand. You may not be able to land where there are cliffs.
  • Dress appropriately – Wear a wetsuit or drysuit to insulate yourself from the cold water.
  • Bring a whistle – this is required by law. You should also make sure you have a compass, maps or a GPS to help pinpoint your location and find your way.
  • Use a spray skirt – this can help keep water out of your cockpit, keeping you warmer and drier.
  • Pack a paddle float – this can help you get back into your kayak after a capsize. It’s also a good idea to bring along a bilge pump to help bail water out of your boat.
  • Don’t paddle alone – it’s recommended that you paddle with a friend or group for safety.
  • Know your limits – it’s not advisable to paddle beyond your skill level. It’s recommended that you have prior sea kayaking experience or paddle with a guided tour.

Lake Superior Kayak Laws

US Coast GuardPin
  • PFD is required by law for each person on a kayak. This should be worn at all times for your own safety and must be in a suitable size and condition.
  • Children under 13 must wear a USCG-approved PFD at all times while boating.
  • A sound-producing device such as a whistle is legally required to be carried on board a kayak on Lake Superior.
  • BUI (Boating Under the Influence) is illegal in every US state and all federal waters. This law applies to all kayaks and canoes on Lake Superior.

Do You Need To Register A Kayak On Lake Superior?

If you’re launching from and kayaking in Minnesota, then yes, you will need to register your kayak. In Wisconsin and Michigan, registration is not required for kayaks or canoes, unless you have a motor attached.

Read more about Michigan kayak laws here.

Final Words

Lake Superior has a wealth of kayaking opportunities. There is so much to see and so much water to cover that you could spend weeks or even months enjoying this big lake.

But remember, it’s not your average lake. It’s a marine environment, so treat it like the sea.

Always wear your PFD, carry your whistle, check the weather forecast, and don’t attempt to paddle in rough conditions (or beyond your skill level).

Stay safe and tell us about your Lake Superior paddling adventures in the comments.

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