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Guide To Kayaking In Michigan – Amazing Paddling Trips & More…

Mark Armstrong
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With four of the five Great Lakes, Michigan can be a paddler’s dream destination. And not only that, there are miles of scenic rivers and streams. And numerous designated water trails. With so much water, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

To help you check out the Great Lakes State for yourself, we have put together a few of our favorite places to go kayaking in Michigan.

Guide To Kayaking In Michigan - PinterestPin

The Best Places To Kayak Around Michigan

1: Kayaking Lake Michigan

Ludington State Park

Ludington State Park is located on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan and can offer easy access to the water, with 7 miles of sandy beaches. Another great feature of this park is that it also has access to the 5,000-acre Hamlin Lake and a mile of the Big Sable River, so there’s plenty of options for paddling.

An easy trip on Lake Michigan can be from the Beach House visitor center to the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, which is roughly two miles north. This can give you great views of the expansive sand dunes along the shoreline.

Because the water can be quite shallow close to the shore this means you can paddle without motorized vessels getting too close. However, it is a Great Lake and it can be windy and choppy.

St. Joseph

St. Joseph lies on the shores of Lake Michigan and at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. It can be an ideal spot to launch to paddle along the shoreline of Lake Michigan with views of the lighthouse and the piers.

Silver Beach is a wide sandy beach that can be an easy place to access the lake and rent kayaks, although it can get very busy during the summer.

You can also paddle into the St. Joseph River between the two piers if you want to explore a different side of St. Joseph. Or you can paddle north to some of the beaches along the lake, such as Rocky Gap Park.

2: Kayaking Lake Superior

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park KayakingPin
Courtesy: Amy Bayer on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park is the largest state park in Michigan, covering around 60,000 acres, and one of the last remaining wilderness areas in the region.

This huge park has thousands of acres of forests, with rivers and waterfalls. It is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, gray wolves, peregrine falcons and bald eagles. And it can be a great place to spend a few days camping, as there is a lot to explore, including miles of hiking trails.

Checklist for a kayak camping trip

A good spot to launch is at the boat ramp at Union Bay Campground, where you can also rent kayaks. There’s another boat ramp where the Big Iron River meets Lake Superior. Both ramps have parking.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore KayakingPin
Courtesy: Les Infill on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be an exciting place to paddle on Lake Superior, with spectacular views of the multi-colored cliffs with lots of coves, caves, and unusual rock formations.

However, it can be dangerous with rock-falls from cliffs and unpredictable weather conditions on the water, so it’s recommended that you are an experienced sea kayaker or join a guided kayaking tour. Canoes and recreational kayaks are not recommended on Lake Superior and you should only paddle in a suitable sea kayak.

As well as stunning scenery from the water, there’s also a chance to view wildlife, with the park being home to many species, including bears, wolves, deer, and even moose.

Kayaking on Lake Superior guide

3: Kayaking Lake Huron

Port Austin

Port Austin can be a fantastic place to launch into Lake Huron and paddle along the shoreline on the Pointe aux Barques trail. This is where you can see some of Lake Huron’s most unusual natural features, including Turnip Rock.

The paddling trail is around seven miles round trip, from the launch at the beach at Bird Creek Park in Port Austin. This can be an easy paddle with relatively shallow waters close to the shoreline. You can also see sea caves and interesting rock formations on the trail.

You can rent a kayak from Port Austin Kayak near the harbor.

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary can be an interesting place to paddle. This sanctuary includes around a hundred historic shipwrecks that lie at the bottom of Lake Huron. The waters around them are clear so you can paddle over them and view them beneath you.

This area is also on the Huron Shores Coastal Water Trail that stretches 200 miles between the Mackinac Bridge where Lake Huron meets Lake Michigan in the north and Tawas Bay in the south.

You can rent kayaks in Alpena and there’s a boat ramp at North Riverfront Park on the banks of Thunder Bay River for easy access into the bay.

4: Kayaking Southeast Michigan

Huron River

Huron River KayakingPin
Courtesy: Deb Nystrom on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Huron River flows from the Huron Swamp and into Lake Erie, south of Detroit. The Huron River Water Trail lets you paddle over 100 miles through scenic landscapes with plenty of access points and places to camp along the way.

The lower section of the river from Flat Rock Boat Launch can be an ideal stretch for beginners, as it tends to be slow-moving as it reaches Lake Erie. You can also rent kayaks at this stretch through H2E River Adventures by calling ahead to reserve.

This can also be a good spot to explore Lake Erie and head north along the shores of Lake Erie Metropark, which is a designated Important Bird Area with over 300 species noted in the area.

William C. Sterling State Park

William C. Sterling State Park KayakingPin
Courtesy: Matt Taylor on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

William C. Sterling State Park is located on the shores of Lake Erie – the only Michigan park on the lake. There is a boat ramp or a beach for launching and you can rent kayaks from the campground office.

As well as paddling on Lake Erie, you can also paddle along the River Raisin, which can make for a peaceful trip with its various islands and parks. But there can be stronger currents upstream which may make it difficult if you’re paddling against it.

You can also explore the sheltered inlet at the mouth of Sandy Creek, near the boat ramp, which can be a good spot for fishing.

5: Kayaking Northern Michigan

Drummond Island

Drummond Island is a large island at the northern end of Lake Huron, close to the Canadian border. This can be a great place for birdwatching with the island boasting eight designated areas on the North Huron Birding Trail.

There are two water trails for kayakers, which can let you explore the coastline and scenery of the surrounding islands. The Drummond Island Heritage Trail takes you around the island and covers around 60 miles. There are various campgrounds and places to stay. And you can camp with a permit on state lands.

The island also has various inland lakes that can be great for exploring if you’re looking for calmer waters. Kayak rentals are available at several outlets on the island, including Islander Shoppe.

Isle Royale National Park

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

Isle Royale National Park is a vehicle-free island in Lake Superior that can be a perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Ferries and seaplanes depart from Michigan and Minnesota to reach the island, with kayak transportation available with some of the ferry services.

You can rent kayaks on the island from both Windigo and Rock Harbor. It’s recommended that you use a sea kayak on Lake Superior because of the marine conditions. It’s not advisable to use recreational kayaks.

Because this is a rugged, isolated island, there are lots of chances to see wildlife. Moose, wolves, foxes, and otters are among some of the species that call the island home.

This can also be a great place to fish, as long as you have a Michigan fishing license.

6: Kayaking West Michigan

Grand River

The Grand River features a 41-mile paddling trail that begins just east of the city of Grand Rapids. The first put-in on the trail is at the Veterans’ Boat Launch in Johnson Park, Walker. It can be an easy 7-mile trip along to Grand River Park.

The river is slow-moving, which can make it easy for beginners and kids. You can follow the water trail to Lake Michigan if you want to embark on a multi-day trip.

This is a scenic river with points of historical significance highlighted on the route. There are 18 designated access points so you can start and end your trip in your preferred location.

Manistee River

Manistee River KayakingPin
Courtesy: Huron-Manistee National Forests on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Manistee River is a long, slow-moving river that flows through nature, with a section of it being designated as a National Recreation River. This can be a peaceful and relaxing place to paddle, with very little in the way of civilization along the banks. It can also be a good river for trout fishing.

There’s a launch at the Hodenpyl Dam which can be a good starting point for a multi-day trip if you’re heading to Lake Michigan. There are lots of places to stop for a rest along the way, as well as camping areas and recreation areas.

Kayak rentals are available in Mesick, near the Hodenpyl Dam Pond.

Top-rated kayaks for a camping trip

7: Kayaking Michigan Rivers

Platte River KayakingPin
Courtesy: Wesley Bond on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Platte River can offer two types of paddling experience. On the Lower Platte, you can expect a more relaxed trip on slow-moving flatwater. On the Upper Platte you can expect a faster pace with tight bends and stronger currents – but don’t expect whitewater.

The Upper Platte has great scenery and lots of wildlife but it may be better suited to you if you have at least some paddling experience. You can access this section from Veterans Memorial State Forest Campground.

The Lower Platte can be accessed from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where you can rent kayaks for trips on both sections of the Platte. This stretch travels through Loon Lake and downstream till you reach the beach on the shores of Lake Michigan. This section can be ideal for families and beginners.

Muskegon River

The Muskegon River is over 200 miles long and the second-longest in the state after Grand River. It can be a fantastic place for fly fishing, as well as single and multi-day kayak trips.

The Muskegon River is a designated Wild and Scenic River, with a water trail that stretches 41 miles from Newaygo to North Muskegon. There are several places you can launch your boat, including at the Riverfront Park in Newaygo where you can also rent kayaks and canoes just a short walk away.

Starting in Newaygo, there are plenty of spots to take-out if you want a shorter trip or you can continue on a multi-day adventure until the river reaches Lake Michigan. The river tends to be flatwater – only up to Class I rapids.

Kayak Rentals And Tours Around Michigan

If you don’t have a kayak of your own, there are lots of places to rent one near to some of our favorite paddling locations.

Check out our guide to Michigan kayak and boating laws.

Final Words

There are so many amazing places to kayak in Michigan that it can be difficult to narrow it down to just a few.

And the great thing is, you don’t have to tackle the Great Lakes if you don’t want to – there are lots of rivers and lakes that can be great for beginners and recreational paddling.

Tell us about your favorite spot to kayak in Michigan. And remember to share this with your buddies.  

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