28 Great Michigan Kayak Trips
In a state surrounded by four Great Lakes, it should come as little surprise that we have some of the best kayaking opportunities in the country here in Michigan. We have more than 3,000 miles of freshwater coastline, more than 300 rivers, and more than 11,000 inland lakes. Kayaking has become one of Michigan’s fastest-growing recreational activities, due to its relatively inexpensive cost and adaptability to all skill levels. We put together a list of some of our favorite places to paddle, these 28 Great Michigan Kayk Trips provide a wide range of scenery for beginners and advanced kayakers. Be sure to always have a plan, wear a life jacket, and use the proper type of kayak for the trip you’re on (sea kayaks for the great lakes, recreational kayaks for lakes and most rivers). Some great resources to help you plan trips are paddling.com, the Michigan Association of Paddlesport Providers (MAPP), and GR Paddling (no longer operating, but trip descriptions and mileage/time are saved). Consider one of these Michigan kayak trips when you plan your next adventure!
Belle Isle Park, Detroit – Kayak around the island for scenic views of the Detroit skyline, or explore the canals on the island. Keep your eyes open for wildlife as well as passing freighters. Check out our Things to See and Do on Belle Isle guide for some ideas of what you can see from the water. RKC Adventures offers rentals from two different locations on Belle Isle: http://rkcadventures.com/index.html.
Traverse City – options abound for all skill levels in Traverse City, whether you want to head out into the West Grand Traverse Bay or float through town on the Boardman River. Kayak, Bike & Brew is a popular option that pairs craft breweries and easy paddling. Other kayak rental options include The River Outfitters and Paddle TC.
Keweenaw Peninsula – Explore the rugged shoreline of the Keweenaw while following the Keweenaw Water Trail, a full loop trail that can be completed in six to eight days or broken up into day trips. Along the way you’ll see lighthouses, cliffs, mining ruins, waterfalls, wildlife, and more. You can rent kayaks and take guided trips with Keweenaw Adventure Company (Copper Harbor). The waters of Lake Superior can be moody and will challenge paddlers of all skill levels, but the waters of the Keweenaw Waterway and Portage Lake are calmer and more accessible.
Marquette – The Upper Peninsula’s largest city is also home to some of its most scenic shoreline. Kayak around Presque Isle and the famous Blackrocks, or check out the sheltered calm of McCarty’s Cove. Along the way you’ll see lighthouses, ore docks, Great Lakes freighters, wildlife, and more. Get geared up with help from Presque Isle Kayaking (http://www.superiorkayaking.com/presque-isle-kayaking/), Down Wind Sports (http://downwindsports.com/mainSite/), or Tru North Adventures (https://trunorthadventures.com/) and get ready for adventure on Lake Superior.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – We absolutely loved our Pictured Rocks kayak trip with Paddling Michigan/Uncle Ducky Outdoors (https://www.paddlingmichigan.com/), and can’t wait to go back and try out a longer trip. When Lake Superior allows, this is a relatively easy paddling adventure that takes visitors up close to the 200 foot cliffs, under waterfalls, past beaches and wildlife, and next to many notable rock formations. Other outfitters operating at Pictured Rocks include Pictured Rocks Kayaking (https://www.paddlepicturedrocks.com/) and Northern Waters Adventure (https://www.northernwaters.com/). The eastern end of the lakeshore offers the chance to paddle past the Grand Sable Dunes and the Au Sable Point Lighthouse, passing over several shallow shipwrecks. This has become one of the state’s most popular summer excursions, so be sure and reserve your spot early!
Turnip Rock – The absolute number one destination on any Michigan paddler’s list is Turnip Rock, a unique rock formation in Lake Huron that can be reached after an easy hour and a half paddle from Port Austin. Port Austin Kayak (https://www.portaustinkayak.com/) has been the go-to supplier and renter in the area for years – be sure and get there early in the summer to guarantee equipment.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore – Is there a better way to experience one of Michigan’s most iconic coastlines than taking a kayak past it? “Paddling beneath the 400 foot face of the Sleeping Bear Dunes or along the National Lakeshore’s secluded beaches is an experience that every seasoned kayaker should enjoy. The Crystal and Platte River canoe trips are well suited to less experienced canoeists and kayakers and families.” Rent equipment from Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak in Empire or Crystal River Outfitters in Glen Arbor.
Tawas Point State Park – The calm waters of the protected Tawas Bay make the area a paradise for kayaks and paddleboards. At the state park, paddle around a sandy hook known for attracting many different species of birds and past a historic lighthouse. Rentals available at two locations from Tawas Bay Paddle Shack (https://www.facebook.com/TawasBayPaddleShack/).
Au Sable River – With options ranging from day trips to half-week excursions, the Au Sable River is a paddlers paradise. Campgrounds are plentiful in the area, and numerous outfitters in Grayling and Oscoda offer canoes and kayaks for rent. A popular day trip begins below Foote Dam (one of six dams on the river) and follows the river all the way into Oscoda. Carlisle Canoe Livery in Grayling (https://www.carlislecanoelivery.com/), Penrod’s Canoe and Kayak in Grayling (http://penrodscanoe.com/), and North Country Canoe Rental in Oscoda (https://www.nccanoe.com/) are just a few of the outfitters worth checking out if you don’t have your own equipment.
Mackinac Island – Tourists flock to Mackinac Island by the thousands every summer, trading in their cars for bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. Great Turtle Kayak Tours offers a different way to see the landmarks and historic sites on the island. Guided trips head to Arch Rock, to Devil’s Kitchen, over to Round Island, and even over to Bois Blanc Island. Find out more at https://mackinackayak.com/routes.
Seney National Wildlife Refuge – The Manistique River offers 13 miles of paddling through the refuge, “offering visitors an alternate way to see the refuge. Common wildlife sightings on the river include turtles, muskrats, mink, bald eagles and other wildlife in a picturesque setting.” If you’re looking to rent kayaks and equipment, check out Germfask’s Northland Outfitters: https://www.northoutfitters.com/.
Les Cheneaux Islands – There are 36 islands off the southeastern shore of Lake Huron in the Upper Peninsula, and the protection they provide from wind makes the area popular with boaters and paddlers. Day trips that visit several islands can be fun for lower skill levels, while the more ambitious could make a two or three day trip with overnight camping
Ludington State Park – Opportunities for paddling are plentiful at Ludington State Park. Follow the Lake Michigan shoreline to see beach, dunes, and the Big Sable Point Lighthouse, or head inland and explore Hamlin Lake. A concession area near the Hamlin Lake beach rents kayaks, canoes, and more.
Grand River – The state’s longest (252 miles) river has no shortage of opportunities for kayakers of all skill levels. You can find a map that runs from Eaton Rapids to Muir at https://www.mgrow.org/trailmap, and for the segments of the river near Grand Rapids, check out http://www.grpaddling.com/excursions/river-experiences/grand-river/. If Grand Rapids Whitewater is successful in their efforts to restore the rapids downtown, that could soon be a destination for paddlers from all over!
Thornapple River – Starting near Hastings, the Thornapple has very manageable segments with excellent scenery. Check out U-Rent-Em Canoe Livery in Hastings for rentals. Popular trips include Hastings to Middleville, Middleville to 84th Street, 84th Street to 68th Street, 68th Street to the Cascade Dam (Leslie Tassell Park), and Cascade Dam to the Grand River. There are several dams that need to be portage around, and be sure to check out the historic Ada Covered Bridge in Ada.
Otsego Lake State Park – Water that’s often smooth as glass is a big draw to this 4.5-mile x 3/4 mile inland lake near Gaylord. This is an easy paddle for all skill levels, and a popular one for fishing as well. Access the water from Otsego Lake State Park (7136 Old Highway 27) or Otsego Lake County Park (1657 County Park Rd.) Rent equipment from Action Outdoor Rentals (https://www.actionoutdoorrentals.com/) in Gaylord.
Rogue River – Easy floats of two to four hours start north of Rockford and follow the Rogue to downtown, while more experienced paddlers may want to tackle the lower Rogue from the dam to the Grand River (3 hours). The White Pine Trail runs parallel to the river for most of these trips. Rogue River Rentals offers great trips and all the gear you’ll need for this adventure! Grab a beer at Rockford Brewing after your paddle!
Two Hearted River – The legendary Upper Peninsula river made famous by author Ernest Hemingway (even though his story actually referenced the Fox River near Seney) and Bell’s Two Hearted Ale is a great place for beginning paddlers or day trippers. The river winds for more than 20 miles through wilderness before reaching Lake Superior, where a Life Saving Station once stood. A small campground at the rivermouth is a great base camp for your paddling adventure, and the Two Hearted River is well-known as a great place for fishing with steelhead and salmon runs drawing anglers from many miles away. Head over to https://www.michigan-upper-peninsula.com/rentals/ for details on nearby accommodations and rental opportunities.
Inland Waterway – “The Inland Waterway is a 40-mile long historic water route that begins north of Petoskey and with a series of rivers and lakes connects Conway, Oden, Alanson, Indian River, and Cheboygan to Lake Huron. The water trails connect 7 state parks; numerous campgrounds, day-use parks, and resorts; 20 Little Traverse Conservancy Nature Preserves, and six communities.” This is a bucket list trip for the hardcore paddler, but several segments of it can easily be knocked out by even a beginning paddler. For an idea of what the full trip looks like check out https://paddling.com/paddle/trips/inland-waterway-of-michigan-in-michigan/. For gear rentals there are options in Petoskey (https://bahnhof.com/rentals/petoskey-michigan-bicycle-kayak-sup-rentals.html) and Indian River (https://www.bigbearadventures.com/Home/Kayaks).
Sault Ste. Marie – Paddle next to large Great Lakes freighters in the St. Mary’s River and explore the islands near Rotary Park when you hit the water in Michigan’s oldest city. Guided trips with Bird’s Eye Outfitters even offer the chance to go through the locks – https://www.birdseyeoutfitters.com/.
Mackinaw City – Visit two Great Lakes on the same trip when you kayak under the Mackinac Bridge. Great Turtle Kayak Tours offers guided trips from Mackinaw City that go under the bridge or as far as McGulpin Point, providing great views of Fort Michilimackinac from the water (https://mackinackayak.com/routes#mackinaw-city).
Lowell – The Flat River is a calm, easy paddle from Fallasburg Park to Lowell. The nearly seven mile trip begins with a trip under the 1870s Fallasburg Covered Bridge before winding downstream. There is one portage at Burroughs Dam, and some paddling will be required to move through the lake-like backwater. This is a pretty simple paddle for all skill levels. More information at http://www.grpaddling.com/excursions/river-experiences/flat-river/.
Muskegon State Park – Paddle along the Lake Michigan shoreline to see dunes or spend some time enjoying an easy paddle on Muskegon Lake. There are several launch options, and if you plan on fishing be sure to sock up on supplies from Snug Harbor Outfitters near the park.
St. Ignace – This is a great place to explore “miles of shoreline with smooth waters, island channels, inlets, rivers and creeks. The bird sanctuary just west of the Mackinac Bridge is a spectacular place to glide along with wide open view of sky, water and wildlife.” Get a different perspective of landmarks like the Mackinac Bridge, Wawatam Lighthouse, and Mackinac Island as you see them from the water. Mackinac Straits Kayaks and Paddleboards has you covered for rentals and supplies.
Isle Royale National Park – If you’ve made the trip by boat or seaplane to get to one of the most isolated national parks in the country, you might as well enjoy yourself while you’re there. Inland lake trips can be fun for everyone, while paddling the Lake Superior shoreline requires a bit more experience. Kayaks are available for rent at Windigo or Rock Harbor on the island.
Rockport State Recreation Area/Besser Natural Area – The deepwater harbor here at an old limestone quarry is a great place to launch kayaks, and a safer spot to experience Lake Huron. The Besser Natural Area has sandy, undeveloped beaches and the shallow-water shipwreck of the Portland. Check out https://alpenaadventures.com/ for more ideas.
Tahquamenon River – The main draw of the Tahquamenon River is its waterfalls (Upper Tahquamenon Fallas and Lower Tahquamenon Falls), but there are many opportunities for kayaking this scenic river. The Woods Canoe & Kayak Rental (http://www.thewoodscanoerental.net/) offers a variety of trip options, or rentals for those looking to do some paddling or fishing at their campsite.
Harbor Beach – Kayak out to the historic Harbor Beach lighthouse while enjoying the smooth waters of the world’s largest man-made freshwater harbor. Several shipwrecks may also be visible depending on water levels (https://www.harborbeachkayak.com/dorcas-pendell-shipwreck). Rentals are available at the beach in the summer, find out more at https://www.harborbeachkayak.com/.
Detroit Canals Tour – Since 2008, Riverside Kayak has offered one of the state’s most interesting guided trips, taking visitors through the downtown’s man-made canal system. “Highlights of this tour include the Fisher Mansion, stories of prohibition and the Purple Gang, the friendly residents of Detroit’s “Little Venice” and a view of the Motor City’s downtown.” Find out more at https://riversidekayak.com/tours/detroit-historical-canal-tour/.