Couple Kayaking On River
· · · ·

The Perfect River for Kayaking Is Hidden in Central Michigan

Summer is the ideal season for kayaking, and you can find kayaking opportunities in some of the most unexpected places in Michigan. One hidden gem for kayaking is the Chippewa River in Mt. Pleasant and Isabella County.

Flowing through Central Michigan, the Chippewa River is nearly 92 miles. Since the river has no rapids or waves, kayaking it can be fun for the whole family. It runs through woodland habitats and residential neighborhoods and passes by and through several Mt. Pleasant parks.

Couples and families who want to go kayaking not too far from modern conveniences can use these Mt. Pleasant parks as access points to the Chippewa River without having to paddle the entire river.

Even though you can book Chippewa River kayaking trips with local outfitters, planning your own excursion is easy. Here’s everything you need to know about renting kayaks and paddling parts of the Chippewa River in Mt. Pleasant.

Thanks to Mt Pleasant CVB for being 2023 #MIAwesomeList Summer Bucket List partners!

Meridian Park-Mt Pleasant
Meridian Park | photo via aaroncmills

Chippewa River Kayak Rentals

If you’re like most people and don’t have your own kayaking equipment, Mt. Pleasant has a couple of fantastic rental companies. And along with kayaks, you can rent canoes and tubes if you prefer.

Chippewa River Outfitters

Just a short drive from downtown Mt. Pleasant, Chippewa River Outfitters has single and double kayaks that you can rent for an entire day. Every boat comes with paddles, USCG-approved life jackets, and free transport to one of its launch sites.

On the other hand, you can book the company’s one-day kayaking trips from Deerfield Nature Park to Meridian Park. Along with kayaks, Chippewa River Outfitters has canoes and tubes and offers one-day trips from Deerfield to Meridian with that equipment too.

Buckley’s Mountainside Canoe

Don’t let the word “canoe” in Buckley’s Mountainside Canoe deter you from booking paddle trips on the Chippewa River. The company offers single and double kayak rentals alongside its canoes.

We recommend reserving either its three to four-hour trip from Buckley’s to Deerfield or its four to five-hour trip from Buckley’s to Meridian. In both cases, a shuttle will take you back to Buckley’s, where your vehicle will be waiting.

Floaters Tubing

Do you prefer to tube your way down the Chippewa River? Floaters Tubing offers 90-minute tubing tours from Nelson Park and four-hour tubing tours from Chipp-A-Waters Park. You can’t miss the Floaters Tubing vans.

Chippewa River-Mt Pleasant
Chippewa River | photo via denisefanning44

Paddling From Deerfield Nature Park to Meridian Park

The stretch of the Chippewa River from Deerfield Nature Park to Meridian Park is about 4.5 miles, so it will take about two hours to paddle. However, you can make a whole day of the experience by exploring these parks too.

Deerfield Nature Park Activities

The Chippewa River runs through the western and northern sides of Deerfield, which encompasses 591 acres and offers plenty to explore.

The park has a slew of recreational activities, including fishing on the river. There are horseshoe and volleyball courts, and you can play on the two 18-hole disc golf courses — each offers amateur and professional tee pads.

Also, you can hike and bike 8 miles of trails that cross the river via one footbridge, one covered bridge, and two suspension bridges. Plus, Deerfield Nature Park has an Artesian well and a few picnic areas if you want to eat before you paddle.

Deerfield Boat Launches

When you’re ready to begin your kayaking adventure, you can choose from three boat launch sites at Deerfield. The first is near the entrance parking lot, so you can jump right in if you don’t want to explore the park beforehand.

A second access point is near the rustic campsites on the 1.5-mile River Loop trail, while the third site is located close to the end of the trail — after the pit toilets and suspension bridge.

Arriving at Meridian Park

After passing Neyer Preserve and Meridian Road Preserve while kayaking the Chippewa River, you’ll come to the boat launch at Meridian Park. Actually, it’s the first part of the park that you’ll see, and there are grills and picnic tables nearby.

Meridian Park Activities

More than 1 mile of the Chippewa River flows through the middle of Meridian Park, which consists of 145 acres — the majority of which is undeveloped. You can enjoy a few recreational activities while you’re here, including fishing and hiking.

In addition, you’ll see a wetland area, diverse vegetation, and a lot of wildflowers. And, if you’ve worked up an appetite and taken a picnic with you, you’re welcome to use the picnic tables.

Chippewa River-Mt Pleasant
Chippewa River | photo via zandrews86

Kayaking From Chipp-A-Waters Park to Island Park

For a shorter Chippewa River kayaking excursion with more opportunities to enjoy park recreation, consider the route from Chipp-A-Waters Park to Island Park.

It’s only 2 miles long and takes about one hour, but it actually includes stops at three parks — the third of which is Nelson Park. Because of that, it’s easy to spend an entire day outdoors here in Mt. Pleasant.

TIP: You can shorten this journey further by kayaking from Chipp-A-Waters to Nelson (1.5 miles, 45 minutes) or from Nelson to Island Park (0.5 miles, 15 minutes).

GKB Riverwalk Trail

Before we get into the kayaking route and all the activities to do along the way, we want to mention the GKB Riverwalk Trail. This nearly 2-mile path, named after Gregory K. Baderschneider, leads you through five city parks — from Chipp-A-Waters Park to Pickens Field — following the Chippewa River.

Because of that, you can actually start your journey at Island Park. Then, hike to Chipp-A-Waters Park and paddle back to Island Park where your vehicle will be waiting. Just have your kayak equipment dropped off at Chipp-A-Waters so that you don’t have to carry it.

Chipp-A-Waters Park Activities

No matter when you arrive at Chipp-A-Waters, you’ll have more than 30 acres of woodland and green space to discover. The Chippewa River flows diagonally through the middle of the park, creating a wetland haven for wildlife of all kinds.

A nature trail features interpretative signs, and part of the GKB Riverwalk Trail includes a footbridge over the river with beautiful views of the water. And, the park has an open-air picnic shelter with tables and grills, as well as a playground for small kids.

Chipp-A-Waters Boat Launch

When you’re ready to start your paddling adventure, the Chipp-A-Waters boat launch is past the playground and near an interpretative sign — a short walk from the inner parking lot.

The stretch of river from Chipp-A-Waters to Nelson Park is about 1.5 miles, which takes about 45 minutes to complete. Along the way, you’ll paddle through the center of Mill Pond Park.

Chippewa River-Mt Pleasant
Chippewa River | photo via raszuanawalter

Arriving At & Exploring Nelson Park

While you don’t have to stop at Nelson Park while kayaking this section of the Chippewa River, doing so will give you a restroom and stretch break. You’ll need to paddle under the footbridge and around to the north side of the park to reach the access site.

Nelson Park features 5 acres of land in the center of Mt. Pleasant. You can walk the nature trail, do some fishing, and enjoy a snack on the grills and picnic tables. Or, you can walk over to Mountain Town Station for a bite — a sidewalk leads across the bridge and rail tracks from the park.

Paddling to Island Park

Once you’re done exploring, head back to the boat launch to paddle toward Island Park. When you approach the fork in the river, you have two options.

One option is to turn left under the footbridge, and the access point will be on the right shore. This route is only about a half-mile and takes about 15 minutes.

The second option is to turn right and circle the entire park. Along the way, you’ll pass under a footbridge, a vehicle bridge, and a second footbridge before seeing the access point on the left shore. This route is, of course, a little longer, so it also takes longer.

Island Park Activities

No matter which access point you choose, you’ll have tons of activities to do at the 50-acre Island Park. Completely encircled by the Chippewa River, this park is located at the north end of Mt. Pleasant and features:

  • Two lighted basketball courts
  • Three lighted softball fields
  • Four lighted tennis courts
  • Four shuffleboard courts
  • Six pickleball courts
  • Eight horseshoe pits

In addition to walking the GKB Riverwalk Trail, you can use the GKB Riverwalk Access Trail to get around the park. You’ll find a fishing deck, a Timber Town playscape, outdoor fitness equipment, open-air shelters, picnic tables, and grills throughout the area.

Plus, a spray park is open during the summer, and a skate park is open for freestyle biking, in-line skating, and skateboarding. There’s even a Michigan Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial.

Dog Central-Mt Pleasant
Dog Central | photo via cerealtotem

Best Places to Eat in Mt. Pleasant

Whether you want to start your day with caffeine, grab food for a picnic, or have a sitdown meal before or after kayaking, Mt. Pleasant has numerous restaurant options. Here are a few local favorites near the Chippewa River.

Ponder Coffee Company

Ethically sourcing its coffee beans from specialty importers, Ponder Coffee Company roasts the beans according to each coffee’s flavor nuances and idiosyncrasies. That’s why this coffee shop has some of the best coffee in Mt. Pleasant.

You can order everything from drip coffee to specialty coffee to hot and iced teas. And if you want a bite to eat, the shop serves avocado toast, oatmeal, sandwiches, and waffles. You can even grab a cookie or muffin.

Max and Emily’s

Thinking “outside the sandwich,” Max and Emily’s is one of the most-loved cafes for breakfast and lunch in downtown Mt. Pleasant. The breakfast menu includes assorted baked goods, breakfast on a bagel, egg quesadillas, and green eggs and ham.

For lunch, you can order a variety of sandwiches — the bread is supplied by Michigan Bread in Detroit, while the farm-to-table meats are supplied by Michigan Turkey. You can order any sandwich cold or grilled. Also, the lunch menu includes soups and salads.

Dog Central

Famous for its dogs, Dog Central is the best place to go for a hot dog in Mt. Pleasant. Dearborn Sausage manufactures 100% pork franks for the restaurant, which uses them for all of its classic and signature dogs.

You can enjoy the dogs with the condiments and toppings that they come with, or you can add your own. Mac and cheese and cream cheese are two unique topping options. And, you can order beer-battered fries or nachos to go with your dogs.

Mountain Town Station

If you’re looking for a laidback dining experience, Mountain Town Station is the place to go. This family-owned restaurant has a full-service menu of entrees, stone-fired pizzas, and pub sandwiches with original recipes.

The fire-roasted lasagna and herb pecan walleye are fabulously unique dishes. Also, the steakhouse serves Black Angus prime rib and steaks and award-winning ribs.

The full bar has handcrafted beer from the restaurant’s local brewery and a good selection of wine and specialty cocktails. The dessert menu may vary but is nothing short of fantastic, such as a caramel brownie bite cheesecake.

Kayaking On The Chippewa River3
Kayaking on the Chippewa River. Photo by Nick Nerbonne

Lodging Near the Chippewa River

To make the most of your Chippewa River kayaking excursion, stay in Mt. Pleasant so that you can paddle both of the above routes and explore even more that this city has to offer.

You could stay at the rustic campsites and cabins at Deerfield Nature Park. For more upscale accommodations, consider booking a room at Country Chalet & Edelweiss Haus Bed & Breakfast. Or, you could look at more lodging options to find a hotel or inn that suits your needs and budget.