Looking for the best places to go kayaking in Michigan this summer? We have you covered!
One of the best ways to experience the beauty of Michigan is on the water, and there’s no more peaceful way to explore the rivers, lakes, and streams of this state than on a kayak.
Kayaking is becoming one of the most popular summer things to do in Michigan, with people of all ages learning how to glide along the surf in an elegant and peaceful way. If you plan to spend your summer kayaking in Michigan, it’s important to know where to go. These are the best spots!
Kayak Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore on Lake Michigan
For many Michigan kayakers, paddling along the shores of Lake Michigan and looking up at the towering Sleeping Bear Dunes and bluffs is a must-have experience. The miles of shoreline provide one of the most picturesque places in the state to kayak.
But, this trip is best reserved for kayakers with a moderate level of experience. The reason is that Lake Michigan is notoriously unpredictable, and less experienced kayakers may not be prepared for the unexpected changes that can occur on the lake.
For instance, fog can roll in at any time, or high winds can start up and make the waters particularly difficult to maneuver.
Kayaking Crystal River & Platte River
If you’re a novice kayaker but still want to explore the waters around Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, opt for a trip along the Crystal River or the Platte River, both of which are located within the boundaries of the park.
These rivers are calm and peaceful, and when you kayak down the gentle waters you’ll enjoy seeing birds and wildlife in their natural habitats. If you don’t have your own equipment, you can still enjoy a paddling trip on the rivers. Outfitter stations nearby have everything you need to rent for kayaking.
Kayak Through the Urban Canals of Detroit
When it comes to kayaking in the Great Lakes State, most people immediately think of the rivers that wind through the heart of the state or the magical waters that define its shoreline.
However, there are unexpected opportunities to kayak in Michigan’s urban areas, such as the natural canals in Detroit that connect the city to the mighty Detroit River.
While it’s possible to bring your own equipment and kayak through the canals in Detroit, one of the best ways to see the city while paddling is to book a guided tour. Some kayaking outfitters offer guided tours of the city’s canals, allowing kayakers of all ages and skill levels to experience this unique outdoor activity.
Kayaking has only recently become popular in Detroit, largely because the city previously didn’t have water that was safe enough to paddle in. Water cleanup efforts have paid off, and now the water in Detroit is cleaner than ever. As a result, more people are coming to the city to see it from a new perspective.
Kayak to Turnip Rock in Port Austin
Turnip Rock is one of the most unusual rock formations in Lake Huron. Towering out of the water in a gravity-defying turnip shape, this rock seems as if it would be top-heavy — as if it might fall back into the lake at any given moment.
However, this geological marvel has held steady for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Today, it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in The Thumb, and one of the best ways to see Turnip Rock for yourself is to kayak to it.
The Kayaking Route to Turnip Rock
The paddle to Turnip Rock begins at the Point aux Barques trail and requires you to paddle for 7 miles until you reach the rock.
If you’re going alone, it’s best to have some experience paddling before you begin the journey. If you are a less-experienced kayaker, never fear. Many companies offer guided tours out to Turnip Rock.
Pose With Turnip Rock for Photos
One thing that people love most about the trip is that the water around the rock is very shallow. So, once you reach your destination, you can step out of your kayak and pose for pictures with one of the most breathtaking natural wonders in the state.
But, keep those feet in the water — Turnip Rock is actually situated on private property, and you would be trespassing if you stepped onto the land.
Kayak Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula
The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Munising is a bucket list destination for many kayakers in Michigan. Kayaking along the shores of Lake Superior and looking up at the towering Pictured Rocks, which are a geological marvel, may seem like a larger-than-life experience — and it is.
However, it’s best reserved for the most experienced kayakers. Lake Superior is notoriously dangerous, and conditions can change rapidly on the lake. Rescue missions to help stranded kayakers occur on a regular basis, and even some of the most experienced kayakers get overwhelmed on this mighty lake.
Guided Kayaking Tours
Anyone who does not have specialized equipment or significant experience kayaking should consider taking a guided tour with a local private company, which has the experience and skills needed to keep paddlers safe on the waters.
Several in the area offer guided kayak tours of the Pictured Rocks, including Pictured Rocks Kayaking, Paddling Michigan, and Pictured Rocks Sea Kayak Tours.
Kayaking Inland Lakes
Another alternative to kayaking on Lake Superior and looking up to the Pictured Rocks is to kayak in the inland lakes within the park. Grand Sable Lake, Beaver Lake, and Little Beaver lake are all accessible to park visitors and provide calmer waters and picturesque scenes.
Kayak the Huron River in Ann Arbor
The Huron River Water Trail spans more than 100 miles throughout Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, and while there are many places to kayak and paddle along this trail, one of the most popular in Southeast Michigan is in the City of Ann Arbor.
Kayaking Route Options
There are two locations in Ann Arbor where you can access the Huron River with a kayak — Argo Park and Gallup Park. Depending on the length of the journey that you want to take, you can plan a 3-mile trip from Argo Park to Gallup Park or a nearly 6-mile trip from Barton to Gallup Park.
The Huron River is known for being calm, making it an ideal kayaking spot for people of all ages and skill levels. However, there are some rapids on the river that you should be aware of, and if you don’t feel confident going alone, consider taking a guided tour.
Stillwater Paddles for Novices
The absolute best place for new paddlers to practice their skills and become more confident is the 2-Mile Gallup and Argo Ponds. These lake-like areas in Argo Park and Gallup Park have no current, and the water is shallow, calm, and peaceful.
There are rental outfitters at both locations, giving people who are trying the sport for the first time the opportunity to gain some hands-on experience without investing in their own equipment.
Kayak Through the Water Lilies on Lake Dubonnet
Lake Dubonnet is perhaps the best-kept secret in Michigan. While this 120-acre lake is known locally as one of the best places for a day of fishing, it’s not often used for kayaking or paddling. However, the conditions are almost always perfect, as this is a calm and peaceful lake.
Wildlife & Scenic Views
Kayakers who do discover this hidden gem are treated to an uninterrupted day of paddling, in which they can enjoy lush forest views, wildlife encounters, and more.
Paddling through the waters of Lake Dubonnet is a bit like gliding through a fairy tale — you may wind through water lilies, paddle past wildflowers, or see the autumn leaves changing colors right before your eyes.
Kayaking for All Skill Levels
This lake is just outside of the northern community of Interlochen. It provides both beginners and experienced kayakers with a place to escape the busy shorelines.
One of the best places to launch your kayak is at the boat launch at the Lake Dubonnet State Forest Campground. There are no outfitters in the area, so you’ll have to be ready with your own equipment if you want to kayak on this serene lake.
Kayak the Two Hearted River in the Upper Peninsula
Winding throughout the Upper Peninsula is the majestic Two Hearted River. For kayakers, this river is the perfect place to appreciate the surrounding natural beauty.
While the waters of Lake Superior can be intimidating and, at times, treacherous, the Two Hearted River provides a peaceful escape from the cold, harsh waters of the lake.
Calm Waters for Paddling
The river is only about 6 feet deep throughout, which means that the water is almost always calm. The Two Hearted River is an ideal place to kayak for those who have minimal experience, but it’s also challenging and exciting enough for those who have been paddling in Michigan for years.
You can customize your trip on the Two Hearted River and travel for as few or as many hours as you would like down the river. Be mindful that the mouth of the river ends at Lake Superior, so you’ll want to stay aware of your surroundings.
One thing that kayakers love the most about the Two Hearted River is that there’s unique scenery around every bend. One minute, you might be paddling through a densely forested area. The next minute, you’re gliding by sandy dunes.
It’s a relatively popular place to kayak, so don’t be surprised if you see other paddlers on your journey along the river.
Kayak the Au Sable River in Oscoda
Running from Grayling to Oscoda, the Au Sable River is one of the largest rivers in the state. This mighty body of water is an impressive sight from afar — but it’s even better to experience it on the water’s surf.
Several Hours of Peaceful Kayaking
One of the best places to kayak on the Au Sable is on the outskirts of Oscoda. The river winds along the edge of town, and this stretch of the Au Sable is particularly calm. As a result, kayakers of all ages and skill levels can paddle on the river on any given day.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that once you start your journey, you’ll be on the river for several miles. There’s no place to stop off, so you need to be ready to paddle for at least several hours until you reach your destination.
It may be a longer trip on the river, but each stretch is different and more exciting than the last. Along the way, you’ll enjoy traveling through forests of pine trees and near the shoreline.
Equipment & Route Planning
If you’re searching for a bit more guidance for your trip, consider renting equipment from a nearby outfitter. It can provide everything you need for a day of paddling and help you select specific trips that will take you to certain destinations along the Au Sable River. You choose an itinerary that works for your skill level and stamina.
Tips for Kayaking in Michigan
One of the best things about kayaking is that it can be enjoyed by solo travelers, groups of friends, couples, or extended family members. It’s a flexible and versatile activity that can take as long — or as quick — as you want. These tips will ensure that your excursion kayaking in Michigan is successful.
Enroll in a Paddling Class
If you’ve never gone kayaking before, it may benefit you to enroll in a paddling class. In Michigan, there are many outdoor groups and instructors who offer paddling lessons to beginners of all ages.
These courses will teach you the techniques and skills that you need to safely paddle along the water. They’re recommended for anyone, regardless of age, who has never kayaked before.
Always Wear a Life Jacket
When you’re on the water in your kayak, always wear a life jacket. Before you set off, share a float plan with a friend or family member, detailing the “who, what, where, and when” of your adventure kayaking in Michigan.
Practice Getting In & Out of Your Kayak
Falling out of your kayak into open water is not only a little embarrassing but can also be dangerous. If you feel a little unsure, taking a few moments to practice will bolster your confidence and give you the sense of security that you need to move forward with your adventure.
Get Familiar With the Local Area
If you’re new to the area where you’ll be kayaking and not taking a guided tour, familiarize yourself with the surroundings before starting your paddle.
Talk with local kayakers about what the surrounding area is like. They can provide information about potential safety hazards, water changes, wildlife, and more.
Rent Kayaks Before Buying
There are many types and styles of kayaks, and it may take you some time to figure out which watercraft is right for you. Renting is the best way to figure it out. After you’ve tried out several kayaks, you’ll have a better idea of which one is best for you in the long term.
Kayaking Outfitters in Michigan Who Can Help You Get Started
If you want to go kayaking in Michigan but have never tried paddling before, you’re in luck. At the most popular kayaking destinations in the state, there are almost always outfitters who rent equipment and provide tips or advice for paddling in their areas.
Some of the top kayaking outfitters in Michigan include:
- Crystal River Outfitters — This rental company located in Glen Arbor offers kayak and canoe rentals for those who want to paddle along the Crystal River, which is located near Sleeping Bear Dunes.
- Detroit River Sports — This tour company will take you on a guided tour of the canals in Detroit, one of the best places for urban kayaking in Michigan.
- Port Austin Kayak — This rental company provides kayak rentals and trail information about the journey to Turnip Rock.
- Skip’s Huron River Canoe Livery — This rental company offers both kayak and canoe rentals near the Huron River. It claims to be situated on the most scenic stretch of the river.
- Oscoda Canoe Rental — While its name suggests that it only rents canoes, this livery also rents kayaks and tubes so that you can enjoy a day on the Au Sable River.
Plan Your Summer Journey Kayaking in Michigan
Kayaking is one of the best summer things to do in Michigan, providing an adventure that almost anyone can enjoy — whether you’re a beginner who has never paddled before or an expert who loves to take on a new challenge.
No matter your skill level, you’re sure to find a Michigan kayaking location that will allow you to enjoy some of the most breathtaking views in the Great Lakes State.