Michigan has plenty of rivers and lakes to choose from when it comes to kayaking. It is surrounded by four Great Lakes but some of the best places for kayaking in Michigan are its rivers.
We’ve collected the top destinations in Michigan for kayaking trips. You’ll find the perfect spot to paddle, whether it be on fast rivers or calm lakes.
Michigan has a lot of water, which is the best thing about kayaking. Michigan is home to stunning rivers and lakes, from the upper peninsula all the way to the southeast. It doesn’t really matter where you live, as there are always places to go paddling.
You can find beautiful places to kayak in Michigan, no matter where you live. Here are 13 of the best places to kayak in Michigan.
Michigan’s Best Kayak Spots
Kayaking in Michigan Rivers
1. River Au Sable
The Au Sable River runs through Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. The river flows north from Grayling, MI for more than 100 miles before it reaches Lake Huron at Au Sable.
It is well-known for its trout fishing and is one of the most beautiful places in the country. Even if you don’t like kayak fishing, the river is beautiful to paddle with and has a variety of wildlife.
You can use the Au Sable for day or overnight trips. There are numerous campsites right along the shores. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can paddle the whole river in one day. There are some dams along the route, so you will need to get out of your kayak and move around.
Most of the river is calm and the ponds made by dams can feel more like paddling on a lake rather than a river. There are however some rapids that can reach class II.
2. Manistee River
The source of the Manistee River is also in the northern lower peninsula near Mancelona Township. It flows 12 miles parallel to the scenic River before turning southwest to flow into Lake Michigan.
The Manistee River, like the Au Sable, has beautiful scenery, wildlife, and campgrounds. You can paddle this river for a few hours or for a longer trip. However, long floats can be difficult due to possible dam crossings depending on the leg of the river.
The Manistee River is generally calm with moderate currents that can reach class II. Even a day trip will allow you to enjoy the beauty of these places.
3. Grand River
The Grand River’s headwaters can be found in the southeast of Michigan near Jackson. The longest river in Michigan is the Grand River, which flows north and west for approximately 260 miles before it reaches Lake Michigan.
There are many sections of the river that can be paddled, as it is a long river. It is dangerous to try to paddle through Grand Rapids because of the low-head dams. This section is lacking in the scenery, while the other sections are more picturesque.
The Grand River has many sections to choose from and offers a variety of scenery. The river is often scenic with very little or no human activity and pristine nature. Some sections of the river pass through cities, like Lansing, offering beautiful views of homes and buildings. Class II rapids are the highest on the river.
4. Platte River
The Platte River is located at Long Lake, Michigan’s northern lower Peninsula. It is a relatively short river with a length of just over 30 miles. It empties into Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.
The Platte River is divided into two sections: the upper Platte and lower Platte rivers. The upper section is scenic and more suited to more experienced paddlers. The rapids do not rise above class II but the upper peninsula section is faster and features tighter turns.
The lower section, on the other side, is ideal for all skill levels. The current is gentler and the turns are more gradual. The lake Michigan area is also home to Michigan’s Fish Weir. This contraption is used to monitor Salmon migration between August and October. This is a beautiful sight, but you’ll need to take your kayak with you if you plan to visit during the months.
5. Huron River
The source of the Huron River can be found at Big Lake, just northwest of Pontiac in southwest Michigan. It eventually flows into Lake Erie just south of the Detroit River. Although the river is approximately 130 miles long, the designated river trail runs 104 miles.
No matter your interests, the Huron River is an excellent place to kayak. The section near the mouth of the river is calmer and offers a more relaxed experience. If you are looking for some excitement, there are small rapids further downstream, which can reach class II.
There are 36 access points along with the Huron River and four campgrounds. You can make day or multi-day trips.
6. Two-Hearted River
Two Hearted River, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula’s short and beautiful river. It flows for just 30 miles before it reaches Lake Superior. The river is home to a lot of wildlife and beautiful scenery.
If you’re looking for a multi-day adventure, there are many campgrounds right along the river. You will find that the Two Hearted River is great for beginners. There are only a few small rapids, up to class II.
There are numerous campgrounds located in Northern Luce County, just a few minutes from the Two Hearted River. For extended canoe trips, there are three campgrounds along the river. There is also a campground at the river mouth. The majority of campgrounds are primitive. Muskellunge Lake State Park is a few miles west of the river mouth and has a modern campground. The rustic sites cost $10 per night while the modern campground costs $14-$16 per night.
The famous Ernest Hemingway short story “Big Two-Hearted River” is set here, sort of.
Kayaking Lake Superior
7. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore – Kayaking in Michigan
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is a stunning kayak destination. You will find beautiful sights along the route, which runs 42 miles.
A 15-mile stretch of the lakeshore is made up of the Pictured Rocks. These cliffs are multi-colored streaked and rise between 50 to 200 feet above the lake. The lakeshore also features beaches, sand dunes, and waterfalls. If you’re looking for a multi-day adventure, there are campgrounds right along the shore.
Pictured Rocks are one of the most beautiful places in Michigan to kayak. You should do your research so you are prepared for anything.
Kayaking Lake Huron
8. Turnip Rock
Turnip Rock, a landmark in central Michigan and a popular kayaking trip spot on Lake Huron is unique. The formation, which is small and shaped like a turnip rising out of the water, is actually a small island.
Turnip Rock can only be reached by water and is approximately 3.5 miles in length. Because it’s a little more difficult, it’s better for experienced kayakers. The water is shallow enough that you can get out and explore the area, but the rock formations can be slippery. Keep in mind that the shoreline is your private property, so you should keep exploring the lake, Huron.
Kayaking Lake Michigan
9. Elk Rapids
Elk Rapids can be described as a small community located in Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula. The town is bordered by water with Elk Lake and Grand Traverse Bay to its west. There are many places to kayak close to Elk Rapids.
Kayaking in Lake Michigan’s East Wing is another option. You can make this a multi-day trip by camping at Barnes Park Campground, and then eventually making it to Lake st.
You can also kayak the Chain of Lakes from Elk Lake. The Chain of Lakes water trail is made up of 12 lakes interconnected by 4 rivers.
Kayaking in Northern Michigan
10. Lake Dubonnet
Lake Dubonnet State Forest Campground makes a great place to stay before you head out on a day of a kayaking trip in Michigan. It is quiet and peaceful with lots of wildlife. You can also find many hidden treasures along the shoreline.
Bonus: Lake Dubonnet’s calm waters, the abundance of fish, and beautiful scenery make it an ideal place to launch your fishing kayak.
11. Backwaters of Tippy Dam
Tippy Dam Pond’s backwaters, also known as Tippy Dam Pond are another place you can fish from your kayak or canoe. There is ample space to explore the backwaters, which are approximately 5 miles long and cover 1600 acres.
You will be surrounded by nature and wildlife as there are no houses on the shore. There are many campgrounds so that you can spend several days exploring the beaches.
12. Crystal Lake
Picturesque Crystal Lake is a great lakes place to kayak in Michigan. There are many resorts and other recreational opportunities nearby. Its beautiful, clear water is what gives it its name. It is also a popular vacation spot due to its sandy beaches. A day trip that will change the way you feel about kayaking.
There are not many campgrounds along the beaches so it isn’t the best place for multi-day trips. You won’t find much wildlife here, but there are many homes right along the beaches.
Southeast Michigan Kayaking
13. Detroit Canals
One of the most beautiful places to kayak in Michigan is the canals that run through Detroit’s East Side neighborhoods. These canals can be found near the Detroit River, where it meets Lake superior St. Clair. Maheras-Gentry Park is the best place to put it in.
The diversity of the scenery is what makes kayaking through the Detroit canals so special. The entire canal system can be explored in 3 hours. There is so much to see. To reach the canals you’ll need to paddle along the Detroit River. Once inside, you’ll find beautiful neighborhoods with everything from abandoned homes to magnificent mansions.
The Nutshell about kayaking in Michigan
There are many beautiful kayaking spots in Michigan. There are many options available for all levels of experience and many types of scenery. We’d love to hear from you if you have been to these locations or if you know of other places that should be included in this list.
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