Best Kayaking in Michigan

Kayaker paddling near sandstone cliffs in Michigan.
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When it comes to exploring the captivating waterways of the Great Lakes State, one can’t help but embark on a journey to discover the best kayaking in Michigan. With its diverse range of kayaking destinations, Michigan offers an unparalleled kayaking experience that combines natural beauty, unique geological wonders, and a rich tapestry of wildlife. From the stunning sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to the tranquil waters of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and the meandering rivers like the Au Sable, Michigan beckons kayaking enthusiasts of all levels to paddle through its breathtaking landscapes and embark on unforgettable adventures. In this guide, we will unveil the top kayaking spots in Michigan, each with its distinct charm and reasons why they stand out as the best in the state.



Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

With its towering sand dunes, crystal-clear waters, and abundant wildlife, this national lakeshore stands as a testament to the natural beauty of Michigan. Kayaking here is a journey through a landscape that has been sculpted by wind and water over millennia. As you paddle along the shoreline, you’ll be awestruck by the magnificent dunes rising majestically from the water’s edge, creating a dramatic backdrop for your aquatic adventure.

Reasons to Kayak in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore:

  • Crystal Clear Waters: Kayak in the exceptionally clear waters of Lake Michigan, offering you unparalleled visibility for observing underwater beauty.
  • Massive Sand Dunes: Paddle along the base of towering sand dunes that not only provide a unique backdrop but also showcase the geological wonders of the area.
  • Shipwreck Exploration: Dive into history as you explore shipwrecks submerged beneath the surface, uncovering a piece of maritime history.
  • Breathtaking Sunsets: Witness some of the most mesmerizing sunsets in the country as you kayak along the lakeshore, creating truly magical moments.
  • Wildlife Encounters: Encounter a diverse range of wildlife, from majestic bald eagles soaring above to deer peacefully grazing along the shoreline, all in their natural habitat.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

On the southern shore of Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stands as a living canvas painted by the hands of Mother Nature herself. This natural masterpiece, spanning over 40 miles of rugged shoreline, draws adventurers from near and far to experience its awe-inspiring beauty. While hiking and camping are popular activities, kayaking takes you on a journey like no other, allowing you to intimately explore the vibrant sandstone cliffs, hidden sea caves, and cascading waterfalls.

Reasons to Kayak in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore:

  • Vibrant Sandstone Cliffs: Kayak alongside the vibrant sandstone cliffs adorned with colorful mineral streaks, providing a one-of-a-kind visual spectacle.
  • Cave Exploration: Paddle into sea caves and experience the thrill of exploring these geological wonders, getting up close to the unique formations.
  • Waterfalls Galore: Visit numerous waterfalls that are only accessible by kayak, creating a truly unique adventure where you can feel the mist on your face.
  • Apostle Islands: Explore the adjacent Apostle Islands and their sea caves, adding diversity to your kayaking experience as you navigate through this island paradise.
  • Famous Rock Formations: Get up close to iconic rock formations like Chapel Rock and Miners Castle, immersing yourself in the geological wonders of the area.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Au Sable River

This scenic waterway winds its way through dense forests, serene wetlands, and charming small towns, making it a cherished destination for nature enthusiasts and paddlers alike. Whether you seek a peaceful journey through pristine wilderness or an exciting day of fly fishing, the Au Sable River caters to a wide range of outdoor adventurers.

Reasons to Kayak in Au Sable River:

  • Canopy of Trees: Kayak next to a lush canopy of trees, providing natural shade and creating a serene atmosphere as you paddle.
  • River’s History: Immerse yourself in the river’s history as you pass by old logging sites and historic landmarks, gaining insight into the region’s past.
  • Fly Fishing Paradise: Combine kayaking with fly fishing in one of the Midwest’s premier trout fisheries, giving you the chance to reel in some impressive catches.
  • Quiet Wilderness: Enjoy the tranquility of this designated National Scenic River, far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, creating a peaceful escape.
  • Alcona Dam Pond: Explore the calm waters of Alcona Dam Pond, perfect for beginners and families looking for a leisurely kayaking experience.

Recommended Gear: Extra Water, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Manistee River

Within the tranquil wilderness of northern Michigan, the Manistee River beckons kayaking enthusiasts to embark on a journey of natural beauty and outdoor adventure. This winding waterway meanders through lush forests, rolling hills, and pristine landscapes, offering a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

Reasons to Kayak in Manistee River:

  • Scenic Floats: Experience long, scenic floats with a gentle current, ideal for a relaxing kayak journey that allows you to soak in the beauty of nature.
  • Abundant Wildlife: Spot black bears, deer, and various bird species along the riverbanks, offering unique wildlife encounters throughout your trip.
  • Dark Sky Park: Camp near the Headlands International Dark Sky Park and kayak under a sea of stars at night, creating a truly mesmerizing experience.
  • Fishing Opportunities: Combine kayaking with fishing for trout, salmon, and steelhead, giving you a chance to catch some impressive fish.
  • Historic Bridges: Paddle under charming historic bridges as you make your way down the river, adding a touch of history to your kayaking adventure.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


Torch Lake

Known for its breathtakingly clear and vibrant turquoise waters, this pristine lake offers an enchanting setting for kayakers seeking an unparalleled aquatic adventure. Whether you’re drawn to the lively sandbar parties, the opportunity for snorkeling on the surface, or simply the tranquility of gliding across its serene waters, Torch Lake has something for every paddling enthusiast.

Reasons to Kayak in Torch Lake:

  • Turquoise Waters: Glide across the incredibly clear and turquoise waters of Torch Lake, often compared to the Caribbean, providing a surreal kayaking experience.
  • Sandbar Parties: Join in on the lively sandbar parties, a unique social experience on the water where you can interact with fellow boaters.
  • Snorkeling Paradise: Take a break to snorkel and explore the lake’s aquatic beauty, discovering a hidden world beneath the surface.
  • Family Friendly: Perfect for family outings with safe, shallow areas for children to enjoy, making it an ideal destination for a fun day on the water.
  • Stunning Sunrises: Start your day with stunning sunrises over the tranquil lake waters, a kayaker’s delight that promises beautiful mornings.

Recommended Gear: Sun Hat, Insect Spray, Cup Holder, Water Bottle, Paddle Holder, Water Shoe, Snorkel


Lake Huron

Lake Huron, one of the magnificent Great Lakes of North America, offers an unparalleled canvas for outdoor enthusiasts seeking adventure and natural splendor. Its immense waters, stretching along Michigan’s eastern shoreline, provide a remarkable setting for kayaking experiences that are both thrilling and serene. As you paddle across the clear, expansive surface of Lake Huron, you’ll have the opportunity to explore remote islands, uncover historical shipwrecks, and bask in the sun.

Reasons to Kayak in Lake Huron:

  • Great Lakes Majesty: Kayak on Lake Huron, one of the Great Lakes, and experience the sheer majesty of its vast, open waters.
  • Island Hopping: Explore numerous islands scattered across the lake, each offering its unique charm and scenic views.
  • Shipwreck History: Learn about the area’s maritime history as you paddle near known shipwreck sites, giving you a glimpse into the past.
  • Birdwatching: Birdwatchers will delight in the opportunity to spot a variety of waterfowl and migratory birds while kayaking on the lake.
  • Lighthouse Tours: Plan your route to include visits to historic lighthouses that dot the shoreline, adding cultural and visual interest to your adventure.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Waterproof Phone Case, Sunscreen, Water Bottle, Snacks


Huron River

Flowing gently through the picturesque landscape of Southeast Michigan, the Huron River presents a kayaking paradise for nature lovers and paddling enthusiasts alike. With its serene waters, lush greenery, and charming towns along the way, this river offers an idyllic setting for a leisurely paddle or a day of outdoor exploration.

Reasons to Kayak in Huron River:

  • Urban Kayaking: Enjoy the unique experience of urban kayaking as you paddle through vibrant cities like Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.
  • Wildlife Along Urban Banks: Surprisingly, you’ll encounter wildlife even in the midst of the city, from turtles to herons, enhancing your urban kayaking experience.
  • Scenic Park Stops: Take breaks at scenic parks along the river, allowing for picnics and relaxation amidst nature.
  • Water Trails: Navigate well-marked water trails with convenient access points, making it easy to plan your kayaking route.
  • Seasonal Beauty: Witness the changing seasons from your kayak, with vibrant foliage in the fall and blossoming trees in the spring.

Recommended Gear: Kayak Wheels, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


Grand River

Meandering through the heart of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Grand River offers kayakers an opportunity to explore the state’s rich history, vibrant urban landscapes, and serene natural beauty. As the longest river in Michigan, it weaves together diverse experiences, from leisurely floats through urban centers like Grand Rapids to serene escapes into the unspoiled wilderness.

Reasons to Kayak in Grand River:

  • Historical Exploration: Paddle through history as you pass by historical sites and landmarks, providing a unique perspective on the region’s heritage.
  • City Views: Kayak through Michigan’s second-largest city, Grand Rapids, and enjoy skyline views and vibrant urban scenery.
  • Fishing Hotspot: Anglers will find plenty of opportunities to go fishing, adding an exciting element to your kayaking trip.
  • Diverse Ecosystems: Encounter diverse ecosystems along the riverbanks, from wetlands to forests, offering a rich and varied landscape.
  • Cultural Festivals: Plan your visit during one of the many cultural festivals held along the Grand River, combining kayaking with local celebrations.

Recommended Gear: Sunglasses, Sunscreen, Paddle Holder, Dry Bag, Water Shoes, Bilge Pump, Sun Hat


Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Tucked away in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Tahquamenon Falls State Park is a wilderness lover’s dream, offering a kayaking experience that merges the thrill of adventure with the serenity of untouched nature. This park is renowned for its stunning waterfalls, dense forests, and pristine wilderness, making it an ideal destination for kayakers seeking a truly immersive outdoor escapade.

Reasons to Kayak in Tahquamenon Falls State Park:

  • Waterfall Kayaking: Experience the thrill of kayaking near or even under some of Michigan’s most famous waterfalls, including the impressive Tahquamenon Falls.
  • Rustic Wilderness: Immerse yourself in the rustic wilderness of the Upper Peninsula, where dense forests and pristine waters create an untouched natural paradise.
  • Wildlife Photography: Capture stunning wildlife photographs as you paddle through this remote wilderness, spotting moose, deer, and various bird species.
  • Backcountry Camping: Combine your kayaking adventure with backcountry camping, allowing you to fully appreciate the park’s untouched beauty.
  • Tranquil Lakes: Explore tranquil, isolated lakes within the park, offering solitude and peaceful moments on the water.

Recommended Gear: PFD, Binoculars, Waterproof Phone Case, First Aid Kit, Insect Repellent, Navigation Map, Bilge Pump


Hiawatha National Forest

This vast expanse of forested lands, sparkling lakes, and meandering rivers offers a kayaking experience that is nothing short of spectacular. As you paddle through pristine waters, you’ll encounter lush forests, tranquil lakes, and the soothing sounds of nature.

Reasons to Kayak in Hiawatha National Forest:

  • Untouched Wilderness: Kayak through the untouched wilderness of Hiawatha National Forest, where you can disconnect and reconnect with nature.
  • Remote Lakes: Discover remote, pristine lakes deep in the forest, providing serene and secluded kayaking experiences.
  • Hiking Opportunities: Combine kayaking with hiking, as the forest offers numerous trails to explore when you’re not on the water.
  • Birding Paradise: Birdwatchers will be delighted by the abundance of birdlife in this wilderness, from eagles to songbirds.
  • Stargazing: Experience breathtaking stargazing opportunities in the clear night skies, making for memorable evenings on your kayaking trips.

Recommended Gear: Spray Skirt, Waterproof Headlamp, Towel, Emergency Flares, Dry Change of Clothes, Kayak Repair Kit, Snacks


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