Best Places to Kayak in Michigan

With hundreds of miles of coastline and thousands of creeks and rivers, it’s no secret that Michigan has some of the best places to kayak in the entire United States.

We’ve outlined some of our favorite kayak trips and kayaking spots in the state of Michigan, which you can reference when planning out your trip. Each of these kayaking trips are listed in no particular order.

1. Pictured Rocks

“Pictured Rocks”by Rhonda Noren is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Possibly the most famous kayaking trip in all of Michigan, Pictured Rocks in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula offers fantastic views while paddling along the shoreline of Lake Superior.

There are several services that offer kayaking tours of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which can be great for those who don’t want to haul up their kayaking gear, for those who are not experienced kayakers, and for those who like to learn more about the geology and history of Pictured Rocks.

Before embarking on your trip, be aware that because of Lake Superior’s unpredictable weather and cold temperatures, kayaking Pictured Rocks can be dangerous. Refer to the National Park Services website for safety information on Kayaking at Pictured Rocks when planning your trip.

2. Big Manistee River

“Kayaking Mascoma Lake, 7-4-08” by karlynmorissette is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

The Big Manistee river is a 190 miles long and is best accessed around Cadillac and Manistee. Many of these sites are within the Huron-Manistee National Forests, so be aware that you may need to pay a day use fee.

Compared to other rivers, the Manistee is typically quite wide and you will likely share the river with motorboats. The average gradient of 2.9 feet per mile make it great for beginner paddlers or those looking for a smooth and scenic kayaking trip.

3. Huron River

For many Eastern Michigan residents, the Huron River offers the best kayaking experience that is within an hour’s drive.

The Huron passes through many towns, including Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, Dexter, Flat Rock, and Milford. The Huron also offers a wide range of paddling conditions, including the Argo Cascades near downtown Ann Arbor, as well as many connected lakes including Ford Lake, Belleville Lake and the mouth of the river connecting the Huron to the Detroit River and Lake Erie.

4. Chain O’ Lakes

Chain O’ Lakes refers to the 12 connected lakes of Elk Lake, Lake Skegemog, Torch Lake, Clam Lake, Lake Bellaire, Intermediate Lake, Ben-way Lake, Wilson Lake, Ellsworth Lake, Saint Clair Lake, and Sixmile Lake.

The Chain O’ Lakes can be accessed from dozens of drop-in points, making this one of the most accessible and beautiful locations to kayak near Traverse City. Keep in mind that the Chain O’ Lakes is split into the Upper Chain and Lower Chain systems, which are separated by a dam in the town of Bellaire.

Refer to the Michigan Water Trails page on the Chain O’ Lakes for addition information and for planning your trip.

5. AuSable River

“Fly fishermen” by NHN_2009 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Known as one of the best trout fishing rivers in the world, the AuSable offers beauty and a wide range of activities.

Kayaking the whole 138 mile length of the Au Sable River will take 3-4 days, but a popular day trip on the AuSable involves starting in the town of Grayling and ending at Burton’s Landing. There are also many other landings, campgrounds, and bridges that can be used as drop-in, drop-out, and resting stops along the river. Refer to this article when planning your trip.

Kayak rentals are also available from a few different providers near the towns of Milo and Grayling, which can be great for beginner level kayakers or those who are not familiar with the area.

6. Turnip Rock

Kayaking Turnip Rock might be the most scenic and picturesque trip that Michigan’s lower peninsula has to offer. This seven mile out and back trip starts and ends in Port Austin on the tip of Michigan’s thumb. Known as the Pointe aux Barques Trail, or PAB, your trip will follow Lake Huron’s coastline East to Turnip Rock. Be on the lookout for eagles and birds nested in the rock formations along the way to Turnip Rock.

The trip lasts around 3-5 hours, and there are companies in Port Austin that offer kayak rentals.

7. Platte River

Located just south of Sleeping Bear Dunes near Platte Lake, the Platte River is a fun kayaking trip for both kids and their parents. Offering shallow water with a sandy bottom, it is easy to get in and out of your kayak at any point along the river. The river flows through Loon Lake, and kayakers looking for some extra paddling can take a side trip to Mud Lake.

The Platte feeds into Lake Michigan next to Platte River Beach, which is a great way to end the trip. Riverside Canoe Trips offers kayak and canoe rentals, which is a great option for families.

Bonus tip – the Crystal River in Glen Arbor is a nearby river that offers a similar experience. Choose the one that is closest to where you are staying.

8. Two Hearted River

“Mouth of Two Hearted River” by Dave Garvin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 

Located about 45 minutes East of Grand Marais, the Two Hearted River runs about 100 miles long (although much of it is not ideal for kayaking) and makes for a great day trip when spending time in the Upper Peninsula. This is a great activity for those camping in one of the many campgrounds in the area, as most of them are on or nearby the Two Hearted River.

The mouth of the Two Hearted River is an especially beautiful area to kayak, with pebble beaches and gorgeous coastlines. For those feeling adventurous, the Crisp Point Lighthouse is 11 miles East from the mouth of the Two Hearted River.

9. Manistique River

Great for kayaking or canoeing, the entire length of the over 60 mile long Manistique River can be completed over the course of 4-6 days, or there are routes that take at least four hours. Much of it depends on the sections of the Manistique River that you choose to kayak and how many of the tributary creeks that you want to explore.

The north section of the Manistique River runs through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, which offers a wide range of fish and waterfowl species.

The River borders two good campgrounds in the southern section- the Mead Creek State Forest Campground and the Merwin Creek State Forest Campground – which can be used to access the river. The Seney Wilderness Lodge is also a good option for those who do not plan on camping. The river flows into Manistique, where you can exit the river at the city boat ramp before hitting the dam.

Image Attribution:

“Kayaking Mascoma Lake, 7-4-08” by karlynmorissette is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0