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Kayaking is an exciting way to explore Michigan’s natural beauty with over 11,000 inland lakes and rivers. Which of those lakes and rivers is the best to kayak? This article breaks down my choices for the best 27 lakes and rivers to kayak in Michigan. Michigan’s waterways offer a diverse array of kayaking experiences from rugged wilderness to vibrant urban centers. Paddling down a river, exploring a secluded lake, or navigating a canal, kayaking in Michigan is a unique way to experience natural landscapes and history. It’s no wonder that kayaking has become a popular pastime for locals and visitors alike.
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There are many places to access Lake Michigan for a kayaking adventure, but one of the best is Petoskey State Park. Not only does Petoskey State Park have about a mile of Lake Michigan shoreline, but it is also known for having Petoskey stones. Petoskey stones are a rock and a fossil. Made of fossilized corals and found mainly along the Lake Michigan shoreline, these rocks are fun to hunt!
Kayaking in the Petoskey State Park area of Lake Michigan is an incredible experience that offers a unique perspective on the Great Lakes. The area is home to stunning natural beauty, with crystal clear waters, sandy beaches, and towering dunes.
Paddlers can explore miles of shoreline, discovering secluded coves and hidden beaches, while taking in views of the surrounding forests and bluffs. The lake is also known for its abundance of fish, making it a popular spot for anglers. Kayakers can fish for a variety of species, including lake trout, salmon, and smallmouth bass.
The area is also rich in history, with several historic lighthouses dotting the shoreline. Paddlers can learn about the area’s maritime heritage and enjoy scenic views of the lighthouses from the water. With its breathtaking scenery, abundant wildlife, and rich history, kayaking in the Lake Michigan-Petoskey State Park area is an unforgettable experience that should not be missed.
Lake to Lake Rentals has kayaks and paddleboards for rent in Petoskey State Park.
The largest of the Great Lakes, Lake Superior, offers spectacular kayaking opportunities in the Midwest with rugged coastline providing breathtaking views of towering cliffs, pristine forests, and endless stretches of sand. You can explore beautiful areas such as the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, known for sandstone cliffs, dunes, and rugged shorelines, and spot fish and wildlife like bald eagles, loons, and even occasional sightings of moose and bears due to the lake’s crystal-clear waters. Whether you’re a beginner or experienced paddler, Lake Superior has endless possibilities for exploration.
If you want to kayak at Pictured Rocks, Pictured Rocks Kayaking is a great option for your trip.
The Pine River is designated as a Wild and Scenic River and is a beautiful and challenging kayaking destination, offering everything from gentle stretches to fast-moving rapids. It’s one of Michigan’s premier rivers for kayaking, with crystal-clear water that runs through the beautiful Manistee National Forest. The river is also known for its towering bluffs and scenic views of hardwood forests. Paddling on the Pine River can be a thrilling experience, with rapids ranging from Class I to Class IV, depending on the water level. However, there are also plenty of calm stretches that offer a more peaceful paddle.
Pine River Paddlesports Center would love to help you with all your kayaking trip needs for a trip down the Pine River!
Au Sable River
The Au Sable River is one of the most popular rivers for kayaking in Michigan, offering a scenic and peaceful paddle through the beautiful Huron National Forest. The river winds through lush forests, scenic meadows, and picturesque sand dunes, providing a great opportunity to spot wildlife such as deer, otters, and bald eagles. There are also several dams and reservoirs along the river, creating a variety of rapids that range from Class I to Class IV, depending on the water level. The Au Sable River is a great option for kayakers of all skill levels, with plenty of access points and opportunities for camping and other outdoor activities.
Hinchman Acres Resort has kayaks and canoes for rent and can accommodate small and large groups.
Kayaking around Mackinac Island on Lake Huron is a unique experience, with stunning views of the island’s historic architecture and natural beauty. The island is known for its Victorian-era buildings, including the famous Grand Hotel, and offers several miles of coastline to explore by kayak. Paddling around the island allows you to see the natural beauty of the Great Lakes up close, including crystal-clear water, sandy beaches, and rocky cliffs. The waters around Mackinac Island are generally calm, making it a great destination for beginners or those looking for a relaxing paddle.
Great Turtle Kayak Tours offers custom-tailored kayak tours perfect for your next kayaking trip.
Sterling State Park is a popular destination for kayakers looking for a peaceful and scenic paddle on Lake Erie. The park offers access to calm waters and beautiful views of the lake, including the Toledo skyline in the distance. Kayaking on Lake Erie can be a fun and relaxing way to explore the Great Lakes, with opportunities to spot fish, birds, and other wildlife along the way. The park also has several amenities, including picnic areas, campgrounds, and a beach, making it a great destination for a day trip or a longer stay.
The Detroit Canals offer another urban kayaking experience, with opportunities to see the city’s landmarks and architecture from a new perspective. The canals were originally built for transportation and industry, but today they offer a unique recreational opportunity for kayakers. Paddling along the canals provides views of historic buildings, colorful murals, and the city’s skyline. The canals are also home to several parks and green spaces, making it easy to take a break from paddling and explore the area on foot.
Detroit River Sports has guided tours of the canals.
The Platte River is a beautiful and tranquil kayaking destination in northern Michigan, winding through the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The river offers a peaceful paddle through a diverse landscape of forests, meadows, and sand dunes, with opportunities to spot wildlife such as deer, osprey, and beavers. The river is also known for its clear water and sandy bottom, making it a great spot for swimming or fishing. The Platte River is a great option for kayakers of all skill levels, with several access points and rental options available.
The Upper Platte River is great for an advanced kayaker, with a faster current and sharp turns.
The Lower Platte River is perfect for more inexperienced kayakers. This portion of the river has a more forgiving current and if perfect for the whole family.
Rent a kayak from Riverside Canoes for a great kayaking experience. After your paddle, don’t forget to celebrate with some ice cream from their ice cream shop!
The Huron River, a designated Country Scenic Natural River, offers a serene and scenic paddle through Michigan’s stunning natural areas. It meanders through forests, wetlands, and meadows, with chances to spot wildlife such as eagles, otters, and deer. Several parks and recreational areas line its banks, offering opportunities to take a break from paddling and explore the surrounding areas. With various sections of different difficulties, kayakers of all skill levels can enjoy paddling the Huron River.
Village Canoe Rental on the Huron River will rent you kayaks and pick-up and drop-off service.
Two Hearted River
The Two Hearted River is a rugged and remote kayaking destination in the Upper Peninsula, offering a unique wilderness experience. The river flows through the Hiawatha National Forest and provides opportunities to fish and spot wildlife among towering pine trees, rocky outcroppings, and clear water. Experienced kayakers will enjoy the river’s challenging rapids and portages.
If you are ready for a kayaking adventure on the Two Hearted River then contact Winter Haven Motel and Pine Stump Junction Rentals. They’ll help you out!
The Muskegon River is a top kayaking spot in Michigan, with various paddling experiences for all skill levels. The river flows through diverse landscapes, and wildlife sightings of eagles, osprey, and beavers are possible. The river has clear water and sandy beaches that are perfect for swimming and fishing. Kayakers can select from different sections of the river with varying difficulty levels.
Wisner Canoe in Newaygo, Michigan has kayaks for rent and also offers two-and four-hour kayak trips.
The Chippewa River is a beautiful and peaceful kayaking destination in central Michigan, winding through forests, meadows, and farmland. The river offers a scenic paddle with opportunities to see wildlife such as deer, herons, and turtles. The Chippewa River is also known for its calm waters, making it a great spot for beginners or those looking for a relaxing paddle. The river has several access points and rental options available, making it easy to plan a trip.
Rent a kayak from Chippewa River Outfitters and let the river carry your worries away!
The Grand River, stretching over 250 miles, is Michigan’s longest river. It offers diverse paddling experiences, ranging from calm stretches through scenic parks to challenging rapids in remote areas. The river runs through several cities and towns, offering opportunities to explore the area’s history and culture. Paddling on the Grand River gives a unique perspective on Michigan’s landscape and history.
Rent some kayaks from River Town Adventures and explore the Grand River in the Lansing area.
Lake Dubonnet is a scenic and peaceful kayaking destination in northern Michigan, located near Traverse City. The lake is surrounded by dense forests and rolling hills, providing a picturesque backdrop for paddlers. The lake is also home to several small islands and coves, perfect for exploring by kayak. Lake Dubonnet is known for its calm waters, making it a great spot for beginners or those looking for a relaxing paddle. The lake also offers great fishing opportunities, with a variety of fish species including bass, pike, and walleye.
Big Manistee River
The Big Manistee River in northern Michigan is a popular kayaking destination, with opportunities to see wildlife such as eagles, otters, and deer, and clear water and sandy bottom ideal for swimming or fishing. Paddlers of all skill levels can choose from various sections with different levels of difficulty, making it a great destination. As a Wild and Scenic River, it’s one of the best kayaking spots in Michigan.
Manistee Adventures offers kayaking trips and rentals to get you started on your trip.
Black Creek is a scenic and secluded kayaking destination in the Black Creek State Forest, located in the Upper Peninsula. It runs through a dense forest and offers a peaceful paddle with opportunities to spot wildlife. The creek’s clear water and sandy bottom make it a great spot for swimming or fishing. It’s perfect for kayakers seeking a wilderness experience.
Bodi Lake, located in the Hiawatha National Forest, is small and picturesque. It is surrounded by dense forests, and wildlife such as loons, eagles, and deer can be spotted while paddling. The lake is great for swimming or fishing due to its clear water and sandy bottom. It also has small islands and coves that are perfect for kayak exploration.
Canoe Lake is a serene kayaking destination in the Canoe Lake State Forest Campground, located in the Upper Peninsula. The lake is surrounded by dense forests and offers a peaceful paddle, with chances to spot wildlife like loons, herons, and turtles. Beginners and those seeking a calming experience will enjoy the lake’s calm waters. The lake also provides many small islands and coves to explore by kayak.
Chain of Lakes Water Trail
The Chain of Lakes Water Trail in northern Michigan is a well-liked kayaking destination with 14 interconnected lakes and multiple rivers. Kayakers can experience calm stretches through scenic parks or more challenging rapids in remote areas. The water trail also has small towns and communities to explore, showcasing the area’s history and culture. Paddling on the Chain of Lakes Water Trail provides a unique perspective on Michigan’s landscape and history.
If you’re interested in kayaking the Chain of Lakes Water Trail, there is a list of kayak rental outfitters listed on the website Paddle Antrim.
The Forest Lake State Forest Campground in the Upper Peninsula is home to Forest Lake, a peaceful kayaking destination. Dense forests surround the lake, offering a serene paddle and opportunities to view wildlife such as loons, eagles, and deer. Forest Lake is famous for its calm waters, providing a relaxing paddle for beginners or those seeking a tranquil experience. The lake also features several small islands and coves that kayakers can explore.
The Kalamazoo River in southwest Michigan is a famous kayaking destination that winds through forests, wetlands, and scenic bluffs. Paddling along the river provides opportunities to view wildlife such as eagles, otters, and herons. Additionally, the river has historic sites and cultural landmarks that enable kayakers to learn about the area’s history and culture. The river offers various sections of different difficulty levels, suitable for all skill levels.
To rent kayaks for paddling down the Kalamazoo River, contact the Plainwell Kayak Company.
The Sturgeon River in the Haakwood State Forest Campground, Upper Peninsula, is a secluded and picturesque kayaking destination. Paddling along the river through dense forests provides opportunities to spot wildlife such as eagles, otters, and beavers. Clear water and rocky bottoms make the Sturgeon River an excellent fishing location. It’s a popular choice for kayakers seeking a wilderness experience. However, kayakers must note the river’s fast flow and sharper turns, particularly in the upper section, making it ideal for slightly experienced kayakers.
Sturgeon River Paddlesports offers kayaking trips suitable for different skill levels.
The Kingston Lake State Forest Campground, situated in the Upper Peninsula, is home to Kingston Lake, a small and tranquil lake. Dense forests surround the lake, providing a peaceful paddle with a chance to spot loons, herons, and turtles. Kingston Lake’s calm waters make it an ideal location for beginners or those seeking a peaceful kayaking experience. Additionally, the lake contains small islands and coves that kayakers can explore.
The Manistique River is a scenic kayaking destination in the Mead Creek State Forest Campground, located in the Upper Peninsula. The river winds through a forested landscape and offers a peaceful paddle with opportunities to see wildlife such as eagles, otters, and beavers. The river is also known for its fishing opportunities, with a variety of fish species including trout, bass, and walleye.
Northland Outfitters offers a few different kayak trips with options for the inexperienced and expert kayakers.
The Menominee River is a popular kayaking destination in the Menominee River State Forest Campground, located in the Upper Peninsula. The river offers a variety of paddling experiences, from calm stretches through scenic parks to challenging rapids in more remote areas. The river is also known for its fishing opportunities, with a variety of fish species including trout, bass, and walleye. The Menominee River is a great destination for paddlers looking for a mix of adventure and natural beauty.
True North Outpost offers kayak rentals and guided paddling trips.
Black Lake is a large and scenic kayaking destination in Onaway State Park, located in northern Michigan. The lake offers a variety of paddling experiences, from calm stretches through scenic parks to open water paddling with views of the surrounding forests and hills. Black Lake is also known for its fishing opportunities, with a variety of fish species including pike, bass, and walleye. Paddling on Black Lake provides a unique perspective on Michigan’s diverse natural landscapes.
Onaway State Park has kayaks to rent for half-day or full-day rentals.
In Southeast Michigan, kayakers often flock to Pontiac Lake, located near Waterford Township. A park surrounds the lake with hiking trails, providing a variety of paddling experiences, from calm stretches through scenic parks to open water paddling with views of the surrounding forests and hills. Pontiac Lake is famous for its fishing opportunities, offering a variety of fish species including bass, pike, and walleye. Kayakers who visit Pontiac Lake can escape the city and relish in Michigan’s natural beauty.
Kayaking in Michigan provides endless paddling experiences for all skill levels. Michigan’s waterways, such as the Au Sable and Two Hearted Rivers, offer scenic views and a unique perspective on the state’s natural beauty. Paddlers can also spot wildlife and fish for various species, including trout, bass, and walleye. Historic sites and cultural landmarks are available to explore, adding to the overall experience. Michigan offers tranquil paddling on calm lakes or challenging adventures on fast-moving rivers. Kayaking in Michigan connects individuals with nature, diverse landscapes, and creates unforgettable memories.