Kayaking in Michigan [10 Best Places]

Kayaking is one of the most popular water sports in Michigan. What are the 10 best places to kayak in Michigan?

The 10 best places to go kayaking in Michigan are as follows:

  1. Manistee River
  2. Platte River
  3. Au Sable River
  4. Two Hearted River
  5. Huron River
  6. Elk Rapids
  7. Detroit Canals
  8. Crystal Lake, Beulah
  9. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  10. Turnip Rock

Read on to learn more about kayaking in Michigan and the 10 best places to kayak.

Kayaking in Michigan- 10 Best Places

The finest places to experience riding a kayak in Michigan are many, but here are our top 10 picks:

1. Manistee River

kayak Michigan

Suppose you want to bask in the beauty and wonder of picturesque places while kayaking. Manistee River is an ideal place for you.

You can set up camp in any of its various campgrounds for the night and continue your adventure the next day. This magnificent place is near the Mancelona Township on the peninsula’s lower northern area.

The river is ideal for kayaking as the cold, clean water provides a stable flow that could help propel your kayak smoothly through the water. You may want to include fishing for trout and salmon in your itinerary because Manistee is a popular fishing area in Michigan. [1]

Through its 190-mile length (310 km), you can breathe in the fresh air and savor the presence of nature. The elevation drops from around 1,250 feet (381 meters) to 579 feet (176 meters) in a smooth flow that even new kayakers could be comfortable with.

2. Platte River

Next on our list of the best places to kayak Michigan is Platte River. Experienced kayakers can take the Platter River’s top section as it’s faster flowing and would need kayaking skills to get through. If you’re a newbie, don’t worry, as the lower river part is suitable for you. In the lower area, there are no sharp turns, and the water is more tranquil.

You can bask in the fascinating landscapes as the Platte River snakes its way to the sleeping bear dunes national lakeshore. The river is about 29.5 miles (47.5 km) long and meanders through wetlands, forested areas, and open lands that you can view from your kayak.

Kayaking is a well-known activity at the Platte River campground, especially the remarkable kayak journey from the campground to Platte River Point. You would surely end your kayaking trip with a huge smile on your face and with a satisfied and renewed spirit.

3. Au Sable River

best places to kayak in Michigan

Next on our list is the Au Sable River, a place where you can truly enjoy kayaking in Northern Michigan.

Shoot two birds with one stone when you go kayaking at the 138-mile (222 km) Au Sable River. One is to enjoy the spectacular views as you course along Michigan’s lower peninsula. Second, you may want to camp in any of the river’s campsites and go fishing as trout are abundant.

Take someone more experienced than you are on your kayak trips in Michigan, as there are class II rapids that you would encounter. Be ready for portages as well due to dams situated in the river.

You could immerse yourself in the peaceful scenery of the surrounding area near the river and watch the incredible wildlife of northern Michigan.

The First Dam Canoe Race and Au Sable River Canoe Marathon are yearly events that you may want to participate in, should you want more adventure in this famous river.

4. Two Hearted River

If you are to embark on kayaking trips in Michigan, you shouldn’t miss visiting the Two Hearted River.

Kayaking in the Two Hearted River is a perfect get-away for two to three people. The journey meanders through the scenic spots of Michigan’s upper peninsula into Lake Superior. You can camp at the Redd and Green Bridge campground for the night.

The calming effect of nature would be a welcome respite for your partner or group as you traverse the cool and calm waters. However, expect some manageable portages and log jams along the way. There are also shallow portions that you may encounter that need an exit of your kayak.

Kayaking through the 4 to 6 feet deep calm river can rest your mind of stressful events.

5. Huron River

Next on our list of the best places to kayak in Michigan is the Huron River.

The Huron River offers something for all types of kayaking enthusiasts. Thus, we consider this as one of the best rivers to kayak in Michigan.

Along its 130-mile kayaking course, you can encounter the diverse beauty of nature and its unique flora and fauna. Whether you’re an amateur or a seasoned kayaker, you can enjoy the journey as there are calm waters and class II rapids.

The Huron River flows between Lake Erie and Big Lake, located northeast of Pontiac and south of the Detroit River. In Southeast Michigan, this river is the only state-designated Country, Scenic Natural River, that flows through numerous parks.

Watch out for the Delhi Rapids, which experienced kayakers can only manage. In case you’re a beginner, you may want to take with you a reliable kayaker to help you through this short portion of the river.

While there, you could go fishing for trout, bass, or catfish. The river offers other water activities, aside from kayaking.

6. Elk Rapids

Next on our list of the best kayaking in Michigan is Elk Rapids. The Elk Rapids offers various kayaking adventures along the Grand Traverse Bay or through the chain of 14 lakes and four rivers, starting from Elk Lake, navigating the little town of Elk Rapids’ connected waterways.

The lakes include the following:

  • Elk Lake
  • Lake Skegemog
  • Torch Lake
  • Clam Lake
  • Lake Bellaire
  • Intermediate Lake
  • Hanley Lake
  • Ben-way Lake
  • Wilson Lake
  • Ellsworth Lake
  • St. Clair Lake
  • Sixmile Lake
  • Scotts Lake
  • Beals Lake

Your kayaking journey through these breath-taking lakes would surely be enough to quench your thirst for adventure as a kayaker.

Note that your kayaks must portage the dam by using adjacent boat ramps. But aside from that, your kayaking journey would be smooth below the dam as the river leads to the Grand Traverse Bay.

7. Detroit Canals

best kayaking in Michigan

You can also enjoy paddling through the numerous Detroit Canals, where the landscape is different from the natural picturesque views in riverbanks.

You could feast your eyes on the incredible building architectures as you paddle in the canals. You can start at Maheras-Gentry Park and go wherever the canals lead you. 

The Canal Kayak tours became one of the most popular in Michigan. You may want to drop by the Fisher Mansion and Detroit’s “Little Venice.” You will also have a mesmerizing view of downtown Detroit from some parts of your canal exploration.

8. Beulah

If you want a peaceful but rejuvenating journey, you can opt for Northern Michigan’s water playground, the Crystal Lake in Beulah, Benzie County. You can consider it a water playground where you can experience a rewarding kayaking experience in Lake Michigan.

Crystal Lake is also known as “Caps Lake” due to the white caps frequently visible on its surface. The Beulah village is at Crystal’s Lake southeast end. So, after kayaking, you may want to proceed to the public beach of Beulah and bask in its clear waters.

You could also visit the small village of Beulah or the surrounding area should you decide to end your kayaking journey. 

9. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

A kayaking journey along the Pictured Rocks would be an event one would never forget. This 42-mile kayaking spot travels through incredible scenic spots only found in Michigan’s Lake Superior.

You may want to capture the towering and impressive multi-colored cliff face, plus the fascinating shoreline with your camera or video.

You could stop overnight in any of the camping grounds and savor the dunes and waterfalls. Bring a picnic basket with you and explore the lighthouses for an additional kayak Michigan adventure. For sure, the trip would be a memorable one for you and your group.

10. Turnip Rock

kayak trips Michigan

The Turnip Rock is located in Lake Huron. The rock formation is a geological streak of nature that brought about an unusual art formation. Turnip Rock is one of the natural wonders of Michigan.

It is regarded as one of the most amazing rock formations in America.” [2] It’s a small island that appears like a turnip, sprouting from Lake Huron, hence its name.

You can kayak the 3.5-mile water to Turnip Rock. Once there, you could get out of the shallow waters to explore more of the surrounding wonders of nature.

If you decide to get down on the water, you have to stay at the water’s edge as close as possible. This is because the land adjoining Turnip Rock is private property.

Avoid climbing the rock as well as it’s dangerous and prohibited. Take heed of the “no trespassing” signs to avoid getting into trouble. One option is to paddle past the Turnip Rock and view the cave features, where fugitives hid during the 1800s.

The caves are near the Pointe Aux Barques community, so you could claim to have witnessed one of the historical places near Turnip Rock.

Next, let’s proceed to some tips you must remember when kayaking in Michigan.

Tips When Kayaking in Michigan

1. Obtain a Certificate of Number

The Certificate of Number proves that you have registered and have obtained validation decals to operate your water vessel legally on public waters.

If you don’t own a kayak, don’t worry, as there are various boating stores and services that you could utilize. There are also organized tours for some of these places.

You can be exempted from obtaining your Certificate of Number if you privately own your kayak or rowboat. Note that the rowboat’s length should be 16 feet or less. [2]

2. Prepare for Overnight Kayaking

If you want to enjoy your paddling journey fully, prepare for an overnight stay so you can explore beautiful places along the waterways. However, if your schedule won’t permit it, you can choose a daytime trip.

3. Take Pictures

Remember to bring your camera or be ready with your phone. Remember to snap pictures for posterity’s sake. Your collection of photos would be a treasure chest of memories you can look back to in the future.

Prepare backup batteries and USB storage or similar devices for continuous picture-taking.

4. Wear the Proper Outfit

Ensure you have the proper outfit, as you would be in the water most of the time. You may also have to get down from your kayak, so wear slip-proof footwear. The water may be cold as well. Remember to bring a waterproof jacket or vest. And of course, always bring your life vest with you.

5. Bring Someone Experienced

If it’s your first time, you should bring along a guide or a friend who knows the place. Kayaking may seem to be a simple activity, but there may be times that you need an experienced guide to help you in the rough parts of the water. 

6. Have Fun

The most important thing is for you to enjoy your kayaking adventure. Explore all activities you can to maximize your trip. Michigan offers one of the best kayaking experiences, so get the most out of it by visiting two or more of these best kayaking places. Have fun!

Conclusion – 10 Best Places to Kayak in Michigan

The 10 best places to go kayaking in Michigan are:

  1. Manistee River
  2. Platte River
  3. Au Sable River
  4. Two Hearted River
  5. Huron River
  6. Elk Rapids
  7. Detroit Canals
  8. Crystal Lake, Beulah
  9. Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
  10. Turnip Rock

Michigan is famous for kayaking, so you should visit one or more of these places and have an ultimate kayaking adventure.

You can bring a friend and a guide to help you make the most out of your kayaking journey. Snap those pictures and store them while you’re still able to do so.

Because when you’re old and no longer able to exert yourself physically, you can look back at those poignant memories and reminisce those happy times.

Related reading:

Is Boat Insurance Required in Michigan?

Best Places to Kayak in Florida – Top 14 Places

Kayak in Virginia [Best Places for Kayaking in Virginia]