Kayaking In Michigan | Our Favorite Spots For Some Great Michigan Kayaking

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Kayaking in Michigan is one of the most adventurous outdoor activities there is to do in the United States, and anyone who loves to travel should most certainly try it at some point in their life. The Huron River, Keweenaw Water Trail, Pine River, Detroit River and Elk Rapids are just some of our favorite places to go exploring by kayak in Michigan.

One of the main reasons kayaking in Michigan is such an exciting activity is due in large part to the numerous places to go kayaking. Just about all of which offer their own unique qualities and charms. However, choosing from the best places to kayak in Michigan can be challenging, especially without the proper knowledge as to what makes a kayaking destination great.

Related: Best River Kayak

In this article, we discuss, in depth, the eight best places to kayak in Michigan and what makes them such great kayaking destinations. For each body of water, you will learn the type of water (lake, rivers, etc.), where the body of water is located, other things to do, and much more.

Top 8 Places to Go Kayaking in Michigan

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

Arguably the best place to go kayaking in Michigan – and certainly one of the more historically rich places to go kayaking in all of the United States – is the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. It is located on the largest and deepest parts of the Great Lakes.

Location

Pictured Rocks neighbors the south shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Although the location is generally cold, it offers a rich history and multi-colored pictured rock cliffs. Pictured Rocks is located in Munising, Michigan, which offers many other attractions outside of a great kayaking experience.

Body Water Type

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore typically holds almost completely still water, which makes it perfect for long, relaxing trips that pose little to no danger. Subsequently, you can feel safe bringing your children along with you. Although, the water level is extremely deep so a life jacket is most certainly required. The lake water of Pictured Rocks is generally very cold, so be sure to dress warm by wearing long sleeve clothing or a wetsuit.

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Visual Appeal

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most aesthetically pleasing bodies of water in all of Michigan. The water is always extremely clear and clean looking, especially when the sun is shining. Along with the incredibly clear water, you are able to paddle under and around magnificently beautiful sandstone rocks that give it a true Michigan feel. It’s also very wide open and provides a beautiful view of the horizon.

Other Attractions

The most appealing part about Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the beauty of the surrounding natural environment. Subsequently, there are numerous outdoor activities to do outside of kayaking, including backcountry camping, cycling, boating and fishing. In the winter months, Ice climbing and snowmobiling become very popular. Pictured Rocks is also a great place for children to get acclimated to being around water in a safe manner. Plus, kids are sure to love activities such as fishing, canoeing and camping.

Related: Kayaking for Beginners

What Makes It Unique

The thing that makes Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore unique from all other places to go kayaking in Michigan is the rich history of the area. Along the kayaking route, you are likely to see old shipwrecks that surround several of the shorelines. You are also likely to see light stations, coast guard stations and many other marks left throughout history. Along with the history, there are also very few bodies of water in the entire country that can match the visual beauty of Pictured Rocks.

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AuSable River

The AuSable River provides a kayaking experience in ways very few other rivers in Michigan are able to. Along with its magnificent size, the AuSable River provides a beautiful view of nature and allows for a peaceful afternoon out on the water. The AuSable River is also a fantastic place to go fishing.

Location

The AuSable River is located in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula and runs through the towns of Grayling and Mio. It also enters into Lake Huron at Au Sable. Most of the river runs adjacent flows through or runs adjacent to the Huron-Manistee National Forest. The main stream of the river is formed in Frederic Township, which is located in Crawford County.

Body Water Type

This body of water – which is perfect for kayaking in Michigan – runs in correlation with Lake Huron. Most areas of the river are generally fairly calm and flow fairly slow. The river is 138 miles long and is fairly wide in most areas. Although, there may be spots that are slightly narrower. The main branch of the river is located in the lower peninsula, where the weather is more often than not fairly cold. That means, be sure to dress warm.

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Visual Appeal

Arguably more than anything, the AuSable River is known for its scenic nature and the numerous attributes that enhance its aesthetic value, such as beautiful trees, national monuments and inviting water. While some of the river provides a more shaded, narrow area centered by surrounding trees. A good portion of the river is also wide open and provides a magnificent view of the horizon. Along the route, you are also likely to see several historic buildings and various other attractions.

Other Attractions

Along with the peaceful kayaking experience the AuSable River provides, it also offers many other attractions outside of kayaking. Perhaps most notably, the AuSable River is home to one of the best brown trout locations in the United States. So, for those who love to fish – particularly those who love to fish while kayaking – are certain to enjoy the opportunity that the AuSable River provides. The AuSable River is also home to various Canoeing marathons, including the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon.

Related: What to Wear Kayaking

What Makes It Unique

The thing that makes the AuSable River completely unique is simply the fact that it offers anything and everything you can possibly desire on a kayaking expedition. For those who love a more narrow, faster river, there are sections where that is the case. For individuals who like a slower, wide open river, it also accommodates them as well. Also, at seemingly every moment, the river is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Also, perhaps more than anything else, the AuSable River stands out by offering one of the best fishing destinations in all of Michigan.


Huron River

The Huron River is a fantastic kayaking destination that every adventurous individual in Michigan should experience at least once. The majority of the river has a slow stream and allows for a relaxing time out on the water for beginners and children who are learning to kayak for the first time.

Location

The Huron River is located in the southeastern part of Michigan. The river rises out of the Huron Swamp – which is located in northern Oakland County – and flows into Lake Erie between Wayne County and Monroe County. The Huron River passes through numerous cities, including Dexter, Ann Arbor and Rockwood.

Body Water Type

Although it’s a river, the Huron River provides a very slow stream and is quite wide in most areas, which makes it feel as if you are in a lake more so than a river. The river – which runs into Lake Erie – stretches 130 miles long and passes by numerous historic buildings, parks, rec areas and game areas. Also, it is a great river for individuals who love to fish while kayaking and is home to a wide variety of fish, including largemouth bass and salmon. Additionally, the Huron River has a rich history and was named after the Huron band of Native Americans.

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Visual Appeal

The Huron river provides a fantastic visual appeal full of colorful trees, monuments and various other landmarks. However, the parks are what make the Huron River the most appealing. Along the route down the Huron River, there are thirteen parks that provide beautiful attractions to view as you pass. Also, the parks allow for easy route planning and give children a place to play and rest when they decide to tag along.

Other Attractions

As has been mentioned, there are thirteen parks along the route that provide their own source of attractions, including playgrounds, cookout areas and much more. Along the Huron River there are also various hunting locations, and the river is home to some of the best fishing in all of Michigan. Most notably, however, the Huron River is a great place for beginners and children to learn how to kayak without the fear of dealing with fast currents and difficult areas to maneuver.

What Makes It Unique

One of the main attractions that make the Huron River unique from other places to kayak in Michigan is the numerous fish types that can be found in the river. Therefore, for those who love to fish for a wide variety of fish types at the same time, this is the best place to kayak in Michigan. As mentioned, the Huron River is also very good for beginners and children who want to learn how to kayak in a river that has a slow stream, not to mention the various parks along the way that provide great rest stops.


Keweenaw Water Trail

The Keweenaw Water Trail is arguably the most unique and challenging place to go kayaking in Michigan. The Keweenaw Water Trail – which is located on the Keweenaw Waterway – provides a way to interact with nature in a way no other water source in Michigan can.

Location

As mentioned, the Keweenaw Waterway is located on the Keweenaw Waterway, which surrounds the Keweenaw Peninsula. The Keweenaw Waterway also separates Copper Island from the mainland. The Keweenaw Peninsula is found in the most northern parts of Michigan, so you can expect very cold weather while kayaking.

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Body Water Type

The body water type of the Keweenaw Waterway is what makes it unique to all other water sources in Michigan. The Keweenaw Waterway is formed through various other water sources, which include lakes, ponds and rivers. Due to this, the waterway is rugged in some areas while calm in others. It also is shaped in a loop, and while a short route is possible, it is typically recommended as a long trip that takes most skilled kayakers between 6-8 days to complete.

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Visual Appeal

The visual appeal of the Keweenaw Waterway is simply spectacular for many reasons. One of those reasons is the wide variety of aesthetic natural beauty that can be seen along the route. During the trip, you see large sandrocks, colorful trees and a beautiful sunset that can take your breath away. The landscape is constantly changing along the Keweenaw Waterway as well, which makes it feel as if you are changing continents every few miles.

Other Attractions

For the most part, it is simply just you, nature and nothing else along the route while kayaking. However, there are various rest stops along the way that allow you to rest up before hitting the trail again, and there are several inns for kayakers to get a good night’s rest along the way. Also, a good portion of the surrounding area is public land that allows for hunting, fishing and cold weather camping.

What Makes It Unique

Due to the loop like structure of the waterway, the cold temperatures and ever-changing conditions of both the water and atmosphere, the Keweenaw Waterway is very challenging and best left for experienced kayakers. It isn’t unusual for the wind to pick up by 10 mph seemingly out of nowhere, so be sure to dress warm and prepare for inclement weather. For those who love a good adventure and enjoy experiencing the beauty that nature has to offer, the Keweenaw Waterway is a challenge that is well worth it.


Pine River

The Pine River provides a more authentic river experience kayaking in Michigan than any other water source. Although there are other rivers that are great, the Pine River is much narrower and faster, unlike the aforementioned rivers on this list that are slower and have a much slower current.

Location

The Pine River – also known as the south branch of the Manistee River – is located in central Michigan, emptying into the Tippy Dam Pond located in Manistee County. The Pine River also flows through a section of the Huron-Manistee National Forest and provides a very scenic route.

Body Water Type

As mentioned, the Pine River provides an authentic river experience, meaning the river is narrower and flows fairly fast. With that said, the river is, for the most part, safe and doesn’t pose much of a danger. The water – which comes in through springs – is very clear and very cold, so it’s important to dress warm while kayaking. The Pine River is 53.6 miles in length and has sections where it is very narrow and doesn’t have much depth.

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Visual Appeal

The Pine River was designated a National Scenic River in 1992 due in large part to the various wildlife that surrounds the river. Throughout the journey down the Pine River, it isn’t uncommon to see various wild animals, including black bears, whitetail deer and bald eagles. Along with the fascinating wildlife, the river is surrounded with colorful trees, clear, free flowing water and multiple campgrounds that allow you to rest and also make for great stopping points.

Other Attractions

Along the Pine River are various other attractions that are certain to catch your eye, including hiking opportunities and campgrounds. While interacting with nature by kayaking is the best way to experience the Pine River, you can also fish while kayaking. After all, the Pine River is home to a wide variety of fish types.  For those who love to camp, there are numerous areas to stop kayaking and pitch a tent and start a fire.

What Makes It Unique

The aspect of Pine River that is arguably the most unique when compared against other water sources, in particular other rivers, is: it provides a more authentic kayaking experience as it is a faster river that has small obstacles to go through. Another fantastic feature of the Pine River is the amount of wildlife that can be seen while kayaking. For those who enjoy seeing different types of wildlife – including black bears and whitetail deer – this is one of the best places to kayak in Michigan.


Detroit River

The Detroit River is the perfect place to kayak if you enjoy being in and around a big city, rather than out in more rural areas. Although, you don’t have the luxury of enjoying more natural attributes that come along with several other options on this list – such as wildlife, sandrocks, etc. – the Detroit River allows for closer interactions with others.

Location

The Detroit River is predominantly located in Detroit and ranges from St. Clair to Lake Erie for a 24-mile span and serves more as a strait than a river. The Detroit River is also a part of the great lakes system and helps form the border between the United States and Canada. There are also numerous islands along the Detroit River.

Body Water Type

The Detroit River – which could also be classified as a strait – is much different than all other rivers on the list where you can go kayaking in Michigan. The main reason is the most obvious one; it’s in the middle of a big city. Although, there are other attributes that make the Detroit River unique, such as being much wider and deeper and allowing for boat access. Although there is a small stream that can be felt, the Detroit River has more of a lake feel to it than a river.

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Visual Appeal

Depending on your personal preference, you either love the aesthetic aspect of the Detroit River or you hate it. The Detroit River is located right around the largest parts of Detroit, so you have access to the city and all that it has to offer. The Detroit River also tends to be more crowded than others, which can be good or bad depending on your preference. Nevertheless, the Detroit River allows for more interactions with people and the flexibility to use other watercrafts other than a kayak.

Other Attractions

As mentioned, the biggest attraction that kayaking on the Detroit River offers is the proximity to the city. In the event you want to go shopping, find a fantastic restaurant or simply tour a big city before or after you go kayaking in Michigan, choosing the Detroit River allows you to do so. Other attractions include being able to go out on a boat, tubing and even swimming on the Detroit River. Also, there are a wide variety of fish to be caught as well.

What Makes It Unique

Quite obviously, the most unique attribute of the Detroit River is its proximity to the bright lights. Detroit is a wonderful city with many fantastic, fun opportunities for the entire family. Since the water in the Detroit River is, for the most part, still, it provides an opportunity for children to safely have fun as well. The River – along with the city of Detroit as a whole – provide ample opportunities for an exciting day out on an adventure.


Elk Rapids

Elk Rapids – which is commonly referred to as Elk River – is one of the best places to kayak in Michigan. Although it is significantly smaller than most other water sources on this list, it provides a fantastic experience and is in one of the most peaceful, nice towns in all of Michigan.

Location

Elk Rapids is located in northwest Michigan and is a great town with numerous attractions, including all that the Elk River has to offer. Elk Rapids is a quiet, peaceful town that makes for a perfect vacation destination for individuals who love to kayak in a quiet area that provides other fun opportunities.

Body Water Type

Elk River connects Elk Lake and the Grand Traverse Bay and is fairly narrow and generally much faster than the average river in Michigan. The attribute of the Elk River that stands out the most is its length. The Elk River is only 1.5 miles in length. With that said, it is a very exciting mile and a half and is well worth the experience. The water is also typically very clear and, considering it is in the northern part of Michigan, very cold, so be sure to dress warm.

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Visual Appeal

The visual appeal is one of the best features of the Elk River. It’s very beautiful and filled with colorful trees, white water and some wildlife. The entire town of Elk Rapids is also very well maintained. Plus, the more urban areas of the river are surrounded with aesthetically pleasing landscaping and is often easy to meet other friendly kayaking groups as well. Although it’s short, it doesn’t lack aesthetic beauty in any way, shape or form.

Other Attractions

The best part about going kayaking in Elk Rapids, Michigan is the numerous other opportunities that the town offers, including some of the best golf courses in all of Michigan. Other attractions specifically relating to the Elk River include great fishing opportunities and larger lakes nearby that have boat access. If you love to kayak, but you also enjoy other attractions before and after your kayaking expedition, then Elk Rapids is a great place to visit.

What Makes It Unique

The most unique and noticeable feature of the Elk River is its size, which could be referred to as short and sweet. Also, the town of Elk Rapids makes the journey kayaking in Michigan unique. Elk Rapids is full of attractions, friendly people and is simply a peaceful place to live or vacation. For anyone searching for a peaceful location to go kayaking and get away from the stresses of real life, Elk Rapids – and the Elk River – is a great place to visit.


Conclusion

Although all seven of these best kayaking in Michigan destinations are fantastic and certain to be a lot of fun, it’s important to take your own personal preference into account when making your decision as to which one to try. If you like more secluded areas where it’s just you and nature, then choose one accordingly. If you prefer more populated areas where you are able to meet others and have more to do outside of kayaking, perhaps a water source like the Detroit River would be better.

Also, understand the weather in Michigan is often colder than other states, especially when it is windy. Therefore, it’s important to dress warm and wear a wetsuit when needed. Even in the warmer months, the water tends to still be cold. Be sure to also stay safe and wear a helmet and life jacket at all times, especially when navigating through tougher bodies of water such as the Keweenaw Water Trail.

Most importantly, however, be sure to have fun! Don’t get caught up in the small details and don’t expect everything to go as planned. Embrace the challenges that often come along with kayaking and be sure to use the time to grow closer to the ones you around, especially if you are with your family.