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10 Best Michigan Paddling Trips

Posted by Overboard Media on
10 Best Michigan Paddling Trips

By: Maddy Marquardt | Overboard Pro

From the open water of the Great Lakes to the countless inland lakes and rivers, it’s no secret that Michigan has some of the best freshwater paddling in the country. With trips ranging in difficulty, length, and seclusion, there’s a freshwater adventure waiting out there for everyone!

Looking for a place to start? Here are TEN of the best paddling trips the mitten state has to offer:

10: Paddle the Detroit River

When many people think of paddling, the list starts where cell service ends, but your paddling adventures do not have to be confined to the far north of our state. Detroit River Sports offers kayak and stand-up paddle board tours, as well as a fresh perspective on the city.

9: SUP the Sleeping Bear Dunes

The Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore offers an exciting mix of both open water paddling and river paddling. Popular trips include paddling down the Platte River into the Platte Bay, paddling the Crystal River, and overnight backcountry sea kayaking trips out to the Manitou Islands.

On days when the water is calm, Lake Michigan becomes a perfect spot for stand-up paddle boarding. Rent through Sleeping Bear Surf and Kayak, start at Empire Beach and paddle north to get a unique view of some of the largest dunes from the water.

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Photo courtesy of Noah Phillips Photography 

8: Spend a week at Isle Royale National Park

If you are seeking backcountry solitude and have several days to a week to spare catch a ferry from Houghton or Copper Harbor north to Isle Royale. Located in northern Lake Superior, Isle Royale is of the most remote national parks in the lower 48 states. The 45-mile-long island is known for its rugged shoreline, clean cold waters, unique ecosystem and elaborate trail system. Not an experienced sea kayaker/canoer? Don’t worry! The National Park also has miles of hiking trails used for both backpacking and day hikes.

Getting to Isle Royale requires some significant planning ahead—visit the National Park Website to learn more about the park, and the Isle Royale Line to learn more about getting to the island.

7: Paddle some of the Upper Peninsula’s Pristine Inland Lakes

The Upper Peninsula can offer some of the most untouched lake and river paddling in Michigan. Check out places like the Sylvania Wilderness Area, or the even more remote Big Island Lakes Wilderness. For wildlife oriented day trips, look into the Seney Wildlife Refuge.

6: Day or Overnight Paddle the Manistee River

While the popular backpacking loop may become crowded in spring and summer, the Manistee River also makes a great canoe trip. With several backcountry campsites to choose from and a number of put-in points, there are countless different options for a trip on the Manistee. Check out Chippewa Landing for rentals and information near Cadillac.


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5: Huron River Whitewater

Located near Ann Arbor, the Huron River sports some class I and II rapids—perfect for getting started with whitewater kayaking or canoeing before tackling bigger rivers. Learn more about these southeast Michigan beginner rapids here.

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4: Day Kayak on the Chain O’ Lakes

Encompassing Lake Bellaire, the Grass River, Torch Lake, and more, the Chain O’ Lakes in Antrim County offers flexible day trips. The upper lakes offer more secluded waters and fishing, while the lower lakes boast beaches and a social scene on the water. Highlights include paddling through the no-wake Grass River Natural Area, the Caribbean-like (but crowded) Torch Lake sand bar, and proximity to the towns of Alden and Bellaire.

In busier areas like Lake Bellaire, south Torch Lake, and the Torch River, be aware of larger boats and their wakes!

3: Float or Race the AuSable

Located in the northern Lower Peninsula, the AuSable River offers both leisurely canoe and fishing trips and the more competitive canoe race from Grayling to Oscoda. Whether visiting for fishing, competition, or to spectate and observe the atmosphere, the AuSable River has one of the most exciting river cultures in the state.

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2: Sea Kayak the Pictured Rocks

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore attracts kayakers of all skill levels from all over the globe to see the multi-colored sandstone cliffs and clear, cold water. Lake Superior is as unpredictable and dangerous as it is beautiful—be sure to book a guided tour if you lack open water experience. Tours and trips can range from a few hours to a full week, and water conditions can range from glass smooth to stormy in a matter of hours, so dress warm and be ready for anything!

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1. Your Local Lake or River

A great paddling trip doesn't have to be far away! In Michigan, you are never more than 6 miles from a body of water, so take advantage of these paddling gems in your area. Let us know what you find!


While these are some of our favorite paddling trips in the state, the list is certainly not all inclusive. Give us a shout out to tell us what your top ten trips would be!


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[ About the Author ]

Maddy is a student at Michigan State University with a passion for writing, the outdoors and everything Michigan. Follow her adventures on Instagram, @maddymarq

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