23+ Best Places to Kayak in Michigan [+ Rivers, Tours]

The best kayaking in Michigan is a quest for many adventurists. Kayaking is a great way to explore Michigan’s waterways, but it can be hard to know where the best kayaking spots are.

best places to kayak in Michigan

The state has many different waterways that are perfect for a day of kayaking, from the calm and serene waters of Lake Superior to the fast-flowing rivers of the Upper Peninsula. So grab your kayak and explore some of the best kayaking spots Michigan has to offer!

Best Kayaking Rivers in Michigan

Kayaking Michigan Rivers is a great way to see the state from a different perspective. There are many different types of rivers in Michigan, so you can find one that suits your kayaking level and style.

Sturgeon River

There are multiple Sturgeon rivers in Michigan. The Sturgeon River located in Gaylord, is a great place for beginner kayakers. This river is located in lower Michigan and runs for 40 miles, mostly through Otsego and Cheboygan counties.

Address: Gaylord, MI

Manistique River

Manistique River is a 70-mile freshwater river in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It flows from Manistique Lake, travels through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge, and empties into Lake Michigan.

The slow-moving river is great for beginner and intermediate paddlers. The alluvial bed means it flows slowly, with minimal rapids making this section easy to navigate even if you’re not an expert kayaker like me! There are plenty of hidden campgrounds along the way, so your trip won’t feel too lonely. Use caution when entering narrow channels.

Address: Manistique, MI

Crystal River

If you are looking for sand dunes, wildlife, and great scenery, the Crystal River is perfect for you. This river is located in Benzie County and flows through Glen Lake, Betsie River State Park, and parts of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The 24-mile river has a sandy bottom which makes it perfect for swimming and fishing as well as kayaking. It’s also on the list of the best Michigan vacations for families as well.

There are some sections of the river that have mild rapids but nothing that an experienced kayaker can’t handle. The scenery is beautifully breathtaking, and you’re likely to see some wildlife along the way.

Address: Glen Arbor, MI

Pere Marquette River

The Pere Marquette River is a great choice for kayaking in Michigan. Most of the suitable parts for Kayaking are located in Scottsville and Ludington. This river dumps into Lake Michigan. However, there is a dam at Hamlin Lake that does prevent direct flow access for kayakers.

It’s also a great river for fishing Salmon and trout. The Pere Marquette is one of the busiest rivers in Michigan, so if you’re looking for a quiet trip, this may not be the river for you.

Address: Ludington, MI

Rouge River

Rouge river has multiple branches but is mainly located in Lower Southeast Michigan. You will find this river and tributaries flowing through multiple cities, including Detroit, Southfield, Livonia, and Farmington Hills. Kayaking on this river might be considered urban kayaking as most of the river is located in developed Metro Detroit.

The river flows through popular destinations such as the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. This makes the Rouge River a great option for a day trip for those looking to do some sightseeing while they kayak. It ends at Lake Erie, where you can take in the beautiful views of Detroit’s skyline.

Address: Livonia, MI

Au Sable River

One of the best kayaking in Michigan spots is along the Au Sable River. This beautiful river runs through the northern lower peninsula and is a tributary of Lake Huron. The Au Sable River is notably famous for its fly fishing and has a full span of almost 140 miles through the cities of Grayling, Mio, and many more.

Au Sable River Kayaking

This river is known for the designation of the best brown trout fisheries east of the Mississippi river with rainbow trout, salmon, and steelhead.

Address: Grayling, MI

Jordan River

If you are looking for great lakes and beautiful places to kayak in Michigan, look no further than the Jordan River. The flowing Jordan River is located in the northwestern Lower Peninsula and flows into both Lake Charlevoix and Lake Michigan.

The Jordan River is a 24.9-mile-long river in the northwestern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. It is the main tributary of Lake Charlevoix. The Jordan’s source lies in springs in the upper Jordan River Valley northeast of Mancelona in Antrim County.

Address: Mancelona, MI

Flat River

The Flat River, located in Lowell, is a beautiful spot for kayaking in Michigan. This river is 31 miles long and runs through Belding, Grattan Township, and into the Grand River.

The Flat River is a great place for a paddling trip as you can paddle both downstream and upstream, depending on your preference, with little effort. The river is also beautiful, with plenty of trees and wildlife to look at as you paddle, making it a great choice for a day trip.

Address: Lowell, MI

Boardman River

Boardman River starts around Kalkaska but eventually ends up in Traverse City, where it flows into the Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan.

If you are planning to kayak the 28-mile-long scenic river, be aware that there are many dams located throughout the river.

These dams can make kayaking difficult as you may have to portage your kayak around them. However, be sure to check out the best Traverse City breweries when you finish your day trip in Traverse City.

Address: Kalkaska, MI

Huron River

The Huron River is another favorite located in Michigan for those who love to kayak. This river is located in Southeast Michigan and flows through the cities of Ann Arbor, Dexter, and Ypsilanti before emptying into Lake Erie.

Although it can be overly crowded at times, the Huron River is a great place to kayak with friends or family. Additionally, you don’t have to travel to northern Michigan for a kayaking adventure.

Address: Ann Arbor, MI

Platte River

The Platte River is 30 miles long and is located in Michigan’s northern lower peninsula. It runs through the cities of Benzonia, Frankfort, and Honor before flowing into Lake Michigan. It’s one of the best kayaking in Michigan spots.

It’s also home to Michigan’s Fish Weir, which assists with Salmon migration, and also in the area is the Platte River State Fish Hatchery. The clear Platte River is a great place to paddle and learn about Michigan’s history of Salmon fishing.

The mouth of this tranquil river is located in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore making it an elite spot for those who love the outdoors. The Platte River is a great place to kayak as it is relatively calm and has much different wildlife to look at.

Address: Empire, MI

Thornapple River

The Thornapple River is an 88-mile river that starts on the outskirts of Charlotte. It runs through Eaton County and eventually ends in Grand Rapids, where it flows into the Grand River in Ada.

Additionally, there are many different parks located along the river where you can take a break from kayaking and explore on foot.

Address: Charlotte, MI

Little Manistee River

The Little Manistee River is a 64-mile-long tributary of the Manistee River. It is located in the northwestern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula and flows through the cities of Wellston, Copemish, and Brethren. It also runs under M37, which is a scenic highway.

The river is great for kayaking, tubing, and canoeing and is a popular spot for those looking to escape the sweltering heat in the summer. Additionally, there are many different camping spots located along the river, making it a great spot for a multi-day trip and an overnight stay.

Address: Ellsworth Township, MI

Big Manistee River

The Big Manistee River is one of the larger rivers in the state, at 190 miles long. It is located in northwestern Michigan and flows through the cities of Manistee, Kalkaska, and Grayling.

The Manistee County trails map has detailed spots where you can put in this river and others in the County.

Address: Mesick, MI

Pine River

The Pine River is also called the South Branch Manistee River and is located in the northwestern part of Michigan’s lower peninsula. It is a tributary of the bigger Manistee River and is approximately 53 miles long.

The Pine River empties into the tippy dam pond and Cadillac Lake before flowing into the Manistee River.

Address: Cadillac, MI

Grand River

The Grand River is one of the longest rivers in Michigan and runs through multiple cities, including Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Holland. It’s a great river for kayaking, especially if you’re looking for some mild rapids to add a little excitement to your trip.

best kayaking rivers in michigan

There are many different put-in and take-out spots along the river, so you can customize your trip to be as long or short as you want.

Address: Lansing, MI

Two Hearted River

The Two Hearted River is 25 miles long and located in Michigan’s upper peninsula in McMillan Township. It encompasses stunning and untouched nature, including a part of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The river is great for fishing, camping, and kayaking and is one of the most popular rivers in the state. It’s one of the best kayaking in Michigan spots, with the river dumping out into the Lake Superior shoreline.

Address: McMillan Township, MI

Rifle River

The Rifle River is one of the best spots for kayaking in lower Michigan as the majority of the entire river is shallow. There are many sandy beaches along the 60-mile, making it a great choice for day trips.

There are also multiple campgrounds that offer canoe, kayak, and tubing trips along the river.
The Rifle River is located in the Saginaw Bay Watershed and flows through multiple counties, including Gladwin, Ogemaw, and Arenac.

Address: Omer, MI

Tahquamenon River

The 89-mile Tahquamenon River is located in Michigan’s upper peninsula and flows through the cities of Paradise, Newberry, and Seney.

A popular spot on the Tahquamenon River for kayaking is at Tahquamenon Falls, which is one of the largest waterfalls located east of the Mississippi.

The white rapid falls are located in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, which offers multiple camping and hiking trails in addition to kayaking.

Address: Newberry, MI

Lansing River

The Lansing River is an ideal spot for people who live in central Michigan. Its location makes it a solid choice for individuals and families to take part in kayaking close to home.

The fall provides great aquatic foliage for river enthusiasts and outdoor activities for all.

Address: Lansing, MI

Best Kayaking Tours in Michigan

If you are looking for structured kayaking experiences, there are many different companies that offer kayaking tours in Michigan.

Additionally, there are many advantages to taking a guided kayak tour.

First, you’ll have the opportunity to explore some of Michigan’s best kayaking spots with a knowledgeable and experienced guide. They’ll be able to show you the best places to paddle, as well as introduce you to some of the area’s history and culture.

Second, a guided kayak tour can be a great way to meet new people. Kayaking is a popular activity, so you’re likely to meet like-minded people on your tour. This can make for a fun and social day out on the water.

Finally, a guided kayak tour can be a great way to learn new skills. Guides will often teach participants about different paddle strokes and techniques that can make kayaking easier and more enjoyable.

Some of the popular and best kayaking tours in Michigan are noted below.

Pictured Rocks Kayaking Tours

If you are going to do any type of kayaking tour in Michigan, a Pictured Rocks kayaking tour should be at the top of your list. Searching for the best kayaking in Michigan, well this is it!

Located in Munising, Michigan, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. The area is renowned for its stunning cliffs, waterfalls, caves, and beaches.

kayaking in michigan caves tours

And, of course, it’s also one of the best kayaking spots in Michigan.

There are many different companies that offer kayaking tours in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, so you’ll have plenty of options to choose from.

Most tours take place in the summer months when the weather is warm and stable. However, some companies do offer winter tours for those who don’t mind braving the cold.

Top Pictures Rocks Kayaking Companies

As you can see, you have multiple choices for Pictured Rocks kayaking tours.

Detroit Historical River Canal Kayaking Tours

Urban Kayaking is a popular activity in major cities across the country, and Detroit is no exception.

The city has many different kayaking spots, but one of the most popular is the Detroit River Canals. These man-made canals were built in the early 20th century and stretch for over 3 miles through downtown Detroit.

There are multiple companies that offer kayaking tours of the Detroit Historical River Canals. These tours typically last 2-3 hours and give participants a unique perspective of the city.

Many of these tours take place in the summer months, but some companies do offer winter tours as well.

Top Detroit River Canals Kayaking Companies 

You’ll be able to see not only the Detroit skyline but also some of the city’s landmarks and historic buildings.

Mackinac Island Kayaking Tours

Kayaking around Mackinac Island is a popular activity for both tourists and locals.

The island, which is located in Lake Huron, is home to many different kayaking spots. These include the Straits of Mackinac, which offer views of the Mackinac Bridge, as well as numerous sheltered bays and coves. There is also Bois Blanc Island if you feel like veering off course.

It will take about 3 hours to kayak around the island, so you’ll want to allow plenty of time for exploring. Most of it is shallow water if you stay close to the shoreline. You can also stop in and dine at some of the best Mackinac Island restaurants on the water.

There are many different companies that offer kayaking tours of Mackinac Island. These tours typically include a stop at one of the island’s popular attractions, such as Fort Mackinac or the Grand Hotel.

Top Mackinac Island Kayaking Companies 

Can You Kayak in Lake Michigan?

Yes, you can kayak in Lake Michigan! In fact, it’s a great place to paddle. The lake is huge, so there’s always plenty of room to explore. And the scenery is beautiful, with sand dunes, cliffs, and islands dotting the shoreline.

If you’re new to kayaking, or if you’re not comfortable paddling in open water, there are several places to launch your kayak from the shore. Some of the best Lake Michigan beaches offer kayak drop-in access spots. Or you can always join a guided tour and paddle with a group.

Here are some of the best places to kayak in Lake Michigan:

1. Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore is a gorgeous place to paddle. The shoreline is dotted with sand dunes, cliffs, and islands, and the water is crystal clear. Just launch your kayak, and you can even camp on some of the islands.

best places to kayak near traverse city

2. Grand Traverse Bay

Grand Traverse Bay is a large bay located near Traverse City, Michigan. It’s a popular place for kayaking because there are several places to launch your kayak. The bay is also home to a variety of wildlife, including bald eagles and ospreys. If you have time, check out the best old mission peninsula wineries that are close by.

3. Huron-Manistee National Forests

The Huron-Manistee National Forest is in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. There are over 2 million acres of forest to explore and countless lakes, rivers, and streams to paddle on. There are many public boat launches, or you can go on a guided tour.

4. Saugatuck Dunes State Park

Saugatuck Dunes State Park is a great place to paddle in Lake Michigan. The shoreline is lined with dunes, and there are several places to launch your kayak. You can also swim or hike in the dunes.

5. Muskegon State Park

Muskegon State Park is a popular spot for kayaking because it has over 3 miles of shoreline on Lake Michigan. The park also has a campground, so you can spend the night.

These are just a few of the best places to kayak in Michigan. So get out there and explore.

Is The Best Kayaking in Michigan in the Upper Peninsula?

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a great place to paddle. There are many rivers and streams to explore, and the scenery is beautiful. The Upper Peninsula is also home to several waterfalls, so you can paddle over them or hike to them. Top destinations include the Huron River, the Ontonagon River, and the Tahquamenon River.

Is Lake Huron Kayaking Safe?

Yes, kayaking on Lake Huron is safe. However, it is always important to take safety precautions when paddling in open water. Be sure to wear a life jacket and stay close to shore. Also, be aware of the weather conditions and paddle with a group if possible.

What Is the Best Time of Year to Kayak in Michigan?

The best time of year to kayak in Michigan depends on where you want to paddle. If you want to paddle in Lake Michigan, the best time is from May to September. If you want to paddle in the Upper Peninsula, the best time is from June to August.

No matter when you go or where you paddle, kayaking in Michigan is an amazing experience. So get out there and explore!

Should Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Be on Your Michigan Summer Vacation Trip?

Absolutely! Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is one of the most beautiful places in Michigan. The park has over 100 miles of shoreline on Lake Superior, and it’s famous for its towering sandstone cliffs. The best way to see these spectacular stone cliffs is by kayak, and there are several companies that offer guided tours.

The park is also home to waterfalls, forests, and beaches. So whether you want to paddle, hike, or just relax, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is the perfect place for your summer road trip.

BG Vance

Founder and editor of Inside Michigan, I started this site as a passion project for people who live in or are visiting the state of Michigan. I'm a lifelong resident of Michigan highlighting the best attractions and hidden gems Michigan has to offer. More about me...

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