Best Places To Kayak In Michigan

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Known by many as the Great Lake state and even the Water Winter Wonderland, what better place to consider for your next kayaking adventure than the state of Michigan? With so many picturesque rivers, lakes, and waterways, there is no question as to why Michigan is such a popular destination for avid kayakers.

Kayaking in Michigan is a must for all who have a passion for paddling and adventure. Known as the Great Lake State, Michigan offers some of the most scenic kayaking spots in the country. Some popular kayaking spots include the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and the Grand River, to name a few. 

If you are an adventure seeker with a passion for kayaking in some of the most beautiful places in the world, then Michigan is undoubtedly the best location for you. Regardless of the time of year, there is always a kayaking adventure ready for the taking in the Great Lake State. Find out why Michigan is the ideal kayaking location for you!

Kayaking In Michigan

If you enjoy water sports, particularly kayaking, Michigan provides a plethora of excellent kayaking alternatives. Its name is derived from an Ojibwe word that literally means ‘big water.’ Four of the Great Lakes surround the state, and there are numerous rivers that provide excellent kayaking opportunities. 

The vast amounts of picturesque water are one of the best aspects of kayaking in Michigan. Michigan is brimming with beautiful lakes and rivers all the way from the upper peninsula to the southeast. The best part is that it doesn’t matter where you are in the state; you’ll never be far from a beautiful place to get on the water and spend the day kayaking.

There are so many unbelievably beautiful kayaking spots in Michigan that it can be a real challenge to choose where to even begin. We will help you to get started on planning your next kayaking outing by providing you with some of the best kayaking spots, kayaking clubs, and all the essential kayaking laws in Michigan.

The Best Kayaking Spots In Michigan

Let us begin with the most exciting part by taking a look at some of the best kayaking spots in the state of Michigan:

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful kayaking spots that quite literally looks like a location out of a movie. A quick Google image search of this spot will undoubtedly leave you itching for your next kayaking outing.

Located on Lake Superior, this 42-mile picturesque lake has a plethora of things to see along its exquisite shoreline. The Pictured Rocks are a spectacular cliff face known for its multicolored streaks. The rocks stretch between fifty and two hundred feet above the lake for roughly fifteen miles, and their sheer enormity is absolutely breathtaking.

You will be able to kayak through diverse terrain with exquisite scenery that includes beaches, sand dunes, and waterfalls, where you also have the option to pause for a picnic. There are even some lighthouses to see along the way, and if you wish to stay overnight for a multi-day excursion, there are a variety of campgrounds to choose from.

The Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is undoubtedly one of those “see it to believe it” kind of spots. You certainly won’t be disappointed to find yourself kayaking here. 

Grand River

The Grand River is one of the best sites to kayak in Michigan, with a vast range of scenery, thanks to the multiple sections of the river that are available to choose from. This river runs for approximately 260 miles before reaching Lake Michigan. 

A multi-day trek down the Grand River will be perfect for you if you want to be able to brag about kayaking through Michigan’s longest river.

The river is most picturesque, with little to no civilization and only natural wilderness. Other sections of the river, such as those near Lansing, pass through towns and provide vistas of gorgeous homes and buildings. The Grand River’s maximum rapids classification rating is an easy Class II, making it suitable for kayakers of all skill levels. 

Even in winter, the views that you can expect at Grand River are absolutely breathtaking! If you do happen to go kayaking here in winter, though, make sure to dress appropriately.

Au Sable River

The Au Sable River is a must-see spot for all kayakers. The river runs across Michigan’s northern lower peninsula and is an absolutely magnificent location. The Au Sable River begins north of Grayling, Michigan, and flows for more than 100 miles before emptying into Lake Huron at Au Sable, a small town in the area.

Fishing is also a popular outdoor activity in Michigan, and the Au Sable River is most renowned for being one of the top trout fishing spots in the country. However, even if kayak fishing isn’t your thing, the Au Sable River is still a lovely spot to go kayaking with the bonus of being home to a variety of wildlife.

There are numerous campgrounds along the Au Sable’s beaches, making it ideal for both day and overnight vacations. If you’d like a multi-day expedition, you can kayak along the entire river. However, you will come across a few dams along the way that will cause you to have to get out of the river and carry your kayak around before reentering. 

Turnip Rock

The name of this kayaking location may seem a little strange, but it is precisely what it sounds like. Turnip Rock, a small rock off the coast of Lake Huron, resembles a turnip growing out of the water. Turnip rock can only be seen and explored from the sea, which of course, means that kayaking is one of the most excellent methods to get there.

In order to reach Turnip Rock, you will need to be able to kayak a distance of roughly 3.5 miles, which may be too long for those with less kayaking experience, particularly because you also need to be able to kayak that same distance back. 

Something interesting to note is that you will be in shallow water when you have kayaked to Turnip Rock, meaning that you can easily hop out of your kayak and begin exploring this natural wonder.

Platte River

Long Lake in Michigan’s northern lower peninsula is the source of the Platte River. It’s a tiny river that flows into Lake Michigan through exquisite scenery near the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. The Platte River is just a little under 30 miles long, making it a short enough river to be able to kayak through in just one day. 

The Platte River is divided into two sections; the upper half is more scenic and has a faster flow. The upper part is better suited to more experienced kayakers due to its Class II rapids classification, which can be quite fast and have many tight twists. 

It is recommended for beginners to stick to the lower sections of the river since it is much calmer and has more gentle transitions.

The Plate River also houses Michigan’s Fish Weir, which is open from August to October and is used to control salmon migration. It can be a pretty interesting sight to witness. However, it is vital to keep in mind that you’ll have to get out and carry your kayak about if you go kayaking during these months.

Huron River

You’ll have a terrific time kayaking on the Huron River, whether you’re searching for a calm paddle or an adventurous trip through class II rapids.

The famous Big Lake, northwest of Pontiac in southeast Michigan, is the Huron River’s source. Just south of the Detroit River, it finally spills into Lake Erie. Although the river is 130 miles long, the approved river trail is 104 miles long.

On the Huron River, you can choose between day trips or multi-day expeditions since there are a whopping 36 access spots. For a multi-day outing, there are also four different campgrounds along the route to pick from.

Kayaking Clubs In Michigan

Along with some of the most picturesque kayaking spots to choose from, Michigan also has a few kayaking clubs that you can become a member of. 

Kayaking clubs can be a great way to meet other passionate kayakers in your area, improve your overall kayaking skill, and they offer the bonus of being involved in many kayaking trips throughout the year.

Now we’ll check out a few of the popular kayaking clubs located in Michigan:

Great Lakes Paddler

Located in southeast Michigan, the Great Lakes Paddler club is a non-profit organization with a desire to create a friendly and enjoyable community of people with a passion for kayaking and to promote paddle sports through education and safety.

Becoming a member of the club will give you access to monthly newsletters, access to their private Facebook page, open invitations to all of their scheduled kayaking events, which also includes training sessions for those looking to up their skill. 

The Great Lakes Paddler club also hosts multiple meetings a month at a variety of restaurants in southeast Michigan, which serve as an excellent opportunity for fellow kayakers to socialize and receive updates on the happenings of the club. 

Kayaking outings are usually scheduled as regularly as every month, with popular locations including Huron River and Hudson Mills, to name a few. 

The Great Lakes Paddler club offers a wide range of membership options, including:

  • Individual membership – $15 per year 
  • Family membership – $20 per year
  • Contributing membership – $35 per year
  • Corporate membership – $100 per year

Traverse Area Paddle Club

The Traverse area Paddle Club is a kayaking club located in northwestern lower Michigan, with the simple belief that kayaking is more enjoyable, easier, and safer when done with a group of friends. 

The benefits of becoming a member of the Traverse Area Paddle Club include being a part of well over 100 kayaking outings on local lakes and rivers; becoming part of a friendly community of people while discovering new places to go kayaking; having many opportunities to improve your kayaking skills; partying at the club’s end-year dinners.

Membership fees for the club range from $15 per year for an Individual membership to $25 per year for a Family Membership. 

West Michigan Coastal Kayaker’s Association

The West Michigan Coastal Kayaker’s Association is simply dedicated to fun, safe sea kayaking out on the famous Great Lakes. 

The club offers a variety of exciting benefits, including one free pool session a year to improve your kayaking skills, invitations to all of the club’s kayaking events, and invitations to the club’s holiday parties where you can enjoy the company of fellow kayakers.

Memberships to the West Michigan Coastal Kayaker’s Club start at $25 per year for an individual membership and go up to $40 per year for a family membership. 

Kayaking Laws In Michigan

Lastly, it is absolutely vital to be aware of the state laws and regulations for the locations that you will be kayaking at. One of the last things you want is for your kayaking trip to be ruined due to being unaware of the simple laws to follow.

It is important to remember that the laws and regulations for kayaking are ultimately put in place for your own safety. Let us explore some common questions and answers around the rules and regulations for kayaking in Michigan:

Does A Kayak Need To Be Registered In Michigan?


If you plan on using a non-motorized kayak in Michigan, then you will not need to register your kayak. Only motorized kayaks and other watercrafts need to be registered with the Michigan Department of State and must have a clear decal of their registration on the vessel.

Do I Need A License To Kayak In Michigan?

No, you will not need a license or any form of boater’s education to go kayaking in Michigan. However, a boating safety certificate will be required for those younger than 12 years old if operating a motorized vessel, and they will also need to be accompanied by someone of at least 16 years old. 

Do You Need A Life Jacket To Kayak In Michigan?

Yes. Although you do not need to wear it at all times, a United States Coast Guard-approved life jacket must be in your kayak for each person that is on board. Only those who are six years old and younger must wear their USCG-approved life jacket at all times. 


Undoubtedly, these best spots, clubs, and even the laws have inspired you to get your paddles out and go kayaking in the Great Lake State, Michigan. You will certainly find what you’re searching for in Michigan, whether it’s a calm paddle on a river or lake or a more rapid run. Regardless of your skill level, there’s something extraordinary for everyone!