Michigan’s Seven Best Paddling Trips

Guest blogger Jennifer Hamilton of the Awesome Mitten shares seven of the best destinations for paddling in Michigan. Read from her below and find more places to visit on michigan.org.

Summer may be rapidly coming to a close, but there is still plenty of time for a kayak trip in one of Michigan’s famous bodies of water. Whether you are seeking lakes or rivers, I have had the pleasure of polling fellow Awesome Mitten writers and compiling a list of Michigan’s favorite waterways.

1) Onekama to Arcadia via Lake Michigan – This is probably one of the most peaceful waterway treks in our Great Lakes State. Travelers have the opportunity to view Arcadia Bluffs from the water as they paddle by and scope out potential golfing opportunities. Since this area is part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, there are great dune adventures to have at almost every point along the way if you want to stop and picnic.

2) The Backwaters at Tippy Dam – The Backwaters at Tippy Dam are for the adventurous hoping to catch a glimpse of wildlife. Great fishing is available here if you are seeking walleye or small-mouthed bass. Experienced fishermen say that the panfish are abundant as well. Due to the wooded surroundings, there is a good chance that visitors will spot at least one eagle during their adventure. The peacefulness of these Backwaters is great for an escape from civilization and to truly get a Northern Michigan experience.

3) Canals of Detroit – While Detroit may not be the first place you think of to enjoy a water-filled experience; one particular Awesome Mitten-er offers a unique perspective on its waterways. Ms. Joanna Dueweke swears by touring Detroit’s canals via kayak or stand-up paddleboard. It’s a great way to enjoy the historical buildings and homes from a completely different point of view than the general public. Some of the best and most convenient places to launch are at Alter Road, St. Jean, or Belle Isle.

Turnip Rock, photographed by Lars Jensen

4) Turnip Rock Port Austin – If you have not had the pleasure of experiencing Turnip Rock via Lake Huron, I insist that you head there immediately. This enormous rock received its turnip connotation from thousands of years of erosion from storm waves. Now, it is an island with a few trees and little other vegetation. The land nearby is all privately owned, so the only way to view it is by waterway or trekking across a frozen Lake Huron in the winter. It is quite the comedic, awe-inspiring landmark, located at the tip of Michigan’s thumb.

5) The Platte River – The Platte River is a personal favorite and though it may not be a secret, it is worth a mention to remind you to traverse its calm, strangely warm waters. The Platte is a great place to take families as it is easy to navigate and always warm enough to tube if kayaks are not readily available. As part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, it is no surprise that the Platte River is absolutely stunning. Its ending pours out into Lake Michigan with a mini peninsula jutting out between the two, dividing the playful river and the wild waves.

6) Huron River near Ann Arbor – This is the only state-designated Country Scenic Natural River in Southeast Michigan. It is a huge river that covers five counties, with each portion being strikingly worthwhile. During various portions of the river, floaters can expect to come across an abundance of dams; there are 96 total, to be exact. Many of these dams were built for mill or hydroelectric power, making them fairly large. Due to the size of these dams, many new lakes have formed along the Huron River, making for exciting sites to see almost every portion of the way.

7) Two Hearted River, Eastern Upper Peninsula – Any river that has a beer named after it clearly needs to be traversed. It is a fairly short river that empties into Lake Superior, and it does a great job of capturing the Upper Peninsula’s natural beauty. At the mouth of the river, travelers can see a Michigan Historic Marker; formally known as the Two-Hearted Life Saving Station, which then became part of the United States Coast Guard in 1915. The Two-Hearted River is exceptionally famous for a great place to leisurely fish, probably while enjoying a nice Two-Hearted Ale from Bell’s Brewery.

Jennifer Hamilton is a feature writer for The Awesome Mitten. Jennifer lives in Traverse City where she works for Addiction Treatment Services and is earning her Master of Social Work and Master of Arts in Alcohol and Drug Addiction.

Do you have a favorite Michigan paddling trip that’s not on the list? Share with us below!

16 thoughts on “Michigan’s Seven Best Paddling Trips

  1. We have to disagree~ We just went summer of ’15, and we had two families in tubes, having a great time. No hard core drinkers, and didn’t even see anyone smoking to be honest. We had 4 adults and 4 kids in our trip in mid August, and had a great time! Already booked more trips this summer!!! Love the clear warm water. Safe for the kiddos to jump out of tubes and swim along with us.

  2. If you do the Onekama to Arcadia trip, don’t expect to see any national parks rangers. This is nowhere near Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And also, there aren’t too many days a summer when kayaking that many miles on Lake Michigan would be enjoyable for most folks. Just sayin’

  3. The Au Train River in the Upper Peninsula between Munising and Marquette on M-28 should be added to your list.

  4. I disagree…the trip from Port Austin to Turnip Rock is peaceful and beautiful. It may not be Pictured Rocks but some of the rockface you kayak past are neat to see. I do agree that there are a lot of other wonderful spots but Turnip Rock is neat to experience.

  5. Just a comment on #4, this is part of the Tip of the Thumb Heritage Water Trail, which covers Huron, Tuscola & Sanilac Counties. Turnip Rock is an awesome paddling destination, as well as the rest of the water trail along Lake Huron’s shoreline! There are many annual festivals/events for non-motorized water sports in the Thumb Area and also several places to rent canoes & kayaks: Shops, and County & State Parks! Enjoy paddling the water trail~ Julia Chaperon, President
    **For more info. on our trail, email info@thumbtrails.com

  6. This is a fantastic list! Turnip Rock looks really awesome. I am absolutely going to be putting this on my list of places to paddleboard. Thanks for posting this.

  7. The Les Cheneaux Islands archipelago along the northern Lake Huron shore of the Upper Peninsula, is a wonderfully scenic paddling spot offering gentle, protected bays, inlets and channels to explore, along with some striking examples of exposed limestone bedrock and boulders along the shore, thanks to our position along the Niagara Escarpment– an arch of limestone bedrock that stretches from New York state, through upper lakes Huron and Michigan, down into Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula. Landing spots on the islands include the Aldo Leopold Preserve on Marquette Island and Government Island– a 200+ acre Hiawatha National Forest property open for public use and camping. Drummond Island to the east of us shares many of the same features because they are also in the Escarpment, plus they offer another group of islands and Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge that can be explored. We’re surprised Les Cheneaux wasn’t mentioned in the caption of the top photo used for this blog, since that picture was taken in Les Cheneaux a couple years ago!

  8. Unfortunately the Platte is no longer family-friendly. We found way too many intoxicated people and clouds of cigarette smoke.

  9. While I applaud the effort, your selected locations might make the top 30 list, but not the top 7, not even close in my opinion. I second the poster above. Where’s Isle Royale? Manitou Islands? Au Sable River or any of the major picturesque rivers throughout the state. Anything at the top of the Mitt? Turnip Rock, Really? While it is a unique feature, it’s feet from a well developed, unremarkable shoreline and once you see it, the rest of the shore merely “OK.”

  10. I think you forgot: Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Lake Michigan Archipelago, Grand Island, Drummond Island, and the Leelenau Penninsula.

  11. Kayaked most of the above (except the 2-hearted) – I would add the beautiful and scenic Pere Marquette and the Jordan, and then also beautiful but with a little faster water – Pine, Sturgeon, and last weekend I kayaked the 10 miles of the Little Muskegon before it merges with Croton Pond just east of the Dam. What a treat!!! A few Class I runs – I surfed a couple of little waves with my sit-on top kayak. :) The only drawback is that the closest public takeout requires a long kayak across the Pond and there is usually a headwind. (However, novices should probably not kayak the last three rivers. )

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