Michigan's Best Paddling Trips

Known for its stunning bodies of water, there is no better place for a paddling trip than Michigan. Guest blogger Samantha Ward of the Awesome Mitten shares six of what she believes to be the best destinations for paddling in Michigan.

Kayakers paddling by rock arch at pictured rocks national lakeshore.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Photo Courtesy of Pure Michigan

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Whether you are seeking great lakes or winding rivers, Michigan is home to our favorite waterways for a quick paddle after work or a day-long trip through the Mitten. 

Guided Kayak Trip Pictured Rocks - Munising

On the banks of Michigan’s Lake Superior are the most beautiful rock formations in the region — and there are numerous kayaking trips that get you up close to these tremendous structures. These trips are guided and are fairly costly, but are worth it for the 5-mile kayaking trip in and around Michigan’s famous Pictured Rocks.

Pine River - Manistee 

The Pine River is perfect for an adventure paddler looking for a challenge. Visit the lower stretches of the river after a heavy rainfall and enjoy plenty of white water rapids and narrow twists through Manistee County. Emptying into the Tippy Dam Pond, this river is a match made in heaven for an experienced kayaker looking for a longer trip through northwest Michigan.

Relaxed Canoe Trip Down AuSable River - Grayling

For a more relaxed (and less expensive trip), float through the Huron-Manistee National Forest on the AuSable River in northern Michigan. The river runs through multiple towns, but the best place to start is in Grayling; there are several relaxed and cozy spots to start your journey and rent your canoes if need be. Many paddlers enjoy the scenery throughout the trip, but really love the wildlife (from eagles to otters!) that they encounter.

Canals of Detroit - Detroit

Journey downstate to Detroit for a more urban, but just as beautiful paddling adventure. Take a kayak, canoe, or stand-up paddleboard around Detroit’s Eastside Canals and get in on the city’s best-kept secret spots like Harbor Island, Klenk Island, Fox Creek, around Greyhaven and the historic Fisher Mansion. Explore the canals and the Detroit River at sunset for an even more spectacular view of the city.

Sunrise Trip Around Mackinac Island - Mackinac Island

See the infamous island from a brand-new perspective by taking a kayak out in the early morning to watch the sunrise and the take in the interesting island topography. Perfect for beginners, book a guided 2-hour tour to learn in depth information about the land and water, and make it back to the island just in time for breakfast.

Crystal River — Glen Arbor

Want to see some dunes? Paddle Crystal River, flowing from Glen Lake through sections of the Sleeping Bear Dunes. This river makes for a great day trip if you start by hitting up an acclaimed Glen Arbor restaurant before meandering down this shallow sandy river with lots of pines trees, wildlife, and Pure Michigan vibes.

About the Author: Samantha Ward is a Spartan, a proud Michigander and a communicator who works on the Awesome Mitten social media and writing teams. She LOVES paddling in Michigan.