There’s an old saying about Michigan: “You can’t walk in a straight line for more than a mile without running into a body of water.” While we’re not sure if that’s been measured or not, there’s certainly no shortage of water in the Great Lakes State. Between the inland lakes and rivers, and the Great Lakes that surround each peninsula on three sides, it’s hard to live in Michigan and not love water. So, whether you’re from the Mitten, or you’re just visiting, here are a few of our favorite beautiful paddling destinations to check out for your next Michigan watersport adventure!
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The AuSable flows through the northern portion of the Lower Peninsula, and offers spectacular wooded canoeing and kayaking for just about all levels of paddling experience. Locals love the river for its fishing, which is something you can always test out for yourself. Kayak fishing is a popular sport that anyone with a kayak can try!
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Another popular fishing destination, the Manistee is home to brown trout, steelhead, walleye, and smallmouth bass. The slower-flowing Manistee is also a local favorite for tubing and rafting. If you’re looking for a more relaxing kayak or canoe trip, the Manistee might just be the best option for you. Since the Manistee stretches almost 200 miles, with most of it flowing through the Manistee National Forest, there are plenty of campsites along the river, offering an excellent opportunity to plan an extended camping/canoeing trip.
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Not for the faint of heart, the Pine River offers a faster-flowing adventure for more experienced paddlers. The fastest river in the lower peninsula, a speedy trip down the Pine River will give you the chance to hit a few light rapids. There’s plenty of places to rent kayaks and canoes, and paddlers can always camp or stay at the cabin rentals along the river.
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For gorgeous views of Michigan’s stunning upper peninsula, you’ll want to check out the Indian River. What used to be a working river used for logging has now become a protected Wild and Scenic River, perfect for multi-day paddling trips, or just relaxing day paddles. Note that this river doesn’t always flow at a lazy pace. You’ll want to make sure you scout it out a bit before you go on any trip in the spring or after heavy rainfall.
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One of Michigan’s most well known landmarks, the beautiful Pictured Rock cliffs stretch up to 200 feet above lake-level. Located in Munising, MI in the Upper Peninsula, even locals admit that the best view of the cliffs is from either kayak or canoe. Paddle through clear, cold Lake Superior for spectacular views of the layered sandstone rocks, and even in the fall to take in the brightly colored leaves. A fairly easy paddle, just about anyone can rent a kayak or canoe to check out the rocks, making this a perfect trip for the entire family!
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Keweenaw Water Trail
Looking for an extended paddling trip? The Keweenaw Water Trail might just be the one for you. A weeklong trail that starts and ends in Houghton, MI in the Upper Peninsula, this is a great trip for those with a bit of paddling experience. You can buy full-week packages that include your watercraft, paddles, food, and places to stay, or you can make the trek on your own. There’s plenty of campsites and cabins along the way, so just make sure to reserve your spot ahead of time, and you’ll be good to go.
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Onekama to Arcadia
If you’re into bigger lake kayaking or canoeing, this is one of Michigan’s most beautiful routes. Paddle the shore of Lake Michigan as you cruise by the famous Arcadia Bluffs. The route is leads you toward the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, so you won’t be short of rolling sand dunes and picturesque spots to stop for a picnic. This trip gives you a little bit more freedom too, since you can stop wherever you want on the Lake Michigan coastline, something that’s not always true of faster flowing rivers. Be sure to keep your eye out for one of the many shipwrecks along the way.
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For a family-friendly paddling trip, you can’t beat the Platte. Its wide, slow waters are warm almost all summer long, and are perfect for beginning paddlers. If you think paddling might be too much for the kids, you can always opt to rent tubes instead and just float down river. The shallow waters make the Platte River a great option for safe, family fun.
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If you’re interested in checking out the east side of Michigan, why not hit the Huron River? While there is a 104-mile Huron River Water Trail that takes you through the inland waters of the east side, you can always choose to drop in for just a day paddle as well. The beautiful, clear waters of the Huron, combined with the serene settings that surround, it ensure you’ll leave whatever trip you take relaxed and refreshed.
Wherever you plan your next Michigan canoe or kayaking trip, be sure to check out this handy resource from the Michigan Association Paddlesport Providers. Their website lets you choose where you want to take your trip, gives you the open dates of each Michigan river, and offers the best options for nearby rentals and lodging. We also really love to use the Michigan Water Trails website to plan our trips, with over 3,000 miles of trails to explore on the Great Lakes, inland lakes, and rivers.