Kayaking In The Upper Peninsula Is An Amazing Experience


Abigail ScottByAbigail Scott
Updated on 8/13/2022

The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a paddling enthusiast's dream with 1,700 miles of uninterrupted shoreline on three Great Lakes, 4,300 inland lakes, and many cascading rivers and streams tucked away in its densely forested interior. The Upper Peninsula offers a fantastic range of paddling adventures, whether you prefer kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, peaceful bays, or dancing waves.

Off-the-beaten-path canoe routes, exhilarating whitewater rivers, picturesque waterfalls, and some of the world's best sweetwater sea kayaking on the freshwater seas of Lake Superior, Lake Huron, and Lake Michigan can all be found in this ruggedly beautiful region. You can discover facilities and outfitters to assist day trips of any kind as well as overnight excursions, depending on your preferences.

Here are nine great paddling adventures on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, from magnificent sea caves and century-old shipwrecks to wildlife-rich wilderness islands.

Water rushes into Lake Superior from a cliff wall.

1. Go To A Waterfall


On the Upper Peninsula, there are numerous waterfalls to select from, many of which tumble through shaded valleys and burst over sandstone cliffs. The most significant time to see these magnificent waterfalls is in the spring, so schedule your paddling trip for early May to catch them at their most potent. While kayakers and paddleboarders can dodge the heat by paddling straight under the cold, tumbling waters, many falls are equally gorgeous all year.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is a fantastic must-see for paddlers in a region rife with waterfalls. It's two most impressive features are the 140-foot Bridalveil Falls and Spray Falls, a 70-foot-tall column of white, spraying water that plunges directly into Lake Superior.

  • Take a day excursion in a kayak with Paddling Michigan, Pictured Rocks Kayaking, or Northern Waters Adventures to see the Pictured Rocks Waterfalls.
  • Discover the beautiful Upper Tahquamenon Falls, Michigan's tallest waterfall at 200 feet wide and 40 feet high, in Tahquamenon Falls State Park, a 48,000-acre wilderness region. The Tahquamenon River offers day trips by canoe and kayak that travel from the scenic Lower Falls to the river's mouth at Lake Superior. The Woods Canoe & Kayak Rental offers rentals and transportation.

2. Paddle Over Stricken Ships


The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has the most significant shipwrecks of any seas from coast to coast because of its hundreds of miles of dangerous coastal cliffs and centuries-long nautical history. These wrecks, which range from passenger steamships to commercial fishing vessels, logging tugs to massive ore freighters, are preserved by state parks and the pristine, chilly waters of the Great Lakes, attracting divers, paddlers, and even glass-bottom boat tours.

  • Offshore from Munising is the Grand Island National Recreation Area, where two remarkably well-preserved wooden shipwrecks from the 19th century are lying just below the surface. Up to 45 feet of underwater vision are possible in Lake Superior, thanks to its crystal cleanliness, while the surrounding land features stunning sandstone cliffs, old lighthouses, and flying bald eagles. Paddling Michigan's Grand Island vacation package lets you stay and play.
  • Drummond Island is located in the middle of a limestone archipelago known for its numerous shoals and congested waterways, frequently resulting in shipwrecks. While paddling Lake Huron's azure waters, you can see century-old steamers and tugs barely five to 15 feet beneath your hull. The Drummond Island Tourism Association sells shipwreck maps. You can go on a guided kayak day excursion with Woods & Waters.
  • Visit the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, where top-notch exhibits describe the eerie world of Lake Superior shipwrecks as soon as possible.

3. Canoeing Through Sea Caverns


Natural tunnels, arches, and caverns called sea caves most frequently form soft, readily eroded materials in sandstone and limestone. In the winter, water that seeps into fissures freezes and expands, tearing larger pieces free from the surrounding cliffs. Crashing waves also erode the granite grain by grain.

Few locations can compare to the Upper Peninsula's sandstone Lake Michigan shoreline for great sea cave paddling; popular destinations like Pictured Rocks and Grand Island draw tourists from all over the world.

  • For a full or half-day of excellent sea cave exploration, including paddle-in caverns and skyscraping, paddle-through arches at the famous Pictured Rocks, join a guided kayak tour with Paddling Michigan, Pictured Rocks Kayaking, or Northern Waters Adventures.
  • With Great Turtle Kayak Tours, try kayaking and snorkeling or SUPing and snorkeling at Mackinac Island. In this guided day trip, snorkeling at the Rock Maze, an underwater limestone cave structure, is combined with a paddling journey to see Arch Rock, perched high above Lake Huron.
  • Paddle past some of the 1.1 billion-year-old exposed rock in the world by visiting the Keweenaw Peninsula. On a guided day excursion kayaking in Upper Peninsula Michigan with Copper Harbor's Keweenaw Adventure Company, you will encounter sea stacks and caverns, 600-foot bedrock cliffs, a lonely waterfall, and austere seclusion.

4. Paddle Next To Multicolored Cliffs


The 15-mile expanse of vibrant, mineral-stained sandstone cliffs that rise 50 to 200 feet above Lake Superior is known as Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The ridges have been molded by natural erosion into a fantastic variety of caverns, arches, turrets, flowerpots, and other odd structures, which are best seen from the water.

Paddling trips go from two hours to a whole day, with popular launch sites including Miners Beach and Sand Point.

  • Take a day trip in a guided kayak to the Pictured Rocks Cliffs with Paddling Michigan, Pictured Rocks Kayaking, or Northern Waters Adventures.
  • Like Pictured Rocks, Grand Island has wave-cut sandstone cliffs that rise 300 feet above the turbulent lake. There are also many beautiful beaches, sea caves, and arches.

5. Decline Rivers With Rapids

The Upper Peninsula is home to whitewater adventures for every ability level, ranging from calm swifts suited for family floats to the exciting class IV rapids and falls of Piers Gorge on the Menominee River. Let these knowledgeable outfitters show you the most significant rivers in the area, whether you are an experienced whitewater paddler or just getting started.

  • Paddle the Ontonagon River, a recognized National Wild & Scenic River that flows through the Ottawa National Forest's wilderness. The outstanding landscape includes waterfalls and exposed sandstone cliffs, and river portions range from easy floats to challenging rapids. Get canoe, kayak rentals, advice on Middle Branch, and trips from Sylvania Outfitters.
  • You can take a raft or kayak trip down the Menominee River, one of the Midwest's fastest-flowing rivers with rapids and hydraulics reminiscent of western rivers. The Menominee River descends over class III to IV rapids through 200-foot cliffs and ends with a 10-foot waterfall in the fabled Piers Gorge. The lower stretch of the river offers miles of wide, free-flowing paddling through the untamed and natural Menominee River State Recreation Area for those who prefer a more leisurely river descent. The guided whitewater rafting and kayaking tours offered by True North Outpost range in length from two hours to an overnight mini-expedition with island camping.

6. Peaceful Wilderness Lakes For Canoeing


The Upper Peninsula of Michigan offers more than just open water and rivers for canoe adventures. In the Upper Peninsula's vast stretches of designated wilderness, state, and national forest, canoeists will also find thousands of dazzling lakes strewn like gems. These pristine lakes in Upper Michigan receive high scores for untainted beauty and seclusion, whether you're trying your best to get away for a few hours or a few days while canoeing.

  • With the help of Sylvania Outfitters' equipment rentals and canoe trip planning services, explore the Sylvania Wilderness and the adjacent Ottawa National Forest. With their forty years of knowledge, they'll assist you in exploring all that this stunning network of interconnecting wilderness lakes and portages has to offer.
  • Six little, clean lakes are connected by short portage trails in the Pretty Lake Quiet Area. Each lake has a distinct personality, contains a variety of fish species, and is only intended for non-motorized use. Canoe campers can stay longer at a rustic state forest campground and backcountry campsites. Canoe rentals and delivery services are available from The Woods Canoe & Kayak Rental in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
  • One of Michigan's most famous lakes, Lake of the Clouds, is located in the 60,000-acre Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. The lake is a fantastic paddle for the brave, surrounded by towering bluffs and lush groves of the Midwest's most significant remaining old-growth forest. The lake can only be reached by a three-quarter-mile climb, so bringing your lightweight watercraft is better.

7. Move Through A Nature Sanctuary


The Upper Peninsula of Michigan is a hilly and sparsely populated region bisected by thousands of miles of streams and rivers, creating a haven for animals. One of the most enjoyable ways to see moose, deer, river otters, beaver, turtles, swans, sandhill cranes, great blue herons, and bald eagles, among a host of other residents, is to take a leisurely family float trip along one of these lovely and serene rivers. Additionally, excellent walleye, trout, perch, and bass fishing, spring steelhead, and fall Chinook salmon run will be available to anglers.

  • Take an amazing 11-mile trip on a boat down the Manistique River while passing through the Seney National Wildlife Refuge to experience the sights and sounds of unspoiled nature. Northland Outfitters and Big Cedar Campground provide camping and self-guided canoe and kayak trips with equipment rental and shuttles, which let you stay close to the river.
  • From AuTrain Lake to Lake Superior, paddle the AuTrain River as it meanders ten kilometers through the Hiawatha National Forest. The AuTrain, a logging route to Lake Superior, is now a tranquil, soothing excursion with wildlife-filled sloughs tucked in its numerous bends. Rentable kayaks and shuttle services are offered by AuTrain River Canoe and Kayak.
  • Travel the Two-Hearted River to Lake Superior; a variety of species can live along its sandy shores and in the nearby forest reserve. At the Mouth of the Two Hearted River State Forest Campground, you may cap off your adventure with some spectacular fishing and rock-hounding. Both rentals and delivery services are provided by The Woods Canoe & Kayak Rental.

8. Go To Old Lighthouses


While kayaking Upper Michigan, maritime history enthusiasts can see many of the Great Lakes' most picturesque lighthouses. These hardy outposts, dating back to the middle of the 19th century, were built to serve the expanding iron and copper trade, rising passenger traffic, and commercial fishing on Superior, Huron, and Michigan lakes. Due to frequent fog and fall storms, these lighthouses frequently differed between reaching a safe harbor and a shipwreck in the dangerous waters.

A famous red-and-white tower can be seen from your kayak seat after touring a lighthouse and experiencing a day in the life of a lightkeeper at one of the intriguing nautical museums in the Upper Peninsula.

  • Two of Lake Superior's oldest and most beautiful lighthouses are located on the Keweenaw Peninsula: Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor. With Keweenaw Adventure Company, take a thrilling guided kayak day trip to see both.

  • Enjoy Calm Paddling on the Keweenaw Waterway, which spans the Keweenaw Peninsula in 25 miles and is marked by historic lighthouses at both ends. The waterway consists of a river, lake, and canal and is highly regarded for its outstanding fishing, camping, and the picturesque backdrop provided by its twin lights. Portage Paddle Sports in Houghton offers rentals and delivery of kayaks and SUPs.
  • Over a century has passed since Round Island Lighthouse and Mackinac Island Lighthouse began directing ships through the less than half-mile-wide Straits of Mackinac. On a guided kayak or paddleboard tour with Great Turtle Kayak Tours, see these well-known monuments and take in Mackinac Island's historic beauty.
  • Little Bay de Noc on the Stonington Peninsula in Lake Michigan is home to the Peninsula Point Lighthouse. Enjoy a paddle around this uninhabited area before coming ashore to climb the 40-foot light tower and search the rugged limestone shoreline for 500-million-year-old fossils. Thousands of monarch butterflies can even be seen resting here in the fall before migrating across Green Bay. Visit the adjacent Escanaba marine museum and the fully rebuilt Sand Point Lighthouse.

9. Circular Islands Teeming With Fauna


You'll be rewarded with some of the best opportunities for animal viewing in the area if you successfully paddle around one of the stunning islands in the Upper Peninsula. Every season has something unique to offer: in the spring and fall, the islands and peninsulas of the Upper Peninsula act as natural flyways for thousands of migratory birds, and in the summer, resident songbirds saturate the boreal forest with their melodies.

Iconic creatures like wolves and moose provide essential wilderness habitats on remote islands like the matchless Isle Royale.

  • Discover the 36 islands that make up the Les Cheneaux Islands archipelago, which has miles of Lake Huron beachfront and bird-filled nature parks. Enjoy a day of guided Upper Peninsula Michigan kayaking with Woods & Waters in Hessel and these protected waters. In addition, they provide self-guided paddlers with kayak, canoe, and paddleboard rentals, as well as an overnight kayak trip that includes camping among the Government Island cedars.


  • Grand Island National Recreation Area shares the stunning sandstone geology of the Pictured Rocks and Munising coastlines and is not far from them. Experienced sea kayakers who paddle the 30-mile round of the island are rewarded with spectacular cliffs, camping opportunities, pristine sandy beaches, and the potential to see osprey, bald eagles, and white-tailed deer, and even black bears.
  • Several uninhabited islets, including Harbor Island National Wildlife Refuge, are connected by the 60-mile Drummond Island Heritage Water Trail, which circles Drummond Island. If you go on a guided kayak day trip to explore Potagannissing Bay with Woods & Waters, allow yourself at least four days to complete the entire trail.
  • Travel to Isle Royale Paddle through Isle Royale National Park to truly feel remote. The park was named an International Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and is made up of a 50-mile island bordered by 450 barrier islands. The world's largest freshwater lake surrounds and shapes this natural wilderness, which is only reachable by ferry or aircraft. During the day, travel through dense woodland and fjord-like bays; at night, keep an ear out for moose and wolf howls. Near the ferry dock in Copper Harbor, the Keweenaw Adventure Company provides kayak rentals and outfitting.

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  • Follow the Keweenaw Water Trail for more than a hundred miles as it circumnavigates the Keweenaw Peninsula, sometimes called "Copper Island." The Keweenaw rewards experienced, self-guided sea kayakers with abundant animals and wild scenery because of its secluded coastline and limited population. The Keweenaw Adventure Company offers assistance with trip planning, complete sea kayak outfitting, rentals, and shuttles.

Canoeing and kayaking in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan are remarkable, from the untamed beaches of the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale in the west to the breathtaking sandstone cliffs and limestone islands of the central and eastern sections. Even better, the welcoming outfitters in the Upper Peninsula make world-class kayaking and canoeing experiences available to paddlers of every ability level, making it simple to experience this exceptional location for yourself.