The 7 Best Rivers To Kayak In Michigan

Located in the Midwest, Michigan is a land bursting with natural beauty, from its awe-inspiring lakes, dense forests, and meandering rivers. These rivers are like gems, filled with thrilling experiences for kayakers of all levels. There is something for everyone on Michigan’s rivers, regardless of your skill level.

Overview of Best Rivers To Kayak In Michigan.

What’s SO Amazing About Michigan’s Rivers For Kayaking?

Michigan’s rivers are popular destinations for kayaking enthusiasts. But they offer much more than recreational opportunities. These pristine waterways offer an unrivaled opportunity to explore the state’s vibrant ecosystem. There’s diverse wildlife along Michigan’s rivers, from majestic bald eagles to playful beavers.

One of the factors that sets Michigan’s rivers apart from others in the country is their exceptional water quality. This is a testament to the state’s conservation commitment. As a result, many of Michigan’s rivers have crystal-clear waters ideal for kayaking. Kayakers can also explore expansive plains and meadows in the state thanks to its varied topography.

But the most awe-inspiring aspect of kayaking Michigan’s rivers is the wealth of wildlife that inhabits these waters. No matter your interests, these rivers are an excellent opportunity to observe and appreciate nature. And there’s no better way to discover Michigan’s stunning rivers than by kayak.

The 7 Best Rivers to Kayak in Michigan

Michigan is a kayaker’s paradise with its vast network of rivers, each offering a unique paddling experience. In this list, we’ve compiled the seven best rivers in Michigan for kayaking, each with its own distinct character and charm. From scenic waterways to exhilarating rapids, Michigan’s rivers offer endless opportunities for adventure and exploration.

Here’s an overview of the 7 rivers that offer the best kayaking experience in Michigan;

  1. Au Sable River: Au Sable is the classic Michigan river with stunning scenery and a mix of calm and swift waters. You’ll encounter wildlife, rapids, and breathtaking views along the way.
  2. Rifle River: This underrated river is a hidden gem in Michigan. With crystal-clear water, towering trees, and peaceful surroundings, it’s the perfect spot for a relaxing paddle.
  3. Sturgeon River: One of Michigan’s fastest and most challenging rivers, the Sturgeon River will give you an adrenaline rush. Be prepared for some serious rapids and breathtaking scenery.
  4. Manistee River: This river is a popular kayaking spot and camping spot. With clear water and a mix of calm and swift sections, it’s a great spot for a weekend adventure.
  5. Platte River: If you’re looking for a family-friendly kayaking experience, the Platte River is a great choice. The water is calm and shallow, making it ideal for beginners and children.
  6. Pere Marquette River: Known for its clear water and scenic views, it is a popular spot for kayakers and fishermen alike. You’ll paddle through stunning forests and wildlife habitats.
  7. Huron River: The Huron River is a versatile river that kayakers of all skill levels can enjoy. With calm sections and some fun rapids, it’s a great spot for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

Au Sable River

Kayak fishing on the Au Sable River in Michigan.

The Au Sable River is a true gem of Michigan. With its stunning natural beauty and lively wildlife, it awaits daring souls in its 138-mile journey from Grayling to Oscoda, the river snakes through enchanting forests, serene meadows, and towering dunes. Then it empties into Lake Huron and flows into Canada.

On our list of The 7 Best Rivers to Kayak in Michigan, the Au Sable River tops our list with its crystal-clear waters. There are also towering trees, beautiful rock formations, and sandy beaches.

It’s home to many wildlife species, like beavers, otters, deer, bald eagles, ospreys, and great blue herons. You can see them frolicking along the riverbanks. It’s also a popular place for kayak camping expeditions.

Au Sable River camping and kayaking expedition.

From June to August, it’s best to kayak on the Au Sable River during the summer months. It’s when the weather is pleasant, and the waters are calm. Autumn is also a good time to experience spectacular fall foliage, with brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows. The river freezes over during winter and becomes impassable. So it isn’t a good idea!

Rifle River

Stretching 60 miles through the Huron National Forest, the Rifle River is second on our list. Kayakers will find a wide array of natural beauty, wildlife, and challenging rapids here. You will discover serene meadows, towering pine forests, and vibrant wildflower fields along the river. Besides kayaking, tubbing and fishing are also popular at Rifle River in Ogemaw County.

Ronin tubbing on the Riffle River in Michigan.

The river is home to a lot of wildlife, including beavers, otters, and eagles. It’s a thrilling experience for paddlers of all levels to go kayaking on the Rifle River. The rapids are class II to III, so with a bit of experience, you can explore the entire river on your own.

The upper sections of the river offer calm and peaceful waters perfect for beginners. And the downstream sections become faster and more challenging.

Rifle River kayaking is best during the spring when water levels are high, and rapids are most challenging. However, visitors can also enjoy kayaking during the summer and fall months. During the fall, the weather is mild, and the foliage is vibrant.

Sturgeon River

Kayak Fishing on the Sturgeon River in Michigan.

It’s our fourth-best kayaking river in Michigan. Aside from its crystal-clear waters, the river is home to a diverse range of wildlife, including beavers, otters, and several types of birds.

Sturgeon River is also known for its excellent fishing opportunities. The river offers anglers an exciting combination of kayaking and fishing. The average fish catch rate is 2.5 per hour, and 75% of the fish caught are over 12 inches long. Anglers can catch trout, bass, pike there, and plenty of other fish species.

There are several stunning rivers in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, but this one is particularly beautiful. From Wolverine to Burt Lake, it’s about 13 miles. And the river is known for its Class I to III rapids. In addition to exhilarating rapids, the river also provides calm stretches that appeal to experienced and novice kayakers alike.

You’ll see dense forests, picturesque meadows, and stretches of wetlands through the river. And you’ll have a terrific time exploring these landscapes.

Manistee River

The Manistee River is fourth on our list of The 7 Best Rivers to Kayak in Michigan.

Located in the northern part of the state, the river spans 190 miles, offering paddlers a range of diverse landscapes and thrilling rapids.

Manistee River as the fourth best Michigan's river for kayaking.

Kayakers are treated to crystal clear waters and diverse wildlife, including eagles, herons, and otters.

The kayaking experience is both peaceful and exhilarating, with Class I to III rapids that cater to all skill levels. The best time to kayak is during the summer when the weather is ideal and the scenery is stunning.

Platte River

The Platte River secures the fifth spot on our list of The 7 Best Rivers to Kayak in Michigan.

Located in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula, the river offers stunning natural beauty and a diverse range of kayaking experiences.

Paddlers can enjoy crystal clear waters as they navigate the river, which is home to a variety of wildlife, including salmon and steelhead.

The river is surrounded by towering sand dunes, lush forests, and sprawling meadows, providing a picturesque and ever-changing landscape.

Kayakers can choose from a range of routes, including a gentle three-mile trip or a more challenging 20-mile excursion.

The Platte River is ideal for kayakers of all skill levels, with easy-to-navigate rapids and calm waters.

The best time to kayak the Platte River is during the summer months when the water levels are ideal.

Pere Marquette River

In our list, the Pere Marquette River ranks sixth. Flowing through the Manistee National Forest in western Michigan, the river is known for its diverse wildlife.

It’s a wonderful experience to kayak along the Pere Marquette River and see stunning scenery and wildlife. In the fall, paddlers will enjoy the river’s tranquillity, surrounded by vibrant deciduous trees. Along this river, they can also encounter otters, eagles, and fish species.

The Pere Marquette River is perfect for all skill levels, featuring Class I to II rapids. Whether you are a beginner or an experienced kayaker, there is something for everyone on this river. While the rapids provide excitement and fun for experienced kayakers, they are a mild challenge for those seeking a more relaxed adventure.

Aside from its natural beauty and diverse terrain, the Pere Marquette River is popular with anglers. Trout, salmon, and steelhead are common here.

Huron River

Kayaking on the evergreen Huron River in Michigan.

Now it’s the Huron River! Stretching over 130 miles, it’s the fifth-largest river in Michigan. Through the southeast part of the state, it weaves through charming towns and stunning natural areas.

This is truly a kayaker’s paradise. It’s got it all – calm, smooth waters, gnarly rapids, and lush greenery lining the banks. You’ll be awestruck by the beautiful sights as you paddle along.

Don’t forget to keep your eyes open for some incredible wildlife in the area! You might spot blue herons, eagles, and kingfishers among the critters. And you may also include fishing in your plan! Smallmouth bass and catfish make the Huron River a popular fishing destination for anglers.

What To Remember When Kayaking in Michigan

Kayaking in Michigan is a thrilling and fun experience, but it’s essential to keep some things in mind to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

Here are some things to remember when kayaking in Michigan:

Check the Weather: Before starting your kayaking adventure, always check the weather forecast. Michigan weather can be unpredictable, and sudden storms can occur, so it’s best to be prepared.

Wear a Life Jacket: Wearing a life jacket is a crucial safety measure when kayaking in Michigan. It’s not only required by law, but it can also save your life in case of an accident.

Know Your Limits: Always kayak within your skill level. If you’re a beginner, start with calm and easy waters and work your way up to more challenging rapids.

Respect Wildlife: Michigan is home to various wildlife, and it’s essential to respect their habitats and avoid disturbing them. Keep a safe distance from animals such as eagles, beavers, and otters.

Follow Kayaking Rules: Michigan has specific kayaking rules that all kayakers must follow. Some rules include avoiding alcohol while kayaking and not exceeding the kayaking speed limit of 55 miles per hour.

Leave No Trace: When kayaking in Michigan, leaving the environment as you found it is essential. Avoid littering, and always dispose of trash properly.

Bring Essential Gear: Bring essential kayaking gear, such as a paddle, life jacket, and sunscreen. Bringing a waterproof bag to protect your belongings is also a good idea.

Kayaking Rules For Michigan’s Rivers

In Michigan, kayaking rules are in place to ensure kayakers’ safety and the environment’s protection. Following these rules is crucial for a safe and enjoyable kayaking experience. Some of the kayaking rules in Michigan include the following:

PFD: All kayakers in Michigan must wear a US Coast Guard-approved life jacket.

Avoid Alcohol: It’s illegal to operate a kayak while under the influence of alcohol or drugs in Michigan.

Stay Within the Speed Limit: The speed limit for kayaking in Michigan is 55 miles per hour.

Obey Watercraft Traffic Laws: Kayakers must follow all watercraft traffic laws and yield to larger vessels.

Keep a Safe Distance: Kayakers should maintain a safe distance from other kayakers, boats, and wildlife.

By following these kayaking rules, kayakers can have a safe and enjoyable experience while exploring Michigan’s beautiful waterways.

Final Words

To wrap it up, Michigan’s top rivers for kayaking offer an array of thrilling experiences for kayakers. From the tranquil waters of the Platte River to the adrenaline-inducing rapids of the Sturgeon River, these natural wonders offer the perfect escape for anyone seeking adventure in the Great Lakes State.

About Addison

Hark! Fellow seekers of adventure! 

I'm Addison, a passionate adventurer from Oregon's captivating Pacific Northwest. Alongside my brother Ronin, we founded PaddleWiggle, a kayaking website. On my page, you'll find thrilling stories of my kayaking expeditions.

So, join me as I explore wild rivers and hidden coves, sharing the raw beauty of nature through PaddleWiggle's expedition section.

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