The 5 Best Kayaking Rivers In Michigan For Amazing Adventures

Michigan offers many great rivers, making it an ideal destination for kayaking enthusiasts. Despite being surrounded by four Great Lakes, the state’s rivers offer some of the most scenic and exhilarating kayaking experiences.

If you’re having trouble deciding where to go kayaking in Michigan, we’ve compiled a list of the 5 best kayaking rivers in Michigan. Each of these locations boasts swift rivers, tranquil lakes, and secure shorelines, providing the perfect place to paddle. Whether you’re exploring the upper peninsula or the southeast, you’ll be sure to find breathtaking waterways.

Michigan’s abundance of water ensures that kayaking is always an option. The state has a wealth of stunning lakes and rivers to explore, making it easy to spend an entire day on the water.

Whether you’re a local or a tourist, you’ll want to know the best places to go kayaking in Michigan. So, without further delay, here are Michigan’s top five kayaking rivers.

The 5 Best Kayaking Rivers In Michigan For Amazing Adventures

1. Au Sable River

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Welcome to the Au Sable River, a magnificent waterway that traverses northern Michigan from east to west! This picturesque river runs parallel to the back of the state’s “hand” shape, aligning roughly with the middle knuckle of the index finger. Its headwaters originate at the intersection of Kolka and Bradford Creeks in the region known as the “mitten.” As it winds its way through the charming communities of Grayling and Mio, the Au Sable River offers an unforgettable journey before gracefully meeting the shores of Lake Huron in the delightful town of Oscoda.

Spanning an impressive length of 138 miles, the Au Sable River beckons adventurers with its abundant opportunities for exploration. Embarking on a multi-day kayaking expedition is a popular choice, and you’ll discover an array of riverside campsites along the way, providing a perfect respite amidst nature’s splendors. If convenience is your preference, certain locations along the river are accessible by car, granting you the flexibility to commence or conclude your aquatic odyssey from your desired starting point.

Prepare to be captivated as the Au Sable River elevates the already outstanding reputation of Michigan’s water resources. Considered among the finest in the nation, this river guarantees an exceptional experience for fishing enthusiasts. Its crystal-clear waters are home to highly sought-after brown trout, prized by anglers from around the globe. Fly-fishing kayakers will find themselves in paradise, skillfully casting their lines in pursuit of these prized catches. However, even if fishing isn’t your cup of tea, fear not, as the Au Sable River offers a wealth of captivating sights to behold. Prepare to be enchanted by the breathtaking scenery that adorns its banks, as the river meanders through forests, past charming communities, and unveils captivating vistas at every turn.

When embarking on a kayaking adventure on the Au Sable River, it’s important to ensure your safety and enhance your enjoyment. Remember to don a properly fitted personal flotation device, providing peace of mind throughout your journey. Stay informed about the weather conditions by checking reliable forecasts beforehand, as it’s best to avoid kayaking during severe weather events. Additionally, demonstrate respect for the natural environment by being mindful of wildlife and preserving the integrity of the river’s habitats. Show courtesy to fellow kayakers and fellow river users, embracing the ethos of leaving no trace by disposing of all trash responsibly and leaving the area as pristine as you found it.

Prepare to immerse yourself in an extraordinary experience as you venture to the Au Sable River. With its breathtaking beauty, world-renowned fishing opportunities, and a tapestry of natural wonders, this river beckons to be explored. Whether you’re seeking an angler’s paradise or simply yearning for an idyllic escape, the Au Sable River promises an unforgettable journey for all who dare to venture along its majestic course.

2. Manistee River

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f you’re looking for a leisurely paddling experience in Michigan’s northeastern Lower Peninsula, the Manistee River is the perfect destination. Spanning an impressive 190 kilometers, this slow-moving river is ideal for tourists seeking a relaxed and scenic adventure.

As you follow the river, you’ll pass through charming towns like Sharon, Smithville, and Mesick before reaching Lake Michigan. Along the way, you’ll discover why the Manistee River is renowned as one of the best locations in the state for trout and salmon fishing, alongside the Au Sable River.

But the river’s appeal extends beyond fishing. The Big Manistee River is a dream come true for kayakers seeking a multi-day paddle and camp experience. The beautiful river valley, wooded riverscape, sparkling waterways, and excellent swimming spots will make your vacation unforgettable.

While most of the river is calm and tranquil, adventurous travelers can explore some thrilling whitewater sections as they approach the headwaters, located in the ancient glacial sand hills on the boundary of Antrim and Otsego counties.

Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or just looking for a laid-back getaway, the Manistee River has something for everyone. Come explore its natural beauty and experience Michigan’s best multi-day paddle and camp river firsthand.

3. Pere Marquette River

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Welcome to the Pere Marquette River, a stunning natural wonder that flows through Michigan’s Mason and Lake counties, joining the Muskegon River before emptying into Lake Michigan. This river is a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering numerous opportunities to experience the beauty and diversity of Michigan’s northern Lower Peninsula.

The Pere Marquette River is a popular destination for fishermen, who come to catch smallmouth bass, steelhead, trout, and walleye. Whether you’re an experienced angler or a novice, you’re sure to enjoy the challenge of reeling in these prized fish.

But fishing is just the beginning of the adventure on the Pere Marquette River. Kayaking is an extremely popular activity here, thanks to the river’s swift current, clear water, and low stream bank development. The river is known for its Class-2 whitewater falls, which are found in the stunning Manistee National Forest section of the river. With so much to explore, you could easily spend an entire day or more paddling along the Pere Marquette.

One of the most enchanting aspects of kayaking on the Pere Marquette River is the opportunity to encounter the rich wildlife that calls this river home. Keep your eyes peeled for whitetail deer, black bears, coyotes, beavers, and river otters. If you’re lucky, you may even spot a majestic bald eagle, an osprey, or a great blue heron soaring overhead.

In summary, the Pere Marquette River is a perfect destination for tourists who seek to immerse themselves in Michigan’s natural beauty. It offers the perfect combination of fishing, kayaking, and wildlife watching in a serene and peaceful environment. Come and experience the magic of the Pere Marquette River for yourself!

4. Muskegon River

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Welcome to the Muskegon River, a beautiful 111-mile (179-kilometer) river in Michigan, United States, with an area of around 1,920 square miles (4,973 km2) of drainage basin. This navigable canal is an ideal spot for tourists looking for adventure, tranquility, and a chance to see some of Michigan’s native species.

The Muskegon River is home to several fish species, including largemouth bass, white bass, and northern pike, making it a popular spot for fishing enthusiasts. Moreover, kayakers, canoeists, and rafters flock to the region for the challenging rapids and serene sections of the river.

If you plan to visit the Muskegon River, the best times to canoe or kayak are during the spring and autumn, when the water is cooler, and the wildlife is most active. The spring season is especially perfect for seeing the river’s many waterfalls. The Muskegon River is around 30 miles long and can be paddled in a day or two, depending on your pace.

However, keep in mind a few things when planning your trip down the Muskegon River. Firstly, the river may become busy on weekends, so plan your journey for the middle of the week to avoid the crowds. Secondly, verify the weather forecast and water conditions before you go to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience. Finally, as there are few places to stop along the trip, bring plenty of food and drink.

In addition to the stunning landscape, the Muskegon River is home to various wildlife, providing tourists with an opportunity to spot some of Michigan’s native species. So, get ready to enjoy an unforgettable experience as you navigate through the peaceful and challenging sections of the Muskegon River.

5. Sturgeon River

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Welcome to the Sturgeon River, one of the best kayaking sites in Michigan that offers an ideal blend of stunning landscapes and exhilarating thrills. Whether you’re a seasoned kayaker or a beginner, the Sturgeon River has something for everyone to enjoy.

With over 40 miles of meandering river to explore, the Sturgeon River provides numerous paddling opportunities and diverse landscapes to discover. You can experience tranquil stretches of the river that are perfect for a relaxing paddle or challenge yourself by tackling Class I and II rapids that provide a thrilling kayaking experience.

In addition to its natural beauty, the Sturgeon River is home to a diverse range of wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, river otters, and even bald eagles. This makes kayaking on the river not only an exciting adventure but also an excellent opportunity to observe these animals in their natural habitat.

Kayaking the entire Sturgeon River typically takes around 2-3 days, but there are many different sections of the river that you can explore depending on your interests and skill level. Late spring and early summer are the best times to go kayaking on the river because the water levels are higher, and the rapids are more active. However, the river is available for kayaking all year round, so you can choose the best time that suits your schedule and preferences.

It’s important to note that kayaking on the Sturgeon River can be hazardous if you’re not aware of the potential dangers. Some parts of the river feature Class I and II rapids that can be deadly if you’re not familiar with navigating through them. It’s crucial to understand your capabilities and always stay within your comfort zone.

In addition to the rapids, some sections of the Sturgeon River are prone to flooding. Before heading out on your kayaking adventure, be sure to check the water levels and be aware of any potential hazards. Regardless of your experience level, always wear a life jacket while kayaking on the Sturgeon River for your safety.

Come and experience the beauty and excitement of kayaking on the Sturgeon River. With its stunning landscapes, diverse wildlife, and thrilling rapids, it’s the perfect destination for any adventurous tourist.

Additional Resources

If you are looking for more tutorials, walkthroughs and troubleshooting about camping and enjoying the outdoors, here are some additional posts to check out:


Michigan boasts a plethora of exceptional kayaking opportunities on its many rivers. In fact, we found that limiting our list to just five was impossible! Whether you’re an avid kayaker or a beginner, Michigan’s natural lakes, rivers, and streams provide the perfect setting for these exciting hobbies.

We hope that you found this information valuable and that it has given you some new ideas for your next kayaking adventure in Michigan. As always, safety is of utmost importance, so we wish you the safest and most enjoyable kayaking experiences in the months ahead! Thanks for reading.! If you think I forgot something or if you simply want to share a story or some advice, feel free to leave your comment below.! Be safe and Happy Kayaking.!

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