Guide to Paddle Board Michigan

6 Amazing Places to Paddle Board in Michigan

The stand up paddle board craze has arrived in Michigan, and it’s easy to see why. From open, ocean-like waves to hidden inland lakes and rivers, The Great Lake State offers some of the best freshwater paddling in the US. If you haven’t been yet, you better put it on the bucket list.

To help you out, we did the research and asked some of our Michigan-based paddle experts for their best kept secret spots. ISLE Ambassador Steph Meyers says it best; “Michigan is prime for paddling because there is so much water access and diverse locations for all abilities and styles to enjoy the sport. Everyone marvels at the water here and there is no better way to enjoy it than from on top of it!” So here it is – our paddle boarding Michigan guide of all the most amazing places to paddle within the state.

Photo Credit: Matt Myers, M22 & ISLE Ambassador Steph Meyers (@sweetwateroceans)

1. Platte River

Over on the lower peninsula of Michigan, the clear, shallow Platte River runs about 30 miles long and offers a laid back paddling experience for any and all skill levels. With a depth that rarely exceeds three feet, this leisurely flat water trek carries paddlers along a meandering stream through grassy fields, sandy river beaches and forest greenery. Given the endless variety of launch points, you can determine how short or long to make your trip, so hop on the water, sit back and enjoy the wildflowers as you float by. If you’re looking to make a weekend out of it, post up at the Platte River Campground, right within walking distance of the river.

ISLE Ambassador Ali Moon says, “This is a very chill paddle, sit your hard cooler and pup on your touring board and just float down the river.”

2. Pictured Rocks

For more experienced paddlers, Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore offers 42 miles of breathtakingly spectacular scenery along the shoreline of Lake Superior. Sit back and enjoy the ride as you drift past beautiful landscapes and surrounding mountains. Paddle through colorful rock formations and arches with a backdrop of towering sandstone cliffs, beaches and forests. As always, being on a paddle board has the added bonus of allowing you to get up close and personal with caves, waterfalls and other features, like the plunging 70’ high Spray Falls. This route is perfect for those seeking the ultimate paddle board adventure.

Most paddlers launch from the Munising area, which gives quicker access to cliff sections of the shoreline.

If you’re less experienced, you’ll definitely want a tour guide to help you navigate, as the water is chilly and conditions can be somewhat challenging. ISLE Ambassador Steph Meyers advice? “Always check the forecast.  The lakes look mellow compared to the oceans but they can be cold and storms or strong winds can come out of nowhere making it difficult to get back to shore.”  Winds and waves can be unpredictable; shifting from glass smooth to stormy in a matter of hours, and there are long stretches of steep walls to the water line, so be prepared with the appropriate gear and be sure to check the report before heading out!

3. Sleeping Bear Dunes

Also not to be missed; the Sleeping Bear Dunes offer a profoundly beautiful landscape of sweeping mountains of sand, shaped by ancient glaciers. The dunes, perched above Lake Michigan, are renowned for their natural beauty and offer visitors some truly incredible scenery. Enjoy the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (which technically includes two of our other paddle spots – Platte River and North Bar Lake) from the waters of Lake Michigan for unforgettable views that you simply can’t experience standing on the shore. This spot offers 35 miles of pristine sandy beaches, as well as bluffs that tower up to 500 feet above the lake.

As with the majority of paddling destinations in Michigan, this one can be unpredictable. So once again, make sure you’re prepared with the appropriate gear in case you encounter cold temperatures, wind or fog.

This spot is a favorite for ISLE Ambassador Jess B, who says, “SUPing the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore gives you a perspective and view of the dunes that you would never get from shore. The dunes are even more stunning from below! Be sure to dress properly – especially with wet suits in the colder months. It is safest to paddle with light SW winds when on the Big Lake.”

Photo Credit: ISLE Advocate Jessa B. (@jessamaeb)

Best inflatable paddle boards

4. Isle Royale

Isle Royale is one of the best kept secrets in the Great Lakes. Surrounded by the cool, crystal clear waters of Lake Superior, this is the spot to go if you want to experience a wild, untamed landscape away from the usual throngs of tourists.

Together with the 450 surrounding smaller islands, it makes up the Isle Royale National Park. The roadless island is 45 miles long and 9 miles wide – the sixth largest lake island in the world – and can only be reached by boat or seaplane,

Paddle along the rocky coastline or navigate the beautiful inland streams and lakes – you might be lucky enough to catch sight of the infamous wolves or moose that populate the island. There are numerous camping spots and approximately 170 miles of hiking trails, making it well worth a weekend trip. Even better, you might catch Aurora Borealis if you go early or late in the season.

Make sure you time your visit well as this incredible spot is closed off to all visitors from November 1-April 15.

5. Grand Traverse Bay

East and West Grand Traverse Bay reach over 32 miles in length, and are rarely wider than four or five miles. Sandy bottomed and crystal clear, the bay is known for its calm, peaceful paddles as well as its great downwinders, which are especially prevalent on the eastern side.

With easy public beach access you can find a good starting point just about anywhere, plus there are plenty of picnic spots for a post-paddle meal. This is a great spot for beginners and more experienced paddlers alike if you’re looking for calm water. Whether you’re looking to take the family out for a calm day on the bay, or seeking a more intense downwinder paddling experience, all can be found on Grand Traverse Bay.

Pro Tip from ISLE Ambassador Steph Meyers: “Summer time means lots of boats are moored or beached on sandbars, islands and other beaches. Bring an inflatable SUP to share with your friends and then tie it up and relax when not in use.”

Photo Credit: Matt Myers, M22 &  ISLE Ambassador Steph Meyers (@sweetwateroceans)

6. North Bar Lake

Can’t decide between ocean-like waves and calmer lake paddling? Not to worry – just head to North Bar Lake, where you can find both. The smaller lake is separated from Lake Michigan by just a low sand dune, and the two are connected by a shallow inlet so you can travel between them with ease.

North Bar Lake offers sandy clear shores and warmer waters, ideal for kids and families to play in, while the big lake offers a choppier, more challenging paddle on refreshingly cooler water. A large parking lot and easily accessible restrooms ensure you have all the amenities necessary for an easy day out on the water.

ISLE Ambassador Ali Moon says, “This spot is unique because you get the best of both worlds: inland lake and Lake Michigan. You get to take a dip in the cool water and play in the waves and take it easy on an inland lake; it’s seriously awesome.”

Photo Credit: ISLE Ambassador Ali Moon (@aligator33)

Wrapping Up 

All in all, there are more killer SUP spots than we can count in Michigan, and this just scratches the surface. But no matter what you’re looking for, whether it’s a beginner level paddle board adventure or a speedy downwinder, the Mitten State will deliver. If you need help choosing the right board for your trip, we’ve got you covered – and if you’re just looking to rent, there are plenty of options to choose from in the area.

Are there any other secret spots that you would add to our paddle boarding Michigan guide? Let us know in the comments below!

window.PixleeAsyncInit = function() {Pixlee.init({apiKey:’dbLTQ8dccyvwp7dGL’});Pixlee.addSimpleWidget({widgetId:1352030});};

Posted in Travel, Paddle Boarding Tips & Tricks
Julie Riggert - Hailing from the East Coast, Julie is an avid adventurer with a passion for all things outdoors and on the water. When the West Coast called, she packed up her car and moved to San Diego, finding her niche in the outdoor marketing industry and joining the ISLE team in 2017 as the Social Marketing Manager.