Covering parts of eight US states and one Canadian province, the Great Lakes Region certainly lives up to its name. Spanning Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Ontario, it offers an array of protected waters just perfect for exploring via kayak.
The 5 Great Lakes (Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan, and Superior) aren’t only surrounded by forests and rural hiking trails, they also cover many cities. A thorough tour of this 95,000 square mile region would take you from several major cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto to national parks and the land of black bears and moose.
Home to a fifth of the world’s freshwater, fishing opportunities are also available in abundance across this region. Lake trout, salmon, walleye, perch, white fish, smallmouth bass, steelhead and brown trout are but a few of the many types of fish you can find here.
Suffice it to say that whatever kind of experience you’re after, whether it’s a city trip, a kayaking outing, or an active outdoor holiday, the Great Lakes Region’s got you covered.
Places to Kayak in the Great Lakes
Well-known for cold waters and quick-changing conditions, Lake Superior is not for the ill-prepared. All kayakers alike must plan their trips, ensure they have the right equipment and keep an eye on the weather forecast.
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, Wisconsin
In Bayfield, Wisconsin, you’ll find a collection of 21 islands spanning nearly 70,000 acres, boasting sandy shores, several lighthouses and great fishing. Many visitors kayak from island to island. Sea caves are also a huge attraction.
You can rent your own kayak and go it alone or if you are a beginner, you can join a kayak tour for safety. Park fees, camping fees and opening times apply so make sure you check the National Park Service website beforehand.
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan
Offering views of sandstone cliffs and miles of beautiful beaches, this is a fantastic area for kayaking.
You can access rental shops from the city of Munising. The park is open year-round and there are no entrance fees. Be aware however that many roads close due to snow in winter.
There are a number of safety factors to consider when kayaking or hiking in this area including rockfall, unpredictable conditions and bears! Only experienced paddlers should attempt this area and you should always be prepared for cold water.
Onekama to Arcadia
Paddling the 15 miles from Onekama, Michigan to Arcadia, Michigan takes you through parts of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore voted “Most Beautiful Place in America” by Good Morning America in 2011.
This is suitable for paddlers of all levels but be aware of rip currents.
Enjoy the spectacular view of the famous windy city’s skyline from the water. For convenient parking and rentals, head to Montrose Beach. In addition to Lake Michigan, you can also kayak in the Chicago River!
Conditions vary and the weather can change quickly. If you’re not an experienced paddler, consider joining a tour with a local company like Kayak Chicago to enjoy the experience safely.
Enjoy the beautiful archipelagos along with the Toronto skyline by paddling the 6.6mile loop from Cherry Beach Park. This will take you past the Ward, Algonquin, Snake, and Olympic Islands as well as Centre Island Park, Long Pond and the city’s inner harbor.
Niagara On The Lake
While kayaking Niagara Falls is definitely not a good idea, you can access both Lake Ontario and Niagara River from the wonderfully quaint historic town, Niagara On The Lake.
Rich in culture, nature, and wineries, this is a great place to spend a few days in and out of a ‘yak. There are plenty of local rental companies and many will organize tours of the lake and river so you can enjoy both experiences.
It’s also a 30-minute drive from Niagara Falls so you can tick that one off your bucket list too (seeing it, not kayaking it).
Huntington Beach, Ohio
Boasting great views of the Cleveland skyline, this beach offers a less crowded spot for kayaking. But don’t let the view of skyscrapers and proximity to the city fool you; this area is adjacent to the Huntington Reservation which offers sandy beaches and over one hundred acres of park life. Head to the Cleveland Metroparks website for opening times.
Situated at the end of the Marblehead Peninsula, this quaint village is great for an active or relaxing weekend break. The area offers several coves and bays to paddle with plenty of lighthouses, beautiful vistas and wildlife to see along the way.
Turnip Rock, Michigan
This visual and geological wonder is well worth the trip. The 7-mile loop from Point aux Barques is very popular. The shallow waters around the rock will allow you to disembark the ‘yak and explore the area on foot. Just be sure to take some sensible footwear with you!
Thunder Bay, Michigan
This 3 to 4-hour trip starts just outside the city of Alpena. Starting in Misery Bay you will head over Round Island and back. The route explores deep water as well as shallow and marsh-like waters.
Whilst in Alpena, make sure you check out Shipwreck Ally. You can explore this area of 200 shipwrecks by kayaking, diving, snorkeling, or riding in the comfort of a glass-bottom boat.
See you on the water!