Kayaking in Lake Michigan

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Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes of North America, is a popular destination for kayaking enthusiasts. With its vast, freshwater expanse and diverse coastal scenery, the lake offers countless opportunities for adventure. In this article, we’ll cover how to choose the right kayak, essential gear, the best places to kayak in Lake Michigan, safety tips, and etiquette.

Kayaking in Lake Michigan
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Choosing the Right Kayak

Types of Kayaks

Sit-on-Top Kayaks

Sit-on-top kayaks are great for beginners, as they’re stable and easy to use. They’re also self-draining, so you don’t need to worry about water accumulating in the cockpit.

Sit-In Kayaks

Sit-in kayaks offer better protection from the elements and allow for more efficient paddling. They’re suitable for longer trips and rougher waters but may require more skill to handle.

Inflatable Kayaks

Inflatable kayaks are lightweight and portable, making them perfect for those with limited storage space. They’re generally more affordable but less durable than hardshell kayaks.

Tandem Kayaks

Tandem kayaks allow two people to paddle together, which can be a fun way to share the experience. They’re larger and heavier than single-person kayaks, so keep that in mind when transporting and storing them.

Essential Gear

Personal Floatation Device

A PFD is a must-have for any kayaker. Make sure it fits comfortably and meets U.S. Coast Guard standards.


Choose a paddle that’s the right length and weight for you. A good rule of thumb is to pick one that reaches from the ground to your chin when standing.

Dry Bags

Protect your belongings from water damage by using dry bags. They’re available in various sizes and materials to suit your needs.

Spray Skirt

A spray skirt keeps water from entering the cockpit of sit-in kayaks. It’s an essential piece of gear for those planning to paddle in rougher conditions.

Bilge Pump

A bilge pump helps remove water from your kayak’s cockpit, keeping you dry and comfortable.

Navigation Tools

Bring a map, compass, or GPS device to help you navigate and plan your route.

Related: Kayaking In New York City

Best Places to Kayak in Lake Michigan

Door County

Door County, Wisconsin, offers picturesque shorelines, limestone cliffs, and numerous islands to explore.

Apostle Islands

Located in northern Wisconsin, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore has 21 islands, historic lighthouses, and stunning sea caves.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

This Michigan gem is known for its colorful sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, and secluded beaches.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

The towering sand dunes along Lake Michigan’s eastern shore provide a unique kayaking backdrop in Michigan.

Beaver Island

As the largest island in Lake Michigan, Beaver Island boasts a rich history and diverse wildlife.

Grand Island National Recreation Area

Located near Munising, Michigan, Grand Island offers dramatic cliffs, historic sites, and pristine beaches.

Kayaking Safety Tips

Weather Awareness

Always check the weather forecast before heading out on the water. Be prepared for changing conditions and avoid kayaking during storms or high winds.

Kayaking with a Buddy

Paddling with a partner is not only more enjoyable but also safer. If something goes wrong, you’ll have someone to help you out.

Proper Communication

Carry a whistle or other signaling device to communicate with fellow kayakers or to alert others of your presence.

Local Knowledge

Familiarize yourself with the local area, including hazards, currents, and water conditions. Consult local outfitters or experienced kayakers for advice.

Learn to Capsize

Knowing how to capsize safely and recover is essential for any kayaker. Take a course or practice with a buddy in calm waters.

Self-Rescue Techniques

Learn self-rescue techniques like the paddle float re-entry or the T-rescue to help you get back into your kayak if you capsize.

Kayaking Etiquette

Leave No Trace

Always follow the Leave No Trace principles, ensuring you leave the environment as pristine as you found it.

Respect Wildlife

Observe wildlife from a safe distance and avoid disturbing their natural behaviors.

Avoid Disturbing Others

Be mindful of other water users and respect their right to enjoy the waterways.

Share the Water

Always yield to other vessels and follow the rules of the road while on the water.

Follow Local Regulations

Adhere to local regulations and guidelines, including permits, launch sites, and safety requirements.

Kayaking Lake Michigan Waves Egg Harbor Wisconsin

Frequently Asked Questions:

Is kayaking in Lake Michigan dangerous?

Kayaking in Lake Michigan can be safe if you’re prepared, follow safety guidelines, and stay aware of the weather and water conditions.

Do I need a permit to kayak in Lake Michigan?

Some locations may require permits for parking or launching. Always check local regulations before your trip.

What is the best time of year to kayak in Lake Michigan?

The best time to kayak in Lake Michigan is typically from late spring to early fall when the weather is warmer and the water calmer.

What should I wear when kayaking in Lake Michigan?

Dress in layers, wear a wetsuit or drysuit if necessary, and always wear a PFD.

Can beginners kayak in Lake Michigan?

Yes, beginners can kayak in Lake Michigan, but it’s essential to start in calmer waters and build experience before tackling more challenging areas.


Kayaking in Lake Michigan is an unforgettable experience, offering diverse landscapes and unique challenges. By choosing the right kayak and gear, knowing the best locations, and following safety tips and etiquette, you’ll be well-prepared for your adventure.

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