January 12, 2021 8 min read

Michigan, the Great Lakes State has a true flair where urban and nature collide, resulting in some epic stand up paddle boarding locations with stand out backdrops.

From skyscrapers in Detroit to the remote Sleeping Bear Dunes in the upper region of the state, Michigan offers spectacular views and peaceful waters.

Where can you paddle board in Michigan?

Michigan has thousands of inland lakes and meandering rivers which gives this state an incredibly diverse landscape to explore. You can even catch a freshwater wave on one of the enormous Great Lakes - convincing enough to lead you to believe you’re at sea.

There is somewhere for everyone, no matter what your paddling experience level may be. 

Why not tackle the great Lake Michigan with your inflatable paddle boards or explore the area of U.P. (Upper Peninsula) waters? The Mitten State has beautiful, calm waters, and more adventurous challenges - perfect for advanced and beginner paddleboarders alike.

Just be sure to pack your wetsuit, the waters can get cold up here!

Can you paddle board on Lake Michigan?

Lake, Michigan spot for paddleboarders

Absolutely! Lake Michigan is a monster of a lake and amazing for paddleboarding. It’s so big, that it behaves similarly to an ocean — you’ll find surfable waves, tidal shifts, and strong moving currents.

Keep in mind these top safety tips when you're on your SUP on Lake Michigan.

  • Always check the weather and wind forecasts before you hit the water.
  • Make sure your SUP gear is in good condition.
  • Wear a correctly fitted life jacket for paddle boarding.
  • Stay close to the shoreline if you’re a beginner learning the basics.
  • Keep checking your location on the water in relation to a landmark.

Lake Michigan has shorelines to 4 states: Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and, of course, Michigan. 

Muskegon

Protected waters and safe beaches, perfect for a beginner paddle boarder or families. Muskegon is in a bay section of Lake Michigan, which means the water can be a good 5-10 degrees warmer than the main lake. 

Muskegon provides excellent surfable waves that are gentle enough for first-timers. Here, you can give SUP surfing a go or watch the annual Great Lakes Surf Festival, which typically runs in August.

Grand Haven

Paddle Boarding in Grand Haven

If you’re looking for a scenic paddle,  Grand Haven is the place to go. You have the option of peaceful or something a touch more exhilarating.

Launch at the Pottawatomie Bayou to stay in the sheltered waterways and enjoy a relaxing flatwater SUP cruise, or head over to the Grand Haven State Park, to sample the open lake waters for something more oceanic and exciting. 

Holland

SUP Holland

On Lake Michigan’s shoreline is Holland — a delightful small town centered around all things water-related. The lakes and rivers are part of the culture here, making paddle boarding a popular sport of choice.

Intermediate and experienced paddlers will be excited to take on the challenging conditions often found at Holland State Park. The sugar-sand beaches and stunning sunsets make this a pretty awesome place to experience. Beginners should head over to Macatawa Lake and The Boathouse for great gear rental at an affordable rate.

Northern Lower Peninsula Michigan SUP Locations

The northern reaches of Lake Michigan and beyond. These SUP locations are perfect for a beautiful adventure out on the water.

Sleeping Bear Dunes

Sleeping Bear Dunes Location For SUP

Another remote spot of natural beauty. Sleeping Bear Dunes is a spectacular destination and should be on everyone’s list to paddle board at some time. Think long sweeping landscapes and peaceful waters all to yourself, right on the northern reaches of Lake Michigan.

Hands down, the best view of these sandy dunes is from the water itself. From a paddle board, you get an excellent vantage point to take in the sight of 35 miles of sandy shoreline and 500 ft. high dunes.

Make sure you fully prepare your gear to handle any fog or cold weather rolling in, as is typical for the Michigan climate. Head over to Sleeping Bear Surf & Kayak if you need to rent boards for your trip.

North Bar Lake

SUP North Bar Lake

Just below the incredible Sleeping Bear Dunes lays another fantastic location for paddleboarders. North Bar Lake has the best of both worlds —  ocean-like waves of Lake Michigan and the calm waters of a small inland lake. A small inlet provides easy access between the two, meaning you can easily explore both in a day.

With great amenities, parking close by, and wind protection from the dunes, North Bar Lake is a favorite for families to get paddleboarding in Michigan.

Grand Traverse Bay

If you are looking for somewhere peaceful to enjoy, then there is no better place than Grand Traverse Bay. You can launch from the sandy banks or nearly anywhere along the bay.

Whether you are a beginner wanting to learn the basics or an experienced paddler looking for a wind-down, you will find what you are looking for here. Make note that this is a popular spot for other water enthusiasts in the summer months. But if you can brave the snow, you will probably have these calm waters almost to yourself.

Harbor Springs

Looking for somewhere sheltered from the wind? Harbor Springs is the perfect location — tucked away in Little Traverse Bay.

We highly recommend you join one of the amazing tours from "Harbor Springs Paddle Board Club." Choose from paddling at sunset or night time with LED lights for something really special.

Traverse City - Acme Township & Bryant Park

The Acme Township area and Bryant Park are some of the best-kept secrets in Traverse City. The beaches are super quiet due to the more residential neighborhood and provide some calm waters perfect for a lazy day of stand up paddleboarding.

You and your family will enjoy the shaded shorelines of Bryant Park and Sayler Park. So grab your stand up paddle boards and hit the water.

Good Harbor

Good Harbor Paddle Boarding Location

Are you looking for somewhere breathtaking to melt your day away on the water? Good Harbor is the place for you — it’s one of the most scenic spots in Michigan and the coldest! Remember to pack some warmer SUP clothing.

Located between Leland and Glen Arbor, you’ll discover a picture-perfect beach here. The Lake Michigan shoreline shares the same lapping waters of Sleeping Bear Dunes and provides spectacular views of North Manitou Island on the horizon.

Platte River

Platte River Michigan

Head to the Platte River for a relaxed location to paddleboard. The Platte Riveris long, calm, and shallow —  perfect for paddleboarding with your dog and cruising along with a chilled drink on the deck. You can also set up camp for a weekend at one of the many excellent campgrounds.

There are several places to launch from, so you can make your paddling session as long or as short as you want. Trust us when we say, there’s no place more relaxing to SUP than the Platte River. You’ll cruise down the winding river, passing through wildflower fields and sandy river banks — a perfect way to spend the day.

Where to SUP in Central Michigan & Detroit

Looking for somewhere further South? There are some equally amazing paddleboard spots close to the city and in the Detroit area.

Kensington Metropark

Kensington Metro park

The Kensington Metropark is one of the best places to learn how to paddle board in Michigan. This inland lake is just a few miles outside of Detroit. There are no boat wakes allowed, so conditions are flat and calm. The flat waters here are great for new paddlers who are still working on their balance and paddle strokes.

You’ll also find amazing sunset views here, especially in the Fall, with the golden colors surrounding the lake.

Don’t worry if you don’t have paddleboards yet. Head over to the Metropark Activity Center and grab yourself one of their rentals. 

Remember, start slow and build it up. We all fall in at some point! We were all beginner paddleboarders at one time.

Belle Isle Park

Aerial view Belle Isle, Michigan

Belle Island is nestled right in the heart of the city, just a few miles away from downtown Detroit. While this is an epic escape to nature, it also provides excellent views of Detroit’s skyline for the backdrop.

Conditions can vary. Beginners are recommended to stay to the north side of the island where the riding is slightly easier. More advanced riders can challenge themselves with the 7-mile loop around the island, pushing their stamina and speed. 

Lake Huron

Stand Up Paddle Boarding Lake Huron

Lake Huron is an incredible natural place of beauty providing calm waters, ideal for any level of paddleboarder. It is further out from the city and is a paddle boarder’s dream destination.

Make the most of the campgrounds and have yourself a true getaway. Just make sure you pack some warm clothes (layers!) if you come early in the year (January through to Spring).

Where to Paddle Board in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Michigan’s U.P. (Upper Peninsula) is, at times, remote and raw, but it showcases some of the state’s most spectacular natural beauty. Pack your bags and make this a true escape to the wild — you are certainly going to be in for a ride! 

Isle Royale

Isle Royale Location For Paddleboarding

Remote, rocky, and beautiful, Isle Royale National Park is a breathtaking island tucked away in the northern reaches of Lake Superior. One of Michigan’s best kept secrets. The wild and untamed landscape, and crystal clear water is the perfect site for paddleboarding.

With countless miles of hiking trails, picturesque campgrounds, and rocky coastlines to paddle around, Isle Royale makes for a fantastic weekend getaway. Keep your eyes peeled for the renowned local wildlife  wolves and moose can be spotted on the surrounding islands in the National Park.

Isle Royale National Park closes for tourists through winter (November 1st to April 15th), so plan your trip accordingly.

In need of a rental? Check out Upper Peninsula Tours for SUP rental and tour experiences in the Lake Superior area.

Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore

Paddle Boarding on National Lake Shore

Adventure your middle name? Here’s one for the more advanced paddleboarders. 42-miles of jaw-dropping scenery hugging the coastline of Lake Superior. Discover some sensational natural wonders, including caves, arches, colorful cliff faces, and the most spectacular, Spray Falls — a 70’ waterfall cascading down the sandstone cliff.

Launch your SUP from the Munising district of Pictured Rocks and always remember to check the wind forecasts and conditions before you go. Check out the long stretches of cliff face for a completely isolated paddling experience.

Those less confident don’t have to miss out. Head over to North Coast Paddleboarding to join one of their fantastic tours at Pictured Rocks National Lake Shore.

Wrapping Up

You now have a good sized list for the best places to paddle board in Michigan — you really are spoilt for choice. The beauty of Michigan is there to see, calm waters, spectacular scenery, and pretty much everything you need for a great paddle boarding adventure.

Interactive Map Of Paddle Boarding In Michigan

FAQ’S

WHERE CAN YOU PADDLE BOARD IN MICHIGAN?

Michigan is full of amazing paddle boarding locations. From lakes and rivers, this state has a lot to offer for water enthusiasts. Decide if you want to keep it urban and paddle the city waters, or go off the beaten track and discover a different world in remote dunes.

The Upper Peninsula tends to be quieter than the southern areas of the state, making it perfect for an escape to nature.


DO YOU NEED A PFD TO SUP IN MICHIGAN?

Yes and no. Michigan Law states that every vessel must have one PFD at the correct size per person onboard. A SUP is classified as a vessel once you take it out of designated paddle boarding areas. But if you stay within these set-out limits then you are not required to wear a life jacket.

Read More: Paddle Board Life Jacket Requirements


CAN I PADDLE BOARD MICHIGAN ALL YEAR ROUND?

Winter months can get brutally cold, but with proper preparation, there is no reason why you cannot brave the elements and paddle with the proper cold-weather gear

Just make note that some National and State Parks will close over part of the winter season.


CAN YOU PADDLE BOARD ON LAKE MICHIGAN?

Lake Michigan is a top destination for stand up paddleboarding. You can paddle board across most of the great lake from various towns and districts, along the shoreline. Make sure you check the wind conditions before heading out on the lake and wear your Life Jacket where required.

Jay Regan
Jay Regan

Chief Paddler - Jay has been surfing and paddling for over 5 years. When he's not dreaming up new stuff at GILI, he's writing articles about paddling, out paddling, or often traveling.


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